Thomas the Tank Engine’s Unlikely Friend

There is an episode of Sex and the City in which Carrie, the narrator/protagonist — a sex columnist for a fictional New York City tabloid — finds herself pitching a book concept to a publisher.  It seems like a natural fit, until the audience (and Carrie) finds out that the lady she is meeting publishes children’s books.  It’s a bad fit, to say the least, notes Carrie, and she shares a laugh with her friends.  A sex columnist write children’s books?

The rules do not allow for such things.

Just ask Britt Allcroft, creator of three children’s television series, most notably Thomas and Friends, a derivative of a half-century-old book series Thomas the Tank Engine.  Until recently, the TV show had only two speaking parts: a chorus of children who sing sing-along songs; and a narrator, who tells the story and speaks on behalf of the trains and other characters.

When Ms. Allcroft and her team sought a narrator, they assumedly did so with great care; after all, it is the only known voice for the entirety of an episode.   Allcroft and her successors attracted some great talent to narrate: Ringo Starr, Alec Baldwin, and Pierce Brosnan all narrated something from the Thomas franchise.

But that list is hardly exhaustive.  There’s another narrator, one who worked on 51 episodes over most of the 1990s.  Per Wikipedia:

In 1991, he provided the narrative voice for the American version of the children’s show Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, a role he continued until 1998. He played “Mr. Conductor” on the PBS children’s show Shining Time Station [another Alcroft show], which featured Thomas the Tank Engine from 1991 to 1993, as well as the Shining Time Station TV specials in 1995 and Mr. Conductor’s Thomas Tales in 1996.

But that’s not what he’s most famous for.   Not even close.  And no one who popularized the Seven Dirty Words could possibly be the voice of a beloved children’s show character.

Unless you’re George Carlin, that is.

Bonus fact:  Trains were an enormous part of American transit history and remain vital today.  What’s next?  Perhaps a flying car.  A Woburn, Massachusetts company, Terrafugia, has something close, in prototype — a small plane (runway required) whose wheels fold up for the 35 mph ride home.

Related: A remote controlled Cranky the Crane.  It’s so fun, grown-ups play with it too (guilty!).

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