Thomas & Friends Dolls, Toys & Playsets

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Thomas & Friends - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thomas & Friends (Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends until 2002) is a British children's television series, which had its first broadcast on the ITV network on 4 September 1984. It is based on The Railway Series of books by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry and his son, Christopher Awdry. These books deal with the adventures of a group of anthropomorphised locomotives and road vehicles who live on the fictional Island of Sodor. The books were based on stories Wilbert told to entertain his son, Christopher, during his recovery from measles. From Series one to four, many of the stories are based on events from Awdry's personal experience.

In 1979, whilst researching for a TV program she was about to produce about the British love of steam trains, the British writer/producer Britt Allcroft came across the books from the The Railway Series, . written by Wilbert Awdry. In the early 80's, Britt Allcroft visited Rev Wilbert Awdry at his home several times, to discuss train history, and it was during this time Britt first conceived the idea of adapting Awdry's stories and images to film, for children. In 1983 Britt brought the television rights to bring the stories of The Railway Series to life as the TV series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.

The series started production in 1983 by Britt Allcroft Productions, Clearwater Features Ltd (David Mitton and Robert D. Cardona's company) and the ITV company Central Independent Television.[4] The series was originally shot and produced with live action models at the Clearwater in house studio in Battersea London, ( Series 1 ), then relocating to Shepperton Studios, Middlesex, southwest of London for subsequent Series'. The use of moving models was seen at the time of the show's conception as an effective method of animating the stories. Locomotives and other vehicles were operated by radio, while humans and animals were static figures. Stop-motion was occasionally employed for instances in which a human or animal character would move. Hand-drawn animation was used in Series 3 to create bees.

The first series (1984) used stories from the first eight books, along with one specially written by the Rev. W. Awdry, Thomas's Christmas Party. The second series (1986) used stories from Book 9 (Edward the Blue Engine) to Book 30 (More About Thomas the Tank Engine). This book was unusual, as it was written specifically by Christopher Awdry to be adapted by the show. At that time it was a contractual obligation that the show could only adapt stories that appeared in print. The series also used a story from a Thomas Annual, "Thomas and Trevor", and a specially written stand-alone story, Thomas and the Missing Christmas Tree. The second series was actually a 27-episode series, as a single (unaired) episode ("The Missing Coach") was in the process of being filmed, but despite being filmed it was never shown because Allcroft decided it was too confusing for young children/younger viewers. The production team went on to use "Thomas, Percy and the Coal" instead.

In between production of the second and third series, the production team were focused in producing two other television series: Tugs which ran for one series from 1989 to 1990 for TVS. The American television Shining Time Station, repackaged Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends for American television market.

Just before production of series three, Clearwater closed in 1990, with The Britt Allcroft Company become the sole producer. Series three was broadcast 1991 to 1992 in two parts, (one part having 16 episodes and the other having 10). It was made at a cost of 1.3 million.[7] The series was a combination of episodes derived from The Railway Series, stories in the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends magazine, and original stories by Allcroft and Mitton. One of the primary reasons for diverging from the original books was that many of the stories not yet used featured large numbers of new characters, which would be expensive to produce. Another was that the producers wanted more stories about Thomas, the nominal main character. The Rev. W. Awdry complained that the new stories were unrealistic (see Henry the Green Engine for more details). Robert D. Cardona left as producer, while Britt Allcroft joined David Mitton as co-producer. Angus Wright took over as executive producer.

Series four was also broadcast in two parts, (one part having 10 episodes and the other having 16) from 1994 to 1995. The producers planned to introduce some new female characters, including Caroline the car, Nancy, and The Refreshment Lady.[8] Some commentators took this as a response to accusations of sexism levelled against the series two years earlier.[9] In reality, these were not "new" characters, but creations of the Rev. Awdry from the original Railway Series books. Series four was almost entirely based on The Railway Series. The narrow gauge engines were introduced, and were the focus of a number of episodes. Only one original story ("Rusty to the Rescue") was used, but this took certain elements of plot and dialogue from Stepney the "Bluebell" Engine. The fifth series (1998) was a radical shift, as none of the stories were taken from the Railway Series. This series saw the introduction of new characters, such as Cranky, The Horrid Lorries and Old Slow Coach. After series 5, Angus Wright stepped down as executive producer.

Thomas & the Magic Railroad was released in July 2000 in the UK. It featured new characters created by Britt Allcroft, along with characters from the show that introduced Thomas to the US, Shining Time Station. Despite high production values and the popularity of the show, the film was criticised by UK reviewers who were unfamiliar with Shining Time Station. The movie was well received by young children on both sides of the Atlantic, but made only $16 million at the US box office at matinee prices, against a cost of $19 million to produce. The film was broadcast on BBC1 in 1 January 2004 and again on 29 December 2008.

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