Friday A/V Club: That Time Thomas the Tank Engine Was a Scab

The most right-wing project any Beatle was ever involved with


The early episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine have got to be the most right-wing project any Beatle was ever involved with. Take the story arc where some of the engines go on strike. The opening installment, narrated by Ringo Starr in his usual jolly fashion, is embedded below; if you want to skip straight to the strike part, go to 3:53:

Here's part two, where Thomas and two of his pals save the day for the employing class by stepping in as scabs:

By 4:20, the striking engines are "cold, lonely, and miserable. They wished now they hadn't been so silly." They sheepishly come back to work in the opening minute of the next episode, which you can watch here.

This first aired in 1984, which, as those of you who remember the Thatcher years will recall, was a time of fiercely fought strikes in Great Britain. (The story was based on the book Troublesome Engines, published in 1950. Someone better versed in British labor history than I will have to tell me whether there's a comparable social context then.) But there's nothing in the Thomas show about wages or layoffs or railway closures; the story basically boils down to some engines getting too big for their britches. ("No engine on my railway is too important for small jobs," Sir Topham Hatt says disapprovingly.) In the end we are informed that the strikers have been "naughty," but the boss tells them they can come back "if you promise to work hard," which they eagerly do.

Conclusion #1: if you overlay the paternalistic tone of a show for kids atop an industry where actual grown-ups work, the results are pretty creepy. 

Conclusion #2: It's still more watchable than the formulaic Thomas tales that my two-year-old sees on Sprout today.

Bonus video: Speaking of creepy early Thomas episodes, this one has a dark ending reminiscent of Poe: