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- “If you can't behave, I will take away your red coat and have you painted blue.”
- ―Sir Topham Hatt
James and the Coaches, retitled James Learns a Lesson in American releases, is the eighth episode of the first series.
James is settling into his new life nicely. The Fat Controller tells him that he can take coaches or trucks easily; but must learn from his mistakes. Remembering a nasty accident with trucks on his first day, James knows exactly what he means by that.
James' first job of the day is to double-head a train of coaches with Edward, who warns him not to bump the coaches. People have arrived on the platform to admire James, who quickly gets excited and lets off steam without warning, causing a shower of water to fall on the Fat Controller's brand new top hat. It is time for the train to leave and James tries to get out as fast as he can, which bothers Edward and the coaches. This causes trouble at the first station stop when James causes two of the coaches to run beyond the platform forcing the train to reverse to let off passengers. However, it seems that no one knows what happened with the Fat Controller, much to James' relief.
Next James and Edward stop at the station on Thomas' new branch line where the tank engine greets then before leaving, the train later passes the field (now cleaned up) from James' accident. Finally, the journey ends and after unloading the passengers James and Edward head for home, with James still wondering what the Fat Controller will have to say about his top hat.
The next morning, the Fat Controller visits James in the shed and warns him that if he cannot behave, he will be punished by being painted blue. James hates the idea of losing his red coat. However, rather than calming down, James gets very angry and takes it out on the coaches while bringing them to the station. He grumbles about having to fetch them on his own, unlike Gordon. To make matters worse, none of the passengers dare go near James, which makes him angrier.
James pulls the coaches very roughly and runs too fast for comfort. Eventually, the coaches force James to stop. His driver determines that James' rough treatment has caused a leak in a coach's brake pipe. The crew inspects the damage and discuss how to mend it. The driver's only recommendation is to plug the leak with newspaper and a leather bootlace. Since none of the crew has that kind of bootlace, the guard proceeds to ask each of the passengers and at last finds a man with a leather bootlace, who refuses to give it up. The guard explains that without the boot lace, the train cannot continue. The other passengers are very cross, both at the railway and at the man for refusing to help. Under pressure, the man finally hands over the boot lace and the damage is temporarily repaired allowing James to finish the journey.
James, knowing that he is going to be in a lot of trouble with the Fat Controller, carefully proceeds on his way and takes care to never bump coaches again.
- Sir Topham Hatt
- Jeremiah Jobling (not named)
- Annie and Clarabel (not named)
- Troublesome Trucks (do not speak)
- Stephen Hatt (cameo)
- The Little Boys (cameo)
- Lady Hatt (cameo)
- Gordon (mentioned)
- Rail Under Road Bridge and Stone Wall
- Knapford Bus Yard
- The Cow Field
- Gordon's Hill
- Tidmouth Sheds
- The Goat Field
- Henry's Tunnel
- This episode is based on the stories James and the Top Hat and James and the Bootlace from The Railway Series book, James the Red Engine.
- Stock footage from Thomas and the Breakdown Train is used in a flashback.
- This is the last episode in which Henry's Tunnel would be seen until the fourth series episode, Henry and the Elephant.
- The two coaches at the end of James' train are Annie and Clarabel.
- George Carlin's narration was not available on home video until 2002, when it was released on Best of James.
- After the narrator says "James was still wondering what the Fat Controller would have to say about his top hat," James' whistle sound is actually the same audio of James whistling in Thomas and the Trucks, when Sir Topham Hatt asks Thomas what he is doing at Maron Station. Here, the first note of James' whistle is cut off slightly.
- The events of this episode are mentioned in the twenty-second series episode, An Engine of Many Colours. James was even painted blue in his dream, just as the Fat Controller threatened in this episode.
- This was the last episode in Japan to feature Edward's original nameboard at the end.
- Clarabel is facing the wrong way when Thomas leaves the junction.
- When James is getting his branch line coaches ready, the brake coach is in the middle of the train.
- A member of James' crew is blond at the beginning, but when his crew wonder how to fix the leak, all three have dark hair.
- When the train passes James and Edward, a brake van is in the middle.
- In the restored version, when James bumps the coaches at Knapford on the second day, the bumping sounds are out of sync.
- In the first close-up of the Fat Controller, ink is visible on his right hand.
- When James leaves after the leather bootlace incident, James' puffing sounds are exactly the same, but James' speed changes.
- In the close-up of James' driver and fireman inside his cab, the hill beside James is nowhere to be seen.
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