Thomas the Tank Engine

Nigel Watson

Talking Pictures alias






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The Times (11 March 2003) reported that Dr. Brian Young of  Exeter University thinks watching Thomas the Tank Engine programmes is bad for children because there too many crashes in them. Dr. Young who advises the Independent Television Commission, said:
"Children under the age of five often get what they see on television mixed up with reality. 

"Thomas the Tank Engine is just an example. 

"Often you will see real crashes and that seems to me to be a situation where the child will get a bit worried and think: 'Maybe that will happen to me'." 

In response to this Kate Kellaway in The Observer (Sunday, 16 March 2003) noted:
'It is not the first time that Thomas has offended. Parents are like Fat Controllers; they believe they can direct their children's reading and are quick to raise the alarm - or activate the level crossing - whenever a book sends out the wrong signals. In the Seventies, feminist critics took against the sexist nature of the Thomas stories (male engines dragging giggling female carriages behind them). What kind of an amorous model was Thomas setting small boys? There was a horrible moment, too, when it appeared that Thomas might be racist (the word 'nigger' appeared in a story that was then withdrawn).'
Another problem with Dr. Young's hypothesis is that he is only looking at the number of crashes in the stories rather than their actual content.

Since my two young sons, Michael and Niles, insist on constantly playing Thomas the Tank Engine videos I can say  with some authority that the trains involved in these crashes are always recovered and put back into operation.

Furthermore, the trains often crash because they are naughty , so the programmes show the consequences of literally going off the rails. We should also be aware that the locomotives themselves are subject to more stress than their viewers. This is elaborated in an article 'Occupational Stresses of Sentient Locomotives' in the January 2001 edition of Plokta online.

Thomas can also have other positive qualities as noted by Adelle Jameson Tiltonin in an article entitled National Autism Awareness Month:

'The Autism Society of America is planning radio and television public service announcements to increase public awareness. Additionally, they will be producing a new video about Autism, and have even linked up with that "cheeky little engine" Thomas the Tank, to further the cause of Autism Awareness. I know from personal experience the importance of Thomas and his friends. My son, who was unreachable and isolated in his own world, made his first major breakthrough into "our world" because of Thomas the Tank Engine. The choice of Thomas and his friends holds special meaning to me, and is an outstanding choice for a "SpokesTrain" for Autism.'
If as Dr. Young suggests watching Thomas will make children frightened of riding on trains, can we then assume that watching Tinky Winky in the Teletubbies will make them frightened of homosexuals? In February 2006, Lewis Kass wrote to me with a viewpoint that supported Dr. Young:
Dear Sir:

I was recently introduced to the Thomas the Tank Engine's 10 year anniversary DVD because it was given to my 2 year old son for a birthday present.

I was shocked by its content. The entire DVD is about trains (individuals) being angry, jealous, "cross," in competition with and upset with other vehicles. I understand that some may say that "everyone learns a lesson at the end" or that "it exposes children to harsh realities of human nature" but this is way over the top!

Elmo accomplishes the same morals without every character having a puss on his face and stating that he is cross!

I am no longer supporting Thomas and I want to know what I can do to spread the word that Thomas IS BAD for children. Any thoughts?

I admit that many of stories are about competition and disagreements (the trucks in particular are always very naughty) but you could argue that they reflect the disputes and world view of young children. Any further comments for or against are very welcome.

Deb Morse, in contrast with Kass emailed me with this viewpoint:

Thomas the Tank Engine is not sexist at all. The show is perfect there were enough females and I'm not going to buy this crap that its sexist just because  female carrigages are getting dragged around by males. Everyone that says it is is stupid. They don't understand other people's culture you can't have your kids' life sugar coated all the time. So anyone that says it's sexist doesnt know what sexist means.
In support of her, Jay Monaghan, wrote to say:
Dear Sir,

I have been a loyal Thomas The Tank Engine fan from when I was 2 years old and throughout I have never found anything psychologically detrimental about it.

HIT Entertainment make Thomas and his friends friendly for children and morals are included. Female engines have been introduced and some have returned because some people complained the show is sexist. Emily, Molly, Mavis and Daisy have been seen in the episodes and the new special "Calling All Engines", including Lady from the feature length movie made in 2000. The crashes give some excitement to the series, but they have become lighter from Henry's crash in "The Flying Kipper" from series 1 to Gordon's crash with some Jelly tankers in series 9. 

The engines are as equal as the people on Sodor and if they state they are cross, sad or happy they are only telling the children watching what emotion they are showing, because some children do not know feelings because they are too young.

Thomas is not bad for children. It is exceedingly good. So don't spread the word that Thomas and his Engine friends are bad. The late Reverend Wilbert Awdry worked years on Thomas and his work is famous across the globe and there are many fans and Nostalgics out there who absolutley LOVE it!!  Including me!! 

Cody Cagle also supports Thomas:
Dear Sir, 
I watched Thomas the Tank Engine on television as a young child.  My mother and Grandmother would read me the books.  They would also buy me the models of Thomas and all his friends.  Thomas has been a big part of my life.  I know own my own narrow gauge railroad and work as a conductor on another.  The people that say the program is “wrong” or “sexist” need to reexamine it.  Yes, accidents do occur in the show, but they happen in life too.  Children need to know that life has its rough times, but it also has good times as well.  The shows portray both, not just the bad things.
The people that say Thomas is “sexist” also need to look the show over again.  Just because Thomas’ coaches are both women means nothing.  Thomas has locomotive friend that are feminine too.  Most people that work on the railroad call the trains “her” or “she”.  Were not being sexist, it’s only a phrase. 
To sum it all up, if the people would look at the stories in another way, they may see Thomas and Friends as a story of life.
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Material Copyright © 2001 Nigel Watson