Thomas & 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 undoubtedly the most famous adaption of Awdry’s stories, at the same time, it was not the first. The first attempt was a live broadcast on June 14, 1953, by the BBC, however, the show didn’t fare well and caused a full series never to be produced.
In 1953 the BBC approached The Railway Series editor Eric Marriott and inquired about the possibility of adapting two stories from The Railway Series for television on 14 June of that same year. The broadcast was to be done using 0O Gauge Hornby Dublo Models, while P.R. Wickham made the sets. This was to ensure that authenticity to the Author and Publishers requests. The episode was broadcast live from Lime Grove Studios on Sunday, June 14, 1953.
The stories that the BBC chose to adapt was Wilbert Awdry's last two stories from his first book ("The Sad Story of Henry" & "Edward, Gordon, and Henry"), in a new Children's Program TV show named The Three Small Engines. However, Douglas Mair (the director of Children's Television) had to deal with the O0 Gauge Models, Superimposed rain, effects, music, and narration by Julia Lang. The script was 'freely adapted' to ensure the broadcasts meet the ten-minute broadcast limit. The models were reported to jerk around as they moved. Other than that, the show went fine until the engine derailed. This was caused by the mistake of not switching the points before the engine arrived at them. To the surprise of the viewers, a hand picked up the engine and put it back on the rails!
The incident made the front of several newspapers a week later. This caused the June 21 broadcast to be delayed to June 28 and then canceled. Although numerous attempts were made to revive the series, all were unsuccessful until 1979.
As the show was broadcast live and knowing the BBC's track record for preserving old content, it is no surprise that the broadcast is lost. It is highly unlikely that anyone recorded the single broadcast, although other shows from that day have been kept and are available on the internet, such as:
- The live broadcast of the talk show " What's my line? ";
- The transmission of "The Fleet awaits The Queen."