Thomas the Tank Engine Wikia
For other uses, see Thomas (disambiguation).

Thomas the Tank Engine was a musical television series planned by Andrew Lloyd Webber from 1973. A pilot episode was produced but cancelled by 1977 due to the US marketing not being interested enough.


Although the first attempt at televising The Railway Series in 1953 ultimately backfired, there was no lack of interest in trying again.

In 1973, Andrew Lloyd Webber, who had read The Railway Series as a child, approached publisher Kaye & Ward with a proposal for a musical television series. At the time, Lloyd Webber was very much the rising talent, having composed two biblical pop musicals, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar, as well as film scores for Gumshoe and The Odessa File.

Lloyd Webber had a number of meetings with Wilbert Awdry and Stanley Pickard, Kaye & Ward's Managing Director. Draft contracts were drawn-up and specimen lyrics written by Peter Reeves were submitted:

Come take a ride with the eight famous engines
Famous and Faithful and driven by steam
Each one is run by the branch line Controller
Each part of his scheme
The Fat Controllerʼs team...

However, there was apprehension from the publishers and the author, as the agreement being offered would give Lloyd Webber's company "control of almost everything-idea, the characters, every one of the twenty-six books, and even anything else not yet written on published." Lloyd Webberʼs lawyers argued that such control was necessary in order to "secure the investment money from America which would be needed to pay for the animation and the film-making."

The project looked decidedly uncertain, but in November 1974, Stanley Pickard advised Wilbert that he was "maintaining personal contact with Andrew and still had a slight hope that there might be a way out." Wilbert remained apprehensive: "Once the Americans get hold of it, the whole series would be vulgarized and ruined." Eventually, a contract was signed almost a year later and Wilbert was paid an advance of £500.

Lloyd Webber has ordered a pilot episode from Granada TV. Animator Brian Cosgrove (who would later be one of the founders of Cosgrove Hall Films) worked on the pilot, which would feature 2D cutouts of the engines moving along a background in a style reminiscent of the Ivor the Engine series. The cutouts and backgrounds would be based upon illustrations from The Railway Series, albeit in a unique Cosgrove style.[1]

The pilot episode was completed in early 1976 and Lloyd Webber had really tried very hard to bring the project to fruition, but Granada ultimately decided not to produce a full series as they feared that Awdry's stories were not then popular enough outside the UK to justify investing the time and money needed to make the series and he was a huge stage hit with Evita.

In 1977, Lloyd Webber formed the Really Useful Group, a name inspired by the phrase "Really Useful Engine." He wrote the Starlight Express inspired by the Railway Series in 1984, and it became one of his most famous works. These show that he retained his affection for The Railway Series in spite of the dropped pilot.


The following characters are mentioned in the specimen lyrics and may have appeared in later episodes.


A bridge similar to the viaduct from the fourth series of the 1995 television series produced by Britt Allcroft would have also appeared.


It is not known what became of the original pilot and where it is today, if any footage still exists. The only known image of the series shows Brian Cosgrove animating the pilot.[1]


  • This is the second example of an attempt to adapt the Railway Series books to television, following the 1953 BBC.
  • It is unknown exactly what story the pilot episode would have been based off of, but from the available image, it appears that the pilot would have been based off one or more of the stories from Thomas the Tank Engine.
  • During the production of the series, Lloyd Webber heard a recording of an American soul singer, Earl Jordan, who could sing three notes at once in the style of a steam whistle and it is believed that he was part of the voice cast.
  • In the early 1980s, when Britt Allcroft told Wilbert Awdry the plan for the television series, Awdry replied that a number of people had the same idea, but had failed in the attempt. He noted this pilot and Andrew Lloyd Webber's involvement as an example and claimed he had never heard more about it.
  • According to a news article from Variety, if the series was greenlit, it would have had ten half-hour episodes.


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