Matters of the Harp

Heraldists and historians will know that there have long been two versions of the British royal arms. Prior to the death of Elizabeth I the arms of England had been three yellow lions passant guardant on a red background, while those of Scotland had been one red lion rampant on a yellow background. When James VI of Scotland ascended to the English he quartered the arms of both countries to indicate their personal union, albeit varying the precedence so that each kingdom had its own arms in both the first and fourth quarters with the other’s confined to the second. This duality continued even after the 1707 union into Great Britain, although the “English” version is the standard one used internationally, with the Scottish version being purely for internal purposes. Though the first, second and fourth quarters of the shield have chopped and changed much over the centuries, the third quarter of both shields has consistently been Azure a harp Or stringed Argent. This represented the Kingdom of Ireland since its creation in 1542, though its usage in other capacities can be traced back much further. Prior to 1603 Ireland was not referenced in the English royal arms. What is a little perplexing to those interested in this subject is that neither James nor his successors ever created a distinct Irish arrangement of the shield as he had English and Scottish ones. Instead it seems that Ireland (both before and after the 1801 union) used either the same arrangement as in England or the harp alone.

One might have expected some other curious heraldist to have come up with such illustrations by now – for the interpolation is fairly simple – but I could not find any, so set about performing the thought experiment myself. After a few hours of cutting and splicing Sodacan’s familiar pictures I had produced Irish arrangements not just of the royal arms in their present state, but for every other variation that has occurred since the union of the crowns.

There were some aesthetic challenges here, the most prominent of which is that the harp in the fourth quarter has to be significantly smaller than that in the first to fit the curve of the shield, though that would be alleviated if the instrument would face right rather than left (as in the Guiness logo). It also produces some interesting colour combinations – especially in the 1714 version where the impalement of England & Scotland lines up perfectly with that of Brunswick & Lüneburg.

Readers will note that I have only made shields here, not full achievements. That is largely because I was unsure what the other elements would be. While the crowns, supporters, mottos and crests for England and Scotland solidified long before their personal union and have been consistent ever since despite numerous changes to the shield, those of Ireland are much less clear. A crest was designed for James I (A tower triple towered Or from the portal a hart springing Argent attired and unguled also Or) but it was not much used, and neither supporters nor motto were granted at all. Occasionally depictions can be found which copy those pieces from the English achievement, but this is the result of artistic fancy rather than official sanction. I would hesitate to put the Order of St Patrick around the shield, since it was only instituted in 1783 and became dormant in 1974, never achieving the same prominence as the Garter or Thistle nor appearing much in heraldic art. Certainly the present Republic of Ireland uses the shield alone and the achievement of the government of Northern Ireland from 1924-1972 is of sufficiently different appearance and origin to be ruled out as any indication of what to use here.

On a different note, the YouTube channel Terrier55Stepney recently put out a video documenting another visit to the Talyllyn Railway. Fifteen minutes in the camera points at a framed page of drawings and blazons for Sudrian heraldic devices. I mentioned this before but this time I could see the whole page (though the legibility of the handwriting remains a difficulty). I hope to have illustrated at least some of them fairly soon.

Who am I to Judge?

This has been a busy week for state ceremony, yet you wouldn’t know it from the news.

Friday 1st October was the beginning of the legal year 2021-22 in England & Wales, marked by the procession of hundreds of judges in their full dress uniform to a special service at Westminster Abbey. This included readings by the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, as well as a sermon by the preacher of Lincoln’s Inn.

The legal year in Scotland began on Monday 27th September. It featured similar events at the Court of Session and St Giles’s Cathedral. The Lyon Court was one of the bodies involved and a number of new officers of arms had their inaugurations.

On Saturday 2nd October the sixth devolved Scottish Parliament had its ceremonial opening, though of course it has been sitting and legislating since May.  The Queen visited the chamber, accompanied by the Duke & Duchess of Rothesay and Edinburgh. Many heralds were in attendance carrying with them the crown of James V.

It is a little disappointing that these events were so ill-publicised, even accounting for the distraction of party conferences and fuel queues. Rather than major newspapers I have mostly had to piece together details of all three ceremonies from the websites and social media accounts of the people involved.

Curiously this is not consistent across time – footage of judges’ processions from a few years ago can be found on YouTube, and some from many decades back are archived by British Pathé.

EXTERNAL LINKS

Judges at Westminster Abbey

Heralds at the Court of Session

The Scottish Parliament

Discerning Dukes

This afternoon I missed a turnoff on the way to my second COVID vaccination. While navigating back to where I should have been I discovered Church Street where there was a pub called the Duke of York. This struck me because the pub’s sign showed an illustration of the duke’s coat of arms which I instantly recognised as Sodacan’s illustration from Wikimedia Commons. Unfortunately I wasn’t in a position to stop and take a photograph and what I can find in the pub’s own galleries or on Google Street View isn’t very clear, so I cannot work out which particular duke is being honoured here.

The Prince Andrew, Duke of York since 1986, uses the royal arms of the United Kingdom differenced by a label of three points Argent, the centre bearing an anchor Azure. This same cadency label was also used by his grandfather George VI from 1920 to 1936, and by his father George V from 1892 to 1901. It plainly cannot be George V represented here since his arms as Duke of York included the inescutcheon of Saxony. The main identifier, therefore, is the harp of Ireland – versions made during the present reign use a plain harp, while those issued in earlier reigns show a woman’s head and chest carved into the side. I think that this pub sign shows the modern version but the image resolution is too low to be sure.

Ever to Succeed

News has broken that two days ago Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrice, Mrs Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, gave birth for the first time. Her yet-unnamed daughter is eleventh in line to the throne. I wished to edit the relevant Wikipedia article accordingly, but that proved difficult as the list had multiple levels of indentation to reflect the generations and all the numbers had to be changed manually.

There is a challenge in deciding just how many names to include on the page. The legitimate non-Papist descendants of George I’s mother number well into the thousands nowadays and the vast majority of them are non-notable. The editors have here decided to limit the display to the descendants of the sons of George V. In practice this just means Bertie, Harry and Georgie, since David and John both died without issue. Even that restricted selection comprises sixty-three living people, of whom thirty-two have no pages of their own.

The clumsiness of editing this list brought up an idea I had some years ago for giving each member of the diaspora a numerical code to indicate their position within the succession. The electress herself, being the origin of the succession, would be 0. Her eldest son Georg Ludwig would be 1, her next son Frederick Augustus 2, Maximilian William 3 and so on. For each generation a digit is added, so Georg’s offspring George Augustus and Sophia Dorothea would be 1.1 and 1.2, while George Augustus’s children would be 1.11, 1.12, 1.13 and so forth. Under this system Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent & Strathearn would be 1.11141 while Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of York would be 1.111411221. Prince Philip of Greece & Denmark would, I think, be 1.111416331. The beauty of this system is that the crown always goes to the living person with the lowest number, rather than each new birth or death close to the throne forcing everyone downstream to be renumbered.

There are downsides, of course. First, there is always the danger of one day discovering a missing sibling who died young and was forgotten to history. Second, until the commencement of the Perth Agreement the crown followed male-preference primogeniture, so any girl’s code was liable to change upon the arrival of a brother. Third, if any person in the line has more than nine legitimate children then the numerals would be inadequate (as in George III’s case, though perhaps there one could only number his nine sons and omit his nine daughters, none of whom had surviving children of her own), and an alphabetical system might be needed instead – Elizabeth II would be AAAADAABBA and the late Prince Philip AAAADAFCCA.

On a related note, I have been keeping tabs on Judiciary UK for some months looking at new judgements as they come out. My main interest was Bell v Tavistock, but the day before that was resolved my eye was caught by the decision of Sir Andrew McFarlane (President of the Family Division) not to publish the Duke of Edinburgh’s will. Sir Andrew spoke at length about official etiquette regarding the royal family, and shed some light on that term’s definition. For Wikipedians, academics, press and others, there has always been a little confusion as to when membership of the family ends**. Is it the top X in line to the throne? Everyone descended from the current monarch? All descendants in the male line from George V? From Victoria? Everyone styled Royal Highness? Everyone on the balcony at Trooping the Colour? Then there are the gradations – often the headlines talk of “minor royals”, usually meaning the Dukes of Gloucester and Kent but sometimes including the Prince of Wales’s siblings and niblings, while mentions of “senior royals” are even more nebulous. One reason for this difficulty is that there are really three separate types of rank within group – precedence is determined by one’s relationship to the incumbent monarch, style and title by generations’ removal from any monarch and succession by primogeniture of descent from Sophia. McFarlane, in his judgement, may have given some more substance on which to build at least the latter’s definition.

From paragraph 15: This Court has been informed that in recent times the definition of the members of the Royal Family whose executors might,as a matter of course,apply to have the will sealed up has been limited to the children of the Sovereign or a former Sovereign, the Consort of the Sovereign or former Sovereign, and a member of the Royal Family who at the time of death was first or second in line of succession to the throne or the child of such a person. In addition, the wills of other, less senior, members of the Royal Family may have been sealed for specific reasons, or, as the list of names suggests, a wider definition of “Royal Family” may have been applied in this context in earlier times.

From paragraph 23: The confidential note that was disclosed and is attached to Charles J’s judgment contains an interesting account of the development of the practice of sealing Royal wills during the last century. That note provided that, in particular,the practice of applying to the Family Division applied, as a matter of course,to ‘senior members of the Royal Family’ who were defined as:

•The Consort of a Sovereign or former Sovereign;

•The child of a Sovereign or former Sovereign;and

•A member of the Royal Family who, at the time of His/or Her death, is first or second in line of succession to the throne or the child of such a person.

This means that, for judges’ purposes “senior royal” essentially means monarchs themselves, their consorts and their children (not necessarily children-in-law), as well as the first two in line to the throne and their children. Monarchs’ children are easy enough to spot from the rest, with the definitive article in their princely styles and their coronets of crosses interspersed with fleur-de-lys, but the latter category could be unstable – Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret of York would have been senior by this definition during their grandfather’s reign but would have lost that status had Edward VIII sired children of his own.

Applying it to the current situation, then, we can see that the seniors of the present royal family are:

  • HM The Queen
  • HRH The Prince Charles, Prince of Wales
  • HRH The Prince Andrew, Duke of York
  • HRH The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
  • HRH The Princess Anne, Princess Royal
  • HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge
  • HRH Prince Henry, Duke of Sussex
  • HRH Prince George of Cambridge
  • HRH Princess Charlotte of Cambridge
  • HRH Prince Louis of Cambridge

There is one part of the judgement with which I take issue – paragraph 13 says It is understood that the first member of the Royal Family whose will was sealed on the direction of the President of the Probate, Admiralty and Divorce Division was His Serene Highness Prince Francis of Teck. Prince Francis was the younger brother of Princess Mary of Teck who, upon her marriage to King George V, became Queen Mary in 1910. Later that same year, at the age of 40 years, Prince Francis died. An application was made for the will to be sealed and not published. The application was granted. This is a little misleading, as Mary married Prince George, Duke of York in 1893 and became Queen on his accession in 1910. The judge’s text implies that she didn’t marry him until he was already King.

*Some in the press have claimed that as her father is an Italian count, the baby will be a countess, but the title is not recognised by the Italian republic or by the United Kingdom. Most likely she will be Miss [[Firstname]] Mapelli Mozzi.
**Of course, any family can present this difficulty as few are consciously defined by any formal rules.

UPDATE (1st October)

Princess Beatrice’s baby is named Sienna Elizabeth Mapelli Mozzi.

Cecily Neville by Annie Garthwaite

Host Cynthia Spencer, Chairman Keith Stenner and Writer Annie Garthwaite

The latest installment in my EventBrite saga is today’s presentation to the Gloucester Branch of the Richard III Society by Annie Garthwaite, who has written a historical fiction piece about Cecily Neville (1415-1495), Duchess of York and mother of two kings.

The meeting properly began at 14:00 but the Zoom session was opened at 13:30. Cynthia Spencer, the host, said this was both to reduce the risk of interruption due to technical errors (or people arriving late) and to replicate in some way the socialisation between attendees that would occur at physical meetings. The first few minutes were thus filled with little more than awkward “Hello, hello?”s as early arrivals tested their sound systems. Garthwaite herself had to borrow an office with a fast broadband connection, her own being unreliable. There ensued a more general discussion as to the benefits and drawbacks of conducting all such meetings virtually. The ease of attendance from across a wider geographical area without a long commute was weighed against the subscription fee for the software. I opined that a virtual event’s main weakness was the impossibility of a buffet. Garthwaite recalled having virtual dinner parties – dinner for twelve people but only washing up for two! Inevitably there was talk about not being dressed below the waist.

After many more minutes of functional chatter, Keith Stenner (Chairman of the Gloucester Branch) announced that this was their first presentation of a fiction book. Garthwaite said that she had inherited her mother’s obsession with historical fiction and that her history teacher would pass books along to her. She was particularly enthralled by We Speak No Treason and developed an infatuation with Richard III – one obviously unrequited if for no other reason than the monarch having died five centuries prior.

Likeness by unknown artist circa 1540.

Cecily, the speaker noted, was born in the year of Agincourt and died in the reign of Henry VII. She was the only main protagonist of the Wars of the Roses to personally live through the whole of the conflict period, and spent much of that time as the most powerful woman in England save the queens themselves.

Garthwaite read out an extract from her book, set in Rouen in 1531 with Cecily observing Joan of Arc’s execution.

Returning to her background, she mentioned that she had long been familiar with other important women from the period – Margaret of Anjou, Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth Woodville – and blamed Shakespeare for Cecily’s comparative obscurity. In his plays the duchess appears old, pious and dull, with few lines and little agency. Our guest went into an explanation of her subject’s childhood and courtship, then (with some fumbling around the screen-share function) showed us a simplified* diagram of Richard of York’s ancestry to demonstrate how he came about his multiple peerages as well as his two claims to the throne. She noted that, despite Richard clearly receiving royal favour at various points, he was always under suspicion from the Lancastrians.

Cecily’s arms – Richard Duke of York impaling Ralph Earl of Westmorland.

Garthwaite said she believed Richard & Cecily to be a marriage of equals, both being highly intelligent and ambitious – Cecily was allowed to operate autonomously in her husband’s business, household and political negotiations. It was a worryingly long time before the marriage produced any children but eventually she sired eight sons and four daughters (most of whom she outlived).

Garthwaite views Cecily’s marriage as the apprenticeship to her true flourishing as a widow, noting that when her son Edward IV acceded to the throne he immediately rushed off to the Battle of Towton, leaving the duchess in charge of the royal household “effectively as regent”, with ecclesiastical and diplomatic correspondence describing her as the true leader of England.

Describing the production process, Garthwaite said she – a novelist not a historian by training – was determined to stick as closely to known facts as possible. Medieval noblewomen did not solely concern themselves with embroidery and maternity, but would be in charge of managing large and complicated household organisations. Cecily’s family conflict was examined – her marriage into the House of York pitted her against her own Beaufort cousins.

After an anecdote about Destiny’s Stone on the Hill of Tara, another extract was read – concerning the Duke & Duchess’s last day in Ireland. This ended the formal presentation. Stenner noted that the book ended in 1461 but Cecily lived to 1495, and asked if a sequel was coming. Garthwaite confirmed that there would.

Spencer then began reading out questions that had been submitted by other attendees. One was about the allegation that Edward IV was the son of Blaybourne the archer and not Richard of York. Garthwaite laughed “I knew this would come up!” and said that the possibility of an affair was gold dust for historical novelists, but she decided that the theory was too tenuous.

Another was how a writer decides which historical events to include and which to omit, given Cecily’s very long life. Garthwaite said she learned to find the junctures which enable you to tell the overall story most clearly. She also said that “Your editor always has different opinions on it than you do.”

Spencer herself then asked about the legal status of decisions made by a woman in that era, and how her household was managed during confinement. Garthwaite replied that a lady of Cecily’s rank effectively had her own household distinct from her husband’s. After her husband’s death and her son’s accession she procured for herself very substantial tracts of land. This demonstrated, in the writer’s view, that female emancipation was not strictly linear – women of Cecily’s time wielded significantly more power than their Victorian or even later counterparts.

I asked Garthwaite what she thought of Cecily’s portrayal by Caroline Goodall in The White Queen and The White Princess** – the only instance I knew of her being played on television besides adaptations of Shakespeare plays. She replied that she had not seen either series and never passed judgement on other writers, but credited Philippa Gregory with renewing public interest in that era of history. Spencer chimed in that Cecily came across as a powerful person and that “It was a weird series but there were a few outstanding performances and I thought she was very good.”. Garthwaite said that while writing her own book she could not read anyone else’s historical fiction for fear of getting their thoughts mixed up with her own. This reminded me of Daisy Goodwin, writer of ITV’s Victoria, saying she would not watch The Crown to keep her own work independent and avoid plagiarism allegations.

The congregation then began to disperse but the session was kept open for a few more minutes so that members could scribble down contact details. I plugged my blog verbally for the first time, though I wish I had got in a moment earlier as by then there were only six out of thirty-one other people still logged in.

I have read and heard about the Richard III Society before but this was my first time directly interacting with its members. I hope there may be more.

*Inevitably, for a fully-detailed family tree for the Plantagenets, Beauforts, Nevilles and Mortimers would require multiple dimensions and still look tangled.

**Notably she was the only character not to be recast, perhaps because she was already an old woman when the first series started and so did not need to be aged up.

Henry and the Trackside Trees

Euan Roger (left) John Varley (right)

This week I got a little carried away with Eventbrite, and consequently this afternoon I attended two virtual talks in rapid succession – both on Teams rather than Zoom.

The first was All aboard a railway for people and wildlife by Women in Sustainable Rail. The session began less than formally with John Varley (Estate Director of Clinton Devon Estates) and Dr Neil Strong (Biodiversity Strategy Manager for Network Rail) getting carried away in a conversation about beavers. Varley spoke about the review he had done in 2018 for the Department of Transport, commissioned by then-minister Jo Johnson.  Varley concluded that the review was about nature and not just trees. He stated that in the 1950s there were fewer trees immediately bordering Britain’s railways than today, yet there was greater overall biodiversity. He noted that people tend to have a spiritual relationship with trees that is not extended to other plants. He delightedly recalled one day being given his own train in the North of England to go around inspecting the ground and interviewing the locals. He urged Network Rail to treat nature as an asset equal with its man-made infrastructure. The next speaker was Jane Dodds, Portfolio Head of Project at the Rail Safety & Standards Board. She told of the negative public perception surrounding Network Rail’s approach to managing vegetation around the lines. Strong then recounted the story of the implementation of the review. He showed photographs of a pilot scheme in Kent where a large row of trees was cut down from the side of the line, with the intention to plant a meadow there instead. He presented a long list of organisations with which he liaised over the course of the scheme. There was a question & answer session at the end which concluded in a similarly awkward fashion with the host offering to send slides and asking anyone still listening to email further questions. I couldn’t think of anything to ask (and wasn’t sure if my microphone worked) to ask so logged off sheepishly.

The second was event Readeption and Revenge: The final years of Henry VI by the National Archives. This detailed the later life of the last monarch from the House of Lancaster, though the lecturer Euan Roger included a brief overview of his early life, when he inherited the throne at aged nine months and was ruled by regents until coming of age. He founded Eton College and King’s College Cambridge, and was said to be overly generous with petitions, even granting the same estate to two people on the same day, to the point where his ministers began screening documents before the King was allowed to see them. The people perceived that senior officials were enriching themselves at the crown’s expense and that profligate royal pardons were undermining the rule of law. Henry’s reign took a serious turn for the worse in 1453 when his mental illness first appeared. He was barely lucid for much of the time, so unable to carry out duties of state. When he recovered he dedicated his life to religious pursuits instead of administrative or military ones. Roger noted, though, that reports of infirmity could have been exaggerated by those seeking political advantage. Without wishing to tell the whole story of the Wars of the Roses again, Henry was deposed by Edward IV in 1461. The new king eventually captured the old, but his imprisonment was relatively comfortable by the standards of the time. Contemporary documents referred to him as “Henry of Windsor” or “late by fact but not by right King of England”. One calls him “Henry Beaufort”, which Rogers suggested could be an attempt by the Yorkists to reframe his ancestry. A fall-out within Edward IV’s court saw the Duke of Clarence and Earl of Warwick depose him, restoring Henry to the throne as a puppet under their joint protection. The readeption only lasted six months before Edward IV had taken the throne again, and weeks later Henry died, officially of natural illness but more probably through blunt head injuries. Henry was buried at Chertsey Abbey, but in 1484 was relocated to St George’s Chapel, Windsor. For this lecture questions were asked in the chat box, but I waited too long to ask mine and so the session ran out of time to answer it.

EXTERNAL LINKS

I had wished to know why the Yorkists had killed Henry in such an obviously violent manner rather than poisoning him or denying him food, so that it would have been more plausible to claim that his death had been peaceful. Even Philippa Gregory’s version of events had him suffocated with pillows instead of beaten.

Ahead of Yourself

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/03/George_Hayter_-_The_Marriage_of_Queen_Victoria%2C_10_February_1840_-_WGA11229.jpg/640px-George_Hayter_-_The_Marriage_of_Queen_Victoria%2C_10_February_1840_-_WGA11229.jpg

To the extent that most people have heard of heraldry at all, they conceive it as the study and management of coats of arms. Certainly that is what the majority of my posts on the topic have discussed. That is not a herald’s only concern, however, for armory tends to intersect with other interests. Genealogy, vexillology and phaleristics are the obvious ones, but also within orbit are matters of ceremony and protocol, which often centre heavily on precedence.

Orders of precedence determine the seating plans of formal dinners and the sequencing of parades or processions. Certain institutions whether public or private may have their own specific orders of precedence, and even unaffiliated civilians may be required to adopt them for their extended families at weddings and funerals. What tends to concern heralds and heraldists, though, is the general order of precedence for an entire country.

The order of precedence for England & Wales (though that distinction is a recent one) can be documented descriptively as early as 1399, but the earliest extant prescriptions are the House of Lords Precedence Act 1539 and an ordinance issued by commissioners of the office of Earl Marshal in 1595 (itself based largely on the Lord Chamberlain’s order from 1520). It arranges the royal family and the grades of the aristocracy (peers, knights, esquires, gentlemen and their offspring) as well as the holders of important government, judicial and ecclesiastical offices. The sequence reflects the relative importance of certain jobs in Tudor times and earlier, which is often rather different to the level of power they exercise today. The Lord President of the Council and the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal – now sinecures given to the leaders of the houses of Parliament – rank just below the royal family while the secretaries of state who make up the bulk of the cabinet rank just below barons and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a redundant setting below the privy council.

The bulk of the scale has remained intact to the present day – and been repeated at the start of each edition of Burke’s and Debrett’s, though royal warrants have been issued on occasion to make small updates, such as the insertion of new orders of chivalry or of offices not formerly recognised.

The Lord High Treasurer was once a great officer of state*, but when it was put into commission the commissioners had no precedence, even after it became convention for the First Lord of the Treasury to be the de facto head of government. Victoria’s prime ministers would frequently walk into formal gatherings behind barons of their own nomination. The job of Prime Minister was at last given formal recognition by a warrant in December 1905 placing him in the position his grandfather office would have conferred. The Speaker of the House of Commons ranked rather low until a warrant in 1919 put him just after the Lord President. Other offices have fallen away over time, such as the Vice-Regent in Spirituals, the Lord High Steward and the Lord High Constable.

As with so many such matters, the situation in Scotland is less well documented. The earliest extant prescription is Edward VII’s royal warrant from February 1905. Indeed, that may be the earliest ever such instrument, for the preamble admits “a Scale of Precedence in Scotland has not been defined with due authority” and “doubts and a diversity of practice have arisen in consequence”. The order within the royal family is much the same as for England, with the exception that the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland during the sitting of the General Assembly outranks everyone except the sovereign – including the Duke of Rothesay. The office is currently held by Prince William, who thus temporarily precedes his own father. Following the nephews of the sovereign – cousins are mysteriously omitted – there is a complicated insertion explaining that the Lord Lieutenants, Lord Provosts and Sheriffs Principal rank above the Lord Chancellor within their own jurisdictions. Following the Lord Chancellor the other Scottish high officers are listed, then the ranks of the peerage and orders of chivalry in a manner near-identical to the English version. The Church of Scotland is rather different in status and structure to the Church of England so there are no bishops listed for the Scottish scale. Senators of the College of Justice are ranked similarly to High Court judges and Lords Justices of Appeal, though other senior Scottish judicial figures are ranked above the viscounts whereas their English counterparts are below barons. I note that the position for Secretaries of State is not defined in the Scottish scale either.

Small amendments have been made to the scale in subsequent years – most prominently in 1999 to clarify the positions of office-holders in the devolved administration. Even so, there are some glaring omissions:

A series of constitutional reforms in the latter noughties saw the duties of the Lord Chancellor carved up: His administrative role in the English & Welsh judiciary was devolved to the Lord Chief Justice, his executive powers to the Secretary of State and his presidency of the upper house of Parliament to the elected Lord Speaker. Plans to abolish the chancery altogether were dropped and the incumbent’s ceremonial precedence was not pushed down, but it was deemed necessary for the others to be raised up. The Lord Speaker was given precedence immediately after the Speaker of the House of Commons. It is curious that the upper house was not given ceremonial priority here, though that could be in recognition of the superior vintage of the latter office as well as the greater degree of power he has within his institution. The Lord Chief Justice had previously been placed below the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, similarly redundant as all holders in nearly three centuries had been privy councillors and/or peers. A warrant in 2007 promoted him to just below the Lord Speaker, as well as moving the Master of the Rolls (still usually commoners) to just below the barons.

The Lords of Appeal in Ordinary previously ranked solely by their necessary peerages. Upon their reconstitution as a separate Supreme Court, the justices (who from then on would not be ennobled) were placed immediately below the Master of the Rolls, while the President was placed immediately below the Lord Speaker – and thus above the Lord Chief Justice. A difficulty arises here because the Supreme Court is a UK-wide institution while the Master of the Rolls only exists in England & Wales. The precedence of non-baronial Supreme Court justices in Scotland is thus undefined – though all at least are members of the Privy Council. The President also has this problem, although it may be masked by the complexity of the incremental insertions – Scotland had its own privy council prior to the Acts of Union, with its own Lord President whose responsibilities and status were comparable to those of his English counterpart. Logically the Lord President for Great Britain (and later the United Kingdom) would continue to have the same precedence as his provincial predecessors, but the Scottish scale from 1905 makes no reference to the post. This in turn means that the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Speaker and the President of the Supreme Court are all without a defined rank in Scotland. Even the Prime Minister is left without a place, since the Archbishop of York is England-only**. It is no wonder that the Scottish scale was described by one contributor in 2011 as “a bit of a mess” and by another as “complete horlicks”.

Northern Ireland is an even worse story – there is no scale properly defined, and the Wikipedia article uses an unofficial, descriptive list from Burke’s 106th edition in 1999, which tellingly says “as in England” rather frequently.

A common feature of all three is that men and women are listed separately***. The bishoprics and various public offices are exclusively listed in the male scale. There were insertions into the women’s for dames of various orders of chivalry (outranking wives of knights of the same), but subsequent warrants regarding ministers and judges do not bother to specify which list they are altering. A convention has developed among Wikipedians (and probably everyone else who has to mind these matters) that any office held by a woman is temporarily transposed to the female scale, but without authoritative guidance we cannot be certain.

Another curiosity is that the general scale is formally headed by “The Sovereign” while the ladies’ scale is headed by “The Queen”, such that a queen regnant is technically first man as well as first woman, and while a king’s wife is a queen consort a queen’s husband is nothing at all until a special warrant is issued for his benefit. While we’re on the subject of the royal family, our attention should turn to the four – soon five – grandchildren of the Prince of Wales.

It is unusual for an heir apparent to be a grandfather before his accession to the throne. George IV (as regent) almost managed it in 1817 when his daughter Princess Charlotte of Wales was pregnant but she and the baby predeceased him. Edward VII had quite a few – Lady Alexandra Duff (later Duchess of Fife) in 1891, Lady Maud Duff (later Countess of Southesk) in 1893, Prince Edward of York (later Edward VIII) in 1894, Prince Albert of York (later George VI) in 1985, Princess Mary of York (later Princess Royal), Prince Henry of York (later Duke of Gloucester) in 1900. The first two were through a daughter so don’t really count for these purposes and the latter four were still small children when Victoria died, which means it was never necessary to define their place at state functions, though their titles and styles were subject to some dispute. Prince George of Cambridge is now older than Edward VIII was at his great-grandmother’s death and could be into adulthood – or at least adolescence – by the time of the next demise of the crown. Without any specific place for them within the royal family section, Wikipedians have determined that George and his cousin Archie rank as eldest sons of dukes of the blood royal. This status is below the non-royal dukes, who in turn are below the great officers already described****. Charlotte, as the daughter of a royal duke, similarly ranks below the duchesses. This makes sense if you consider royal dukes to be an unofficial sixth extra rank of the peerage above the normal dukes. By extension one would expect Prince Louis, as younger son of a royal duke, to rank immediately below the eldest sons of normal dukes who in turn are just below the marquesses. Instead his place is just below the earls but above the eldest sons of marquesses. This placement is rather confusing as it breaks the otherwise-consistent pattern by which children of peers are stationed. I don’t think there were any royal dukes in England with children of their own in 1520 and there certainly weren’t any in 1595, so the logic behind the original decision eludes me.

EXTERNAL LINKS

*The great officers of state (Lord High whatever) in ancient times are not to be confused with the great offices of state (Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary).

**Whether any of the Church of England’s officials should have precedence in Wales is questionable after 1920.

***Bizarrely, in the Scottish warrant from 1905 these were called “The Scale of General Precedence” and “The Scale of Precedence for Ladies”. The ladies are therefore special, one logically presumes.

****One must wonder if the current Lord President of the Council has ever sought a bow from the prince – only to follow protocol, of course.

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.

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.