The Storytellers

Interview: Farewell, Ben Small!

The Storytellers

The storytellers of the Thomas and Railway Series!

In 2012, we polled the fans on their favourite Thomas & Friends Storytellers of all time.

This ranged from the TV Series to the Railway Stories, and across the USA and UK regions to find out who the fans thought was the best.

Click the link below to view the results and analysis in the SiF Blog!

Click here to read the article

TV Series Storytellers

Ringo Starr

Ringo with Thomas

It would be fair to say that Ringo Starr has become as synonymous with Thomas the Tank Engine as he is with The Beatles.  But when Ringo was first approached about taking the role back in the early 1980s, he wasn’t sure whether or not he’d be willing to participate, thinking that children of the 1980s would not connect with the steam railway setting of the 1940s and 1950s.  But having heard his voice on Michael Parkinson’s television programme after hearing an array of professional actors, Britt Allcroft was adamant that he was the right person to bring Thomas and his friends to life, and after a while, Ringo agreed to take part.

 

Ringo became the Storyteller for the first two series of Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, also lending his voice to tie-in audio books by Ladybird, which have become highly sought-after.  Ringo’s association with the series led him overseas to America, where he continued his storytelling role as ‘Mr Conductor’ in Shining Time Station, Britt Allcroft’s vehicle to launch Thomas in the USA.  Ringo left the series in 1989 to concentrate upon his musical interests, and tour with his All-Starr Band.  Ringo has said in interviews following his departure that Thomas will always have a special place in his heart and that he is proud to be a part of Thomas’s world.

Keep up to date with Ringo’s continuing musical career on his official website!

Like Ringo’s Facebook page and keep up to date with his musical works with the All-Starr Band!

Follow Ringo’s Twitter feed and keep up to date with his musical works with the All-Starr Band!

 

Michael Angelis

Michael Angelis took over from Ringo Starr in 1991 and has remained steadfast and true to Thomas since then, providing the Storyteller role for all English-speaking territories outside of North America.  When Ringo left, Angelis brought diversity to the role, providing numerous different accents, dialects and individual voices for each of the characters – over time, this did lack consistency, which he blames on the wide range of characters he previously had to voice.

 

Although never as famous as Ringo Starr, Angelis has had numerous television roles, most notably in the Liver Birds between Series 5 and 9, and in the revived Auf Weidershen Pet as villain Mickey Startup.  More recent roles have seen him provide the voice of father ant in the Post Office advertisements and a carrot for McDonalds!  He was married for a number of years to Coronation Street's Helen Worth (Gail Platt), but they subsequently split in 2001, and he has since remarried to model Jennifer Khalastchi.

 

While he has told more Thomas stories than anyone else, Angelis’ tenure has not always been smooth. He was due to provide the voices of Percy and James in Thomas and the Magic Railroad Movie in 2000, but was dropped when test-audiences in Los Angeles did not take to his voiceovers, and was replaced in 2007 by Pierce Brosnan, who was due to become the new storyteller for the series.  Pierce’s appointment, however, was reduced to a Guest Storyteller role on The Great Discovery Special, and both Michael Angelis and Michael Brandon were reinstated for Series 12.

 

With the shifting changes made by HIT Entertainment for the series, Michael now only provides the narrative for the new CGI-based Thomas and Friends series and tie-in specials.  However, he continues to provide full storytelling on ‘The Railway Stories’ CDs, where he narrates the Rev. W. Awdry’s stories.

 

Michael finally stood down from the series in 2012 after 21 years, following the production of Blue Mountain Mystery.

We pay homage to the two longest standing storytellers in Thomas & Friends history in the SiF Blog!

 

George Carlin

George Carlin

Better known for his career as a comedian, George Carlin was chosen by Britt Allcroft and Rick Sigglekow to become the first Storyteller specifically for the North American market.  As well as telling new and unreleased stories in the United States, George also dubbed over Ringo Starr’s previous output.

 

George is remembered fondly by American fans for providing a more diverse voice range, much as Michael Angelis did for the UK, and delivering these voices in an accent that they could relate to.  George left the series in 1995 to pay greater attention to his stand up comedy routine and pursue other projects in television and movies.  However, much like Ringo Starr, he remained fond of the series and highly complimentary of the work Britt Allcroft, David Mitton and Rick Sigglekow put in to make Thomas a success.

 

Sadly, George left us at the age of 71 on the 22 June, 2008 due to heart failure. Both Britt Allcroft and Rick Siggelkow, for whom George contributed as storyteller to Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends and as Mr. Conductor on Shining Time Station have wriiten lovely tributes to the man.

Rick Sigglekow, Co-Producer of Shining Time Station remembers George at his finest, bringing laughter and fun to his performance as Mr Conductor on Shining Time Station.

Britt Allcroft remembers a side of George Carlin which was rarely seen by the wider world, a kind, gentle, friendly man ‘who had a special, unrecognised bond with children’.

 

Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin had a varying career in television and movies before joining the Thomas brand in 1998 under the banner of ‘Thomas the Tough Guy’ in the media, citing his various movie roles.  Sadly, Alec did not appear to have the great deal of enthusiasm for the role that his predecessors before him had, and often came across as being flat and uninterested in the storylines.  However, certain aspects of his voice acting did allow him to inject some of himself into the characters, particularly James, who was made to sound rather camp under Baldwin’s narrative – something he was pulled up on by Talk Show host Conan O’Brien.

 

In 2000, he became the last person to play the role of Shining Time Station’s Mr Conductor in Thomas and the Magic Railroad.  Throughout the movie, Baldwin also provided the continuity narrative where necessary.

 

Baldwin returned to the role of Storyteller in 2002 to provide narrative for the sixth series, and left the series to pursue other roles.  Since leaving he has had guest slots on Will and Grace, and become a long standing cast member on comedy 30 Rock.

Keep up to date with Alec Baldwin's continuing acting career on his official website!

Follow Alec’s Twitter feed and keep up to date with him and his career happenings!

 

Michael Brandon

Star of cop drama Dempsey and Makepace in the 1980s, Michael Brandon was starring in Jerry Springer The Opera when he was spotted and approached by HIT Entertainment to become their new Storyteller for Thomas and Friends.

 

Michael undertook the task with enthusiasm and a unique style of storytelling, and was first introduced to the Thomas fandom in the newly transformed eighth series.  At the same time, he was also tasked with the responsibility of delivering narrative for the seventh series, which was being released simultaneously in the United States.  However, this was not the first time Michael had read Thomas stories for children.  He states in an interview with SiF’s own James Gratton that he was familiar with the series prior to his appointment, having read the stories aloud to his children when they were young.

 

Michael was reported to have left the series in 2007, following the appointment of Pierce Brosnan.  However, he was asked back to provide the American narrative in light of Pierce being relegated to the role of ‘Guest Storyteller’ for The Great Discovery.  He returned to provide the American narrative for Series 12, and now works alongside the American voice cast on the new CGI-based Thomas and Friends series – also providing voices where required. 

 

Aside from Thomas and Dempsey and Makepace, Brandon has starred alongside Pheonix Nights star Dave Spikey in short-lived comedy Dead Man Weds, as well as taking numerous roles in Catherine Tate's comedy series, and other UK Dramas and television programmes.

 

Michael made his final contribution as Thomas's American Storyteller in Blue Mountain Mystery in 2012.

We pay homage to the two longest standing storytellers in Thomas & Friends history in the SiF Blog!

Keep up to date with Michael Brandon’s continuing acting career on his official website!

In 2007, SiF were lucky to secure one of our first interviews with Michael Brandon when we thought he was leaving the series for good - click the link above to read what he had to say!

 

Pierce Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan became the latest in a long line of famous men to take up the role of Thomas storyteller in 2008, previously starring as James Bond for many years prior to being usurped by the producers in favour of new star Daniel Craig.
 
Brosnan also said he shares an interest and love of the characters, having read the stories with his children when they were young, much like that of Michael Brandon.
 
Taking advantage of Pierce's global A-List fame status, for the first time in over fifteen years, all English speaking territories were to share the same narrator for the 2008 onward series.  However, since initial press statements were made, his involvement with Thomas has been cut back to 'Special Guest Narrator' solely for The Great Discovery DVD, and it appears that he has abandoned the series completely, with Michael Angelis and Michael Brandon resuming their duties as the storytellers for the series.

Pierce’s one and only contribution to Thomas’s world here on SiF’s Thomas Episode Guide!

Keep up to date with Pierce Brosnan’s continuing acting career on his official website!

 

Mark Moraghan stepped into the role of Thomas’s new storyteller in 2013, replacing both Michael Angelis and Michael Brandon for both the UK and US territories.  Mark’s position is unique as he is the first storyteller that simply tells the story and does not voice any of the individual characters for the series like his predecessors.

 

Mark's appointment to the role came as a bit of a surprise to many who had not anticipated a new storyteller, however, he has been generally well received by fans in the UK and the US who have found his style to be reminiscent of both Michael Angelis and Johnny Morris.  Overwhelmed by praise on Twitter, Mark said that he is proud to be the new storyteller and absolutely loving the job!

SiF introduce the new Thomas storyteller and give you an idea of who he is and what he has done before arriving to tell the tales from Sodor!

Want to know more about Mark and hear some of his work as a recording artist?  Check out his official website for the latest news and more!

Keep up to date with Mark on Twitter!

 

In the early 1960s, Delyse Records launched a series of Railway Series recordings, the first eight books read by Johnny Morris, with the remaining Rev. Awdry volumes read by Willie Rushton.  Further recordings were commissioned of Christopher Awdry's books by Egmont Books in the early 1990s.

Johnny Morris

Like the another famous Thomas storyteller, Johnny Morris was initially reluctant to do the recordings of the Railway Series books.  However, Isabella Wallich (Founder and manager of Delyse Records) convinced him to do it through the success of the books, as well as assuring him of his ability to bring the characters to life through his own voice.  Her assurance wasn't far wrong, with Morris giving each character their own individual and distinctive voicing.  He also built upon the Rev. Awdry's style of repititions, improvising and enhancing his recordings with his own unique range of whistles, puffs, chugs and great bursts of steam.
 
However, much like Ringo, Johnny found the experience to be extremely rewarding and forged a common bond with fellow steam buff, the Reverend Awdry.  Johnny recorded eleven volumes of the Railway Series books from The Three Railway Engines to Percy the Small Engine, however, only eight of the audio books he recorded have been committed to cassette tape, Edward the Blue Engine, Four Little Engines and Percy the Small Engine were left as LPs, and re-recorded by Willie Rushton when he took over as the storyteller for the Railway Stories. 
 
Johnny hosted a number of popular programmes, including Johnny's Jaunts (Radio) and Animal Magic (Television).  He died in May 1999.

Willie Rushton

The initial recordings of the Railway Series books worked very well, and when the opportunity arose to do more, it was found that Johnny Morris wouldn't be available.  Instead, Willie Rushton took over the recordings.
 
However, unlike Johnny, Willie confessed that his voice range was far more limited and would probably only be able to do around five or six voices for the characters at hand, and felt initially perturbed by the Reverend's presence in the recordings.  His anxt was soon resolved when Willie set to work, recording the volumes in the "fruitest of tones" and raising a bit of a chuckle with the Reverend, who he described as a "sweetie".
 
Willie also recorded adaptations of Asterix books and Alice in Wonderland, he was also highly acclaimed storyteller for children's television series Jackanory.  Willie was also recognised as a very talented artist, comedian and also lended his vocal talents to another memorable children's series - Trap DoorWillie died in December 1996.

Ted Robbins

Ted Robbins took up the mantle of a Railway Series storyteller in the early 1990s, doing recordings of Christopher Awdry's books.  While the recordings were conceptually similar to what Johnny Morris and Willie Rushton had done before him, at the same time, they were more aimed at children in the way they were presented with Ted introducing the stories and their own little jingle theme tune.
 
Ted Robbins has had a varying career in media with roles in dramas such as Holby City, Merseybeat, Doctors, Brookside, Lead Balloon.  But one of his most famous and best roles was the universally hated Den Perry (or Den of Enequity as he's known in "Clubland"!) - in Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights, where he played a rival club owner who burnt down the Pheonix Club.  Ted is also the other link Thomas has with the Beatles after Ringo, he's the cousin of Beatles legend Paul McCartney.

Sir John Gielgud

Sir John Gielgud

Sir John Gielgud is one of the most celebrated British actors of the 20th Century, and by far provided some of the most beautiful interpretations of the Reverend Awdry’s work, which Noel Edmonds commissioned for his Radio programme in the early 1980s.  Sir John told stories from The Three Railway Engines through to Gordon the Big Engine, and while not differentiating between voices, provided drama, emotion and power to the stories which drove them forward and made for compelling listening.

 

The recordings resurfaced again as part of the Bookmark Documentary ‘The Thomas The Tank Engine Man’, being played over examples of C Reginald Dalby artwork, which would be relevant to the recording.  They have also been aired again on Digital Radio.

Ted Ray

Ted Ray

Between the period of 20 September and 2 October 1970, regular viewers of the BBC Children's program Jackanory were treated to Ted Ray's storytelling of  a few Railway Series volumes - namely:
 
The Three Railway Engines (28 Sept.)
Thomas the Tank Engine (29 Sept.)
Duck and the Diesel Engine (30 Sept.)
Toby the Tram Engine (1 Oct.)
The Eight Famous Engines (2 Oct.)
 
The stories were adapted for television and directed by Howard Kennett, and would have likely involved illustrations or recreations of the ones found in the Railway Series volumes. Ted Ray told the stories while sitting in a Stationmaster's office setting - himself attired appropriately, no doubt. Unfortunately, these programs are not readily publicly available, and whether they still survive in the BBC's archives is not known.
 
Ted was a well-known comedian and radio personality during post-war Britain, with appearances in film such as Carry on Teacher (1959) and various British television shows.  He is credited as a storyteller on 14 episodes of Jackanory between 1966 and 1971. Ted passed away on the 8 November, 1977. 

Storyteller - Charles E. Stidwell

In 1956, the Railway Series stories were read aloud by Charles E, Stidwell on the BBC's Children's Hour as described below in the Publisher, Volume 170, Part 2.

The well-known little Railway Series Books, written by the Rev. W. Awdry, are being read on BBC Children's Hour in monthly instalments and commenced on July 28. There are at present ten books in this series and though No. 11 Percy the Small Engine will be added in September, Charles E. Stidwell will start the readings with No. 1 book, The Three Little Engines. The Railway Series is published by Edmund Ward and each book is 4, 6d. net.

Note how the title of "The Three Railway Engines" is referred to incorrectly as "The Three Little Engines" ! The same mistake had been repeated years earlier in 1953 in BBC correspondence with Eric Marriott for the failed live model set broadcast.
 
At the time, Charles E. Stidwell was the familiar narrator for Rag Tag and Bobtail  and also told many of the Watch with Mother: Picture Book stories.  Fans wishing to know what Charles Stidwell's narration style was like can hear it in this excerpt from this appropriately titled BBC documentary from  1954: Plymouth to Dartmoor Steam Train.

Over the years, Thomas had various narrators telling stories adapted from TV Series episodes and non RWS canon books.

Ron Haddrick

Australian film, theatre and voice actor Ron Haddrick had taken part in narrating the Thomas Book Series published by Heinemann Young Books penned by Christopher Awdry and illustrated by Ken Stott.
 
Known titles include:
Thomas and the Birthday Party (1990)
James and the Balloons (1990)
Henry Goes to the Hospital (1991)
Henry and the Ghost Train (1993)
Percy and the Kite (1994)
Thomas and the Pony Show (1997)

Andrew Sachs

Best known for his role as the memorable Manuel in the BBC Comedy Series “Fawlty Towers”,  Andrew Sachs first made his screen debut in 1959 in the film The Night We Dropped a Clanger. He later guest-starred in numerous TV series  throughout the 1960s. He has narrated and voiced for various Children’s TV Programs including William's Wish Wellingtons, Starhill Ponies, The Gingerbread Man, Little Grey Rabbit, The Forgotten Toys and Asterix and the Big Fight.
 
He was chosen to narrate two stories written by Christopher Awdry and published by Heinemann Young Books  – these being:Thomas and the Tiger (1994) and Thomas and the Dinosaur (1994).
 
Andrew recently played the character Ramsay Clegg on Coronation Street.

Simon Preeble

Simon Prebble

Simon Prebble is renown for most of his voiceovers and narrations. He has narrated four Thomas stories published by Random House featuring new background music from the series.
 
Titles include:
Thomas and the Castle (2004)
Thomas and Toby (2003)
Thomas Gets his Own Branch Line by Lisa Findlay (2002)
 
In addition, Prebble also narrated the full storybook version of Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2003) based on the feature film.
He was nominated Narrator of the Year by Publishers Weekly in 2005,  and has narrated over 450 audiobooks to date.