Children’s favourite Thomas the Tank Engine is being overhauled in an effort to make it become more gender balanced, with popular trains Henry and Edward making way for two female characters; Rebecca and Kenyan engine Nia.
The move has proved controversial as the two trains to be dropped from the series appeared in the original books written by Rev Wilbert Awdry.
Rev Awdry created the stories to entertain his young son, Christopher, while he was confined to bed with measles. The first was published in 1945 with the fictional island of Sodor based on the Isle of Man.
The row erupted after it was revealed the United Nations had been called in to advise how to update the image of Thomas & Friends with critics claiming the series has become the latest victim of an out-of-control culture of political correctness.
Former British Conservative Party minister Ann Widdecombe said she “could not imagine” why the UN would be consulted by programme makers.
“I can’t believe people are being so po-faced about Thomas. Children aren’t interested in these sort of issues,” she added.
The tradition of a Liverpudlian narrator, which began with Ringo Starr, will also disappear in the shake-up as will the theme tune which includes a roll-call of engines.
New Kenyan train Nia will make her debut in next year’s special, Big World! Big Adventures! in which she befriends Thomas during his journey around the world.
Nia, is described as “an adventurous and fun African engine who teaches Thomas about friendship.” Her name means “purpose” in Swahili.
Thomas meet Nia when he leaves his home on the Island of Sodor for the first time for adventures abroad, in episodes that support the United Nations’ “sustainable development goals”.
The overhaul, which begins next year, is the most significant transformation since the TV version was first broadcast in 1984.
Nia is based on the KUR ED1 class of 2-6-2 tank locomotives built by Vulcan Foundry for the Kenya-Uganda Railway between 1926 and 1930. They were later operated by the East African Railways and were reclassified as part of the EAR 11 class.
Originally a narrow gauge, in the stories, Nia has been modified in order to work on British railways, appearing to be standard gauge. She has also been given buffers and screwlink couplings in order to work with the other engines.
Nia is painted orange with yellow lining. She has yellow, green and red patterns painted along her tanks, dome and cylinders, and her footplate is painted red. Her name and number are painted on the sides of her tanks and cab respectively in yellow.