Thomas & Friends (previously known as Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends) is the name of the television series based on the Railway Series by the Reverend W. Awdry. It was adapted for television by Britt Allcroft using the original stories from the Railway Series before using original stories written by independent writers. The series has been broadcast in over 185 territories and has spawned twenty-four series, a theatrical film, and fourteen direct-to-DVD specials.
In April 2008, it was announced that filming of the series would transfer to Nitrogen Studios in Canada and that it would be CG animated. CGI was first used during the twelfth series for the faces of the engines, people and animals, although characters in background shots would still have the traditional clay faces. The first CG production, Hero of the Rails was released in Autumn 2009. Since then, the series has been CG animated.
In February 2012, it was announced that Arc Productions would take over animation duties starting with the seventeenth series in 2013. In August 2016, Arc Productions closed down after filing for bankruptcy. Jam Filled Entertainment, however, entered into an agreement, looking at acquiring the entirety of Arc. On 22nd August 2016, it was confirmed that Jam Filled Entertainment had successfully acquired Arc Productions and thus taken over the animation for Thomas & Friends.
Thomas & Friends was a television series mainly based around railway engines that live on the Island of Sodor. The show is mainly about the title character, Thomas, a cheeky little blue tank engine with six small wheels, a short stumpy funnel, a short stumpy boiler and a short stumpy dome. Thomas & Friends takes place on the standard gauge North Western Railway, the narrow gauge Skarloey Railway and the 15-inch gauge Arlesdale Railway. The head of the North Western Railway is Sir Topham Hatt, affectionately nicknamed "The Fat Controller" by the engines and staff, the Skarloey Railway is operated by Mr. Percival, "The Thin Controller" and the Arlesdale Railway is operated by Fergus Duncan, "The Small Controller."
The first known attempt to make a television adaptation of the Railway Series books was by the BBC in 1953. It was decided that Hornby Dublo models would be used and everything went ahead but the project did not succeed. During the live airing of the first episode, Henry derailed and a hand was seen coming down to put him back on the tracks. Nothing else is known to remain of this project.
There have been several other attempts, however. The first somewhat successful run was on the children's show "Jackanory" in 1970. The Railway Series books were read out loud by host Ted Ray. Five books were read in all until 2nd October 1970.
The current television series got its start in 1979 when the Reverend Awdry was interviewed on the Bluebell Railway for a feature on steam engines. The producer, Britt Allcroft, had read some of the books before the interview. She had become fascinated with the characters and after getting funding from her local bank, acquired the series so she could adapt it for television.
The Britt Allcroft Company Era (1984-2000)
Allcroft rounded up a production crew, which included model director David Mitton, narrator Ringo Starr and composers Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell. The first series premiered in October 1984 and with its success, came a second series in 1986.
After the huge successes of the first and second series, Britt Allcroft set another goal: bringing Thomas into the United States. Due to stricter broadcasting schedules, Britt had to create a half hour programme to go with the five and a half minute episodes. The result was Shining Time Station, starring Ringo Starr as Mr. Conductor, which began airing in 1989. This was another hit for Allcroft and was the beginning of the "Thomas craze" in America.
When the television series returned in 1991 with the third series, there were some big changes. Instead of following closely to the Railway Series, Allcroft and Mitton loosely adapted many of the Reverend's stories as well as loosely adapted magazine stories written by the current head writer Andrew Brenner (who unfortunately did not get credited for these adaptations), they even wrote their own episodes, much to the Reverend's disdain. The fourth series, airing in 1995, only had one original episode however and featured many new characters such as the Skarloey Railway engines.
By now, the series was doing incredibly well and a full-length theatrical film soon loomed ahead. Britt Allcroft decided to drift completely away from Railway Series stories and in 1998, the fifth series, contained all original storylines, allowing Britt to showcase the series as her own before the upcoming film.
The full-length theatrical film gained the title, Thomas and the Magic Railroad, and after many changes from the original script, it premiered in July 2000. The film had mixed views and despite being well received in America, the film was a huge box-office failure and Allcroft was forced off the series. Her company was sold to Gullane Entertainment and they, in turn, were later sold.
The Gullane Entertainment Era (2001-2003)
In 2001, the idea for a spin-off focusing on the non-rail vehicles was being tossed around at Gullane. It is possible that this idea later became Jack and the Sodor Construction Company. During the process, the sixth series was produced and aired in 2002, as was the seventh in 2003.
The HiT Entertainment Era (2004-2012)
The buyer of Gullane Entertainment turned out to be HiT Entertainment and the eighth series, that aired in 2004, came with drastic changes. The episodes became more formulaic in plot with the focus on morals and education. Since the eighth series this format is still being carried out for all the following series with great success.
2005 saw the broadcasting of the ninth series as well as the release of the first direct-to-DVD special, Calling All Engines! The tenth series aired in 2006 and was the only production to contain twenty-eight episodes unlike the usual twenty-six. The first broadcasting of the eleventh series took place in 2007 and this marked the final series to contain twenty-six episodes, until the seventeenth series. The second direct-to-DVD special, The Great Discovery was released in 2008 and this marked the final full live-action production.
One of the most revolutionary steps in the show's history also took place in 2008, when it was announced that Thomas & Friends would be produced using computer generated imagery (CGI). The show would be produced in Canada at Nitrogen Studios and the twelfth series used CGI for the faces of the engines, the people and the animals alongside the traditional live-action format. This was also the first series to contain twenty episodes and this format continued until the seventeenth series.
The first fully CG animated production was the 2009 direct-to-DVD special, Hero of the Rails, directed by Greg Tiernan. This was also the first time the engines and people had individual voice actors since Thomas and the Magic Railroad. The voice acting continued for all series and specials hereafter.
2010 saw the first year to have two series, the thirteenth and fourteenth. Another feature length special, Misty Island Rescue, was released that Autumn. The fifteenth series premiered in early 2011 and the next direct-to-DVD special, Day of the Diesels, was released in Autumn 2011. During that October, Mattel won HiT Entertainment in an auction by Apax Partners, HiT's owners and in February 2012 the money was transferred. February 2012 also saw the premiere of the sixteenth series in the UK. It was the last series animated by Nitrogen Studios, the last to have Sharon Miller as the head writer and the final series to contain twenty episodes. Blue Mountain Mystery was released in September 2012. It was the last special to involve Nitrogen Studios and Miller.
A second theatrical film, supposedly titled The Adventures of Thomas, was set to be released in 2011, but years later and still with no news on any further developments, it is unknown whether the project will actually move on. Although there has been no official confirmation of the project's cancellation, it is presumable that the film has been scrapped.
The Mattel Creations Era (2013-2016)
2013 saw Andrew Brenner take over as head writer and Arc Productions take over the CG animations, animating the seventeenth series as well as all following series and specials until the end of the show. The seventeenth series also regained the initial twenty-six episode format and implemented a new writing style that promised to focus on the original charm and appeal of Thomas & Friends. This format was used with great success and a lot of fan approval. Ten episodes of the seventeenth series aired in the UK in June 2013 followed by five episodes in September/October 2013. Another episode aired in November and four more in December. Also released in Autumn 2013 was the seventh direct-to-DVD special, King of the Railway. The seventeenth series began airing on 7th October 2013 in the US. The remaining six episodes of the seventeenth series, featured on the Spills and Thrills DVD aired between July and November 2014 in the UK. In Autumn 2014, the eighteenth series aired and the following feature-length special, Tale of the Brave was released. The remaining six episodes of the eighteenth series featured on the Dinos and Discoveries DVD premiered in the UK in July 2015.
Thomas & Friends celebrated their 70th Anniversary in 2015. To celebrate this milestone, a 44-minute special, The Adventure Begins was released in Spring 2015, the first feature to include original stories by the Rev. W. Awdry since 1995. Furthermore, a special 28-minute documentary, titled 70 Years of Friendship was released exclusively on the Thomas & Friends YouTube channel on 14th July 2015. In Autumn the same year, the next direct-to-DVD special, Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure, was released. The first four episodes of the nineteenth series premiered in the UK between 21st September and 24th September 2015. The nineteenth series also first aired on 13th October 2015 in the US.
In January 2016, three more episodes from the nineteenth series aired in the UK, followed by another five episodes in March 2016. March 2016 also saw the release of six more nineteenth series episodes released on the annual mini-tentpole, episodic release, Start Your Engines!. These episodes later aired in the UK in July 2016. A special 4-D theme-park exclusive production was released titled, Thomas & Friends in 4-D: Bubbling Boilers on 9th April 2016, in Boston.
In August 2016, Arc Productions closed down after filing for bankruptcy. After entering an agreement, Jam Filled Entertainment looked to acquire Arc Productions under a new management. On 22nd August 2016, it was confirmed that Jam Filled had successfully acquired the entirety of Arc Productions and some former Arc staff regaining their jobs, resumed working on animation for Thomas & Friends under the new management and organisation name.
September 2016 saw the release of the next direct-to-DVD special, The Great Race. The twentieth series began broadcasting in the UK on the 5th of September 2016 with the first five episodes of the series and in the US on the 21st of October 2016. HiT Entertainment and SiF released a poll in which fans voted for what they wanted to see rendered in CG for this series. Notably, this was the first series since the fourth series to adapt Railway Series stories, with the book Small Railway Engines being adapted into the final three episodes of the series.
The Mattel Television Era (2017-present)
In 2017, a special entitled Journey Beyond Sodor aired in the autumn. The twenty-first series also premiered in autumn 2017 and it is the first series entirely animated by Jam Filled Entertainment. The series was cut short in order to allow for development of the twenty-second series. This series saw the addition of more slapstick humour and fast pacing in an effort to ease audiences into the soft reboot that occurred the next series.
In 2017, it was revealed that the series would be undergoing a drastic revamp. The name of the series was changed to Thomas & Friends: Big World! Big Adventures! beginning with a special of the same name, which was released theatrically in the UK in the summer of 2018. The movie and the first half of the twenty-second series revolve around Thomas travelling the world and learning about different cultures, while the second half takes place on Sodor. The theme song was changed to Big World! Big Adventures!, the visuals became faster-paced, there is a greater emphasis on comedy and action, animals became a more prominent feature of the stories, and fantasy sequences became more prevalent, with at least one fantasy sequence in every episode. The show no longer features a narrator at all, replaced with Thomas speaking to the audience. Additionally, it was revealed that Edward, Henry, and Toby would be removed from the Steam Team, while the former two would be replaced with new female engines named Nia and Rebecca in an effort to bring the gender ratio among the main cast to a 50/50 split. It was announced that the episodes' runtime would be split into 7-minute stories (shortened from the 9-minute time slot used from series 13-21) and 4-minute segments featuring songs, puzzles, and other activities. These changes were made in an attempt to keep Thomas & Friends relevant by making it more similar to other preschool shows.
Following this drastic retooling, Thomas and the new Steam Team made their special online video appearance wearing Pudsey Bear ears for the BBC's Children in Need on November 9, 2018. Further upgrades were done to five out of seven Steam Team characters including Thomas, Percy, Emily, James and Gordon ahead of the twenty-third series aired in the autumn of 2019. In the summer of that year, Digs and Discoveries premiered at Drayton Manor's 4D cinema for a week before it was released on DVD and shown on television. By the beginning of 2020 for the 75th anniversary, Thomas & Friends had move from cable television on Nickelodeon in the USA to streaming exclusively on Netflix starting with Steam Team to the Rescue.
During the celebrations, Thomas and the Royal Engine was shown with a live-action introduction of Prince Charles followed by the twenty-fourth series and Marvellous Machinery, which marked the final productions for the original television series by a grand total of 584 episodes, 13 feature length specials and a theatrical film.
By October 2020, Mattel announced their collaboration with Corus Entertainment's Nelvana Studio to produce a full on 2D animated reboot titled 'Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go' which was broadcast during the autumn of 2021, and taking a completely different direction from the original show, while a live action and animated hybrid theatrical film is set to be directed by Marc Forster.
- Series 1 (1984 in the UK and 1989-1990 in the US)
- Series 2 (1986 in the UK and 1989-1990 in the US)
- Series 3 (1991-1992)
- Series 4 (1994-1995)
- Series 5 (1998 in the UK and 1999 in the US)
- Series 6 (2002)
- Series 7 (2003 in the UK and 2004 in the US)
- Series 8 (2004)
- Series 9 (2005)
- Series 10 (2006)
- Series 11 (2007)
- Series 12 (2008)
- Series 13 (2009 in the UK and 2010 in the US)
- Series 14 (2010)
- Series 15 (2011)
- Series 16 (2012)
- Series 17 (2013-2014)
- Series 18 (2014-2015)
- Series 19 (2015-2016)
- Series 20 (2016-2017)
- Series 21 (2017)
- Series 22 (2018-2019)
- Series 23 (2019-2020)
- Series 24 (2020-2021)
- Calling All Engines! (2005)
- The Great Discovery (2008)
- Hero of the Rails (2009)
- Misty Island Rescue (2010)
- Day of the Diesels (2011)
- Blue Mountain Mystery (2012)
- King of the Railway (2013)
- Tale of the Brave (2014)
- The Adventure Begins (2015)
- Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure (2015)
- The Great Race (2016)
- Journey Beyond Sodor (2017)
- Big World! Big Adventures! (2018)
Presumably titled The Adventures of Thomas was the then second theatrical Thomas & Friends film that was planned for release. Little was ever known about this film and the full state of this film is still currently unknown. As of 2018, it has most likely been cancelled, since no new updates on the film have been announced.
- Shining Time Station (US only; 1989-2000)
- Mr. Conductor's Thomas Tales (US only; 1996)
- Jack and the Sodor Construction Company (2006)
- Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go (2021-present)
- The Thomas the Tank Engine Man (1995)
- Hashire! The "Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends" Steam Locomotive is Alive! (Japanese; 2005)
- Original 70th Anniversary History Time Travel (Japanese; 2015)
- 70 Years of Friendship (2015)
- Secret Journey of Thomas the Tank Engine (Japanese; 2015)
- Thomas and the U.K. Trip (Japanese; 1992)
- Hello Thomas and James (Japanese; 1996)
- A Wonderful American Journey with Thomas and Connie (Japanese; 2000)
- Thomas & Friends in 4-D: Bubbling Boilers (2016)
These are the narrators of the show in the United Kingdom and the United States. Some of the narrators were also called Mr. Conductor
- Ringo Starr (UK narrator for Series 1–2; 1984–1986; US narrator for Series 1-2, 1989–1990)
- Michael Angelis (UK narrator for Series 3–16; 1991–2012, US narrator for the New Friends for Thomas and Other Adventures VHS/DVD, 2004)
- George Carlin (US narrator for Series 1–4; 1991–1996)
- Alec Baldwin (US narrator for Series 5–6; 1998–2003)
- Michael Brandon (US narrator for Series 7–16, re-dubbed six Series 6 episodes; 2003–2012)
- Pierce Brosnan (UK/US guest narrator for The Great Discovery and the original cut of Series 12; 2008)
- Mark Moraghan (UK/US narrator for Series 17–21, re-dubbed one Series 13 episode, two Series 14 episodes and two Series 15 episodes; 2013–2018)
- Thomas the Tank Engine (narrator for Series 22–24; 2018–2021):
- Wales: Tomos a'i Ffrindiau, narrated by John Ogwen and often broadcast on S4C's "Planed Plant Bach"
- Scotland/Gaelic: Tòmas is a Threud, usually broadcast on BBC Alba.
- Japan: きかんしゃトーマス (Kikansha Tōmasu), broadcast on Fuji Television (Series 1–8), TV Tokyo (Series 9–11, 13) and NHK (Series 14–24)
- Norway: Lokomotivet Thomas/Thomas og Vennene Hans
- Germany: Thomas die kleine Lokomotive/Thomas und seine Freunde
- Greece: Τόμας το Τρενάκι/Tomas to Trenaki
- Finland: Tuomas Veturi/Tuomas ja Ystävät
- France: Thomas et ses Amis
- Israel: תומס הקטר (Tomas HaKatar)/תומס הקטר וחברים (Tomas HaKatar VaChaverim)
- Italy: Il trenino Thomas e i suoi amici
- Poland: Parowóz Tomeki i jego Przyjaciele/Tomek i Przyjaciele
- Portugal: Thomas o Trem Azul/Tomás e Amigos/Thomas e os Seus Amigos
- Romania: Locomotiva Thomas și Prietenii Săi
- Sweden: Thomas och Vännerna
- China: 托马斯和朋友, broadcast on CCTV.
- Taiwan: 湯瑪士小火車
- South Korea: 기관차 토마스와 친구들/칙칙폭폭 토마스 기관차/꼬마 기관차 토마스와 친구들/토마스와 친구들
- The Netherlands: Thomas de Stoomlocomotief
- Mexico/Latin America/Spain: Thomas y sus Amigos
- Brazil: Thomas e seus amigos
- Hungary: Thomas a gőzmozdony
- Russia: "Томас и его друзья" (Tomas i Druz'ya)
- Bulgaria: "Томас и приятели" (Tomas i Prijateli)
- Ukraine: "Паровоз Томас і його друзі" (Paravoz Tomas i y̆ogo druzi)
- Denmark: Thomas og vennerne
- Iceland: Tommi togvagn og vinir hans
- Thailand: โทมัสและเพื่อน ๆ
- Indonesia: Thomas dan Teman
- Latvia: Tomas un draugi
- Slovakia: Thomas a jeho priatelia
- Serbia: Tomas i drugari
- Estonia: Toomas ja sõbrad
- Nominated - British Academy of Film and Television Arts - Best Animated Film, 1985 and 1987.
- From 1986-2008, the show was filmed at West London's Shepperton Studios. The layouts were expansive and fitted in a hangar-sized room. The trains were at the scale of Gauge 1 and filmed using a 35 mm camera, in order to get quality shots from such small objects. More information can be found at Sodor Island Fansite's Behind the Scenes page.
- Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell composed the show's original main title theme, songs and incidental music from 1984 to 2003. In 2004 Robert Hartshorne took their place as composer, while Ed Welch wrote the new theme tune and the songs.
- Every UK narrator of the series, excluding John Hasler, has narrated at least a few episodes for the US.
- Four real engines have been featured in the show - Stepney has made a number of appearances and City of Truro and Flying Scotsman (tenders only) played minor roles in two third series episodes. The latter is also featured in the 2016 special The Great Race. City of Truro also briefly cameoed in one sixteenth series episode. Also, Stephen, more famously known as The Rocket, belongs to Sir Robert Norramby in the television series universe and is subsequently a regular character in the series.
- When the first two series came out, the font that was used was Bevin. From series 3-7, the show's font was Rockwell, from series 8-24, the show used Flange BQ (Bold).
- Thomas, Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, Toby, Annie, Clarabel, and Sir Topham Hatt are the only characters who have appeared in every series of the series, all of whom except Annie and Clarabel also had a speaking role in each series. Out of all of them, Thomas, Henry, Gordon, and James are the only characters who have appeared in every special. In addition, Thomas, Henry, and James are the only characters to have at least one line of dialogue in every special.
- There are no characters that have appeared in every episode of the series, not even Thomas himself. However, the narrator seems to have lines in every single episode, despite not technically being a character.
- Thomas appears and speaks in every episode of the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth and nineteenth series. He also appears in every episode of the ninth, sixteenth and twentieth series, despite not speaking in all of them. However, starting from Big World! Big Adventures! and the twenty second series onwards, Thomas himself takes over the role of narration, telling it from his point of view.
- Tidmouth Sheds is the only location to appear in every series of the franchise.
- The engines and rolling stock seen from the first series were made out of modified Märklin gauge 1 models.
- The rolling stock seen from series 1 to series 5 were made out of modified Tenmille gauge 1 kits. Tenmille still make some of these wagons today. From series 6 onwards, they were all scratch built.
- There are over 500 episodes of Thomas & Friends, with the 500th being P.A. Problems, with Laid Back Shane being the 550th episode.
- In 2005, the series ranked 26th in Channel 4's 100 Greatest Kids' TV Shows vote. In 2013, the series ranked 34th in Channel 5's 50 Greatest Kids TV Shows vote.
- 2024 will mark the 40th anniversary of the Thomas & Friends television series, while 2025 will mark the 80th anniversary of the whole franchise itself.
- Several models from the series have been on display at the Discover Thomas and Friends exhibition at Drayton Manor Theme Park in the UK, Explore the Rails in the US, Nitrogen Studios in Canada, and the Thomas Town and Hara Model Railway Museum in Japan. Some models have also been sold to various buyers worldwide including Top Props, ThomasMerchandise, SmurfyDan and TomJedski.