Here, we look at other children's television shows and books that have links to Thomas or are of a similar ilk...
In addition to his famous engines, the Rev. W. Awdry also penned two novellas aimed at older children, about the adventures of a Volkswagen Beetle. The first title, Belinda the Beetle appeared in 1958, followed in 1968 by sequel, Belinda Beats The Band. Taking a totally different slant on writing, the Belinda books had far more dense plotlines, and took advantage of events that Awdry would not have endeavoured to use in the Railway Series books such as thievery, kidnapping and car chases – all of which were delivered in his own old fashioned innocent style.
Sadly, Belinda never achieved the notoriety of her railway counterparts, but lives on in their shadow, with some of those interested in Awdry’s work taking notice of her adventures to ‘complete’ their collections. Belinda’s books were not as colourful as the bold Railway Series illustrations, but did contain work by John Kenney for the sequel book, with the original done by Iconus. Both novellas were reillustrated by Val Biro later on.
Following the second series of Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, Clearwater Features wanted to create their own original series. Both he and David Mitton wanted to create a new world which would challenge them creatively and stretch their expertise. Wishing to continue with a transport theme, the idea of Tugboats piqued the interest of Producer, Robert D. Cardona, whilst in San Fransisco. Thus, the idea for TUGS was born.
Set in an international port of Bigg City Port (referred to as the ‘biggest Harbour in the world) in the 1920s, it chronicled the daily lives of two rival Tugboat fleets – the hero Star Tugs, who were portrayed as honest, industrious and friendly, led by the suave Ocean-Going Tug, Hercules, with wise Paddle-Steamer OJ and river-wise Harbour Tug, Big Mac, to keep things running smoothly for the clumsy Warrior, uppity Top Hat and the two younger switchers, Ten Cents and Sunshine. Competing against them were the villainous Z-Stack fleet, who were presented as devious, rude and occasionally, stupid (often as villains are presented to us in fiction), led by the cunning Zorran, who had the arduous task of co-ordinating the two bumbling switchers Zip and Zug, as well as his underling Harbour Tugs, Zebedee and Zak.
Whilst regarded as similar to Thomas in terms of production, TUGS was regarded as superior in terms of scripting. Within the longer and variable 15 to 20-minute running length, the writing staff were able to create far more dramatic and enthralling storylines, as well as incorporating elements of comedy throughout which balanced the series out. Director, Writer and Co-Creator, David Mitton is fondly remembered by members of the production team for having a keen interest in explosions, being regarded as one of the finest pyrotechnics to work for Century 21st (Gerry Anderson’s Company), and he took the chance time and again to incorporate fire and explosions into his storylines... although fellow Director / Writer, Chris Tulloch, also indulged in the art of explosives in his episode Trapped.
A second series of TUGS was planned long before the first ended shooting; however, these plans were shelved when TVS (partners in TUGS Ltd. with Clearwater Features) went bankrupt. TUGS became the last major production made by Clearwater Features. David Mitton went on to join the Britt Allcroft Company and continued to produce and direct for Thomas until 2003, when he chose to leave following the HIT Entertainment takeover. Robert D. Cardona went to live in Canada and carried on the spirit of the TUGS Series in a new production, Theodore Tugboat, which he produced and occasionally directed.
Following liquidation of Clearwater Features and final confirmation that TUGS would not continue in production, some of the models and sets from TUGS were sold to the Britt Allcroft Company for use in filming Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. Certain models were heavily modified (such as OJ who appeared altered in Series 4), whilst others such as the SS Vienna (Liner) and Big Mickey (Harbour Crane) continued unaltered throughout. Big Mickey in particular has had the longest post-TUGS lifespan having appeared in every Thomas series since 1991, and being rendered in CGI for the new animated series!
The series saw a brief return to life as the footage was used as part of an American series, Salty’s Lighthouse. However, the visuals were re-edited (often badly) throughout to create original storylines with new voiceovers. A DVD Campaign for TUGS has been going on for some time, but seems unlikely to bear much success given the fragmented nature of the rights to the series. We hope that these will eventually resolve themselves, but in the meantime, we have fond memories.
Catherine Tozer’s creation Mumfie had previously been adapted by Mary Turner and John Read for ATV as the puppet animation TV Series, ‘Here Comes Mumfie’ between 1976 and 1979, running for 52 episodes. This version has been subsequently overlooked as the years have progressed, being overtaken by Britt Allcroft’s adaptation, which first appeared in the early 1990s, following on from production of Series 3 of Thomas the Tank Engine, which had been the first full production that Britt Allcroft Productions had produced on their own steam. Ironically, Storyteller for Mumfie, Patrick Breen, was initially in mind for a role in Thomas & The Magic Railroad, but was sadly dropped as were a number of other voice talents.
Unlike Thomas, Britt instead decided to utilise 2D animation to create ‘The Magical Adventures Of Mumfie’, reimagining the original Catherine Tozer novels to see Mumfie finding his faithful friend the Scarecrow, who had been made redundant by the Farmer, and a timid piglet called Pinky, who had run away from his home, which had been taken over by the Evil Master who is keeping his mother prisoner. He, Mumfie and Scarecrow make it their mission to save her, and encounter various obstacles and make new friends along the way.
Mumfie also encompassed 26 Broadway style songs into its format, with lyrics by her writing partner, John Kane, music by Larry Grossman and songs and music produced by Steve Horelick. Mumfie also saw a Movie release based on the character’s initial adventures in Britt Allcroft’s reimagined series. In 2008, Britt reacquired the rights to Mumfie from HIT Entertainment. In 2011 a new Mumfie website was launched. With full distribution plans at the ready, Mumfie made a comeback to the US on DVD thanks to Lionsgate in November of 2013. In July 2014, Mumfie will make his first retail appearance in the UK in time twenty years after the character's original introduction to television audiences.
Theodore Tugboat was thought up by Andrew Cochran, a worker at Halifax Harbour, as a means to explain to his young son all the characteristics and work of the different vessels within the port. The idea seemed to have merit when Cochran formed his own production company in 1989 and developed the series with the CBC in Canada along with former Thomas / TUGS Producer Robert Cardona, who directed a number of episodes of the series. It is likely that the premise of live action animation was introduced by Cardona, using his previous experience learned from Thomas and TUGS. The series ran for five seasons between 1992 - 1998 with 130 episodes in all.
The series follows the adventures of a young tugboat named Theodore who lives in the Big Harbour, handling life's lessons portrayed through the working life of a tugboat. With his best friend Hank, and the other tugboats - Emily the "Vigorous", George the "Valiant" and Foduck the "Vigilant" - they all strive to do a good job and make the Big Harbour "the friendliest Harbour in the world". The stories were told by the Harbourmaster, played by Denny Doherty.
In a similar format used by Thomas and TUGS before, the series was filmed using character models and sets, all which were designed and made by Fred Allen, and are to this day on permanent display at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia. But unlike Thomas or TUGS, not only were the tugboats, barges and ships given various personalities and expressions, but other structures such as buildings, bellboys, bridges, oil rigs and even docks received the same treatment - case in point with Benjamin Bridge and Donald Dock. To add also, all the names of the ships in the series were deprived from real-life locations mainly from the Nova Scotia region - such as Truro, Shelburne, Inverness and Canso Colossus, to name but a few.
The series ended production in 2001, and the rights were sold onto Classic Media, but to this day many Americans remember Theodore as much as they do with Thomas, with tons of merchandise to seek after - books VHS Cassettes, Ertl models. But Theodore is still remembered today by a life-sized replica tugboat (bearing the name Theodore Too) which resides in Halifax Harbour, giving sightseeing tours to visitors.
Ivor The Engine... look, there he is, standing next to the notes I’m currently writing with Jones The Steam...’ – okay, you get the picture! Ivor the Engine was the creation of Oliver Postgate, who produced and created several other much-loved British children’s classics such as The Clangers and Bagpuss with his collaborator, Peter Firmin. Set in the top left-hand corner of Wales on the Merionethand Llantisilly Railway Traction Company Limited, the series followed the adventures of their engine – Ivor – and his friends.
Ivor was a peculiar machine. He was very far removed from his Railway Series counterparts, both in account of the fact he could only communicate through his whistle and he could go anywhere he liked without the aid of his Driver, Jones the Steam to stop him or apply the brakes. Truly, Ivor had a mind of his own! Funnily enough, his lack of verbal communication did not seem to hinder him in the slightest, Jones The Steam was somehow able to understand every communication that Ivor's whistle intended to tell him and would be able to relay it to the uninitiated such as grumpy Dai Station - The Station Master and snooty Mrs Griffiths - The lady from the Antiquarian society who was to help Ivor's friend Idris the Dragon.
The original Ivor series in 1959 was a set of 6 episodes, the first of which explained how Ivor got his new pipes to play in the Choir, were made for Associated-Redifusion Ltd as black and white episodes. Later two sets of thirteen further episodes, also in black and white were also produced, which introduced the Dragons and an Elephant. The series was given a resurgance of life again in 1975 when Smallfilms acquired the rights to the series and set about remaking the original films and adding several more until they met a quota of 40 in total.
In recent years, Ivor has made something of a comeback, becoming a viable alternative in the world of Heritage Railways who want to hold Ivor The Engine Events. The colour TV series has since been released on DVD, with all forty episodes available. A CD release has also been made with the themes and sound effects from Ivor The Engine included. An enjoyable and endearing little train!
Created and intended as a means of ‘knocking Thomas into the sidings’, Underground Ernie featured the vocal talents of former footballer, and current pundit, Gary Lineker in the title role. Set in London’s Underground system, it ran for 26 CGI-based episodes with characters named after different Tube routes – Bakerloo, Circle, Victoria, Hammersmith, City and Jubilee. It is set in International Station, a fictional worldwide underground network, and focuses on the everyday adventures of Ernie, a friendly Underground supervisor, Millie, his multilingual colleague and Mr Rails the lovable maintenance man.
Although receiving numerous re-airings on the CBeebies channel, Ernie is yet to see another series, with producers Joella Productions trying to raise the £4 million pound funding to create one. However, with the overwhelming success of modern-based ‘Chuggington’ on CBeebies, and Thomas’s continued dominance of all things that run on rails, it’s questionable what levels of success that Ernie will have if he does make a return.
You’re probably wondering what a series about a clown who becomes stuck on an island, surrounded by various other surreal characters has to do with Thomas. Charlie Chalk was a children’s comedy conceived by Ivor Wood of Woodland Animations, who also produced classic shows such as Postman Pat, Bertha and Gran. However, Charlie’s link with Thomas lies with Jocelyn Stevenson, the sole writer for the entire series.
Jocelyn would later go on to work with Jim Henson as a writer and producer on several other major productions such as Fraggle Rock, Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. She later ascended the ladder of HIT Entertainment to the role of Executive Producer, and overseen the transformation of Thomas and Friends when brought into the HIT stable in 2002. She left HIT Entertainment in 2006 and was replaced by Christopher Skala, who has pushed through even more innovative changes for all the major HIT properties.
Set on the island of Merrytwit, Charlie meets an odd mixture of new friends. There’s Arnold the clumsy elephant, Lewis T. Duck who believes he has the answer to everything, Captain Mildred who runs the island, Trader Jones who runs the only general store on the island and Edward the Gorilla, who likes to sleep all day long. As with the Island of Sodor, everything and anything can happen on Merrytwit and usually does...
Charlie Chalk is unique among the Woodland Animations properties of the 80s, being one of only two to have had a full DVD release of every episode produced (The other being Gran). The episodes have stood the test of time and will undoubtedly bring a smile to faces of nostalgic fans or children being exposed to the series for the first time.
Adventues On Orsum Island was intended to be a culmination of David Mitton’s years as a Director, Producer and Writer for television. Working with long-term business associates from his days of the Clearwater Film Company, Michelle Fabian-Jones and David Lane (who has worked on several major features and series), the series was intended to be groundbreaking in terms of visual and technical innovations – with live action sets and 3D CGI characters and effects.
Sadly, the project was abandoned following David’s untimely death in May 2008, when only four episodes had been completed. The series was due to follow the race for survival of Kodi, Divine Flower and their two friends Monty and Fidget, as the evil Zarkan tried to rid the land of all life using his terrifying army of The Viners, led by Malus. Monty provides a comic counter-point with his sidekick Fidget – as the last remaining dragon on the island he has yet to master the art of flight but, more importantly needs to learn to control the balls of flame that keep shooting out of his nose!
Intended as a production aimed at older children, Orsum Island was praised by those who saw it was a means of filling a gap in the market, which is felt to be sorely overlooked by broadcasters and producers. However, with the project abandoned, it is now very unlikely that the episodes will air – however, clips from the series are scattered across the internet.
While more famous for The Muppets, the Jim Henson Company stretched their expertise in the late 1990s to create a brand new TV Series focussing upon construction vehicles. Construction Site was like a cross between Thomas’s ‘Live Action Model Animation’ format and Jim Henson’s own puppetry techniques and charm. Steve Asquith (a long standing Thomas veteran from 1984) was employed by the Jim Henson Company to act as a technical consultant, and the series was directed by Simon Spencer (who would become the Producer for Thomas in 2004). Jocelyn Stevenson (Exec Producer of Thomas from 2003 to 2006), Paul Larson and Marc Seal (Thomas writers) all wrote episodes for the series prior to their work on Thomas and Friends under Gullane and HIT Entertainment.
Construction Site was unique in the setup of the Jim Henson Company as it was the first pre-school series to make effective use of the company’s advanced animatronic technology. This had been reserved previously for major film productions such as Lost In Space and Babe. Each animatronic character was performed by a single puppeteer and a ‘driver’, who were also makers and maintainers of the vehicular characters. Each character cost over $30,000 to produce with new techniques having to be developed to accommodate the vast number of servos in a small area and new silicon for the tyres.
The series followed the day to day adventures of the construction vehicles as they went about their work, with new recruits Diggs the Backhoe and Scooch the Dump Truck learning the tricks of the trade from the older machines. Construction Siteran for four series from 1999 to 2002, became ranked by The Guardian one of ITV’s Top Ten Children’s Shows, and nominated for the Live Children’s BAFTA two years running.
Based in a child's bedroom prior to the show's opening theme, Dream Street featured the adventures of a group of toy vehicles. Starring Buddy the Breakdown Truck and Tech the wise old robot, they help make sure that Dream Street is a happy, cheerful place to be, alongside Daisy Do-Right the police car, her band of Sleeping Policeman, the gossiping traffic lights Amber and Scarlet, Ice Cool the ice cream van and Half-Pint the shy little milk float.
But every so often, a few other characters wind up causing or landing themselves into trouble - which usually varies from Jack Hammer the energetic pneumatic drill, Hot Rodney the reckless Hot Rod car, Hot Air the three-wheeled whoopee cushion or the unruly band of traffic cones known as The Wild Bunch. That's when Buddy knows "It's Magic Time" and picks up various accessories from Tech to help save the day!
The series aired in 1990 for several seasons on CITV including a half-hour Christmas Special, and featured the voices of Russ Abbott, Dave Benson Philips, Charlotte Bellamy, Chris Jarvis and Emma Tate. Also in line with Thomas, TUGS and Theodore Tugboat, it was created using animatronic models and sets, although CGI special effects were included for the more magical scenes. Chris Tulloch, director and writer of TUGS, helped develop the series as Production Manager alongside Ian Davis, director Brian Johnson (not to be confused with the lead singer for AC/DC!!) and producer Nigel Stone. Steve Asquith was also notably part of the team as 1st Assistant Director on the series.
As the series progressed, Dream Street also taught children road safety in a campaign called Get Streetwise, which can be viewed online today!
Bob the Builder was one of HIT Entertainment’s first major success stories.Created and designed by Keith Chapman, the series has evolved throughout the years with Bob taking on numerous building tasks from simple odd-jobs around Bobsville to the massive project to build the eco-friendly new town in Sunflower Valley.
Bob’s team includes Scoop the Digger, Muck the Bulldozer, Dizzy the Mixer, Rolly the Steamroller and Lofty the Crane, who are eager to work on any job, anywhere. Other machines include Trix the Forklift Truck, Skip the Skip Lorry and Travis the Tractor. Originally, when the show was being pitched, there were talks of not having the machines talking at all—but after trying to rewrite the episodes to meet that agreement, that idea was scrapped. Over the years the show included guest voices mostly for its one-off specials, including Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans, sports presenter Sue Barker, and rock legends Noddy Holder and Elton John.
Bob’s third incarnation – Bob The Builder: Ready, Steady, Build!turned into a nove to full CGI animation, much in the same way other HiT properties such as Thomas and Friends and Fireman Sam. However, like the previous second ‘spin-off’, Project Build It set in Sunflower Valley, Bob and his team moved to the new setting of Harbour Town instead. The most recent Bob the Builder specials were Legend of the Golden Hammer and Big Dino Dig.
The franchise went quiet after 2011, although a new series was recently annopunced to be in development with major changes afoot. The first being that none of the original voice cast would not be returning, including Bob's long-time UK voice actor Neil Morrisey after fifteen years (according to reports of being axed). Bob's new voice-over replacement is British actor Lee Ingleby, accompanied with a cast of new voice talent. The biggest change was revealed with the unveiling of the first CGI images of Bob the Builder. Bob's new transformation sparked a row on social-media with fans claiming it lacked the look and feel of the original kodel series. The Bob the Builder CGI series is set to launch in 2015 on Channel 5’s Milkshake, ending the show's traditional air time on the BBC.
Fireman Sam started out as an idea from two former Firemen from Kent, Dave Gingell and Dave Jones, and co-produced by Welsh broadcaster S4C and Bumper Films. The series followed the events in the Welsh town of Pontypandy, where Sam and the rest of the crew were based, and showcase the various tasks and responsibilities faced on a daily basis by Fire Crews. Aside from putting out fires, these would include rescuing people from precarious situations, such as falling down mines, becoming trapped on rooftops or in one instance, subject to inhaling dangerous chemicals.
The focus of the series relied much on the promotion of fire safety, and making children realise that accidents can happen in a number of ways – either through carelessness, coincidence or, often with naughty Norman Price, deliberate actions or plain stupidity. Sam was seen as a positive role model within the local community, admired up to by the children and well liked by the local townspeople such as Bella Lasagne, Dilys Price and Trevor ‘The Bus’ Evans. He would often be seen as a guiding light to younger fire-fighter, Elvis Cridlington, providing much needed relief to their often exasperated boss, Station Officer Basil Steele.
Under Bumper Films, 32 x 10 minute episodes were produced between 1985 and 1994, along with a 20-minute Christmas special in 1988. In 2000, Bumper Films were acquired by Gullane Entertainment (formerly the Britt Allcroft Company), but no plans were prominent for Fireman Sam at the time. Upon Gullane’s takeover by HIT Entertainment in 2002, Fireman Sam was commissioned for a new series – a co-production between S4C, HIT Entertainment and Sirriol Productions, run by Robin Lyons who had been involved with the previous production.
In the 2003-05 series, the townsfolk of Pontypandy were joined by newcomers such as the Flood family and Tom Thomas – an Australian pilot of rescue helicopter Wallaby One. There was also a change of animation style, with greater levels of detail on settings and looking closer to Sirriol’s other productions than the original production, as well as the inclusion of three voice actors, without the inclusion of John Alderton. The new voice of Sam and other male characters was John Sparkes, who was joined by Joanna Ruiz and Sarah Hadland. This series ran for 26 episodes, and while Sam was still promoted and broadcasted, no further episodes were commissioned as Sirriol’s management were bought out and the team went on to form Calon TV.
In 2008, HIT Entertainment bought out S4C’s remaining shares in Fireman Sam and set out a new agenda to produce a new series with full creative control. Sam became one of the first HIT properties to be redefined in CGI, this becoming the third incarnation of the series. 52 episodes were commissioned by HIT and outsourced to Hibbert Ralph Animation (HRTV) and Xing Xing of Beijing. The new series launched in 2009, changing Pontypandy from a mountain village to a seaside town, and introducing new characters such as Sam’s brother Charlie and sister-in-law Bronwyn, and displacing classic character Bella Lasagne. As part of the CGI switchover, Sam also received his first 60-minute special – The Great Fire Of Pontypandy, released in April of 2010. A second special is to follow titled Heroes of the Storm in 2015. HiT recently relaunched the current Fireman Sam franchise to American audiences, featuring a new revamped introduction and new US voice cast with distribution by Amazon.
With twenty two seasons since 1993, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the Power Rangers. However, you’re probably less familiar with the Japanese series from which Power Rangers draws much of its fight and monster footage – Super Sentai, which has been ongoing for the past forty years.
2014 – 2015’s Super Sentai season was Ressha Sentai Toqger (Express Task Force Toqger), and it was based around trains, railways and the founding principle of ‘Imagination!’
The five heroes, Right (Toqger Red), Haru (Toqger Blue), Mio (Toqger Yellow), Hikari (Toqger Green) and Kagura (Toqger Pink) are childhood friends – who appear to be missing a large chunk of their memory beyond childhood – brought together by their mentor, The Conductor and his faithful assistant, Ticket – a hand-puppet with more attitude than the teenagers they’ve brought together. They are later joined by Akira (Toqger Orange) who becomes the sixth hero after defecting from the Shadow Line.
The Toqgers have been assembled to protect the Rainbow Line, a special railway that can only be seen by those with great imagination, from the dark forces of The Shadow Line, who are trying to develop their line by taking over towns and cities along the way, using the fear and sadness of residents to establish their own railway for the coming of their leader, Emperor Z and plunge the world into darkness.
Toqger was the first Super Sentai series to use trains and railways as a central theme – it ran for 47 episodes, a Toqger Movie, crossover movies with Kamen Rider Gaim and predecessor team – Zyuden Sentai Kyoruger as well as the team making an appearance in Kamen Rider Taisen.
The adventures of Greendale’s favourite postman (and his black and white cat, Jess) began in 1981, inspired by the real valley of Longsleddale near Kendal. Writer John Cunliffe wrote the original scripts for the first TV series of thirteen stop motion animated episodes directed by Ivor Wood, with voice and narration provided by Ken Barrie and music by Bryan Daily. Postman Pat was in the rank of TV series innocence, showing stories of life, and the odd mishap rather than conflict and rivalry. The simple content proved to be popular with young audiences, in which Pat would try and deliver the post and eventually end up helping out one of the local villagers of Greendale, whether it be Ted Glen the handyman, the Reverend Timms or farmer Alf Thompson.
From the first seven episodes, Pat’s van, hat and the Post Office sign didn’t intend to represent Royal Mail, but later episodes would feature the familiar Royal Mail crown and Post Office outlet sign. Until 2000, Royal Mail featured Pat as their mascot for their corporate image. From 1990, following the success of the first series, Woodland Animations produced 4x30 half-hour specials, three educational video specials and followed with another series of thirteen episodes in 1996, which revealed that Pat had a family, introducing more characters and places of Greendale. The female and children characters were to be voiced by Carole Boyed who joined the cast alongside Ken Barrie.
In 2003, Cosgrave Animations produced a new version of the series that would yet again expand on the stories, characters and locations of the original series. Amongst these was the introduction of the Greendale Rocket steam engine and the Bains family, Amy the Veterinarian plus an additional voice cast. A few established previous characters including Miss Hubbard, Sam Waldron and Major Forbes were dropped in favor of the new ones. 94x13 episodes were made along with 5x30 half-hour specials.
2008 saw a major change in the series format with Ken Barrie stepping down as Pat’s voice and was replaced by former Star Wars actor Lewis MacLeod. Postman Pat: Special Delivery Service saw Pat promoted to the head of the Special Delivery service in Pencaster town, delivering parcels with the new eccentric gadgets and vehicles including a gyrocopter. New characters were introduced into the series such as the Taylor family.
Although the series was now produced on a bigger and wider scale, viewers were not fond of the classic character using modern technology for delivering post. So far, two series have been made, and one year later, Pat’s cat Jess would have his own educational spin-off series intended for young viewers. Guess with Jess and Pat would also star the beloved feline in his very own advert for Specsavers. During this period, the rights for the series were bought by Classic Media.
In 2011, the press and news media announced that Postman Pat: The Movie was in the works and would feature familiar the voice talent of David Tennant, Stephen Mangan, Rupert Grint, Jim Broadbent, and the singing voice of Boyzone's Roanan Keeting. The movie was originally planned for a Spring 2013 release but was pushed back to Summer 2014. The movie sees Pat entering a TV talent show competition in the hopes of winning some money to take his wife on a belated honeymoon. However the new chief boss of the SDS soon sees an opportunity to use Pat's sudden fame to take over the world by using the infamous "Pat Bot 3000". Although the movie was praised for its voice talent and animation, others found the plot complicated and some scenes came across as being a little scary for its recommended target audience age group.
Chuggington is produced by former HIT Entertainment Executives, Robert Lawes and Charlie Caminada, who left the company and set up Ludorum. Made in full CGI in a very colourful world, Chuggington follows the adventures of Brewster, Koko and Wilson – three ‘Trainees’ on the Chuggington Railway. Unlike Thomas and Friends, Chuggington is a very modern setting, with the lead voice actors being children themselves to align themselves more to the characters they are playing. The series has been a very successful venture for Ludorum, and airs regularly on CBeebies in the UK and Playhouse Disney in the United States.
Whilst both rely on railways to tell stories, the producers of Chuggington have taken greater artistic licence with their characters and setting. Chuggington’s location is very much ambiguous, with rocky mountain landscapes and lush green fields, it could quite literally be anywhere in the world. The range of locomotives used as well is wide and varied with designs derived from all over the world from an LNER A4 Pacific (such as Olwyn) to an electric Japanese Bullet Train (Koko), with a myriad of American and British engine designs that make up the character base.
And unlike Thomas & Friends which has always been grounded in a sense of reality, Chuggington embraces a greater sense of cartoony fun, where engines can leap and bound off the rails, move their entire bodies in a humanistic fashion and in more extreme cases... fly and spin their entire bodies around! It also retains the look of a toy / fantasy world with the design of the rails themselves, which do not resemble any proper railway, and instead look similar to those found on Tomy Railway sets instead! However, similarly to Thomas, there are certain locations used to drive the stories such as the Quarry, Farm, the old abandoned Chuggington town, the Ice Cream Factory, run by the eccentric Frostini, and Safari Park run by Mtambo.
Throughout each episode the Trainees learn the value of loyal friendship, telling the truth, listening carefully, persisting under adversity, completing tasks, resolving conflict without violence, and many similar important life values. There is also great emphasis upon learning and respecting the older Chuggers such as the forgeful Old Puffer Pete, wise Speedy, brash Harrison and kindly Olwyn. The chuggers have real-life emotional strengths and weaknesses, too. Through all their adventures, they strive to use their strengths for the good of the community and to deal effectively but realistically with their personal foibles. Much of the time, such dealing involves good humour and personal understanding.
Chuggington has also branched out with a spin-off series called Badge Quest, where the younger characters carry out tasks which enable them to learn about the different roles and tasks they will have to perform on the railway. Upon successful completion of each task, they are rewarded with badges which relate to what they have just learned, often with help from the older Chuggers. Badge Quest episodes run for 5 minutes as opposed to normal Chuggington episodes which run for 10.
Suggested by David Jenkins, an employee at Brands Hatch Race Circuit, Roary the Racing Car is the third major success story of Chapman Entertainment, the production company behind Bob the Builder and Fifi and the Flowertots. The series follows the adventures of a series of motor cars at their grand prix circuit track. The majority of the action takes place at the workshops and pit stops of the track, though the cars are followed on their adventures around the track and to the nearby surroundings. The majority of the series relies on traditional model animation, though does incorporate CGI for certain story elements, particularly the race segments.
The series follows the adventures of Roary, a cheeky, energetic new racing car, whose over-curiosity and longing for adventure can often cause trouble for him and his friends. Among those friends are Maxi, the rather highly strung F1 racing legend; Cici, the French electric car and Roary’s closest friend; Drifter, the hi-tech car with poor handling, and Tin Top, the rather accident prone stock car. The cars live under the watchful eye of Big Chris, the caring if absent minded mechanic; Marsha, the far more reliable race marshal, and Mr. Carburetta, the flamboyant, hot headed owner of the race track.
The links with the world of motor racing are clearly evident; the series is set at the fictional ‘Silver Hatch’ race track (an amalgamation of the two British grand prix tracks; Silverstone and Brands Hatch). Racing legend Sir Stirling Moss provides the opening and closing narration, whilst Australian V8 racer and 5 times Bathurst 1000 winner, Craig Lowndes, voiced the new character ‘Conrad’ (named after the famous straight at the Mount Panorama Circuit in Bathurst, New South Wales) in further series.
The bulk of the series’ success, however, stems from Peter Kay, one of the most celebrated comedy personalities of the last decade. Kay provides the voices for the loveable Big Chris, the Chief Mechanic at Silverhatch, Tin Top - an American car, as well as Big Chris’s mother, Big Christine, whom he described as potentially ‘the next Susan Boyle...minus the Priory!’ Kay’s comedy talents are evident in the series, with some of his lines containing more than a touch of improvisation with his dialogue, and he is also known to sing quite frequently in the course of some episodes!
With a series that features a cheeky, energetic character as the lead role, a series of numbered cars and a large man in control, the links with Thomas are clearly evident. In 2009, Kay helped to make these links clearer. For Children in Need, Peter arranged a charity single in which all the most well known personalities of children’s television gathered together. This was depicted in the music video through Big Chris arranging for all the characters to meet at Silver Hatch. At one point, Roary even got to sing a duet with our favourite blue tank engine!