Thomas the Tank Engine (1973) was an animated musical television series planned by Andrew Lloyd Webber and animated by Brian Cosgrove in 1973 and cancelled in 1977 because the American market did not show interest.
Until now, the only thing we have is a mention of this pilot in the book The Thomas the Tank Engine Man, and two pictures of this pilot.
Although the first attempt at televising The Railway Series in 1953 ultimately backfired, there was no lack of interest in trying again.
In 1973, Andrew Lloyd Webber, who had read The Railway Series as a child, approached publisher Kaye & Ward with a proposal for a musical television series. At the time, Lloyd Webber was very much the rising talent, having composed two biblical pop musicals, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar, as well as film scores for Gumshoe and The Odessa File.
Lloyd Webber had a number of meetings with Wilbert Awdry and Stanley Pickard, Kaye & Ward's Managing Director. Draft contracts were drawn-up and specimen lyrics written by Peter Reeves.
However, there was apprehension from the publishers and the author, as the agreement being offered would give Lloyd Webber's company "control of almost everything-idea, the characters, every one of the twenty-six books, and even anything else not yet written on published." Lloyd Webberʼs lawyers argued that such control was necessary in order to "secure the investment money from America which would be needed to pay for the animation and the film-making."
The project looked decidedly uncertain, but in November 1974, Stanley Pickard advised Wilbert that he was "maintaining personal contact with Andrew and still had a slight hope that there might be a way out." Wilbert remained apprehensive: "Once the Americans get hold of it, the whole series would be vulgarized and ruined." Eventually, a contract was signed almost a year later and Wilbert was paid an advance of £500.
Lloyd Webber has ordered a pilot episode from Granada TV. Animator Brian Cosgrove worked on the pilot, which would feature 2D cutouts of the engines moving along a background in a style reminiscent of the Ivor the Engine series. The cutouts and backgrounds would be based upon illustrations from The Railway Series, albeit in a unique Cosgrove style.
The pilot episode was completed in early 1976 and Lloyd Webber had really tried very hard to bring the project to fruition, but decided to cancel the plan because the American market did not show interest and he was a huge stage hit with Evita.
In 1977, Lloyd Webber formed the "Really Useful Group", a name inspired by the phrase "Really Useful Engine". He wrote Starlight Express inspired by The Railway Series in 1984, and it became one of his most famous works.