The Sad Story of Henry (lost live BBC broadcast adaptation of "The Railway Series" books; 1953)

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The sad story of henry title card.png

Title card from the 1980's remake of the episode.

Status: Lost

Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends is a children’s show adapted from the Reverend Wilbert Awdry and his son Christopher Awdry’s The Railway Series stories. While this is certainly the most famous adaption of the Awdrys' stories, it was not the first, having been preceded by a live broadcast in 1953 by the BBC. Unfortunately the technical difficulties associated with it would prevent a full series being commissioned for some time to come.

Background[edit | edit source]

In 1953, the BBC approached The Railway Series editor Eric Marriott and inquired about the possibility of adapting at least two stories from The Railway Series to television. Marriott and Rev. Awdry approved the proposal, on condition only that the the adaptation be as faithful to the railroad milieu as possible. Thus the broadcast was to be done using specially-painted 00 Gauge Hornby models of the trains pictured in the original illustrations, with a track layout and sets likewise designed to ensure maximum authenticity. The script however was 'freely adapted', in order to fit the ten-minute broadcast limit. It was 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 had to be put together within a month, with the custom model train setup not arriving in-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. The models were 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 surprise of viewers, a human hand abruptly picked up the engine and put it back on the rails instead.

Aftermath/Preservation[edit | edit source]

The broadcast went on without further incident, but the derailment and its unexpected resolution managed to attract notice from several national newspapers the next day. An angry Rev. Awdry is recorded therein as being disappointed with a number of aspects of the adaptation, including the script changes (which added characters not in the original) the jerky model movement and above all the 'elementary mistake' of the incorrectly set points. He demanded guarantees that a similar blunder would not happen in the second broadcast (scheduled for June 28th); however seriously the BBC took his complaints, the second broadcast was in fact put on hold, and later cancelled. Although numerous attempts were made to revive the series, all were unsuccessful until the iconic current series began airing in the UK in 1984.

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 highly unlikely event that anyone recorded it privately. Any claims or clips to the contrary floating about online are either re-creations or proven incorrect recollections.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Images[edit | edit source]

Videos[edit | edit source]

ClickClackTrack's video on the subject.
Scribbles to Screen's video mentioning "The Sad Story of Henry"'s 1953 adaptation (0:42-3:43).

See Also (BBC Wiped Programs Media)[edit | edit source]

See Also (Thomas Series)[edit | edit source]

Thomas & Friends[edit | edit source]

Thomas the Tank Engine[edit | edit source]

Other[edit | edit source]

External Links[edit | edit source]