Caption in Sunday Times: Ashima from India, one of the new more diverse characters in the series MATTLE INC/PA
A piece by Nadeem Badshah in yesterday’s Sunday Times:
Once he was content to spend his days with the Fat Controller and James the Red Engine. Now Thomas the Tank Engine is to diversify his circle of acquaintances in a politically correct makeover made with the United Nations.
The 73-year-old children’s franchise is being relaunched with an inclusive, gender-balanced, multicultural set of characters. Starting on Monday, the Thomas series will see the locomotive leave his home on the fictional island of Sodor to travel to China, India and Australia and broaden his horizons. It is being renamed Thomas and Friends: Big World! Big Adventures! and marks the first collaboration between a children’s television programme and the UN to promote its sustainable development goals.
The plethora of changes include a new theme tune, a faster-paced format, more humour and music along with fantasy elements and dream sequences, according to producers. The team behind the new incarnation say it “will deepen the brand’s engagement with girls, who represent over 40 per cent of the show’s viewership, and provide a strong message of gender equality to the young audience”. The Steam Team, the core group of trains, will now comprise three male and three female characters. Long-running favourites Percy, Gordon, James and Emily will be joined by Nia and Rebecca.
The series will also feature new characters from around the world including Ashima from India, Yong Bao from China and Shane from Australia.
New female characters include Isla, an Australian flying doctor plane, Noor Jehan, a royal express engine from India, Hong-Mei, a No 1 blue tank engine from China, and female railway controller Charubala, from India. Formerly narrated by the ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, the new Channel 5 version will have Thomas talking directly to his young viewers.
Ian McCue, the senior producer, said: “The show has undergone an evolution to remain relevant for the next generation of parents and children.”
Thomas the Tank Engine was created by the Rev Wilbert Awdry as part of his Railway Series of books, which have become a global brand including television programmes, films, toys and live attractions.
His granddaughter, Claire Chambers, 43, said yesterday: “If the gender- balanced Steam Team encourages more girls to maintain an interest then that can only be a good thing.”
You can subscribe to The Times here.