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Christopher Awdry: why sour Lefties are wrong about Thomas the Tank Engine
The son of the creator of Thomas the Tank Engine has defended his father’s creation after critics labelled the lovable character \'sinister\'
Knowing his place: the relationship between Thomas and the Fat Controller is \'realistic\'
When the Telegraph revealed that the classic British children’s character Thomas the Tank Engine was a figure of hate among some Left-wing parents and academics, readers registered their astonishment – and irritation.
Opponents of the talking locomotive – who have branded the 70-year-old series authoritarian and conformist – were rounded upon by commenters for holding “bizarre”, “politically correct” views.
Now Christopher, the son of Thomas creator Rev W Awdry for whom the series was originally written, has also come to the defence of his father’s make-believe world.
Mr Awdry, 74, said the main moral of the stories was that “good triumphed over evil” and the principal values his late father, a railway enthusiast and a Church of England curate, wanted to instil in his young readers were a love of steam trains and an appreciation of what it meant to be a loyal friend and a useful member of society.
Rev Awdry\'s original manuscript, with text and pictures, for what was to become The Three Railway Engines
“He had a real affinity with children,” Mr Awdry told The Telegraph. “And he was a very good father; kindly, honest, generous and trusting.
“When those stories were first written [in the 1940s] it wasn’t a forelock-tugging age, but there were limits and you have got to have somebody in charge. I think he saw the characters as a family, in which the Fat Controller was the boss, the father figure, and all the engines were the children.”
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The Rev Awdry’s books – which tell stories about the adventures of Thomas and his fellow engines like arrogant Gordon and disobedient Henry - stick to a strict formula.
The engine at the centre of the story faces a problem or gets into trouble, usually due to some character fault such as selfishness or vanity, a lesson is learnt, the issue is resolved and the locomotive is then forgiven by the Fat Controller (or Fat Director as Awdry originally had it) and given another opportunity to become a ‘really useful engine’.
Although now owned by Mattel, the world’s second-largest toy manufactuer, and worth $1 billion in sales per year, the new books and TV episodes stay true to the original spirit of the series.
The new look CGI Thomas & Friends remains true to the spirit of the original books
Yesterday marked 70 years since the publication of the first ‘Railway Series’ book, The Three Railway Engines.
But Left-wing critics have said the series – now called Thomas & Friends – gives liberal parents “the creeps” and teaches children to conform to society’s expectations and discourages them from expressing independent thought.
Christopher Awdry, who went on to write numerous Thomas books himself after his father retired in 1972, disagrees, arguing that the engines are punished for displaying “arrogance” or “naughtiness”, not initiative.
“Children are disciplined in a rather different way today than they were in 1945,” he said.
A long ride: Christopher Awdry with his mother in 1948, and how he looks today
He also defended the series from accusations of sexism.
“A library banned the books for a while on those grounds,” he said. “But father simply saw steam engines as male and the carriages as female.” He added that the vicar did eventually introduce two female engines – Daisy and Mavis. Today, there are many more.
Dr Aric Sigman, a psychologist who has researched the impact of television on children, has suggested it is wrong to criticise Thomas & Friends for being hierarchical.
“If you are looking at the world of mechanistic things – the military, the police, the fire service – those things have hierarchy. People have uniforms and they have to know their place. Things that involve men and machinery normally have some sort of hierarchy and social order.”
And he has rejected the suggestion that children’s TV programmes should reflect modern-day concepts of parenting.
“People say, ‘Children are different these days, we’ve moved on.’ But that is a very arrogant position. It’s a popular position and media friendly, but actually it’s not children who have moved on, it’s adults.
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“Children’s needs have not changed. It’s a very convenient way to explain away the growing gap between what parents are able to do and what parents feel comfortable to do, versus what children need during their early years.
“I see a lot of young children, and they like rules and boundaries. Not to be treated in an authoritarian way, not at all, but children feel comfortable when there are boundaries and there is a construct. It makes them feel relaxed and it’s very important for child development.”
He added that the fact Thomas the Tank Engine was still so popular said something about its fundamental appeal.
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The Big Short hits UK cinemas: these are the best films about business
The Big Short, the film adaptation of Michael Lewis\' book of the same name about the causes of the financial crisis, opens in UK cinemas this weekend. How will the story stack up against the greatest films about business?
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