RAILWAY CONSULTANT FOR SERIES 5 OF
THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE & FRIENDS
You may recall seeing Mr. Maidment's name in the Series 5 episode credits. When I initially found reference to a 'David Maidment' on the Railway Children website, I asked them whether this was the same gentleman who was associated with Thomas and Friends. I've always been curious about what he contributed to the series, and as you will find out by reading David's reply - a lot! Here then, is David's reply...
~ Correspondence with James Gratton - May-July, 2007
DISCLAIMER: All answers and opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of David Maidment, and in no way purport to represent those of HIT Entertainment
Yes, it was me. I was a BR manager for 36 years, Chief Operating Manager LMR (a Fat Controller in my own right) from 1982-6, and Head of Safety Policy for BR/Railtrack from 1990-6, when I retired spending 5 years then in part time work as a railway safety consultant.
As a result of conferences etc on safety overseas during the early 1990s, I became aware of the plight of street children on railway stations around the world, but especially in India and in 1995 I founded the Railway Children. Around 1997 I wrote to Britt Allcroft asking if the company would consider a donation to the charity because of the common railway interest, and I was invited to lunch with their Marketing Director (? Steve Wright) in Southampton. It was explained to me that the company was reluctant to just make a donation as they frequently received such requests, but they liked the idea of the Railway Children and said they'd think about it. We spent a pleasant lunch with me telling a number of anecdotes about my time as a Stationmaster and Area Manager in South Wales and as COM, at Crewe.
A couple of days later I received a phone call asking if I would pen a few of the anecdotes I told as David Mitton was keen to use true stories as the basis of the extra tales as they were often better than fiction. I duly spent a couple of happy mornings typing with two fingers and sent them off, whereupon I received £10,000 donation for the charity and a two year contract to vet the scripts to ensure there were no railway 'howlers' in the texts or videos that would get complaints.
My stories, as far as I can recollect, involved a best kept station competition, the anecdote about a terrifying ram that occupied one of my derelict closed stations in Llanhilleth (Western Valley above Newport), a tree that slid down the bank in a storm and stood upright in the middle of the track between Ebbw Vale and Aberbeeg (my station), a couple of hair-raising runaway trains in the Tondu valleys, the inept attempts of the new D95XX Paxman diesels to bank trains up to Ebbw Vale (they used to run hot halfway up the bank and cut out, leaving the Cl 37 to pull the train and banker) and finally my story about a royal train (I was in charge quite frequently while I was COM LMR) when we got the Queen's bath water on the ceiling - David Mitton converted this to the special when the same thing happened to the Fat Controller's mother, though her dog was a Dalmatian, not a Corgi! I also showed them the famous poster of the French accident in the 1890s when a steam loco ran through the buffer stops of a Paris terminal station and was tipped at 45 degrees into the road outside. The cartoon poster has the French driver 's speech balloon, expressing the profanity 'Merde' or the English "Oh sh*t !"!
Left: The Montparnasse incident of 23 October 1895. Right: A Better View for Gordon (Series 5)
I was invited to Shepperton studios to see the making of one of the stories of 'Thomas and Friends' - the one where Gordon repeats the error illustrated on the French poster, and later had a pleasant lunch with Britt Allcroft and met David Mitton. While I was there I was taken to see the set for a new 'Avengers' TV serial - a spectacular London snow scene. My two year contract was not onerous - I had the script for the one video to check on which I was named as consultant. I can remember commenting on a couple of minor details about signalling, but it was really an excuse to be able to donate money to the charity without it creating a precedent for other charities to seek donations. I have been asked by at least two two-year olds for my autograph on the video (or at least by their dads !).
Unfortunately Britt sold the Thomas rights on shortly afterwards and although I tried to contact the new owners, there was never any follow-up from them.
One or two other answers to your questions - I had no prior contact with Rev Awdry's work before contacting Britt Allcroft. I remember being asked to draw the Paxman 650hp diesel (the D95XX) but I think they had cold feet about depicting the Paxman company in such a derogatory (and perhaps libellous) way ! I definitely remember their preference for true stories rather than fiction, and they certainly thought some of my experiences were odder than they might have conceived from make-believe. They did change some of the stories - they amalgamated the best kept station competition and the ram - having him eat the flowers. In fact, I had sheep all over the railway which closed to passengers in 1962, a couple of years before I was appointed, but we had heavy steel and coal traffic. This ram inhabited the waiting room of Llanhilleth station and attacked vandals who tried to enter there.
I told some other royal train experiences but I think they decided that we had better keep them for another time unless we both wished to finish up incarcerated in the Tower of London !
I hope this is of interest to you and your Fansite and Forums. No problem about publicity, but I would appreciate a website link to that of the Railway Children and encouragement to your colleagues and members to support the charity (50% of the £2million annual income comes from people within the railway industry and enthusiast market).
Chairman, Railway Children
Co-Chair, Consortium for Street Children
Children's Rights Advisor, Amnesty International UK.
I later followed up with David for more details about his episode contributions, to which he kindly obliged.
A few spare moments so I looked at the Series V stories. I can add a bit about a few.
James & The Trouble With Trees (5.5): the tree falling on the line during a November storm. A train was coming down from Ebbw Vale and did stop. However, although well over the load, the loco, a WR 72XX 2-8-2 tank, did manage with much straining to set its heavy load of tinplate back up the 1 in 50 to the crossover for single line working.
Bye George! (5.7): the incident with the steamroller - I think this is inspired by the Titfield Thunderbolt Ealing Comedy film which we probably talked about during our lunch.
Left: George impedes Duck's progress in Bye George (Series 5) Right: Similar scene with a steamroller vs. loco in The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953)
Thomas, Percy & Old Slowcoach (5.16): Similarly inspired by the Titfield Thunderbolt when the old tramp's home is an ancient carriage that was rescued for the final run after the lines regular stock is destroyed by the bus competitor villains.
Left: Old Slow Coach (Series 5) Right: Dan's abode in The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953)
A Surprise for Percy (5.21) and & Busy Going Backwards (5.23): Both these stories come from a true incident at Tondu when a Class 37 with 52 empty coal wagons and a brakevan were stopped at the top of the Garw Valley ready to take the wagons into the colliery siding. While standing, as the guard went forward to operate the groundframe, the coupling broke between the first and second wagon when the train snatched, and 51 mineral wagons and the brakevan leading hurtled down the valley, smashed through a level crossing just missing a bus and careered round the 5 mph reverse curve through Tondu station at an estimated 60 mph.
The signalmen made no attempt to put the train off the rails through trap points as they believed at first that the guard was still on board and would be killed in the pile up. We had cleared the population from the cluster of houses around the station as we'd been warned by the guard by phone a few minutes before the train hit Tondu. To our amazement the train somehow stayed on the rails through the junction. It then slowed on the gradient up towards Stormy Sidings and Margam Yard and two shunters grabbed their car and gave chase managing to pin down sufficient brakes as the train slowed to prevent it rolling back to Tondu. 37 out of the 52 vehicles had hot boxes.
Left: The Troublesome Trucks are stopped before they roll back down the incline in Percy's Surprise (Series 5) Right: Toad the Brakevan should be careful what he wishes for in Busy Going Backwards (Series 5)
Duncan Gets Spooked (5.24): Part of the story is inspired by an incident at a colliery between Cymmer Afan and Treherbert when a 650 hp Paxman diesel could not hold 18 loaded coal wagons despite brakes pinned down and ran away, the engine and wagons going through a sand drag protecting the single running line and fell into a stream damming it and causing a minor flood.
Before and after shots of the trucks' mucky mishap (Series 5)
I remember worrying about the number of stories involving derailments in this series and wondered if my experiences in Welsh Valleys in 1964/5 had led to an imbalance, because I had a large number of derailments, mostly, fortunately, without injury. There was a lot of track distortion due to colliery subsidence and the new diesels were 'stiffer' and not as tolerant of poor track and pointwork as the old steam engines. It was also much easier to rerail a steam loco - you packed the line with old sleepers, got a ramp and drove it back on. We only tried to do this once with a Class 37 with disastrous results to the motors fitted to the bogies.
I must say however that I had little influence on the ghost stories - I did not regale them with any mysterious goings on, although I might have mentioned the fact that Kilsby Tunnel on the West Coast Main Line is said by some drivers to be haunted by a worker killed during its construction, and to have seen a man in the light from one of the smoke vents in the mile long tunnel. They probably did see a man - the p.way inspection ganger would have to undertake regular walks through the tunnel and find one of the safety alcoves when a train came.
David later provided us with some additional insight about once trying to rerail a Class 37 loco with unexpected results...
I'm not technically minded, but my memory recalls that the Class 37 derailed at a set of points at the junction at Aberbeeg station, with one set of wheels having split the points. The breakdown train from Ebbw Junction should have been called, but the engine was fouling an important junction and delaying a number of freight services, so the foreman from Aberbeeg shed arrived and took a metal ramp from the yard office, packed timbers around the rail inside and outside the four foot, put the ramp behind one of the derailed wheels as he would have done with a steam loco with a 50% chance of success first go.
But the loco was heavy, the timbers shattered and the ramp skewed up into the bogie and the loco clunked heavily onto the ballast. However, the driver, at the far end, did not hear instructions to stop and the loco dragged itself into the ballast and the underside was damaged by coming into contact with the cross rails at another set of points. I do not know the precise nature of the damage, but we had to wait for the Ebbw Junction breakdown train, and they used hydraulic jacks to rerail the loco, with much swearing about our futile earlier attempts and remonstrations about damage caused. The Divisional Office subsequently issued instructions that when a diesel was derailed, even only one pair of wheels, the beakdown train must always be summoned.
We'd like to express our many thanks to David Maidment for providing us with wonderful insight about his contributions to the Series 5 episode stories. We invite visitors to visit David's Railway Children website to learn more about this Charity, its good works, and more importantly to make a donation if you can.
The Llanhilleth Community Archive has an audio/video media collection of David Maidment's recollections of working in the area in the 1960s. Audio clips include David's account of the ram in the station, and the tree on the line.