Thomas the Tank Engine (lost pilot episode of unproduced 2D animated adaptation of "The Railway Series" books; 1976)

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EGn9tTiXYAAXDt .jpg

Production still showcasing Brian Cosgrove animating the pilot.

Status: Lost

Thomas the Tank Engine is the title given to a failed animated musical television series in production throughout the 1970s that was based on The Railway Series children's books written by Wilbert Awdry. The project is notable for being conceived and partially written by composer and musical theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber, famed for his numerous successful musicals such as The Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and Cats among others.


Following the unmitigated failure that was the 1953 pilot, no further attempts were made at adapting The Railway Series for several decades afterwards. This would change in 1973, when Webber, who had been a fan of the books since childhood, approached Kaye & Ward, the publishers of the books at the time, with the prospect of making a musical television series based upon them. Webber was a rising star at the time thanks to the aforementioned Jesus and Joseph musicals alongside his scores for films such as Gumshoe and The Odessa File, so meetings were almost immediately established between him, Awdry, and Kaye & Ward managing director Stanley Pickard. Following this, specimen lyrics (written by Webber and frequent collaborator Peter Reeves) and draft contracts were quickly written, but there was apprehension between the parties almost immediately. If the contract presented were to be signed, then Webber's company would have gained complete control over all twenty-six Railway Series books written up to that point, all characters featured within them, and any other media featuring them that had been and would be produced. Webber and his attorneys argued that this was necessary to secure funding from American investors, but Awdry and Stanley were unwilling to agree to such terms.

For a while afterwards, the ultimate fate of the project seemed uncertain, with Awdry going so far as to say that:

"Once the Americans get hold of it the whole series would be vulgarized and ruined."[1]

But eventually, an agreement was reached and Awdry received an advanced payment of £500. A pilot episode was then commissioned to Granada TV, which was animated by Brian Cosgrove, a British animator who would go on to create the popular animated series Danger Mouse. The animation consisted of 2D cutouts of the engines moving across backgrounds in a style similar to that of Ivor the Engine. The designs of the characters were based heavily upon those featured in the original books, but still with a unique aesthetic from Cosgrove.

The pilot was screened in 1976, but it ultimately wasn't greenlit in spite of Webber's best efforts due to a lack of interest from the American market. The poor experiences with the pilot appears to have in no way dampened Webber's interest in the books, as several of his future endeavours would be directly or indirectly inspired by them. In 1977, Webber would establish the Really Useful Group, a media company whose name is derived from the phrase "really useful engine" that was commonly used throughout the books. Later, in 1984, Webber would debut Starlight Express, a musical about steam trains for which The Railway Series would serve as partial inspiration. That same year, a third televised adaptation of The Railway Series would premier on the ITV network, and the rest is history.

To date, no footage from the 1976 pilot has surfaced.




Scribbles to Screen's video mentioning the 1976 animated pilot (3:44-5:40).

See Also

Thomas & Friends

Thomas the Tank Engine


External Links