The Sad Story of Henry (lost live BBC broadcast adaptation of "The Railway Series" books; 1953)

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The sad story of henry title card.png

Title card from the 1980's remake of the episode.

Status: Lost

Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends is by now one of the world's most iconic and beloved children’s TV shows. Originally adapted from the Reverend Wilbert Awdry and his son Christopher Awdry’s Railway Series stories, the TV series began airing in 1984 and has continued in some form or another through to the 2020s. While this is certainly the most famous adaptation of the Awdrys' anthropomorphic train tales, it was not the first, having been preceded by a live BBC broadcast in 1953. Unfortunately the technical difficulties associated with this adaptation would prevent a full series being commissioned for the intervening thirty years.

Background[edit | edit source]

In mid-1953, the BBC approached The Railway Series editor Eric Marriott and inquired about the possibility of adapting at least two stories to television. Marriott and Rev. Awdry approved the proposal, on condition only that the the adaptation be as faithful to the books - noted for their attention to technical detail - as possible. Thus the broadcast was to be done using special 00 Gauge Hornby models of the trains pictured in the original illustrations, with a track layout and sets likewise designed to ensure maximum authenticity. The script however was 'freely adapted', in order to fit the ten-minute broadcast limit. It was to be broadcast live from Lime Grove Studios on Sunday, June 14th, 1953.

Live Broadcast[edit | edit source]

For this initial attempt, the BBC had chosen to adapt "The Sad Story of Henry", a suitably dramatic tale of the titular engine being bricked up in a tunnel after he refuses to leave it for fear of a rainstorm spoiling his new paint. The live adaptation had to be put together within a month, with the custom model train setup not arriving in-studio until the final rehearsals; not ideal for what was already a notably complex production for the time, also including superimposed rain and other effects overlaid by music and narration by Julia Lang. The models were said to be a bit jerky, but all started off well - until the lead engine derailed, the train set operator having missed switching the points before the engine arrived at them. To the surprise of viewers, a human hand abruptly picked up the engine and put it back on the rails instead.

Aftermath/Preservation[edit | edit source]

The broadcast went on without further incident, but it was the derailment and its unexpected resolution that managed to attract notice from several national newspapers. Rev. Awdry is recorded therein as being disappointed with a number of aspects of the adaptation, including the script changes (which added characters not in the original) the jerky model movement and above all the 'elementary mistake' of the incorrectly set points. He demanded guarantees that a similar blunder would not happen in the second broadcast, scheduled for June 28th; however seriously the BBC took his complaints, the second broadcast was in fact put on hold, and later cancelled. Although numerous attempts were made to revive the series, all were unsuccessful until the current series began production three full decades later.

As the show was broadcast live, and knowing the BBC's track record for preserving old content - let alone one with this kind of embarrassing technical issue - it can safely be considered completely lost, save in the highly unlikely event that anyone recorded it privately. Any claims or clips to the contrary floating about online are either re-creations or proven incorrect recollections.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Images[edit | edit source]

Videos[edit | edit source]

ClickClackTrack's video on the subject, including Marriott's and Awdry's reactions.
Scribbles to Screen's video mentioning the 1953 adaptation (0:42-3:43).


See Also (BBC Wiped Programs Media)[edit | edit source]

See Also (Thomas Series)[edit | edit source]

Thomas & Friends[edit | edit source]

Thomas the Tank Engine[edit | edit source]

Other[edit | edit source]

External Links[edit | edit source]