Katy Salter, food writer and mum-of-two, explains why she's definitely on board with the new generation of Thomas and Friends...
Thomas the Tank Engine: unlikely feminist? The 22nd series of Thomas and Friends, which recently started on Five, features new female trains who shunt trucks and haul freight alongside Thomas, Percy, Gordon and Co. Cinders and Ashes!
This makeover is guaranteed to make certain types of men turn purple and start rage-tweeting. But for me – and my two kids – ‘woke’ Thomas is great news.
The Fat Controller has run a boys’ club for far too long, with only the occasional appearance from token female characters like Emily and Daisy. Girls make up more than 40 per cent of the Thomas audience and now they finally have some lead characters to identify with too, in the shape of new trains like Nia and Rebecca.
My three-year-old son is a die-hard Thomas fan. He knows all their names and numbers, and has a train-heavy vocabulary (‘brake van’, ‘goods train’, ‘there’s no steam without coal, mummy’.).
So, when I heard that his beloved Thomas and Friends (and my chance to drink hot coffee in peace) was having a complete redo, I was wary. Gone is the old theme tune. Gone is the Liverpudlian voiceover. Gone are Henry and Edward, shunted off into semi-retirement to make way for Nia and Rebecca alongside Emily, Percy, Gordon, Thomas and James at Tidmouth Sheds.
In the biggest change of all, Thomas leaves cosy Sodor to go off on a gap year, travelling to China, India, Kenya, Australia and other places where he meets – shock horror – even more female trains, planes and railway controllers.
I needn’t have worried. New-look Thomas is a hit in our house. My son already loves Nia and Rebecca, and pretends to make Thomas fly to Africa and China on adventures. My 10-month-old daughter, who loves flapping her arms to the new theme tune and chewing her brother’s trains, will never remember Sodor without girls.
Nia is a Kenyan train, voiced by a Kenyan-born actress. Other new characters include Indian train Ashima and Chinese Yong Bao. So Thomas and Friends hasn’t just had a gender makeover, but a diversity one too. All the better to get grumpy men on the internet really angry.
Nia also joined the train crew after the makeover
The Thomas and Friends producers point out that toddlers don’t usually discriminate between boys and girls, or kids of different backgrounds. ‘I think we can get in here early with the young preschoolers and start teaching them that boys and girls are equal’, series producer Ian McCue has said.
It’s a canny move, too – think of all the plastic Nias and Rebeccas that Mattel will be flogging this Christmas. Thomas the Tank Engine was created in the 1940s by the Reverend W. Awdry to cheer up his son when he had measles. Gender equality probably wasn’t front of mind for the Rev. But in 2018, it’s not enough for kids’ shows to have one token girl in a sea of boys, or for the girls to linger in the background while the boys have all the fun. So good work, Thomas and Friends – we love the new series.
Six more kids’ shows that could do with a Thomas-style makeover
Go Jetters I love a bit of Go Jetters. But there’s three boy Jetters to one girl. Plus, why is Xuli the one who nags the others to put their seatbelts on? She gets fewer cracks at the cool Click-ons, too – mainly waiting in the car while the boys race around with jetpacks.
Peppa Pig For a pig with two small children, Daddy Pig seems to have an awful lot of time to sit and read the paper. Daddy Pig should take some extended parental leave and take George out to some toddler groups. Perhaps then poor George will develop his vocabulary beyond ‘dinosaur’.
Postman Pat These days Pat has a helicopter, motorbike and enough gadgets to make James Bond jealous. It’s time for the female characters to get in on the action. Give Mrs Goggins a plane!
Octonauts The 3 main Octonauts are all boys: Captain Barnacles, Kwazii and Peso. There are a couple of minor girl characters – Dashi, a photographer, and Tweak, the engineer, but they mostly stay on the submarine. If a bossy polar bear, pirate cat and shy penguin can have underwater adventures together, then they can let the girls join in the fun, too.
Topsy and Tim In Topsy and Tim-land, mummies are always patient, bake cupcakes, and never get cross. Plus mummy does mad ‘supermum’ things like inviting the whole of Topsy and Tim’s preschool round their house when the nursery is closed. Give her a break, scriptwriters – a night out on the Prosecco and a lie-in would do nicely.
Paw Patrol One girl pup in the patrol. Many, many boys. No wonder parents sometimes use the hashtag #includethegirls when discussing Paw Patrol on social media.
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