AN INTERVIEW WITH
THOMAS & FRIENDS PRODUCER
Magic Railroad, Series 6, 7 and Jack and the Pack Producer - Phil Fehrle talks to SiFansite about his work with the brand!
With TATMR filming completed, Co-Producer Phil Fehrle found himself even more intimately involved with Thomas' world as the Producer for Series 6 of Thomas & Friends. Phil introduced an enhanced production schedule to the TV Series which continues to this day. Phil parted company with the show after Series 7 in 2003 during the period in which Hit Entertainment had taken over the franchise. Here, Phil shares his thoughts about his time with Thomas & Friends along with his innovative contributions.
In a reply sent to J. Gratton, 27 July, 2009
DISCLAIMER: All answers and opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of Phil Fehrle, and in no way purport to represent those of HIT Entertainment/Mattel
How did you come to be involved in the industry to begin with?
I started my career working on Thunderbirds as a trainee special effects techo (Stage 5) in the sixties. My boss was the brilliant Derek Meddings now sadly departed. His boss was Gerry Anderson. The studios were on the Slough trading estate close to the Mars factory and I served a very happy three and a half years there blowing up all things associated to Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90 and UFO.
What did you do after that?
I, along with many others, were made redundant as Lew Grade was downsizing the special effects/Puppet operations to focus on Space 1999. I went onto Battle of Britain working under Wally Veovers. After that I started working for ABPC studios, my boss being Johnny Goodman. That was my start in live production as a third assistant director on the Saint series, Avengers et al. I learned a great deal and owe my development into this business through those experiences.
During your time on Thomas, did you have any favourite scenes?
Many of my favourites were Brendam Docks at night and one of my fav sequence was Henry and the Flying Kipper. I also love night 'spooky scenarios of which there are many. Then I loved the Iron Smelting works - very gritty and lovely aspects. There were also some great shots on the narrow gauge quarries etc, mainly day time. To select one favourite shot of all is too difficult. I liked so many. I enjoyed creating all aspects of the Island and often related to my own childhood experiences and atmospheres both day and night.
You focussed a lot on Percy throughout your time writing the series - was he a favourite character of yours?
I also loved things that went on between engines especially Percy and Thomas and treated them as Eccles and Bluebottle from the Goon Show. I am the most ardent fan of Spike Milligan and am importing his wit and humour into some of Orsum Island. So yes, while I did enjoy writing for all the characters, Thomas and Percy were great fun particularly.
Best buds Eccles and Bluebottle from the Goon Show, and Thomas and Percy
We heard from Chris Tulloch a while back you're a big fan of explosions and such - true?
Very true. I loved designing action sequences and am now so disappointed that HIT has considered then very non-politically correct in the shows after series 7.
Was TUGS always intended to be a one-series show, or were there more episodes planned?
Series 2 was planned well in advance of Series 1 completing shooting and I had more than 96 scripts were written, which will forever lie dormant. TVS going bankrupt put paid to another series being made.
For the aformentioned Series 2 of TUGS, what could we have expected?
It was planned to have some more 'up river' adventures and new tugs would be introduced. However, from basic research kids love to have a consistancy with characters, so Sunshine and Ten Cents , the STMC tugs and the Z stacks would still be challenging each other. If you introduce too many new characters it defeats the object in many ways, watering down the main characters to a point they might be thought of as 'extras'. The next 13 eps would still feature STMC and the 'Z's', but the adventures would move away from the Bigg City docks area as it was particulary difficult to shoot on that setting. Very restrictive.
"Captain" David Mitton on the set of TUGS
There's been a rumour floating around for a while about a story from the Railway Series - "The Missing Coach" which is said to be a lost episode - any reaction to this?
Yes we did begin to shoot that Missing Coach episode, but Briit considerd it not worthy of an episode after we'd shot half of it. It was, if you like, rather a complicated story without too much action, thus it fell. Terry Permane did shoot stills as he did on each and every scene. I possess 1500 colour reversal shots of everything he shot and I treasure them.
Series 5 of Thomas saw a move away from source material and into original writing. Why was this done?
Series 5 was supposed to be a showcase series for the Movie and I worked extremely hard to develop the scripts to accommodate Britt's demands one of which was really 'sod the budget Go for the best, creatively!' and I did. In fact S5 was the longest shoot and I shot the most slates of any series - 2,700.
Your decision to leave Thomas in 2003 was one of surprise for many - not least because of your dedication. What are your views on Thomas as it stands today?
It gives me great pleasure to see my crew still churning Thomas out today alongside my new venture Orsum Island. Not many can claim to have two shows running in a studio in these times. Only my crew and I knew how to produce Thomas retaining the production qualities despite ever shrinking budgets, and I am proud of our contribution between Series 1 to 7. I have my doubts on the use of CGI elements in the series, but I hope for the sake of Thomas and Percy, the characters endure regardless.
What have you done since leaving the series?
I have been busy with a new venture - Adventures on Orsum Island, which is being produced through my new company, Pineapple Squared Entertainment, which I have established with David Lane and Michelle Fabian Jones.
Sadly, not all questions were answered as David passed away before more mysteries could be solved and his workload with Orsum Island took up a lot of his time, particularly throughout 2007 as they were shooting the series. We hope that this will provide an invaluable insight into a man with an exceptionally creative mind and a dedication to his work - as well as plenty of time for his fans.
David, you will be missed more than you will ever know... rest in peace dear friend.
A heartfelt tribute to David from the SiF Admin, Ryan, celebrating his life and work on the set of Thomas, Tugs, Orsum Island, and detailing more about his life prior to entering into the world of television and film.
Britt's Tribute to David Mitton
Britt Allcroft pays tribute to a former business partner, colleague, friend and the man who was instrumental in bringing Thomas and his friends to the screen. Recalling the earliest memories of their time together, and their spark as a creative partnership.
David Mitton's Page on "This Is"
Former crewmembers, friends, colleagues and well-wishers, including model-makers Jeremy King, Chris Noulton and Executive Producer of Series 3 to 5, Angus Wright, pay tribute to David on his 'This Is' page.
Telegraph Obit for David Mitton
The Telegraph UK newspaper's obituary for David.