The Significance of the Royal Engine

Is this the end of the line?

EDWARD scolded the twins severely, but Gordon told him it served him right. Gordon was furious.

Err, what?

Almost twenty years ago my mother read Edward’s Exploit by my bedside. She stopped in confusion after the first sentence, for the story appeared to start in media res, with little way to find out the cause of Gordon’s fury nor the twins being scolded.

Other than Gordon the Big Engine (1953) my family doesn’t own any of The Railway Series individually. My main source was a 2001 print of Thomas The Tank Engine Collection. The A4 book contained fifty-six of Wilbert Awdry’s one hundred and five stories*. Instead of order of original publication the individual stories were grouped according to protagonist. Very early on I read the long list of “first published” notes on the copyright page, but I do not recall at what point I ultimately pieced together that Edward’s Exploit (page 139) came immediately after Wrong Road (page 167) and that the twins are being scolded for having threatened to dump Gordon in the sea.

Thomas’s section had ten stories, Percy’s eleven, Toby’s, Edward’s and Gordon’s seven each, Henry’s nine and James’s five. No section could have had fewer than four since each of those engines had at least one dedicated book. The time jumps in the collection are interesting as an indication of each character’s importance. Thomas is the star (and gets his name in the title) for eight of the first sixteen stories (1946-49) but then not again until The Fat Controller’s Engines (1957) and Thomas Comes to Breakfast (1961).  Percy’s lumps are more spread out. He is introduced with Trouble in the Sheds and Percy Runs Away (1950), then the bizarre** minisode Percy & the Trousers (1951), but doesn’t his dedicated volume until 1956, which is followed up by Percy Takes the Plunge (1957), then there is small lull before Percy’s Predicament (1961) and a much larger lull until Ghost Train and Woolly Bear (1972). Toby’s introduction is with his namesake book in 1952, but his next prominent appearance is not until Double Header (1957), then his stuck in secondary status until Mavis and Toby’s Tightrope (1972), right at the end of Wilbert’s tenure. Gordon and Edward were the introduced at the very start of the series but didn’t get their dedicated volumes until 1953 and 1954 respectively, with only four chapters between them thereafter. They don’t exactly disappear, though, as they are prominent supporting characters in a lot of other stories throughout the series. Henry’s character arc (overcoming his poor health and hypochondria) is the most obvious and most complicated in the first five books – he gets a two part story in the 1945 premier, then a revisit in Henry & the Elephant (1950), then finally his own book in 1951, but after that he fades from view and doesn’t get the spotlight again until Tenders for Henry and Super Rescue (1968)***. James is seemingly the least interesting of the lot, for though he gets his volume in early (1948) his only subsequent story is Buzz Buzz in 1966.

The chronology matters little to those who just want to pick stories at random and read them individually, but with so many stories missing**** and the rest so jumbled up it is hard to appreciate the serialised aspects of the books and the longer-term themes that Awdry wanted to portray. Of course, this was hardly the only instance of that problem.

Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends premiered on 9th October 1984, produced by Britt Allcroft and by David Mitton with music composed by Mike O’Donnell and Junior Campbell. These people would remain associated with the series until the end of the seventh season in 2003. That period is thus considered the Classic era, in contrast to what followed. The first season sticks closely to the first eight of Awdry’s books, adapting most of the stories word-for-word and in mostly the right order: Thomas & Gordon gets moved to the beginning. Henry & the Elephant, Percy & the Trousers, Leaves and Paint Pots & Queens all get delayed until the third and fourth seasons. Edward’s Day Out gets merged with Edward & Gordon, as does James & the Top Hat with James & the Bootlace and Gordon’s Whistle with Henry’s Sneeze. Mrs Kyndley’s Christmas is replaced with Thomas’s Christmas Party, written by Allcroft & Mitton.

Already in the second season there are some major deviations: If it had stuck as closely as the first then it would have adapted the next eight books – Cows! (1954) through to Percy’s Predicament (1961). This, however, would prove to be too expensive a course, for books 10 and 14 were about the narrow-gauge engines of the Skarloey Railway – adapting those would require a big investment in a separate lot of sets and props at a much smaller scale. Those adaptations were all postponed until the necessary money was available. Cost concerns led to many other episodes being dropped – Gordon Goes Foreign would have required new sets for St. Pancras and Barrow-in-Furness as well as Henry’s model to be modified for the big city engine. Domeless Engines would have required a new model for City of Truro. The Missing Coach became the Shada of this series, abandoned mid-production when Allcroft decided the plot was too complicated. A few other stories were also delayed, as will be detailed in later paragraphs. To fill the gaps later stories were brought forward – three from 1966 and two from 1972. Sometimes existing characters were given additional roles to avoid introducing new ones – Bill & Ben instead of Jinty & Pug, for instance. Brand new material was then devised, with Christopher Awdry was encouraged to write and publish More About Thomas the Tank Engine at short notice purely to have more stories featuring the title character as well as Bertie and Harold. Christopher also wrote the one-off stories Thomas & Trevor and the season finale Thomas & the Missing Christmas Tree. Even with all these changes the second season still represents a major expansion of the scope of the programme as there are multiple new sets built (including the very large wet set for Brendam Docks) and more new characters than old ones (Duck, Donald, Douglas, Diesel, Daisy, Bill, Ben, BoCo).

The third season did not arrive until 1992 and featured a noticeable visual adjustment as well as new narration (the late Michael Angelis replacing Ringo Starr) and updated scores. No whole books are adapted this time, but three chapters each are done from Enterprising Engines (1968) and Oliver the Western Engine (1969). The rest of the adaptations were from books that the previous seasons had begun but not completed – Percy & the Trousers, Leaves, Percy’s Promise, Double Header, Domeless Engines, Buzz Buzz, Mavis and Toby’s Tightrope all being filled in. More controversially this season incorporated a lot of episodes that were adapted from Andrew Brenner’s magazine stories rather than the Awdrys’ own material, including the clerically-detested Henry’s Forest. This was again motivated by a desire to have more stories focused on Thomas and other familiar characters instead of having to build new ones.

The fourth season came in 1995, and saw something of a return to form with only one Allcroft-written story and even that still an augmentation of one of Awdry’s. The narrow-gauge stories finally got their moment, with the first half of the season given over to adapting Duke the Lost Engine (1970), Four Little Engines (1955), The Little Old Engine (1958) and Gallant Old Engine (1962) en bloc with their chronology mostly intact^. Stepney the Bluebell Engine (1963) is adapted with some modification^^. The last eight episodes are a bit of a hodgepodge, with five catching up what the earlier seasons missed out – Henry & the Elephant, Toad Stands By (1969), Bulls Eyes (1961), The Fat Controller’s Engines, Paint Pots & Queens and Fish. The final three push forward into Christopher’s stories again, adapting from Really Useful Engines (1983) and Toby, Trucks & Trouble (1988). The reasoning for choosing these stories is not exactly clear – they may well have been picked at random.

Readers who have made it through the last few paragraphs may wonder if the order of the stories is that important. I think it helps in understanding the characters’ motivations in any particular story if you know what they’ve experienced up to that point. Many of Awdry’s engines, and the relationships between them, grow and evolve over the course of his books and many simpler earlier stories are necessary foundations for later more complex ones. Chopping and shuffling breaks the connections and perverts the arcs so that characters who seemed to mature in one episode then regress in another. The jettisoning of peripheral characters or locations also results in much of Awdry’s wider mythology being lost in translation – Tenders for Henry has Gordon lamenting that his brothers have been scrapped in the dieselisation of the British mainland, and the Fat Controller bringing Scotsman over to cheer him up. The adaptation couldn’t afford to build Scotsman (strange, really, given that the engine is so famous you’d think they could buy one off the shelf and slap on one of Gordon’s spare faces) so instead there are just two tenders jutting out from behind a station, said to belong to “a visitor”. Bluebells of England has some graphic accounts and illustrations of engine scrapping which Rusty to the Rescue, though suitably spooky, cannot really match. The nature of “the other railway” is also left unclear, becoming “a faraway part of the island” of Sodor instead of Great Britain.

Furthermore there are certain episodes that just don’t make sense out of context: Henry has no particular motivation to strike after Tenders & Turntables, not yet being whooshed by an elephant. The Trouble with Mud doesn’t really explain how Gordon got to be so filthy. Percy boasts about his trek through a flooded valley years before it happens. The same engine is delighted to be reassigned to the Ffarquhar branch line in Duck Takes Charge, but was already working there in Thomas, Percy & the Coal.

When I originally watched most of these episodes it was on VHS tape rather than television broadcast. The episodes chosen for each tape were sometimes sequential blocks, other times chosen by a particular theme. There would be certain episodes of which I had more than one copy, with subtly different packaging. I do not recall them being labelled according to season or year, but it was usually possible to make an educated guess at which came earlier and which later on account of the technical details (narrator, lighting, colour balance, title sequence typeface) and also the narrative ones (how many characters were present and references to prior events). The one that left me confused was always Paint Pots & Queens, which still pretended to follow directly on from Down the Mine despite being three seasons later – with all the stylistic changes that entailed. Gordon and Thomas commence the episode rolling buffer-to-buffer, the former still wearing the winch on his footplate. Dialogue continues to suggest that their misbehaviour still awaits forgiveness with the Fat Controller, despite both of them interacting normally with him many times in the intervening years. One might advise to simply assume that this episode is set in its original position whatever the order of production, but Duck’s presence at the big station renders that impossible. Plus, placing this episode after with Thomas & the Special Letter feels like overkill – two celebration episodes back-to-back, the engines making a grand visit to London and the next day receiving one. Since each is the final chapter of its respective book it would have worked better to have either of them as the season finale rather than the low-key Mind That Bike!

The fifth season came in 1998, by which time Wilbert Awdry himself had died. Allcroft, harbouring ambitions of a theatrical film, decided to break away from the books entirely and write new stories herself, although she maintained the tradition of using real railway anecdotes for inspiration. The new episodes focused more heavily on action, especially crashes. Furthermore, where early seasons had limited the numbers of new characters to save model costs, subsequent ones added new engines for the purpose of being able to sell more toys.

Those theatrical ambitions eventually manifested in 2000 as Thomas & the Magic Railroad, a crossover between the normal series and its American framing device Shining Time Station. The film featured a mix of model animation and live action, with separate voice actors for each of the engines and a star-studded cast for the humans. Thomas the Tank Engine had been a huge international success up to this point, but this was the first real sign of failure: The film is largely regarded as an embarrassing flop, with an over-complicated story, poor visual effects, mismatched acting and an ill-conceived premise. Allcroft herself complained in 2007 about how many major changes were made between her original script and the finished film, including the editing out of the main antagonist P. T. Boomer because test audiences found him too scary. Mara Wilson, who had played Lily, retired from acting for twelve years afterwards. She later commented that she enjoyed working on the film but was disappointed at how much of her part was cut out. Furthermore many of the models were damaged in transit across the North Atlantic. The film’s failure was a blow to Allcroft’s career and she stepped down as company director, remaining only as executive producer. The Britt Allcroft Company was then renamed Gullane Entertainment.

Season 6 aired in 2002. The series was filmed in 16:9 rather than 4:3 for the first time and a new title sequence montage was created. In addition to the twenty-six episode of the season, Allcroft planned a spin-off series called Jack & the Pack. Its first season was also supposed to have twenty-six episodes but only thirteen were ever filmed, partly due to money issues and partly due to Gullane being bought that year by HiT Entertainment, who also produced Bob the Builder and deemed the two programmes too similar.

Season 7 aired in 2003. A change of name took effect at this point, with “Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends” shortened to “Thomas & Friends”. The original title sequence was restored (albeit cropped, and with the new logo superimposed over the old one). Allcroft was by then further relegated to non-executive director. This series is notable for the introductions of Emily, a Stirling Single and Spencer, based on Mallard. After production Allcroft, Mitton and a host of other important figures decided to leave the series, thus ending what would later be dubbed the Classic era.

Even though they had already purchased the series before 2003, Season 8 (2004) is seen as the beginning of the HiT era, for it was a this stage that their signature changes were implemented. A major artistic and technical retool of the series saw BetaCam videotape replace 35mm film, an entirely new musical score and credits sequence, episodes lengthened from 270 to 420 seconds each and animated “Learning Segments” inserted between the episodes themselves. The large locomotive ensemble cast that had built up over the previous twenty years was compressed to an octet of the most important characters while the rest were demoted to minor supporting roles or excluded altogether. The composition of the “Steam Team” was itself controversial as HiT’s desire for a female character in the main cast saw Emily promoted at the expense of Duck. A change to broadcast schedule also occurred at this point, with two episodes airing per week instead of one per day.

2005 was the franchise’s 60th anniversary year, and HiT commemorated it with Calling All Engines! The hour-long home video special was released alongside the airing of season 9 and depicted an escalating conflict between the steam and diesel engines, as well as the rebuilding of Tidmouth Sheds to include a seventh berth. HiT insisted that Lady and Diesel 10 be included in the plot, for their merchandise had sold well despite the 2000 film’s failure. The characters were this time depicted without any magical qualities and the writers did not consider the special to be a sequel.^^^

In 2008, between the eleventh and twelfth seasons, another special was released: The Great Discovery. This was the last to rely solely on physical models with resin faces. By this point new brass models had been built for the main characters to replace the ageing perspex ones. Season 12 used CG animated faces for the vehicles and fully CG models for the humans, meaning that characters’ lips could move for the first time. This was also the time that Sharon Miller, already script editor since season 9, became the head writer for the series, hence the next few seasons sometimes being called the Miller era. Episodes from this period are characterised by lots of rhyming and alliterative narration and plots built on the “rule of three” formula. Tonally they were aimed at very young children and visually they portray the vehicle characters moving and stopping with unrealistic agility.

2009 was an off-year for the franchise with no new episodes released, but it did see the debut of the third special Hero of the Rails in which the Japanese engine Hiro is found and restored. This special also introduced the Sodor Steamworks, with narrow-gauge tank engine Victor and mobile crane Kevin. This was initially conceived as another hybrid production, but budget cuts meant it would be unfeasible to keep maintaining the existing physical sets and models as well as building the new ones the story required. HiT therefore decided to abandon the physical models entirely and switch the series permanently to full CG animation. Also from here on all characters would have individual voice actors instead of the narrator reading their lines. The standard length of an episode was further increased to ten minutes.

Series 13, produced at the same time as the special, aired in early 2010. From this point on, much like Top Gear, there would be a special to accompany each season. Here the chronology problem rears its head again: Frequently the special would introduce a new character to be either the protagonist or antagonist for that story, and then said character would appear in supporting roles for multiple episodes of the accompanying season, often then fading into obscurity as the next new character was then brought in, though rarely explicitly leaving the cast.^^^^ It was sometimes the case, though, that the DVD of the special wouldn’t be released until after the corresponding season had already aired, which then made the character’s introduction redundant. A more general problem is common to a lot of programming, especially animated – the time taken to produce a block of episodes may well be greater than the time between blocks airing, with the result that multiple seasons are overlapping from a creative standpoint. Individual stories may be delayed or accelerated to broadcast for whatever reason and TV networks in different countries will make different decisions as to the broadcast schedule, with the end result that the orders in which stories are made, set, and shown may be drastically misaligned. This is especially the case with Christmas and other holiday specials, which obviously have to go out at the right time of year even if the rest of the season can be delayed indefinitely.

Another retool occurred in 2012 with Brenner replacing Miller as head writer and Arc Productions replacing Nitrogen Studios as the animators. Mark Moraghan replaced Michael Angelis as narrator, though the difference between their voices is much less noticeable than with Starr’s. The narrator’s role was significantly reduced to allow the characters’ speech and movements to carry the story more naturally. Plots in seasons 17-20 (sometimes called the “Brennaissance”) tended to be more sophisticated than those before and the new format allowed for finer subtleties in the interactions between characters, for purposes both comedic or dramatic`. A lot of neglected classic characters were also returned to the main cast during this period and other parts of Awdry’s lore were incorporated – namely Ulfstead Castle and the Norramby family. The franchise also went another change of ownership this year, with HiT Entertainment bought up by the American toy company Mattel.

2015 was the seventieth anniversary of the franchise, which was celebrated with The Adventure Begins, a special that remade the first seven episodes of the series and re-adapted the first two books. Notable is that many details are presented differently to how they were in season 1, correcting some adaptation errors (James has his black livery this time) but creating others (Henry is in his new shape from the beginning). This overwriting led many to conclude that seasons 1-7 effectively exist in a separate continuity from season 13 onward, though nobody is quite sure which side of the boundary seasons 8-12 should fall. Another special, Sodor’s Legend of the Lost Treasure, was released that summer. Produced at some point in 2014, it starred John Hurt“ as the antagonist Sailor John, and introduced the miniature Arlesdale Railway and the Thin Clergyman (an avatar for Wilbert Awdry himself) to the TV series for the first time. This special was noted for its rather darker tone as John (essentially a second attempt at the PT Boomer character) engages in physical combat and even attempts to kill Thomas with dynamite.

Mattel took over as producer in 2016, and then some further changes were seen in 2017, with the twenty-first season and the special Journey Beyond Sodor: Edward moved out of Tidmouth sheds“` with the others ominously wondering who might take his place. More elaborate animation was used for jokes and for fantasy sequences, and the engines gained the ability to bounce their bodies around on their chassis to emphasise emotions – probably inspired by Chuggington. This season was only eighteen episodes long, with a further eight having been cancelled to make way for the next project. Five of them were eventually included in the next three seasons. Two Christmas episodes were released on DVD after season 21 that were produced as part of season 20.

Behind the scenes the franchise was running into difficulty, with all-important toy sales in decline“` and Thomas losing viewers to newer shows like Paw Patrol. Market research brought back an anecdote about a child they interviewed, who told them “Trains can go places but Thomas never goes anywhere.” In 2018 the company implemented yet another retool, under the brand of Big World! Big Adventures. This was to be the banner of both the 2018 special and seasons 22-24. The special features Thomas going on a trip all around the world so that through him the viewers can learn about other cultures. The ensuing series are split between standard episodes set on Sodor and episodes set internationally, with Thomas in-character narrating stories about what happened on his travels. By and large the latter stories follow the same formula (characters get lost, things go wrong, stuff breaks, shout at each other) but with multiple exotic locations as backdrops rather than just a small part of Britain. Again, it’s a lot like Top Gear. Yet another new theme song and title sequence was deployed, and the physics moved further away from realism with a lot more energetic and cartoonish movement by the locomotive cast, as well as at least one fantasy sequence in almost every episode. On the other hand, there was greater realism in the character designs, with the inclusion of rivets and other details that had long been omitted.““ Running alongside this is a trend towards having the specials and even some of the normal episodes written and advertised around more general ideas of what would excite children – castles, dinosaurs, pirates – with the railways themselves being a sideshow, which Mattel did not start but did compound with many scenes where locomotives dream of being anything else.

The “Steam Team” was reshuffled again in these years with Kenyan ED1 engine replacing Edward and Light Pacific Rebecca replacing Henry in a push for closer gender-balance. Toby was also demoted from the main cast though without much ceremony nor any replacement.

Following the production of season 24, a double-length (though not feature-length) special was commissioned for the franchise’s 75th anniversary. Entitled Thomas & the Royal Engine, it featured Thomas meeting Her Majesty again, this time with her son Prince Charles in tow. His son Prince Harry recorded a live-action introduction in January, shortly before he stepped aside from royal duties. The special aired on 2nd May 2020 (ten days before the actual anniversary), and was shortly followed by the last nine episodes of season 23. Season 24 then aired in three chunks from September 2020 to January 2021.

On 12th October 2020 Mattel announced some changes for the next season, which would arrive in autumn 2021. This in itself was not much of a surprise given that the series had been retooled several times already (indeed, I can’t think of any other series besides Doctor Who that gets changed so much so often). This one, however, was rather more drastic: the series was changing to 2D animation. This on its own was a more radical change than any that had been imposed before, but more was to come. On 27th January 2021, just six days after season 24 finished airing, another announcement was made: there would be no season 25, the supposed retool was actually a reboot. Thomas & Friends as made from 1984 to 2020 had ended, and in its place was a completely new series called All Engines Go! with a drastically reduced cast (including no engine crews at all) and a complete break of continuity. Also on this day a trailer for the new series was leaked online, which was much derided by all who saw it prior to its swift takedown. Whereas Big World! Big Adventures! had included so much extra detailing on the models, All Engines Go! swings the other way with extremely crude drawings that omit cab doors and coupling rods. To make matters worse it doubles down on the wacky animation, with engines now hopping about the screen like caffeinated squirrels. There have also been hints that Sodor will be made to feel like “every island” so as to be accessible to children of all nationalities. The new production will therefore lack any distinctive British identity. On top of all this the new animation style means another change of animation team, with Nelvana (again Canadian) taking over from Arc. There are a few personnel who had roles in Shining Time Station and ‘Magic Railroad, but from what I can find it appears that the vast majority of the former creative team has been made redundant.

The reaction to the new imagery was overwhelmingly negative, with parents reporting their children’s disgust at the sight and even Britt Allcroft herself commiserating with fans on Facebook.

Now, having spent four thousand words building up to this point, it is time to answer to initial question – why is The Royal Engine so significant? Well, although there still dozens of other episodes to be released, this was the last in production order and thus, with the reboot pending, effectively becomes the finale not just for season 24 but for the entirety of Thomas & Friends on television for the last thirty-six years. In hindsight, the birthday is made a funeral.

By comparison to the rest of late stage T&F, this special is surprisingly low-key. Too low, perhaps? There are no dream sequences and, though the bouncing is still present, no blatant physics-breaking either. The bombastic BWBA intro starts up but then fades away in a manner that almost feels like a subversive rebuke to the style of the last three seasons. Instead we have the Duke of Sussex sitting calmly in an armchair reading holding open the book (whose covers are very carefully styled to resemble those from The Railway Series, though the internal illustrations are just screenshots from the episode) and talking us briefly through the premise. This then fades back into the episode proper, with Percy hurriedly delivering a delayed letter to Knapford. It turns out to be a letter from Queen Elizabeth. She invites Sir Topham to Buckingham Palace the next day to receive a special award for services to the railway and says that Prince Charles has specifically requested Thomas be the engine to bring him. There is a morning montage of Hatt putting on his finest suit and Thomas being specially decorated. Of course, nothing goes to plan, with the bulk of the runtime being dedicated to them getting lost, scratched, and splattered with mud. The title character is Duchess of Loughborough, based on the Coronation-class Duchess of Sutherland. She breaks down and Thomas has to push her to the station, then it turns out she was pulling the royal train. The ceremony is then performed on the platform, Elizabeth (voiced by Miller) gifts Hatt an ornate clock and Charles lays a medal*^ on Thomas’s left wheel arch. The Queen dubs him a “royally useful engine”, the crowd cheers, the camera pans out until a large Union Flag flops in front of it and then the credits roll.

Of all the other TV finales I’ve seen, I’d say that that The Royal Engine is structurally most similar to Meanwhile, the 2013 ending of Futurama. Rather than being a grand epic that ties up everything in one go, the episode focuses on just two of the main characters and is paced rather sedately. Other character arcs are given smaller individual closures in the episodes leading up to it (Zoidberg finding love, Emily getting an official number*`) so that the finale is not overloaded. Indeed, the other main characters only have brief cameos in the first five minutes. Of course, there is still time to chuck in a great many references to earlier episodes. There is even a last-minute canonisation of Gordon Goes Foreign, with Henry teasing him for getting London stations mixed up.^`

There are parts of it that feel a little rushed – the route to London is surprisingly quiet, with Victoria station and the space around it being almost deserted but for a few dozen cheerers. There is some irony that this episode, finished shortly before the pandemic hit and set vaguely in the 1960s, predicts the eerie emptiness of public space under lockdown and the barely-quorate versions of public ceremonies thereafter. I also think that the royal characters don’t look or sound much like the real ones, and that Charles’s lines about Thomas’s travels around the world and environmental efforts feel a bit shoehorned – appropriate for the real Charles as an adult but really nothing to with the stories Awdry wrote.

Futurama was cancelled and uncancelled many times, with the result that there are several episodes intended to serve as finales in case it didn’t come back. The Thomas franchise never had that problem, but there are several episodes that finales for each section of the series before the next retool hit: The Classic era closes with Three Cheers for Thomas, essentially a remake of the much-beloved Thomas & Bertie. HiT’s model series closed out with Best Friends which, while not really referencing much, evaluates the way two main characters relate to each other. Sharon Miller as writer and Nitrogen as animator finish on either Happy Birthday Sir! (by production) or The Christmas Tree Express (by broadcast). The former has some character stuff for the Fat Controller, the latter is a cavalcade of elements introduced during Miller’s tenure including the final appearance of Misty Island and the logging locos. It’s hard to judge where season 21 properly ends due to all the shuffling, but A Shed for Edward was the last made and it effectively retires the character from the main cast.

Thomas’s Animal Friends, the last to be aired, has no qualities that mark it out as the conclusion of anything larger than itself. The Royal Engine, on the other hand, harks back to Paint Pots & Queens by Her Majesty’s presence as well as The Fat Controller’s Engines by Thomas getting damaged on a trip to the mainland and only just arriving in time. Prince Charles’s inclusion is symbolically very important here, for he delivered the closing line in Centenary, Christopher Awdry’s very last chapter of the books.

All in all, I think that this special does an okay if imperfect job of finishing off this enormously successful and beloved series. It wasn’t as big as The Adventure Begins or any others in that line, but adequate for its intended purpose and many other shows have ended on worse. That being said, I have nothing but pessimistic dread for what is to follow.

First, on the animation: Wilbert Awdry had been keen for all his characters to closely resemble real locomotives, to the point of occasionally writing whole stories (e.g. The Flying Kipper, Thomas Comes to Breakfast) solely to explain changes in their appearances. He had disputes with at least two of his illustrators due to what he perceived to be their negligence of railway realism. Early attempts at adaptations were rejected – a live BBC airing of The Sad Story of Henry was condemned due to Henry derailing and a human hand needing to come into shot to right him. An approach by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1973 was rejected because he wanted too much control of the franchise in order to secure American investment, to which Awdry said “Once the Americans get hold of it the whole series would be vulgarised and ruined!”.

It wasn’t until 1979 that Britt Allcroft proposed her series to him, and then 1981 that she was able to put it into production. Cell animation and stop motion were both turned down, eventually settling on live action with moving railway models. All of the lines and narration were done by the same voice, evoking a parent reading the story to their children. There was little else like it before or since. Scenes were shot with a specially-designed camera using the same quality film as was used for cinemas. The music was also drastically different to that normally used for children’s programming. The Classic series was especially popular among autistic children, even beyond their fascination with locomotion more generally. The static faces which changed between shots to represent discrete emotional states allowed them to process the scene far more easily than with most other media, while the genteel pace of the action (with movement on predictable patterns) and stillness of the scenery avoided the sensory overload they would suffer from faster, flashier programming. All that being said the early episodes were never flat – characters were capable of witty, often snarky, conversation and could call on broad vocabularies when the situation demanded it.

Of course, HiT’s takeover removed much of the cinematic quality in both the visuals and the music, then the switch to CG inevitably changed the nature of how characters expressed themselves. Still, Nitrogen and Arc clearly put a great effort into ensuring that their digital models resembled the old physical ones as closely as possible. Mattel, by contrast, have spent the last four years engaging in a race to the bottom which has now culminated in obnoxious, low-grade, hyperactive baby crack indistinguishable from any other children’s television. Press releases have said that two seasons have already been commissioned, each consisting of fifty-two 11-minute episodes and a 60-minute special, twice the output rate of the previous series. At that speed, it’s unlikely that artistic quality will see much attention.

Second, on the characters: The Railway Series was always an ensemble piece. Thomas was not even first among equals, having the number 1 on his side only because Awdry found it the easiest numeral to draw.^* He was not the first character in the franchise, nor the one with the most detailed backstory, and plenty of books do not feature him – or any of the “steam team” – at all. For whatever reason he quickly proved to be the engine that most resonated with audiences, and so publishers pestered the author to put out more stories about him rather than the other engines, even to the extent of slapping his name in the titles of books which were really about other characters. The naming of the TV series shows the extent to which the general public recognised him individually rather than the stories as a whole. As the episodes diverged from the books the “& Friends” part of the title lost accuracy as writing attention increasingly focused on Thomas himself to the exclusion of many others, and in this too the Mattel reboot goes even further with plans to make him the main character of all 104 episodes.

It’s worth drawing attention at this point to the online community: Awdry’s stories and Allcroft’s adaptation have a combination of complex mythology with simple movements which render them abnormally well-suited for fan films. TRAINZ railroad simulator and various other virtual model software (sometimes even real model trains) have been a boon wishing to see and show others their take on the tales, from adaptations of stories Allcroft couldn’t afford or never reached, to originals in the same style, vast expansions of old stories’ details, new takes on the premise, deconstructive parody, and dystopian horror, alternative backstory and things beyond description. The writing quality of these has long been superior to that on the official TV series, and the visuals were steadily catching up as well. It’s nice to know that there is so vast a community dedicated to keeping the fire of the franchise alive even if the current owners are desperate to put it out.

Before I go it’s worth saying that there is a film underway by Quantum of Solace director Marc Forster. It is supposed to be a four-quadrant film with a mix of animation and live action to tell the railway story in a “modern and unexpected way”. I’m cautious about getting excited though, for it sounds suspiciously similar to a different film that was pitched more than a decade ago which was delayed several times and then quietly cancelled. For a very long time all the information we got about it was a few lines of synopsis and a poster that proclaimed “Arriving Soon” – about as accurate for the film as for anything else involving British trains. Also in the pipeline is An Unlikely Fandom by independent filmmaker Brannon Carty, though his own Twitter feed contradicts itself as to whether the release is in summer or fall.

When I began writing this article it was only meant to be a quick aside but it has turned out to be probably the longest blog post I have ever done. The effort to keep typing has taxed me for four days, but Thomas is so prestigious and has been so foundational in my life that I think he deserves it. Don’t you?

EXTERNAL LINKS

______________________________________________________________

*None from Christopher.

**Bizarre because it’s an unrelated Percy story in what is otherwise Henry’s book. Consequently Henry the Green Engine is the only instalment to have five chapters instead of the usual four. The silver lining is that, unlike with most of the other examples, delaying this episode until the third season doesn’t affect anything continuity-wise.

***This is noticeable in the Classic TV series as well – Henry’s story takes up a lot of the first season but in the second he never has a scene to himself, appearing only as part of a trio with Gordon and James. In the third season he gets Henry’s Forest (a magazine story that Awdry disliked) and Tender Engines but no Super Rescue (probably the two diesel models would have been too expensive). In the fourth series he gets Henry & the Elephant (a first season holdover) and Fish (one of Christopher’s stories).

****Those stories which are not about any one character in particular (e.g. Tenders & Turntables) or whose protagonist is not one of the seven chosen for this book (e.g. Oliver, Stepney or any narrow-gauge engines).

^Duke the Lost Engine is essentially a prequel to the other three. The adaptation moves its stories ahead of the others, with the framing device of Thomas telling a story in the sheds. Skarloey Remembers and Old Faithful are merged into one episode. Little Old Twins is omitted.

^^Bluebells of England and Stepney’s Special are merged together as Thomas & Stepney. Rusty to the Rescue is inserted before them to give an altered account of Stepney’s rescue.

^^^Indeed the events of Thomas & the Magic Railroad are never treated as canonical to any prior or subsequent instalment of the franchise.

^^^^There is a potential analogy here with peers who were only ennobled so that they could be ministers, often with tenures only lasting a year or two.

`That said, there are plenty of scenes that could have been written by Seth McFarlane.

“He was Gazetted as a knight bachelor, for services to drama, in the 2015 New Year Honours. He received his accolade at Windsor Castle on the day of the special’s release.

“`Of course, the episodes are still being played out of sequence so he appears to return there a few times afterwards.

““This was the same year that Mattel made the preposterous decision to slash costs by releasing a new toy line in which half of the wood was unpainted, though I do not know which caused the other.

““The visual update is particularly noticeable when there are flashback sequences to earlier events. Scenes from seasons 13-20 just use the stock footage straight from those episodes, but those from the model series are recreated from scratch with the newer designs and animation.

*^The Queen calls it a crest for some reason. The ribbon resembles that for the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.

*`The “12” can be glimpsed on her tender in the Knapford scene of the special, making clear that it takes place after that episode.

^`Actually the station used for this special is not Euston, Paddington, King’s Cross or St. Pancras, but Victoria in Westminster. This was probably chosen for its architectural similarity to Vicarstown, avoiding having to build a new virtual set. Similarly the other mainland locations shown are probably those already made for Journey Beyond Sodor or else minor redresses of existing Sudrian sets.

^*Awdry eventually explained the engines’ numbers as representing the order in which they were formally purchased by the North Western Railway. Funnily enough the reboot art still shows Gordon, James and Percy having the numbers 4, 5 and 6 despite Edward and Henry not featuring anymore.

To Be Then Here Holden

Dissolution day has arrived for the Welsh Parliament with just a week to go before the election. The documentation I found on the matter did not specify a precise time, so my default assumption was that it took place at midnight. Since the Senedd only has sixty members it took under an hour to delete the “MS” post-nominals from all of their pages. For good measure I also created a box that could be slapped on the top of each article removing any doubt over the nature of events. I hope that in time the politically-oriented communities of Wikipedians will adopt something similar for all elections of this kind (preferably with a dedicated bot) as I think it is far more efficient than laboriously removing each and every reference to incumbency from each and every page. Also today the UK Parliament would be closing down, though not for an election.

Having been in session since 17th December 2019, Parliament was prorogued this afternoon, to re-open on Tuesday 11th May. As expected, the ceremony was much modified to meet the requirements of social distancing. The Lords Newby (Liberal Democrat) and Judge (Crossbench) were still named in the letters patent – along with Welby and Buckland, of course – but it was only Fowler, Evans and Smith who physically took part. Unlike in the abortive attempt of September 2019 the three commissioners were not huddled together but spaced apart, and it is clear now that the temporary bench between the woolsack and the throne is in fact three smaller stools which, until this occasion, were always pushed together. Black Rod summoned the Commons as before (reciting her command in a robotic fashion that suggested some very determined memorisation), but instead of walking in two columns with government members adjacent to their shadows the MPs had to shuffle awkwardly in single file. Upon reaching the Lords’ bar, Mr Speaker and Black Rod stood at the far ends of the panel behind the crossbench with the Clerk of the House of Commons in the middle some way back, while the Serjeant-at-Arms did not appear to be there at all. The nodding and doffing between Commons and Commission only occurred once each on entry and departure instead of the usual three times. A doorkeeper could be seen in the archway directing MPs to stand on the steps either side as they came in. The Reading Clerk (Jake Vaughan) read the patent as before, but for a while I wondered where the other two clerks were – given that since the start of the pandemic there has only been one chair at the table instead of three. For a moment I feared that Vaughan was going to have to do both parts of the Royal Assent maneuver himself – perhaps darting either side of the table – or that another clerk would be participating virtually. Instead the Clerk of the Parliaments (Simon Burton) and the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery (Antonia Romeo) strode into the chamber from either side behind the commissioners, did their part as usual, then swiftly exited the same way.

When Her Majesty’s Most Gracious Speech had been read aloud and the MPs dismissed, Fowler stood up and stepped ahead of the woolsack while Evans and Smith sidled out to his right – in contrast to the normal procedure in which Evans would have moved first and thus brushed in front of him – then went out of the chamber behind the mace-bearer as normal. As this was to be his last sitting day as Lord Speaker I had wondered if there would be any cheering – let alone applause or other gesture of celebration – from the peers spectating, but instead the procession was as solemn as any. Upon returning to their own chamber MPs again had to arrange themselves in a distanced fashion while Sir Lindsay recited the list of acts granted assent. Handshaking was against regulations, so members merely bumped elbows or exchanged nods with the speaker either side of the perspex screen as they departed past his chair.

The timetable published some weeks back for the election of a new lord speaker would have had the winner (The Lord McFall of Alcluith, Senior Deputy Speaker since 2016) assuming office this Saturday and presiding for the first time next Tuesday, but the government’s decision to seek prorogation this week instead of next means that the new speaker’s debut will in fact be at the state opening. Exactly what role he will play there is still uncertain, for little more information has been revealed about the changes that ceremony will undergo to remain COVID-compliant.

What I often notice about royal commissions in Parliament is that the cameras and microphones are left running even when nothing is formally happening. In the upper chamber I heard Lady Smith converse with the backbenchers. I couldn’t make out the whole conversation

Smith: If you make me laugh you’ll be in trouble.

Unknown: The ~~~~* know how you feel.

Smith: Every sympathy.

Unknown: It’s nice to have some other people dressed.

Smith: You haven’t got to wear a hat though, have you?

Unknown: Well they do – he has a mitre!

Smith: I think it would fit better now I’ve got so much hair.

Unknown: The first law of politics is Don’t Wear A Funny Hat.

Smith: Don’t wear a subtle one either.

Unknown: As long as you don’t break into song.

Smith: My mates from school are all watching.

Unknown: Is the Lord Speaker allowed to keep his?

Smith: I’d hate to see what they’re saying on WhatsApp at the moment.

The rest of the conversation was insufficiently intelligible to transcribe, but I think one of the unknowns joked about Smith having her hair cut around the hat and somehow being electrocuted.

Also emerging today was the last of the Lord Speaker’s lectures from Fowler’s tenure, involving the Lords Mandelson and Clarke of Nottingham. For some reason it is unlisted.

EXTERNAL LINKS

*It sounded like “conventioners” or “adventurers” but in context it clearly referred to the bishops, and indeed Archbishop Welby was probably one of those replying.

Something Flagged Up

https://www.flaginstitute.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/1988lpool-01.jpg

Regular readers know by now that I am a keen heraldist and am always on the lookout for new – hopefully free – material on the subject. Indeed, I am rapidly closing in on my nine hundredth armorial illustration for Wikimedia Commons. I have not written so much about vexillology, although of course the topics frequently intersect. Earlier this week I was trawling through EventBrite to see if there were any more events coming up soon by the Heraldry Society and instead found an advertisement for the fiftieth birthday of the Flag Institute.

After the standard Zoom introduction by Chairman John Hall, President Malcolm Farrow lectured on the development of the institute itself and of British flag culture more generally over the past fifty years. “The flag institute is instrumental in slowly changing the culture of Britain from a nation which rarely flew flags, to one in which flying flags is becoming the law.” An overview was given of how local and regional flags have proliferated over the past two decades, having rarely if ever seen use before.

Andrew Rosindell MP gave a speech about his efforts to change public attitudes surrounding flags, in particular his campaign – including a personal conversation with The Queen – to have the Union Flag flown over the Victoria Tower throughout the year instead of only when Parliament was sitting. He also mentioned the recent erection of three new flagpoles in New Palace Yard.

There was also a lengthy preview of the documentary Look Away, Look Away by Patrick O’Connor about last year’s change of state flag by Mississippi. Unfortunately the video feed cut out midway through and had to be restarted after some awkward fumbling.

Later a guest asked if the “All-party” Parliamentary Group on Flags & Heraldry could really be called that when six of the ten officers were Conservatives with Labour, SNP, DUP and Crossbench contributing just one each. Rosindell reassured as that there were plenty more within the rank-and-file, but sadly it was hard to make out his words as his audio feed was suddenly plagued by feedback noise. I think he said that anything so traditionalist in nature was bound to disproportionately attract those of a conservative outlook but that there were still plenty of others who recognised the importance of flags and/or held a deep patriotism.

Here it would be prudent to make a distinction between heraldry and vexillology: A coat of arms, even when displayed on a flag, must represent a person. That could be a natural person (Betty Boothroyd, Johnny Hon, Desmond Wilcox) or a legal one (The Association of British Neurologists, Guy’s Hospital, Totnes Town Council). Flags cover a much broader remit, and can represent such abstracts as religions, ethnicities, and political ideals. Another important difference is that arms are only properly borne by their owners (though heralds can wear their masters’ arms and badges can be worn by servants or soldiers) whereas flags unless specifically restricted can be flown by anyone. It is only natural that use of flags is much more prevalent than that of arms, and also that any particular flag is a lot more likely to cause a stir than any particular escutcheon.

There is a prevalent line of thought which deems too overt an invocation of British patriotism to be distasteful and thus, in itself, anti-British. Another related line says that nations more generally are not a meaningful affiliation and that flags – along with their natural companion, anthems – are a distraction for feeble minds. Attitudes toward our national insignia are quite sharply polarised by partisan affiliation and by demographic divides. HM Government has been conspicuously campaigning over recent months for greater use of the Union Flag in both public and private, resulting in praise from some quarters and mockery from others.

It doesn’t look as if there will be any more from the Flag Institute for some time, but the Heraldry Society will be back on 14th May with Crosses and Crossings – Huguenot Heraldry. That the banner heading shows a star looking to be by Sodacan and a coat of arms by Rs-nourse is intriguing by itself.

EXTERNAL LINKS

And Ever Shall Be

It was always difficult to work out the exact year in which a given episode of Victoria was taking place, given the series’ sloppiness with chronology. Series 2 ended with “Luxury & Conscience” in which Sir Robert Peel resigns as prime minister following the murder of his personal secretary Edward Drummond – events which actually took place three years apart. Series 3 picks up with “Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears the Crown”, which covers the revolutions of 1848 and features Lord John Russell in charge. Dialogue indicates that the return of the Whigs to government is a recent development. In between these installments is the 2017 Christmas special “Comfort & Joy”, set in 1846 and showing, among other things, the adoption of Sarah Forbes Bonetta (which happened in 1850). The curious thing about the Christmas special is the absence of the political side of things. In real life Russell’s ministry had already been in place for six months but, in the series’ uncertain timeline, the political situation is simply ignored. This is almost certainly deliberate, as the intention is for the holiday special to be a purely family affair. Plus, with more than a year’s gap between the series it’s entirely possible that the later story arcs hadn’t yet been planned out, nor the relevant characters cast.

Flash forward to 2021: The Duke of Edinburgh had wished for a low-key funeral (well, by royal standards at any rate), and the pandemic meant that something on the scale of the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002 or even Lady Thatcher’s in 2013 would not be possible. Instead Philip’s coffin was driven a short distance within the bounds of Windsor Castle and then lowered into the vault. Hundreds of soldiers were still present outside, but COVID regulations forbade more than thirty attendees. Ordinarily it would be expected that prime ministers and other senior officials would attend, but Boris Johnson (and, presumably, any others concerned) relinquished his place to make room for more of the deceased’s family. The resulting guest list included eighteen descendants of King George V, eight spouses thereof, three other descendants of Queen Victoria and one spouse thereof. I had wondered if the family or the press would have sought to orchestrate a photograph of Prince George of Cambridge saluting the coffin à la John Kennedy, but it was decided that the great-grandchildren were too young to be involved.

While the masks and social distancing ought to be obvious giveaways, I actually found that the reduced attendance gave the ceremony a strangely timeless quality – it was effectively a bottle show. Other than Mssrs Mozzia and Brooksbank all the people there were the same people one would have expected to see there at had this happened at any point in the last ten years – admittedly Viscount Severn and Lady Louise would have been smaller. Justin Welby might be considered a semi-political figure and he took office in 2013, but as St George’s Chapel is a royal peculiar he played a minor role compared to David Conner, who has been Dean since 1998. Thomas Woodcock as Garter King of Arms could also be considered vaguely political given his role introducing new members of the House of Lords, with that office the public tend to remember the uniform rather than the face. The sounds of the past week, too, were those you’d expect to hear: steady footsteps, military orders, cannon blasts, church bells, and, from the studio, the interminable wittering of Gyles Brandreth. Now the burbling of a Land Rover TD5 has been added to the mix. Even that adds to the timeless effect, since the Defender was in production for a third of a century and without a number plate even I – a subscriber to Land Rover Enthusiast for a few years – could not guess at a glance the decade in which this one was constructed.

Those who have studied British political history know that long ago the House of Commons met in St Stephen’s Chapel, with the Speaker’s chair on the altar steps and the members facing each other in the choir stalls – an arrangement which has been maintained in subsequent legislative chambers in Britain and around the world. As a consequence today’s proceedings – with only a few dozen people carefully spaced apart – resembled a session of the hybrid house, or perhaps even the failed 1am prorogation in 2019. Hopefully on this occasion the ceremony won’t have to be repeated a month later.

Having already done a piece about television scheduling in light of COVID, it would be pertinent to review it in relation to the royal death. Of course major newspapers and broadcasters have documentaries and obituaries prepared years in advance of the event – not just for the Duke of Edinburgh but for a wide range of prominent public figures. Eye 1545 page 18 notes how, in the build up to his centenary on 10th June, contributors often had to do each interview twice – the first speaking in present tense wearing light suits, the second in past tense wearing black ones. It was also noted that, in addition to different networks’ documentaries often – and unavoidably – using the same stock footage and delivering the same story as each other, there were some instances of companies recycling interview footage from their own documentaries in 2011 or even 2007, with talking heads who nowadays are visibly much older or even who themselves have died in the intervening years.

On other occasions this temporal tangle would be cause for disdain, but to commemorate a man who has been “a constant” for longer than most of the world can remember, somehow it feels oddly appropriate.

UPDATE (20th April)

The video I originally embedded (from the firm’s own YouTube channel) has now been set to private. The BBC’s has also disappeared. I have replaced it with the Teletrece version.

UPDATE (1st May)

That one has gone as well. I’m now using the one from 6abc Philadelphia.

Memories of Malta

Fort Manoel in Gżira, Malta, 1880.

This is Thursday and I still haven’t written anything and in any case, with the way I have been feeling and the things that have happened, I can’t even remember what I was supposed to write about. However, this week has seen the Queen celebrate her 80th birthday, and being a true royalist I was sitting watching the film of her life. She is a few months older than I am and was always there when I was a child. The two little princesses were my favourite pair. No television in those days, but I used to keep a scrapbook and cut out every picture I could find of them.

Sitting watching the program, Paull came and sat with me and I started telling him different things that had happened to granddad and myself over the years where our lives had touched with Elizabeth and Philip and had just been telling him about our lives in Malta when he left me to my program. No sooner had he gone than Malta appeared on the screen and I called him back. He watched the program with and said Grandma, you should write about these things. You knew all about that, didn’t you, so here you have a few memories. Just a few, I won’t bore you too much.

P.O. Stanley Edward Taylor & wife in Malta, 1949.

Stan and I met at Royal Arthur, a shore base at Butlins in Skegness. The first time I saw him he was wearing a pink tu-tu and dancing with four other PTIs to the music of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Shortly afterwards, Royal Arthur moved across country to Corsham in Wiltshire. There were three huge camps there: The first was the Ship’s Company camp for the Wrens, sailors and officers. The second was the working offices and training camps where new entries were taken in and trained, and their instructors lived on the same camp with them. I was a writer pay as it was termed and our office was very close to the gym where Stan spent his time. Up the road there was another camp, Kingsmoor where petty officers took their courses and it was there that we first made contact with Philip. We had been told that Prince Philip of Greece would be joining us and none of us had ever heard of him. We honestly thought that he was to be one of our young entrants so we were absolutely bowled over when this handsome blonde young man whizzed through the gate in an elderly open-topped sports car. The first time my friend and I saw him we were just going through the gate back to our working camp when this old black car without even slowing down shot past us taking Jean’s jacket off her arm and leaving it in the dust. Now, Jean was a Hull girl and no-one did that to her. When he didn’t stop she took her shoe off and aimed it at him together with a load of abuse. The poor old jaunty was dancing up and down waving his arms and mouthing no-no-no. That was our first meeting with Philip. We would occasionally meet him at sports events and he met with us when we played mixed hockey. Rumours started to circulate that he was getting mail from Buckingham Palace and returning from London one day he had a slight car accident. It was reported straight back to the Palace and Elizabeth dashed out and got into her car and started off for Corsham. However, word was sent that she had to be turned back and back home she was sent. Later, of course, came the Royal Wedding and ten Chiefs and Petty Officers from Kingsmoor were invited to the wedding and much to their embarrassment were known ever after that as the bridesmaids.

Philip’s ship, the Black Swan-class Magpie.

The following year Stan and I were married and Stan was posted to Malta where he was the PTI for six frigates, one of which was Philip’s Magpie. Stan was based on the Pelican which wasn’t easy for sport with six ships to look after and as we were newly-weds he pleaded his case and was allowed to stay ashore with me, except when they all went on exercises together. The little ships had never been heard of in the Med sports before but he went from one ship to the other getting his teams together by means fair and fowl. He had more AN Others on his lists than actual names, but by the time he had told each of his boxers that it didn’t really matter as so-and-so was a better boxer anyway, he ended up with his teams and that year took every cup in the Med. I can still see him and Captain Bonham Carter standing behind the goal with their faces up to the nets calling come on, hit me, hit me, and seeing their caps go flying in the air with each goal.

Stan’s ship, the Egret-class Pelican.

We went out with the footballers that night, starting out in Sliema, but the boys got restless and wanted to go down the Gutt as the red light district is known, but couldn’t because they knew Stan wouldn’t let me go. He said “As long as I am with her she can go anywhere.” and off we all went to Floriana. I was very innocent in those days and watched a matelot dancing with a large lady in a pink satin blouse. After a quick glance at this pair I remarked to Stan “What a large lady that is!”, at which all the lads curled up with laughter. We then went on to the main Gutt and after a while one of the lads came to Stan and whispered in his ear, and Stan said okay and decided that it was time we got ourselves home, and off we went. The next morning there was an SOS from Philip: “What have you done to my crew? Get yourself down to the local prison and see if you can get them out!”, and that was when I learned that Stan had been asked to remove me as there was a fight brewing between the navy and the army.

Lt. Mountbatten with the Princess Elizabeth, 1947.

Elizabeth sometimes came down to Manoel Island when the boys were playing friendly matches. There would hardly be a soul watching and a matelot would walk to the side of the of the pitch with a wooden chair and a few minutes later she would appear. No sign of her detective though, he was always around watching from a distance, and in no time a little group of sailors would be standing around her chair watching the match. She always looked so happy in Malta. They were very happy days for all of us.

Must go, it’s bedtime.

Written 27th April 2006
by Pauline Taylor (1927-2018)
 
UPDATE (12th April)
The Lord Judge, Convenor of the Crossbench Peers, referenced his own Maltese memories in a parliamentary speech earlier today.

The Late Duke

His Royal Highness Prince Philip of Greece & Denmark was born on 10th June 1921. He was the only son of His Royal Highness Prince Andrew of Greece & Denmark, who in turn was a younger son of His Majesty King George I of the Hellenes. Through his agnatic line he was a member of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, while his mother Princess Alice was from the House of Battenberg. Queen Victoria was his enatic great-great grandmother.

Philip’s titles have an interesting history, in that he was born a prince of Greece and of Denmark but later renounced these titles to obtain British citizenship. This move later turned out to be unnecessary as the Sophia Naturalization Act 1705 meant he had British citizenship already. He adopted the surname Mountbatten, which was used by his maternal uncle Louis (later Earl Mountbatten of Burma) and represented an Anglicised version of Battenberg. The subsequent controversy over whether his descendants should be the House of Windsor or Mountbatten-Windsor is a little ironic given that Philip himself was already effectively going by his mother’s maiden name rather than his father’s.

The marriage certificate says Philip Mountbatten.

New titles were bestowed rapidly in advance of his wedding: On 19th November George VI appointed him a Royal Knight of the Garter (one day after The Princess Elizabeth, to maintain her seniority) and granted him the style of Royal Highness (on British authority this time), then on 20th raised him to the peerage of the United Kingdom as Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich – all of which now belong to his eldest son. The lack of simultaneity between these events means that for a single day he was styled “Lieutenant His Royal Highness Sir Philip Mountbatten”. On the 21st his title was inserted into the Book of Common Prayer. He was ceremonially introduced to the House of Lords on 21st July 1948. For a while there was some controversy over whether or not he was a prince. This was resolved on 22nd February 1957 when his wife, now sovereign, made him a Prince of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, which put him level with her sons and uncles. There were some suggestions of making him “Prince Consort” like Albert or “Prince of the Commonwealth” to reflect the monarchy’s larger purview but these were ultimately turned down.

His precedence at this time is unclear, though obviously the lowest he could have ranked was as the newest ordinary duke. A royal warrant on 26th September 1952 declared his should “upon all occasions and in all Meetings except where otherwise provided by Act of Parliament have, hold and enjoy Place, Pre-eminence and Precedence next to Her Majesty”, which again followed the example set by Victoria with Albert. This technically made him second man in the land, for the monarch is always first man even when female, and is the reason he was often seen walking two paces behind his wife on formal occasions.

Heraldic banner at St Giles’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, 2010

Philip’s heraldic status in his youth is not clear to me, but as a British adult he was – rather unconventionally – given two grants of arms. In 1947 his armorial achievement showed the arms of Greece surmounted by those of Denmark, which in turn were surmounted by those of his great-grandmother Alice (albeit omitting the Saxe-Coburg inescutcheon she used, which the British royals had abandoned in 1917). For reasons difficult to uncover these were deemed “unsatisfactory” so in 1949 the shield was replaced by a new quarterly version. The first quarter showed the lesser arms of the Kingdom of Denmark, the second quarter the white cross of Greece, the third the black and white stripes of Battenberg and the fourth a castle on a rock for Edinburgh. That last part is especially unusual as peers’ shields do not normally incorporate the municipal insignia of their nominal territories. These arms were of course rendered as a rectangular flag (confusingly called a royal standard, even though “standard” refers to a very different style of flag) and a square banner above his Garter stall at Windsor. In composing this article I also discovered that he had a badge, showing the castle surmounted by a princely coronet and encircled by the Garter, though I do not recall ever seeing it in use. Livery colours are not so prominent in modern times, and those of the royal family no longer change with the dynasty. Philip had his own personal livery of “Edinburgh Green”, used for his personal cars and the uniforms of his staff.

New badge illustration, published mere minutes ago.

Sodacan has of course illustrated all of these for Wikimedia Commons, and already I have spotted several instances of his illustrations being used in television coverage of his death as well as in reports online.

EXTERNAL LINKS

The Bus Law of By-Elections

Portraits by Richard Townshend, 12th January 2020 (CC-BY-3.0)

It has been nearly two years since the last by-election to the UK House of Commons – in Brecon & Radfordshire, where Jane Dodds unseated Chris Davies. This is said to be the longest gap since the end of World War Two, though I suspect you could look a lot further back than that and not find one. It is quite remarkable that over the course of 2020 no MPs died despite several testing positive and one having to be put on a ventilator.*

Things got moving again on 16th March when Mike Hill, facing an employment tribunal, took the Chiltern Hundreds. A by-election for his constituency of Hartlepool is scheduled to take place on 6th May, alongside the many local elections across the country. Already eleven candidates have been put forward. The list is rather fascinating in that three former Labour MPs will be competing against each other for different parties: Paul Williams (Stockton South 2017-19) is still fighting for the red rose but Hilton Dawson (Lancaster & Wyre 1997-2005) is now secretary of the North East Party which seeks a devolved parliament for the region similar to those in Scotland and Wales and Thelma Walker (Colne Valley, 2017-19) has defected to the Northern Independence Party which seeks to revive the ancient kingdom of Northumbria as a democratic socialist republic. The Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer is a farmer and Hambleton (North Yorkshire) District Councillor. Reform UK (formerly the Brexit Party) is putting forward businessman John Prescott (not the former Labour MP) and the Liberal Democrats have chosen Andy Hagon, a teacher who also stood there in 2017 and 2019. It has cause some controversy (and mirth) to note that so few of the candidates are actually from Hartlepool. Once the domain of Peter Mandelson, this constituency is part of the so-called “Red Wall” of traditional Labour seats that has swung towards the Conservatives after voting to leave the European Union. You might reasonably think that any seat which stayed red in 2019 couldn’t possibly go blue now, but a recent Survation poll gave the Conservatives a seven-point lead. Obviously it’s too early to call at this stage, but the prospect of the government gaining a seat from the opposition again in just over four years would be seriously humiliating for the latter, although we can hope that on this occasion the prime minister will not be tempted to go for a snap general election as a consequence.

On 23rd March Neil Gray took the Manor of Northstead, vacating the constituency of Airdrie & Shotts in order to contest the same seat for the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood**. In this instance the returning officer has decided that it would be safer not to have the two polls on one day, so instead the by-election will take place a week later on 13th May. The candidate list for this election is not yet as long, nor as amusing. Notable here is that there has not been a Commons by-election in Scotland since Inverclyde in 2011 and never at all where the National Party was defending.

On 4th April Dame Cheryl Gillan died at the age of 68 following “a long illness“. She had been MP for Chesham & Amersham since 1992 and was the twenty-fourth most senior by continuous service. No candidates have yet been announced for this by-election and neither has the writ been moved when the others were. Partly this is because she died when the Commons had already risen for the Easter recess, and partly it is because of the convention to delay political machinations until after the late member’s funeral.

*The other place was less lucky, with Lord Gordon of Strathblane succumbing to COVID on 31st of last March. A few hereditary peers have retired or died of other causes in that time but their by-elections have been repeatedly postponed.

**This is required by the party’s rules, rather than those of either legislature.

An Insoluble Problem

Nearly five years ago, in one of my earliest posts on this site, I discussed how the National Assembly for Wales recalled to deliberate on the Tata steel crisis a few days before the body was due to dissolve for the upcoming elections.

That election day – 5th May 2016 – was dubbed “Super Thursday” by some commentators owing to the great number and variety of different polls going on at the same time around the country. Thursday 6th of this year’s May will be an even bigger event because the pandemic forced a delay in last year’s elections and so this year all those elected in 2016 will be up again as well as those elected in 2017.*

A major difference with this cycle is the need to conform to COVID regulations. The present lockdown is hoped to be the last and most UK adults have now received at least one vaccination, but it is likely that for many months to come there will still be strict controls on public mingling. The rapidity with which the pandemic situation can change, and the consequent need for various legislatures to make adjustments to the law at short notice, has caused another, less visible change in the electoral timetable.

Yesterday the fifth Scottish Parliament sat for what was intended to be its last meeting. Under normal circumstances it would have dissolved today, but instead it is merely receding, with dissolution not set to occur until the day before the election. The Welsh Parliament** undergoes a less drastic change, receding on 7th April and dissolving on 29th. The intention of these changes (which are intended to be a one-off) is to allow either legislature to reconvene should the pandemic require immediate attention during the campaign.

As a Wikipedian, this saves me some work. Normally after the dissolution of a large legislature I and other editors spend many hours racing through the pages of ex-lawmakers to delete the relevant post-nominals and remove any suggestion of incumbency, then reverting after the election as members are voted back in. This time around we have decided not to bother for the Scottish Parliament as the dissolution period will last only a day*** and so we would probably be reverting the edits before we had even finished making them. The Welsh Parliament might still be worth the effort as their dissolution period is a whole week and it has fewer than half as many members. At some point it will be worth looking into the possibility of creating a bot account to make these kinds of edits for us, so rote are they.

The process of dissolution is not universal. In other countries, such as Germany and the United States, incumbent lawmakers continue to hold office until after the election (and may even continue to sit during this time) so that there is no vacancy between old and new members. This is also the case in Britain for most local councillors.

The London Assembly and Mayor will also be up for election this year. Their set up is somewhere between a local government and a national one, and it is not clear from what literature I can find whether it has a dissolution in the way that the parliaments do. Their guide for candidates says that “In normal times it would be expected for the new Mayor and Assembly Members to come into office on Sunday 9th May, following declaration of the election results on Friday 7th May.” which to me suggests that the outgoing Mayor and AMs remain incumbent during the election period.

*Exceptions are Scottish and Welsh local elections which are on a five year cycle and the Northern Ireland Assembly which had a snap election in March 2017. These will all be up again on 5th May 2022.
**The change of name from National Assembly for Wales to Welsh Parliament (or Senedd Cymru) occurred on 6th May. AMs simultaneously became MSs.
***In practice it could be more like two or even three days depending on the exact hour on which dissolution occurs and the time taken to count the votes.

FURTHER READING

When I Looked North

BBC Yorkshire & Lincolnshire at Queen’s Court, photographed in July 2017.

It is often remarked that one cannot appreciate what one has until it is gone. The twenty-tweens are a good example of this in that few people at the time would have thought them a golden age, yet they can appear as such by comparison to 2016-19, let alone the pandemic era. Aesthetically that period is a little strange as well, being part of the transition from an analogue world to a fully digital one. Most of the major social media were well-established by then by then but had not yet achieved their current level of cultural dominance. High Definition video was widely available but still far from universally receivable, and web design was a few steps away from its current incarnation – photographs and videos shown online were much fewer in number and lower in resolution compared to 2014-ish and onwards when multiple large graphics can be chucked into every page with little care for data capacity.

The particular event to be covered in this article is BBC School Report 2011. Preparations at our school began weeks in advance when we were shown a promotional video by Huw Edwards. A letter was also sent out to parents on 15th February announcing a BBC Hull project called “Life on the Docks – The People’s Archive” for which they wanted pupils to look through old newspapers and interview elderly acquaintances. Most pupils would be completing the project at school, but four delegates would be picked to visit the BBC in person. News and journalism became the topic of our English lessons for most of that month. We were set a homework task on 9th March of watching and taking notes on that night’s broadcast news to then discuss in the lesson the next day. On 16th March my parents received another letter telling them that I had been picked as one of the four delegates.

That morning I was driven from school in a minibus with the three other pupils who were chosen. Along the way the conversation turned to television more generally and somehow we wound up singing the Family Guy theme song. We parked the van in an area of the city where the buildings were in a state of decay and the tarmac rather worn. I remarked on the general dinginess of the place only for one of my comrades to tell me I would get myself shot. When we arrived at the BBC building we were reshuffled into groups with pupils from other schools who had come. I was put into the television group because it was otherwise all-female. The two girls who had come with me were put into the online team and would stay at the office all day. The other boy was put in the radio team who would be walking around with the TV team for most of the morning.

From the way this has been set up you would be forgiven for thinking that we then devised a television segment for ourselves. Certainly that is what we thought going in, but we were a little disappointed to find that the script had already been written and the stock montages composed before we arrived – we were just going through the motions.

The location shoots were fairly close by so the groups traveled on foot. In what I think was the Hull Maritime Museum we interviewed an old man (called Jim in the script) about what the elder days. Amusingly there was a bit of a mix-up at this point and Jim was interviewed by one of the pupils assigned to the radio group, who didn’t realise until later that day that she was on television as well.

We also had to record short teaser sections, including one standing by the railings on the marina. I recall a couple of interesting moments during this time – one was that we were supposed to reference the Cod Wars of the 1970s only to find that the script had said 19070s instead, another was a discussion between our guides as to whether it would cause continuity problems if I took off my blue coat between shots. Early in the day I asked about the technical details of the production and was surprised to be told that news footage was still captured on videotape rather than digital cameras.

After we had finished the shoot we returned to the centre for lunch. It happened also to be the birthday of someone in the office and we enjoyed an excess of chocolate cake in addition to the packed lunches we had brought, which made it a little difficult to move around that afternoon. I also remember at this point getting a little lost on the way back from the toilet. It was also at this point in the day that I realised I had left a bundle of papers on a side table. These were the research notes than I and my classmates had been assembling over the past few weeks to take on the excursion, only for me to completely forget about them. Obviously my group didn’t actually need them, though the online team probably would have appreciated their availability.

All of thus were subsequently treated to a tour of the complex, including the Look North studio itself where I briefly sat in Peter Levy’s chair. My recollections of the end of that day’s events are a little hazy. I think I and some other children – not the ones who had been with me earlier – were seated around a boardroom table strewn with recent newspaper cuttings and we had a group discussion on journalistic ethics. The only piece of conversation I retain now is one woman – not sure if teacher or BBC staff – bringing up an anecdote of a struggling mother being interviewed for the news and saying she sometimes thought her children were worse off than third world kids. This was used an example of where reporters have to tread sensitively around things which their interviewees sincerely believe but which objectively are absurd – oddly prescient of the Brexit era.

We went back to school grabbing as many freebies as possible (I even stuffed post-it notes into my socks.) and arrived just in time for the big bus home. My segment was on local news later that night though my mother complains to this day that she was out at the time and never saw it.

Ten years later it is hard to find much record of our contribution online as even now iPlayer tends not to retain local news very long. The BBC even has a webpage listing all of the schools taking part in the event from which mine is mysteriously omitted. I didn’t take a personal camera with me and nor, to my memory, did any of the others. Until late last year I still had the flimsily-laminated BBC pass hanging on my bedroom wall, but now even that has disappeared. Happily I have been able to find the script we used for that day as well as many of the notes and research from the preceding weeks. I do not have any of them in digital form so will need to scan or photograph them (or, God forbid, type them out again) to show them here. Perhaps the bulk of the material would be better suited to the remit of Homework Direct, but recent experience with Monty on the Green has reminded me what a pain it is to update Wix, so I am reluctant to add anything more to that site without a major redesign.

I was a little amused, five years later, when ITV Calendar came to Wilberforce for a debate about the EU Referendum and once again I was scripted to ask about Hull’s fishing industry. Not wanting to be caught out by follow-up questions, I did a lot of hurried online research for that one as well, but that also proved entirely redundant.

Something Along Those Lines

As much as I write blog posts and make Wikipedia edits concerning Sudrian lore my personal experience of real trains is not extensive – my last rail journey was in 2016. There is little railway coverage in East Yorkshire, though hints of its former extent can occasionally be glimpsed. In the three times I have been to London I of course used the underground a lot: The first two were with family at New Year 2004 (staying near Golders Green) and 2005 (staying near King’s Cross). The canned phrase “This train terminates at Morden via Bank.” from the Northern Line remained burned into my mind for some time afterward. The third was with school in 2015 on a day trip to the Hunterian Museum and the Royal Society. On that occasion I lost my pass shortly before we were due to catch the East Coast train back to Hull Paragon, but was spared from an awkward situation by the fact that the one remaining ticket barrier at King’s Cross had been mysteriously left open.

While living at Cottingham I often went on walks past the Thwaite Street level crossing and around the neighbouring station, but never had cause to actually get on the trains (perhaps just as well – they were mostly the notorious Pacers, after all) that went there.

In the last week I have voraciously consumed the YouTube offerings of Geoff Marshall, who has spent many years making short documentaries about British trains, particularly those on the London Underground. He and his wife Vicki Pipe made it their mission to visit all of Great Britain’s mainline train stations in 2017. In particular they highlighted stops at the least used stations, including some that appear to be spookily unpopulated.

Remarkably Marshall’s efforts continued even during the pandemic, including an episode about a train being used as a rapid COVID test centre. In addition to cutting edge modern trains, Marshall also does a few episodes about the emotional retirement of older stock and special appearances by vintage steam locomotives. The series is well worth a watch, although scenes of sweaty commuters huddled together on the crowded tube can be hard to watch nowadays.

EXTERNAL LINKS

Geoff Marshall:

Trains in Yorkshire:

UPDATE (23rd March)

I have compiled all the videos and photographs I took of the trains in Hull and Cottingham, which can be found here. The password is hull.