Children’s programme Thomas And Friends is to introduce an ‘inclusive’ gender-balanced, multicultural set of characters as part of a revamp.
The new series of the animated show about Thomas the Tank Engine and his Steam Team will see the beloved locomotive leave his home in Sodor to travel the world for the first time.
He will meet other trains including Ashima from India, Yong Bao from China and Shane from Australia.
Now called Thomas And Friends: Big World! Big Adventures!, the brand’s biggest relaunch in its 73-year history will aim to appeal to a wider global audience.
Hong-Mei, a number one blue tank engine from China, is another of the popular children’s show’s characters
Nia from Kenya is one of the characters who has been added to the show in a bid to introduce more multi-cultural characters
New Thomas & Friends character Rajiv, pictured, is described as a small tank engine from the East Indian Railway
ZiLong is another of the Thomas & Friends characters introduced in a bid to revamp the popular children’s TV programme
There will also be a new theme tune for the show, a faster-paced format, increased humour and music, fantasy elements and dream sequences.
For the first time in the series’ history, Thomas will discover new countries and cultures by travelling to China, India and Australia.
The Steam Team, the core group of trains on the fictional island of Sodor, will now comprise three male and three female characters.
Long-running favourites Percy, Gordon, James and Emily will be joined by additions Nia and Rebecca, along with Thomas.
Other new female characters, described by show bosses as ‘strong girl characters’, include Isla, an Australian flying doctor plane, Noor Jehan, a royal express engine from India, Hong-Mei, a number one blue tank engine from China, and female railway controller Charubala, from India.
Isla is a Australian flying doctor plane and another of the characters introduced as part of the show’s effort to modernise
Noor Jehan is a royal express engine from India and another of the characters in the revamped Thomas & Friends series
Tamika is one of the characters in the revamped Thomas & Friends show which will air daily from September 3 on Channel 5
The character Yong Bao is described on the Thomas & Friends website as a ‘kind and faithful tender engine from China’
AnAn is being introduced to the show in what bosses describe as an ‘evolution’ to ‘remain relevant for the next generation’
Another first for the show will see Thomas talk directly to the audience to narrate it himself.
Ian McCue, senior producer at Thomas And Friends, said: ‘The show has undergone an evolution to remain relevant for the next generation of parents and children by opening up the world of Thomas And Friends so children can discover the world around them while being entertained.
‘The changes and new additions of characters and geographies will make the show more entertaining, inclusive and global – whilst ensuring all the favourite characters and storylines that fans around the world love remain at the heart of the action.’
Thomas the Tank Engine was created more than 70 years ago by Reverend Wilbert Awdry as part of his Railway Series of books, which have become a global brand including TV programmes, films, toys and live attractions.
Aubrey (left) and Aiden (right) are joining the show’s classic characters such as Percy, Gordon, James and Emily
Shankar is another of the characters in Thomas & Friends who are being introduced in the show’s effort to modernise
Shane is an Australian character described as a ‘big strong steam engine who was built for passenger and mixed freight work’
Awdry’s granddaughter, Claire Chambers, welcomed the changes to the franchise, saying she thinks he would be ‘very happy’ with them.
‘If the gender-balanced Steam Team encourages more girls to maintain an interest then that can only be a good thing,’ she said.
The programme’s redevelopment included a collaboration with the UN Department of Public Information’s Creative Community Outreach Initiative to develop content inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals appropriate for a pre-school audience while in keeping with the Thomas And Friends brand.
Thomas And Friends will air daily from September 3 at 7am on Channel 5’s Milkshake.
Charubala the railway controller is pictured at a train station ahead of the new series of children’s show Thomas & Friends
Rebecca, pictured drawing up at a station platform, is one of the characters in a revamped version of Thomas & Friends
Ashima, pictured, is a character said to be ‘usually found working on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway in Southern India’