Thomas the Tank Engine "Down the Mine" (partially found unaired pitch pilot version of children's TV series; 1983)

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Shot from the finalized "Down the Mine" episode that appears to have originated from the pilot.

Status: Partially Found

In 1979, Britt Allcroft acquired the rights to produce episodes based on The Railway Series for television. She spent over two years meeting animators and watching test reels deciding on what type of animation would be used for the series - classical, stop motion, clay, or CGI. After meeting David Mitton it was decided that live-action model animation would be used. After getting a commitment from ITV, a low budget, pre-production test pilot episode was produced to pitch the series to several networks on April 3rd, 1983. David Mitton originally specified during early pre-production of the pilot that Thomas "is coupled to a number of carriages. Clarabel and Annie are two of them." This was revised to just Annie and Clarabel by the time of filming. The pilot was based on The Railway Series story "Down the Mine" and differed from the finalized aired adaptation of the episode. Britt Allcroft mortgaged her house to fund this episode's production and the pilot was filmed on C-stage at Clearwater's Battersea studio. The pilot was filmed without Clearwater's Periscope Lens System, and instead with a standard rostrum based 35mm Mitchel camera.[1] After the series was funded, the periscope lens with the overhead gantry was commissioned. The pilot only took 3 weeks (15 business days) to film between March and April 1983 After the series was greenlit by ITV, the story was later refilmed as the twenty-fifth episode of the first series.

Pilot[edit | edit source]

Nothing of this pilot version has surfaced outside of a single shot in the finalized aired version which seems to be have been reused from the pilot. When Thomas passes Knapford station, his model appears to be much more simplistic than the one used in the series, the main differences being the paint on his front splasher appearing to be missing the red lining, his side rods seeming more toy-like in appearance and his face being different compared to the one used. This is because the models of Thomas and Gordon were also different from that of the final series. The models used, including the wheels, were scratch-built by Martin Gill and were more simplistic in appearance. They were made of plastic and not brass, The models of Annie and Clarabel were based on kits from the Tenmillie, with little vac-formed faces. They were never tested before being filmed in front of the camera and proved to be unreliable. For example, the pilot model's chassis' performed so poorly that the models had to be pulled along with fishing wire. Another example is the models were equipped with a smoke generator based on a 12V car cigarette lighter, with conventional studio smoke-machine oil dripped on the hot element before each shot – but the heat proved to be sufficient to warp the ABS and Perspex of the engine bodies, so they could not be used for any length of time. A swift charging before a shot allowed a rather feeble smoke effect that sometimes emanated from gaps behind the eyes or at the side of the face plug. The eye mechanisms were improved considerably for the actual series. During the pilot, they snagged repeatedly, smoke came out around them, and they were constantly being modified. Often, the eyes were set and locked in a particular direction. It was not unheard of for the static from the power coupling on the track to affect the servos and make the eyes suddenly veer wildly off.[2] Images of the pilot version of Gordon, by model maker Christopher Noulton, can be seen in an interview by Sodor Island Fansite.[3] [4] According to Britt Alcrott the pilot was a showcase of how the story will be told because the rights were already bought.

Availability[edit | edit source]

The pilot was never publicly released, only appearing in test screenings. After the Down the Mine “pilot” was test screened in April 1983, it was later handed to Rick Siggelkow in the late 1980s. He showed it to his wife and a preschool, with the results being positive, launching Shining Time Station, with Siggelkow being the show’s co-creator.[5] is believed that Rick Siggelkow is no longer in possession of the pilot, as he says he turned in all his Thomas the Tank Engine and Shining Time Station master tapes to Mattel. This likely means that the Down the Mine “pilot” is with Mattel. The fate of the models used in the pilot following its completion are unknown, a tweet by user Diesel10tv states David Payne the Gordon and Thomas models were the same as the models used in the first series albeit heavily rebuild as well as the climax from the aired episode being the same as the pilot, however, the climax being reused was confirmed as fake, as well as the claim about the models. According to leaked emails between Nick Starwind and Ian McCue the franchise's current Producer, writer, television executive and even voice actor for some characters, the pilot does in fact currently reside with Mattel and there are plans for a remaster for the franchise's 80th anniversary.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Footage of the pilot from the broadcast version of the episode.
SewerReviewer's video on the subject.
Scribbles to Screen's video mentioning the "Down the Mine" pilot (5:41-9:00).
Nick Starwind's video showcasing the emails between him and Ian McCue

See Also[edit | edit source]

Thomas & Friends[edit | edit source]

Thomas the Tank Engine[edit | edit source]

Other[edit | edit source]

External Link[edit | edit source]

Reference[edit | edit source]