News, Culture & Society

Thomas the Diverse Tank Engine? It’ll blow your boiler

Goodbye Thomas The Tank Engine — and hello to Thomas the Politically Correct Outreach Officer for the United Nations.

Mattel, the American toy company that owns the rights to the Thomas The Tank Engine franchise, has announced sweeping changes to the series about gallant little steam engine Thomas and his friends.

Two of Thomas’s oldest chums, Edward and Henry, are being sent off to the breaker’s yard to make way for Nia, an orange locomotive from Africa, and Rebecca, a bright yellow engine.

They are being introduced to create gender and race balance in the engine sheds at Tidmouth Sheds, following changes in recent years, such as the arrival of a Japanese engine, Hiro.

The Fat Controller is to be modernised, an emphasis will be put on environmental awareness, and the Liverpudlian tones of the narrator are to be changed, presumably for an American voice.

These new episodes have been created in collaboration with the United Nations, so the storylines feature five so-called ‘Sustainable Development Goals’: quality education, gender equality, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, and life on land.

All this was reported on the day author Philip Pullman criticised stories by A.A. Milne of Winnie-the-Pooh fame, E. Nesbit (The Railway Children) and Kenneth Grahame (The Wind In The Willows creator).

According to the Left-leaning Pullman, such writers peddled ‘teeth-grittingly cute’ images of childhood which appealed only to adults. ‘Children want to grow up,’ he said.

On the island of Sodor, where the Thomas stories are based, it is going to be ‘all change’ — but not in a good way. Where once the stories, originally written in the Forties by the Rev W. Awdry, a Hampshire vicar, settled for adventure and derring-do, now they will have political messages.

Thomas will travel abroad, to assist in his mission to make children more welcoming to foreigners and immigrants. The theme tune is to be altered and the Fat Controller’s celebrated girth may be transformed.

If that is not enough to make you blow your boilers, I offer the following suggestions for new stories in the (once) much-loved Thomas series …


One morning, Thomas chuffed into the station and blew his whistle to say ‘Hullo, Mr Fat Controller’. The Station Precinct Executive Manager, as he was more properly titled now, scowled and said: ‘I’d like a word with you in the sidings, Thomas.’

Oh dear, thought Thomas. Have I upset him? The manager adopted a pitying frown and explained, in a nannying Blue Peter-presenter voice, that it was no longer ‘appropriate’ to call him fat.

‘But you are — you’re a complete porker,’ said Thomas truthfully.

‘Those,’ sighed the Fat Controller, ‘are not words we use in the 21st century. I may have a gland problem which makes me clinically obese. But it is hurtful to refer to anyone’s body image, Thomas.’

He added that in future he would not wear the spongebag trousers, tails and top hat that evoked memories of the great railway engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Instead, he would be issued with an Arriva Trains executive-tier uniform of polyester trousers, Terylene shirt and company-logo tie. He issued Thomas with a formal warning about his conduct and explained that this would be placed on his disciplinary file.

Thomas did not smile for the rest of the day and went to his sheds without so much as a toot or a chuff-chuff-chuff. Why did everyone seem cross these days?


Please don’t be tempted to sympathise with mishap-prone Peter Sam, boys and girls. As engines go, he is not a suitable role model.

The other day he was taking a freight consignment to the harbour and there was a regrettable incident when the trucks behind him started to bump into one another.

Peter Sam shouted at them, saying: ‘You naughty trucks, why must you behave like this? If you’re not careful you’ll make me hit the old buffers. I’m fed up with you lot.’

The trucks reported Peter Sam to the Equality & Human Rights Commission for his ‘truckist’ attitude. The buffers also took offence, saying that threats of violence were ‘never acceptable’.

A spokesman for the trucks said Peter Sam’s ‘bullying’ attitude constituted ‘gross and improper prejudice’.

The trucks demanded a full apology. Peter Sam’s line manager told him that he must not make any comment and he has been fined a month’s wages.

Two of Thomas¿s oldest chums, Edward and Henry, are being sent off to the breaker¿s yard to make way for Nia, an orange locomotive from Africa (above), and Rebecca, a bright yellow engine

Two of Thomas’s oldest chums, Edward and Henry, are being sent off to the breaker’s yard to make way for Nia, an orange locomotive from Africa (above), and Rebecca, a bright yellow engine


A cloud hung over Sodor. Not a rain cloud. Nor even a metaphorical cloud, caused by the anger about Mattel’s editorial changes to the Thomas stories.

No. It was a cloud of smog, caused by all those fossil fuels which the engines burn.

The Clinically Obese Controller summoned the engines and gave them new guidelines. They were told they must not gobble down too much coal because this was contributing adversely to the Government’s obligations under the Kyoto climate change agreement.

Poor Sir Handel [a narrow gauge saddle tank engine] was told his name was to be changed to ‘Sustainable Communities’ because that was one of the UN’s goals. Sir Handel was sad. He did not think this was such a handsome name. He was told he could ‘lump it or accept compulsory redundancy and be sent to Mumbai for scrappage’.

‘But how shall we get up the hills if we cannot burn coal to generate enough steam?’ asked Thomas’s fireman.

This drew a long laugh from Diesel, who told them they were relics of a bygone era.

‘Of course we are,’ said Thomas. ‘We’ve been a throwback since the Fifties and that’s why children like our stories.’

The smile was soon wiped off Diesel’s face when someone pointed out that oil-powered locomotives were also doomed and they would all be out of a job if the Department of Transport did not approve a multi-billion-pound electrification of the Sodor rail network.

The Financial Times said this was still being considered by civil servants, ‘despite Brexit’.


The Spherically Challenged Controller had received a diversity audit from the railway’s silly owners and it was decided that Henry was for the chop. He had to make way for a female locomotive, Nia, as she was orange and African.

‘Isn’t it racist to deport me from Sodor just because I am green?’ cried Henry on his last night in the Sheds. Tears fell on his fenders.

‘Nia may be perfectly able but why should it matter what colour our bodywork is or what gender our entirely fictitious names are?’

Thomas and Percy and Skarloey reflected that it certainly did sound a bit prejudiced. Wasn’t green meant to be good? How confusing this racism thing was.

Why did grown-ups impose ‘positive discrimination’ at the same time as insisting that ‘any form of discrimination is absolutely disgusting’? It was all very odd.

Henry’s driver was in tears. ‘It has taken us decades to build up this loyal audience and the fools at Mattel are imperilling it. The boys and girls aren’t fools. They won’t listen to preachy stories about climate change and equality. They just want exciting yarns.’

He thought of making a brave stand, but the previous week another driver had dared to complain when Edward was taken away to the scrapyard.

That driver had been sacked for gross impertinence. There was no point appealing to Aslef and the RMT, as the TUC was not recognised on Sodor. The last hope was that the union of children — the wonderful boys and girls of Britain — would go on strike and tell their parents not to buy any new DVDs until Mattel had another thought about all these daft changes.

The famous children's show Thomas the Tank Engine has had quite a makeover in recent years 

The famous children’s show Thomas the Tank Engine has had quite a makeover in recent years 


Just when everyone was getting used to the idea of having more engines with female names, terrible news arrived.

The diversity auditors had called back their report. They realised it had a ‘glaring omission’. The name of Sodor was already bad enough, but where were the LBGTQ+ characters in the stories?

The Clinically Obese Controller entered the Sheds with a clipboard (always a bad sign) and said someone was going to have to undergo an operation. This would involve dismantling his funnel and having a new lick of (pink) paint.

‘If we fail to do this, we could be attacked by the Guardian and the Twittersphere and our lives will be made a misery,’ said the Controller. ‘We have no alternative but to give our central character a revamp and rename the entire series. From now on, folks, I give you…Thomas the Trans Engine.’