Who Drove Thomas To Success?

Who Drove Thomas To Success?

From the creation of The Railway Series in 1945 to the launch of the TV Series in 1984 and beyond, a lot of dedicated people have driven Thomas and his friends forward - here's just a few special individuals who deserve a very honourable mention...

The Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry OBE

The Rev W Awdry

Faced with the difficult task of entertaining a sick three-year-old, The Reverend Wilbert Awdry opted to create his own stories for his son, Christopher.  Little did he realise while sitting recanting the three stories to his son, that he would spark a phenomenon that would span generations.

Initially, Awdry never intended to create a series of books, but following the success of the first two – The Three Railway Engines (1945) and Thomas The Tank Engine (1946) – he was requested to write further additions by publishers Kaye and Ward over a 28 year period, creating a series of 26 books by 1972.

In addition to his children’s books, the Rev Awdry also wrote a few books on Railway History and was known to contribute articles.  Raised on steam locomotives and railways, Wilbert recanted his earliest recollections to lying in bed at night listening to engines in the nearby station at Box in Wiltshire, attributing their powerful rhythms to a form of conversation, which he would use in his own writings in later life.

Wilbert suffered from prolonged illness in his later years, and died in March 1997.  However, prior to his passing, he was awarded an OBE by the Queen for his services to children’s literature, and entered the Top 20 in The Railway Magazine’s Great Railway Personalities of the Millennium in 2000 (earning 13th place within the Top 50).

Margaret Awdry

Margaret Awdry with husband, Wilbert

Without Margaret, the Railway Series would never have come to be.  She was the one who saw potential in the early stories, particularly after feeling disillusioned with the publications available for children at the time, and encouraged Wilbert to send them off to publishers.  And when Wilbert’s mother told that the family had connections to literary agents – it had been Margaret’s letter to her briefly mentioning the stories that had set things alight.

 
Thomas fans everywhere owe a great deal of gratitude to her persistence to keep her husband going, and for her helping to keep the world's favourite fictional locomotives up and running for so long!

George Awdry

Profile_GeorgeAwdry.jpg

The close younger brother of the Author, George was also a Railway Enthusiast (both Steam and Model) much like his brother and father, and used his skills and knowledge from his years as a Librarian to help Wilbert with the Railway Series.  He became another notable name in the being of the Railway Series with the assistance he provided.
 
George Awdry was able to provide geographical, economic, political and social history for Wilbert's fictional Isle, by calling upon the knowledge he gained through his many years working in both the Institute of Mining and the National Liberal Club.
 
He helped Wilbert in 1989 to produce THE ISLAND OF SODOR a brilliant encyclopedia on everything to do with the Railway Series with its history, geography and people, so without him, Sodor may not have been discovered!
 
George died on 27th of October 1994, following a severe deterioration in his health, at the age of 78.  He was immortalised by Wilbert in The Island Of Sodor as Albert Regaby (6th Baron and 1st Viscount Harwick).

Eric Marriott

Eric Marriott

The one man whose influence got the Railway Series a new title every year up until 1973 when Wilbert could no longer accomodate a new book.
 
Marriott was Assistant Managing Director of Kaye and Ward, and editor of Wilbert's books from 3rd to 26th.  It was he who convinced Kaye and Ward to make Awdry's books into a series, and played his part most definitely in trying to get Wilbert to produce a new book every year if possible.  Funny enough, it was he who influenced Wilbert to write THOMAS GOES FISHING and remained a friend of Wilbert's following their work association.  In the years of Peter Edward's illustating, he was the facial influence for Gordon (Peter thought he had a great nose!).
 
However, in 1973 when he and Wilbert knew in themselves that the author was most definitely not going to create his 27th book, he left Kaye and Ward to join the board of publisher, Michael Joseph and become Managing Director of Pelham Books.

Christopher Awdry

Christopher Awdry

Christopher Awdry was the boy who the stories were created for, and the man who chose to revive the Railway Series by taking over from his father.
Ironically his stories too started out as bedtime stories for his son, Richard, which he submitted to his father for a look at.  Wilbert thought them good enough for publication and suggested that he send them off to Kaye and Ward to see what they thought.
 
Kaye and Ward were very keen with what they saw when Christopher's manuscript for REALLY USEFUL ENGINES landed on their desk.  The endearing stories were back and Christopher played a very active part in Thomas for many years.  He was even asked by Britt Allcroft to produce a few stories for the second series of Thomas, due to a clause in the agreement that stated that all stories put to film, must be in print form first.
 
Not only this, but he was also the writer for many of the yearly Thomas Annual stories from 1984 onward.  Christopher went on to produce 14 titles of the Railway Series, ending with the 40th and intending for a 41st to be produced the following year, which still hasn't happened.
 
His involvement in Thomas since both the sale of the copyright and death of his father in 1997 has been largely limited, and not through his own choice, but that of the copyright holders.  For a while Christopher was found to be touring promoting the REAL Thomas books, and appearing at many different events and writing new Railway centred material on his own publishing group, SODOR ENTERPRISES which he ran with his then wife, Diana.
 
In 2007, Christopher's first Railway Series volume for over ten years was published - Thomas and Victoria, and the Awdry family now have their own online shop for selling Thomas related merchandise both Awdry and TV series related.

The Rev. Teddy Boston

Reverend Teddy Boston

A very kind and informative correspondance came through recently from a Mr Chris Stevens, regarding this member of the Railway Series history:
 
"You correctly identify the two clergymen as Wilbert and Teddy - I remember Teddy Boston from meetings of the Locomotive Club of Great Britain (LCGB) held in Bedford, when he came infrequently and gave talks.  Teddy Boston is just as fascinating a character as the T the T stories. A priest in rural Leicestershire, he begged and 'acquired' as sorts of railwayana which accumulated at his rectory in Cadeby. He evetually built a complete railway around the Cadeby Vicarage, a very large shed for the model railway and found homes for over 20 diesels, steam engines and a traction engines. After his death, his widow kept Cadeby going, with open days to pay for the costs. All of the open days were free, donation tins being placed at stategic locations.  Sadly the Csadeby Light Railway has held its last open day due to widow Audrey Boston feeling unable to carry on with it."

Britt Allcroft

Britt Allcroft

Britt was warned by Awdry that many had tried and failed to bring his stories to the screen.  Through careful choices of Storyteller, Director and Studio Crew, as well as a genuine love and understanding for the characters and stories (which still shines through today), Britt was destined to succeed where her predecessors hadn’t.  In 1984, she launched the first series of Thomas The Tank Engine & Friends, and catapulted the Railway Series characters and stories to a whole new audience, and continued to nurture the characters throughout their television existence.

 

Britt also kick-started the Thomas craze in America too, creating Shining Time Station with Rick Siggelkow, as a vehicle to launch Thomas into America, a series which proved very popular in its own right, basing the situations and morals of the episode around the featured Thomas story of the day.

 

In 1991, her creative partnership with David Mitton saw the pair produce a set of  original stories alongside the Rev Awdry’s stories for the 3rd Television series.  Although this may have soured relations between Britt and the Awdry family, Britt and David continued to write their own material for the Television Series, and went on to produce a full series of non-Awdry stories in 1998 following Britt’s successful acquisition of the copyright from the publishers the year previous.

 

In 2000, Britt wrote, produced, directed and briefly voiced the character of Lady in Thomas’s first feature film, Thomas and the Magic Railroad.  Following the movie, Britt stood down from her position in The Britt Allcroft Company, which rebranded as Gullane Entertainment, prior to being taken over by HIT Entertainment.  Britt set up a new company, Britt Allcroft Productions, and joined HIT’s creative board in 2004, leaving the same year to focus upon her other business commitments.

 

Since setting up her new company, Britt has remained loyal and supportive of Thomas the Tank Engine - and become a great supporter of Sodor Island Forums and Fansite.  Remaining active in the production world from her new base in Los Angeles, in 2008, Britt bought back the rights to The Magical Adventures of Mumfie, which she had developed in the early 1990s.

 

And despite not being a well-known Rail Enthusiast like the Rev. W. Awdry - Britt still managed to garner some support in The Railway Magazine’s Great Railway Personalities of the Millennium poll, published in 2000, although she did not enter the Top 50 along with the Rev Awdry.

David Mitton

David Mitton

David Mitton has been credited as the creative heart and soul of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, being the person who suggested shooting the series as a Live Action Model Animation and for him and his crew to ‘play at trains’.  For twenty years, David played the role of Director and Producer for the series, and even directed the model unit for Britt Allcroft throughout the shooting of Thomas and The Magic Railroad in 1999.

 

As with Britt Allcroft’s co-creation of Shining Time Station, in 1989, David co-created and produced TUGS, a live-action model animation series rooted in a 1920s Harbour, alongside his then business partner, Robert D. Cardona as part of their company, Clearwater Features.  He then returned to Thomas in 1991, and began co-writing original scripts with Britt Allcroft - a trend which continued until the 5th Television Series.  After this, scripts fell to individual writers, however, David was seen to provide the basis for some story material throughout the 6th Series, making two contributions himself over the  6th and 7th Series, prior to leaving the series in 2003, following the HIT Entertainment takeover.

 
After his depature, David began working with Gerry Anderson legend and personal friend, David Lane, with their own new company Pineapple Squared Entertainment where he acted as Creative Director for several properties.  Between 2006 and 2008, David shared correspodence with Sodor Island Forums, and gave great insight into his time on the set of Thomas and TUGS.  However, in May 2008, prior to the launch of their production, Adventures On Orsum Island, David suffered a heart-attack and died soon after.  We are honoured to have had the time to speak to him, and even consider him a friend.

Tributes to David Mitton

Britt Allcroft Tribute To David Mitton

Britt Allcroft pays tribute to a former business partner, colleague, friend and the man who was instrumental in bringing Thomas and his friends to the screen.  Recalling the earliest memories of their time together, and their spark as a creative partnership.

Memories of David Mitton

A heartfelt tribute to David from the SiF Admin, Ryan, celebrating his life and work on the set of Thomas, Tugs, Orsum Island, and detailing more about his life prior to entering into the world of television and film.

Mike O'Donnell & Junior Campbell

Mike O'Donnell & Junior Campbell

Where would Thomas be without the catchy and memorable themes composed for him by Mike and Junior?  Mike O’Donnell and Junior Campbell had worked on Thomas for nearly 20 years, from Series 1 in 1984 to Series 7 in 2003.  Even before Thomas, both have had vast careers in music.
 

Glasgow-raised Junior Campbell was part of the hit band “Marmalade” in the 60’s and 70’s and has also gained success with a couple of solo records of his own. Mike, meanwhile, worked at The Beatles’ Apple Studios where his love for music grew stronger after some memorable sessions with some famous stars. He joined a band called Gold where though they didn’t have any hits, they sold a number of singles all the same.

 

At the time, both he and Junior had signed to the same publisher and there their partnership sparked. They collaborated on writing TV Jingles for TV, which they continued to do long after they both left their respective groups. And when they got word of Britt looking for someone to create music for Thomas, they decided to jump at the opportunity…and the rest is history!

 

Alongside the themes for the series, Mike and Junior also wrote and produced nearly 40 songs, as well as manufacturing some of the whistles for the engines.  They also composed the music to the first and only series of TUGS.

One of the original band members of Gold has done a My Space website should you be interested to hear their music:

www.myspace.com/thebandgold

Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr with his pal Thomas

Ringo Starr initially found fame as the drummer in The Beatles.  However, his role as the first Storyteller for Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends made him a household name again for entirely different reasons, but still bringing the same delight to millions across the globe!

 

Ringo was initially unsure of taking the role, thinking that the series wouldn’t be likely to appeal to children of the modern age.  However, after some thought, he agreed and took up the role.  Ringo went on to be the storyteller for the first and second series, and took up the part of Mr Conductor in the first Shining Time Station series.  He also provided narrative for the Thomas Ladybird storybook cassettes in the mid 1980s, and put in a personal appearance at a Day Out With Thomas event at Didcot Railway Centre as the storyteller also.

 

Although Ringo left the series after 1989 to pursue his musical interests, he has remained as synonymous with Thomas the Tank Engine as he has with The Beatles.  And his recognition as arguably the best storyteller of them all is well deserved!

Owen Bell

Owen Bell

Arguably, Australian artist Owen Bell (better known to Thomas fans known as Owain Bell) must have done more images for Thomas The Tank Engine than any other artist associated with the books or television series, with work appearing across various items of merchandise.  Owen was approached by Britt Allcroft in 1986 to create images which fused the stylistic quality of the Railway Series illustrations with the TV Series models and sets for worldwide merchandising purposes.  At the time, Britt only had images from the TV Series to use, but over his ten year association with the series, Owen produced hundreds of pieces of beautiful artwork, which captured the look that Britt needed.

 

From the 1980s to the late 1990s, Owen Bell’s images were synonymous with Thomas The Tank Engine & Friends: VHS covers, cutlery and plates, bed-spreads, alarm clocks, money boxes, jigsaws, ERTL die-cast packaging from the early to mid-1990s, posters for the series, specially commissioned illustrations for 40 Thomas tie-in books, as well as illustrations for the cover art of the Thomas The Tank Engine Annuals from the 1990 to 1996 editions.

 

Owen’s work was widely praised by Britt Allcroft and the Awdry family, and highly sought-after by copyright holders Heinemann Books and American publishers, Random House.  As a special gift for their 50th Wedding Anniversary, Owen produced a portrait of Wilbert and Margaret Awdry holding a model of Thomas, who was looking back at them with a proud smile on his face.  The image was used in the 1995 Documentary – The Thomas The Tank Engine Man.

Related Links

Click here to read our Owain Bell interview

Steve Asquith, Terry Permane and David Eves

Thomas's 25-year long friends

When Britt Allcroft began her production of Thomas in 1984, three men would stay the course and remain steadfast to Thomas throughout every change he went through in the model format over a twenty five year period.  Steve Asquith, Terry Permane and David Eves were all employees of the Clearwater Film Company – and masters of their craft.

 

Terry Permane worked with David Mitton to develop the specialist camera for shooting Thomas and TUGS, the unique periscope lens system, and was also responsible for taking numerous still pictures for each scene of the production so they could be used in tie-in books and other areas.  Terry’s son Nigel also worked on the TV Series, becoming responsible for lighting the final series.

 

David Eves was responsible for the numerous special effects seen on Thomas and TUGS over the years, and is a committed steam-buff in his own right, owning his own Traction Engine.  David helped his father, Peter, to build the original models back in 1983, and from Series 5 onward, he would take responsibility for finding prototypes to base the new engines on – and was even responsible for suggesting the Sodor Steamworks, whilst Hero of the Rails was being developed initially, which was most likely his last contribution to Thomas’s world.  As well as Thomas, David has worked on numerous feature films including Lost In Space, The World Is Not Enough and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

 

Finally, we come to Steve Asquith, who was David Mitton’s right hand man for many years before finally succeeding him in 2004.  Steve has played several roles throughout the production of the series, and made his official debut as a Director for Jack and the Pack – a shortlived spin-off from Thomas shot in 2003.  Prior to this, Steve has also been a consultant on Jim Henson production Construction Site (Produced by Simon Spencer!) and Dream Street (Developed by TUGS Director, Chris Tulloch).

 

All three men made great contributions to Thomas and Friends, and were highly valued members of the production team with their wealth of experience and dedication to making a highly polished piece of filmwork.

Greg Tiernan

Greg Tiernan

Greg Tiernan has worked on numerous feature films and TV Series both live action and animated, before launching Nitrogen Studios with wife and business partner, Nicole Stinn, in 2003.  Both had read the Railway Series books in their youth, and were familiar with the world of Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends on the Island of Sodor prior to being approached by HIT Entertainment in 2007 when HIT Entertainment were toying with the idea of switching the methods of production from live action models to CGI animation.

 

Although initially the switchover was met with a deal of anxiety and animosity, Greg and his team have worked tirelessly to make sure that everyone can see the benefits of what a full CGI Sodor has to offer.  And, with a passion for the original Railway Series stories and the Rev Awdry’s original characters, he’s been both a natural and wonderful choice to lead the series into this brand new production medium.

 

Since the switchover, Thomas’s DVD sales and viewing figures have soared across the world as fans embrace the wonders that Nitrogen Studios can provide in visual quality.  It has opened up new doors for Thomas and Friends, and for Nitrogen Studios.

 

In 2009, Greg met and befriended members of the SiF Staff team at the Hero of the Rails premiere in London, and since then has kept up a regular and friendly correspondence with us.  In 2011, he surprised us all when he sunk 500 into the E-bay auction we were running to raise funds for Clic Sargent Children’s Cancer Charity.  Greg won the auction and kindly handed the books on offer to the second highest bidder.

 

Every day, Greg and his Nitrogen Studios team strive to maintain the visual standards set by David Mitton, Steve Asquith and Britt Allcroft - and occasionally, they can be seen to exceed them!