As the Railway Series began to grow and
achieve a level of notoriety, it was natural that other means of exploiting the sales of the books could be made. In 1957, the Reverend Awdry made a recording of two stories – Edward’s
Day Out and Edward & Gordon – on the Chiltern Records label.
The recording was released at a 7” vinyl, however, examples
of this have become a very rare collector’s item today. However, during an interview on Desert Island Discs, Awdry
mentioned that he would love to take a recording of Edward and Gordon with him - but not of his own storytelling... that honour
fell to the first storyteller of The Railway Stories.
In 1962, the first of Awdry’s stories were committed
to audio recordings by Delyse Records, under the moniker of The Railway Stories. These were brought to life by Johnny
Morris, a popular broadcaster of the time who had won the hearts of children with his television persona – 'The Hot
Chestnut Man. However, like Ringo Starr would be in years to come with Britt Allcroft’s television adaptation, Johnny
was unsure if he wanted to assume the role of the storyteller. Johnny is quoted in The Thomas The Tank Engine Man biography,
"I was not all that mad about them (The Railway Series books). They were all right but..."
Isabella Wallich, the founder and manager
of Delyse Records argued against his pessimism, and insisted that the sales of the Railway Series books (nearing 2 million
by this point) would lend themselves well to record sales, and that Johnny was the most credible person in terms of bringing
the engine characters to life. Suitably convinced, Johnny took up the reigns as the first storyteller.
Johnny met the job with great enthusiasm and provided a
wide and diverse voice range for the numerous characters and individual personalities.
Johnny even went as far to provide his own scripts for the recordings, which were found to be sometimes edited, but
sharpened versions of the Reverend Awdry’s work. Johnny also built on the repetition used by the author and used it
to enhance the storytelling as he implemented his own unique range of whistles, puffings, chugging and bursts of steam to
build the recording up.
The Reverend Awdry approved of Johnny’s storytelling style, and “seemed contented with the way his
stories were interpreted”. Most importantly the audience did as well, and
the format proved very successful. Johnny recorded eleven of the Awdry books
from The Three Railway Engines to Percy the Small Engine. The first eight books
were committed to audio cassette as well as vinyl, however, the remaining three were left in their double-sided two-story
release format – however were released on audio cassette when re-recorded by Johnny’s successor...
Delyse Records were later bought out by Decca Records, and given the success of Johnny
Morris’s work, Decca were keen to make more recordings of the Reverend Awdry’s work through their Argo Records arm,
which specialised in spoken-word recordings. However, by the time they came to
producing a set of follow-ups, Johnny was unavailable to record them as he had been before.
At this point, they turned to the cheerful, fruity tones of William Rushton – a cartoonist and comedian, who
had received acclaim for his role as a storyteller on Jackanory, particularly for his treatment of Winnie the
Willie did feel slightly un-easy about stepping in to the role, but mainly because he didn’t feel he could
bring as much to the role in terms of individual voicing as Johnny had before him. This
didn’t prove much of a hindrance however, as the Reverend Awdry fully approved of Willie’s telling of his stories. Despite finding the experience of voicing the characters exhausting, Willie remembered
his working relationship with the Reverend Awdry to be a happy one, commenting that “He turned out to be a sweetie;
we got on very well and I recall that he laughed a lot during the recordings.”
Willie Rushton went on to record all of the remaining Railway Series stories over several releases, from Edward the Blue Engine until Tramway Engines. However, from the start of his tenure with the Railway Stories, a new format was introduced
– with engine and railway (and occasionally cars and animals) noises being
implemented at the beginning and end of the stories to add atmosphere. Argo Records reissued the narratives done by
Johnny Morris on audio cassette alongside the LP vinyl releases, and issued the work of Willie Rushton as The Railway
Stories, More Railway Stories and Further Railway Stories, the latter being released in 1982 purely
as an audio cassette compilation with no vinyl release.
After Willie Rushton had recorded his last set of Railway Stories in 1982, the series lay
dormant, and for the most part, the recordings seemingly faded away. The
Railway Series received a resurgence of popularity in the 1980s with the advent of the television series, and Christopher
Awdry’s choice to revive his father’s characters.
In the mid 1990s, Christopher’s books were committed to audio as well through Tempo Reed and Egmont
Books. And again, in the spirit of his father’s work, they were done
by a well-known personality of the time, Ted Robbins. These releases
were clearly aimed at young children that would be growing up with the television series. This was indicated through
the use of the Ken Stott artwork (often used for Christopher Awdry’s extraneous publications for younger children) as opposed to
the artwork by Railway Series illustrator, Clive Spong, as the practice had been with his predecessors.
Ted’s storytelling was gentle, friendly and warm.
The format of the audios was changed again to allow for ‘conversation’ between storyteller and listener inbetween the stories, most likely to provide a more
inviting and welcoming atmosphere. And in a further change, unlike the preceding
audio stories, these releases were given their own theme music which played at the beginning and end of each side of the cassette.
But as the cassette tape recordings
were made in 1994, they only encompassed the twelve books that Christopher had written at this point. No subsequent recordings were made for either Book 39 or 40.
From October 1981, The Railway Series also featured
as part of The Noel Edmonds Show on BBC Radio One.
These were done by the accomplished and well versed actor, Sir John Geilgud.
According to Nicholas Jones (Producer of The Thomas the Tank Engine Man Documentary),
Noel’s initial thinking behind this was to present the telling of the Railway Series stories as a slight spoof or joke,
given Radio One’s continuing position as a station aimed at the trendy, young and current market.
However, Sir John’s telling of the stories was enrapturing. He read ‘with energy and attack, capturing all the fun and excitement’
and although refraining from the attempt of making different vocal characterisations of each character as Johnny Morris or
Willie Rushton had attempted to before him, Sir John focussed upon recounting the stories with Brian Sibley considers to be
‘conspiratorial glee – as if sharing a series of rather splendid jokes’ – which we can only assume
that both Noel Edmonds and The Reverend Awdry would have approved of!
The Railway Series recordings by Sir John went on for six months every Sunday between 1981 and 1982. However, the stories found a new audience in the age of Digital Radio when they were
played again the mid 2000s on a children’s radio station representing Thomas the Tank Engine. The surviving recordings also found a place on The Thomas the Tank
Engine Man Documentary where snippets of the stories were played throughout at intervals with the original C Reginald
Dalby illustration as a backdrop. Otherwise, we have no information as to an
official release of Sir John’s Railway Series recordings at the time of their broadcast or later.
Following the broadcast
of Britt Allcroft’s first TV Series in 1984, it was naturally accompanied with tie-ins for young fans. Ladybird Books produced a number of books for the first two TV Series, being released in 1985 and 1987,
encompassing two and on occasion, three stories per book with numerous images taken from the time of production by Terry Permane,
David Mitton and Kenny MacArthur. The text from the books would largely be an adapted
version of the TV Series broadcast, with the only major additions being an explanation of previous events that hadn’t been
chosen for adaptation to book format.
|With thanks to Callum Walker for preparing the initial mock-up image
These books were also accompanied by audio
cassette recordings done by then storyteller, Ringo Starr, who would be reading from the corresponding text. The format
was similar to that of the Railway Series Recordings of old, opening and closing with the trademark theme music, but with
no sound effects or theme music throughout. These books and cassettes were aimed
at children learning to read, and at the start of each tape, Ringo would be heard giving the advisory prompt, “When
you hear Thomas whistle – Peep Peep! – Turn the Page!” so that the young readers would be able to keep
track of the story and where they should be following.
|With thanks to Callum Walker for the cover art
Ladybird Books did not continue the format for the 3rd series of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends,
with the predominate tie-in books for this series falling to Buzz Books, who went on to produce around 50 individual titles
based on the TV Series episodes. However, none of these were accompanied by audio
cassettes recorded by new storyteller, Michael Angelis. Later audio cassette
releases largely centred upon the newly introduced format of ‘Thomas Songs’ written and produced by Mike O’Donnell
and Junior Campbell prior to the launch of the 4th series in 1993.
Two releases were made with a special story built around the numerous Thomas songs, the first - The Best Kept Station
Competition - came in 1993, and was followed by Surprise Adventures around 1998.
In 2006, BBC Audio Books released The Railway Stories Vol.1
– told by Michael Angelis. Although by this point, the Railway Series books
had fell somewhat out of favour with their new publishers at Egmont Books, who regard them as being ‘old fashioned’,
the producers of the new Railway Stories CDs were keen to update the format through which the Reverend Awdry’s stories
The CDs were made to be fun and appealing to modern children, whilst still harnessing the charm of the original
Railway Series stories. This was done through attempting to align the new Railway
Stories CDs with the new TV Series format – and as such, Michael Angelis’s storytelling manner was done in very
much the same gentle tone, accompanied at intervals – often throughout the stories themselves by songs from the Thomas
TV Series by Ed Welch. The alignment even stretched as far as using publicity
shots from the Thomas TV Series for the CD artwork.
In addition to The Railway Stories CDs, BBC
Audio Books have also released The Great Discovery - the 2008 Hour-Long Special told by Pierce
Brosnan - as an Audio CD. Unlike The Railway Stories told by Michael Angelis was not specially recorded,
with the contents lifted directly from the DVD release itself with the score by Robert Hartshorne and songs by Ed Welch
Around five releases of The Railway Stories have been made by BBC
Audio Books, with three Railway Series volumes of stories per CD. In addition
to these, Michael Angelis has also been the storyteller on CDs based on the My Thomas
Story Library books, stories from which are quite often slight adaptations of the Railway Series / TV Series stories.
The sixth volume of the Railway Stories was originally due
out in July 2010, but for unknown reasons - possibly due to a three-cd gift pack - the date was pushed back to June
2011, with an additional seventh volume in the works. BBC Audiobooks (now called AudioGo) re-issued all six volumes in
a "complete" boxset, bringing thoughts of whether this series is set to continue following Michael Angelis' retirement from
the TV Series. A few AudioGo Railway Series story Samples and full narrations can be listened to here.
In November of 2011 and throughout 2013, the online digital
media store The Lost Noises office released three Complete Railway Series books narrated by Johnny Morris in MP3 format for download,.
These classic narrations have been proven to be popular with nostalgics who grew up listening to these stories, and also for
a new generation of young fans of the Railway Series.