Letter to Christopher
Here is your friend Thomas the Tank Engine. He wanted to come out of his station yard and see the world. These stories tell you how he did it. I hope you will like them because you helped me to make them.
Your Loving Daddy
The Story of Thomas & Friends
Our story begins in 1917 in the sleepy village of Box in Wiltshire, England. A young boy lies awake in his bed, listening to steam engines huffing and puffing along the nearby Great Western Railway. To the little boy tucked up in bed, listening to the engines, it sounds very much like the trains are talking to each other. The young boy is Wilbert Awdry – later to become the Reverend W. Awdry, the creator of "The Railway Series" and the most famous tank engine in the world --Thomas.
Many years later in 1940, when Wilbert was married, he found himself passing on his love of railways to his own son, Christopher Awdry. In 1943, when Christopher was confined to his bed with measles, Wilbert amused his son by improvising stories about the steam engines from his own childhood. And so began the adventures of Edward and two other engines, Gordon and Henry. These original stories were told over and over again until, pressed by Christopher to be more consistent with the details, the Rev. W. Awdry finally scribbled the stories on scraps of paper.
It was only due to the persistence of his wife, Margaret, that the Rev. Awdry eventually offered his scribbles to a publisher, and his first book, "The Three Railway Engines" was published by Edmund Ward in 1945. At Christmas of that year, the Rev. Awdry made his son Christopher a simple wooden toy engine that was later christened "Thomas." And so Thomas the Tank Engine was born. At Christopher's urging, his father began to make up stories about Thomas too. "Thomas the Tank Engine" was published the following year and steamed onwards. The Rev. W. Awdry invented a fictional setting for the stories – the Island of Sodor – and wrote a new book every year until his twenty sixth and final story,
Steaming Across Generations
In the following years, the Rev. Awdry enjoyed his semi-retirement, responding to thousands of letters from the fans of his books. In 1983, following in the footsteps of his father, Christopher began writing stories for the amusement of his son Richard. "Really Useful Engines" was the first of 14 books by Christopher Awdry that have entertained a second generation of Thomas fans. Around that time, Britt Allcroft, a television producer, had been filming a documentary on a preserved steam railway. She found herself fondly reacquainted with books she had enjoyed in her childhood and was inspired to bring them to the television screen.
"Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends" chugged onto ITV television for the first time in Britain, in October 1984 and the series became an instant hit. Within just a few months, 8.5 million people were tuning in to watch. More people were watching Thomas than were viewing the popular sports programs on other channels. Children and adults alike were besotted by the little steam engine and adored the beautiful railway models in the series. The next stop for Thomas was America in 1989 when Thomas and his friends pulled into the PBS television station. Canada's YTV also took Thomas on board and the tank engine saw no signs of stopping there. Thomas puffed his way over to Japan in 1991, to Germany by 1997 and he has now appeared in 130 countries all around the world.
In 2000 Thomas became the first steam engine to star in his own movie. "Thomas and the Magic Railroad" was a feature length film that delighted audiences in cinemas everywhere. Today, Thomas is entertaining a third generation of children with a new series of "Thomas & Friends" from HIT Entertainment. With a theme park in Japan, countless games and toys, hundreds of "Day Out With Thomas" events in Britain, Canada, America, Thomas Land in the UK and Japan and a brand new website, the little wooden model made by Rev. Awdry over 65 years ago has come a very long way indeed. Everyone who loves Thomas the Tank Engine hopes he'll be going full steam ahead for many more years to come.