Mattel, the US toy giant that owns the rights to the tales of Thomas and his friends in Tidmouth Sheds, has announced a “groundbreaking refresh”. Out will go two male trains to be replaced by two females; there’s to be an African character and some future episodes of the animation series will be set abroad.
Naturally, change to any institution – and Thomas the Tank Engine most assuredly is a British institution – will be met with resistance. But we’re in favour of the stories of Thomas the Tank Engine being more gender-balanced. Why shouldn’t girls – and their experiences – be represented equally alongside boys on children’s TV?
Awdry’s stories are of another time with different values. If his characters are to endure they need to be relevant. But this reinvigoration of Thomas is in no danger of making these trains more realistic. For that, every story would include prohibitively expensive tickets, a three-hour delay, and a drunk football fan relieving himself in the vestibule.