The Three Railway Engines (lost live BBC broadcast adaptation of "The Railway Series" books; 1953)
A recently discovered photograph of James from this lost broadcast. Courtesy of the BBC's website.
Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends is by now one of the world's most iconic and beloved children’s TV shows. Originally adapted from the Reverend Wilbert Awdry and his son Christopher Awdry’s Railway Series stories, the TV series began airing in 1984 and has continued in some form or another through to the 2020s. While this is certainly the most famous adaptation of the Awdrys' anthropomorphic train tales, it was not the first, having been preceded by a live BBC broadcast in 1953. Unfortunately, the technical difficulties associated with this adaptation would prevent a full series from being commissioned for the intervening thirty years.
Background[edit | edit source]
In mid-1953, the BBC approached The Railway Series editor Eric Marriott and inquired about the possibility of adapting at least two stories to television. Marriott and Rev. Awdry approved the proposal on the condition that the adaptation be as faithful as possible, in particular to the authentic technical details. Thus the broadcast was to be done using specially-modified 00 Gauge Hornby models of the actual engines pictured in the books, with a track layout and painted backdrops likewise designed to ensure maximum faithfulness to the original illustrations. The script however was 'freely adapted', in order to fit the alotted ten-minute timeslot. It was to be broadcast live from Lime Grove Studios on Sunday, June 14th, 1953.
Live Broadcast[edit | edit source]
For this initial attempt, the BBC had chosen to adapt "The Sad Story of Henry", a suitably dramatic tale of the titular engine being bricked up in a tunnel after he refuses to leave it for fear of a rainstorm spoiling his new paint. The live adaptation - now renamed to "The Three Railway Engines", presumably to make things clearer for viewers unfamiliar with the series - had to be put together within a month, with the custom model train setup not arriving in the studio until the final rehearsals. Not ideal for what was already a notably complex production for the time, also including superimposed rain and other effects overlaid by music and narration by Julia Lang.
On the day of the broadcast, the model movement was still said to be a bit jerky, but all started off well... until the lead engine derailed, the train set operator having missed switching the points before the engine arrived at them. To the great surprise of viewers - including Marriott and Rev. Awdry - a human hand picked up the engine and put it back on the rails instead. It was noted that narrator Lang 'struggled to improvise' around the incident, but unfortunately her actual words are not recorded.
Aftermath[edit | edit source]
The broadcast went on without further incident, but the derailment and its unexpected resolution attracted notice from several national newspapers. Rev. Awdry is recorded therein as being disappointed with many aspects of the adaptation, including the script changes (which added characters that were not in the original story) the jerky model movement and above all the 'elementary mistake' of the incorrectly set points. BBC Controller (head) of Programmes Cecil McGivern evidently agreed with the criticisms, issuing a furious memo in which he called the whole effort 'pathetic'.
Awdry demanded guarantees that a similar blunder would not happen in the second broadcast, scheduled for June 28th. Instead, presumably thanks to the official scorn, it was put on hold and later cancelled. Although numerous attempts were made to revive the Railway Series for television, all were unsuccessful until the current series began production three full decades later.
Availability[edit | edit source]
As the show was broadcast live, and knowing the BBC's track record for preserving old content - let alone one with this kind of embarrassing technical issue - it can safely be considered completely lost, save in the improbable event that anyone recorded it privately. Any claims or clips to the contrary floating about online are either re-creations or proven incorrect recollections.
However, in more recent years the BBC has developed a sense of humour about the incident. A brochure produced for their 100th anniversary highlighted numerous related documents preserved in their Written Archives, including the Controller's memo, Awdry's letters and at least one contemporary image, showing James' model - ironically, the character Awdry objected to most strongly as not in the original - sitting on the track layout.  
Gallery[edit | edit source]
Images[edit | edit source]
Videos[edit | edit source]
See Also[edit | edit source]
BBC Wiped Programs Media[edit | edit source]
- 1953 British Grand Prix (partially found footage of Formula One race; 1953)
- Adam Adamant Lives! (partially lost BBC children's TV series; 1966)
- Anne of Green Gables (lost TV mini-series; 1972)
- Dad's Army (partially lost episodes and sketches; 1968-1970)
- Doctor Who (partially lost episodes of British science-fiction TV series; 1963-1974)
- Jazz Goes to College (partially found BBC jazz concert series; 1966-1967)
- Late Night Line-Up (partially found Beatles "Abbey Road" special; 1969)
- Madhouse on Castle Street (partially found BBC television play; 1963)
- Out of the Unknown (partially found BBC sci-fi series; 1967-1971)
- Requiem for a Heavyweight (partially found BBC Sunday-Night Theatre TV play; 1957)
- The Complete and Utter History of Britain (partially found British sketch comedy TV series; 1969)
- The Quatermass Experiment (partially found BBC sci-fi serials; 1953)
- Top Of The Pops (partially lost British music series; 1964-2006)
- United! (lost British soap opera; 1965-1967)
Thomas & Friends[edit | edit source]
- Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go (partially found test animation of reboot of British children TV series; 2019)
- Thomas & Friends: Day of the Diesels (lost original cut of direct-to-DVD film; existence unconfirmed; 2011)
- Thomas & Friends "Jack Jumps In" (found Alec Baldwin narration of British children's TV series episode; 2002)
- Thomas & Friends "Series 7" (partially found original music of American dub of British children's TV series; mid 2000s)
- Thomas & Friends "Series 12" (partially found Pierce Brosnan narrations of British children's animated series; 2008)
Thomas the Tank Engine[edit | edit source]
- Thomas the Tank Engine (lost pilot episode of unproduced 2D animated adaptation of "The Railway Series" books; 1976)
- Thomas the Tank Engine "Down the Mine" (partially found unaired pitch pilot version of children's TV series; 1983)
- Thomas the Tank Engine "The Missing Coach" (partially found footage from unfinished episode of children's TV series; 1986)
- Thomas the Tank Engine "Season 3" (found original Michael Angelis narrations of British children's TV series episodes; 1991)
- Thomas the Tank Engine "Season 4" (found pre-recorded version of British children's TV series episodes; 1994)
- Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends (partially lost deleted scenes of British children's TV series; 1984-2021)
Other[edit | edit source]
- Barry the Rescue Engine (lost production material of cancelled "The Railway Series" book; 1980s)
- Jack and the Sodor Construction Company (miscellaneous lost media of spinoff series; existence unconfirmed; 2002)
- Storytime with Thomas (partially found Fox Family series; 1999-2000)
- The Thomas & Friends Institute of Innovation (partially found informational short film; 2013-2014)
- Thomas and the Magic Railroad (found deleted scenes of children's fantasy adventure film; 2000)
- Thomas and the Magic Railroad (lost test footage of 3.5" character models for British children's TV series; 1995)
- Thomas and the U.K. Trip & Thomas Number 1 (found Japanese "Thomas the Tank Engine" crossover TV special and music video; 1993)
- Thomas the Tank Engine (found original illustrated edition of book; 1946)
- Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends (found build of cancelled NES port of educational game; 1993)
- Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends (lost build of cancelled PlayStation educational game; 1999)
- The Three Railway Engines (found original edition of book; 1945)