Petey's Railway is a children's TV series originally produced in the Federated Kingdoms. Based on a popular 1930s-1950s series of children's books, it follows the adventures of a young boy and several steam locomotives on an unnamed railway evidently somewhere on the border of England and Kemr.
Cast of Characters
Petey is a young boy of about 9 or 10 (we are never told his precise age) who lives with his grandparents. He is a clever, curious little boy who loves trains and the railway, and he can speak with the engines (which not everyone can). His grandfather is the main Controller of the railway line, and because of this relationship, Petey is permitted to ride in the cabs of the engines and to help out around the stations. He is the central character, the focus of all the stories.
- Petey's Grandfather
Petey's grandfather is never given a name. Petey always calls him Grandfather and the engines and their drivers call him the Controller. He is a kind man, but quite busy with his job running the railways, and although he comes into the stories a lot, he is seldom the centre of attention.
- Albert the Signalman
Albert the Signalman is a semi-regular character, appearing as a signal operator, repair crew foreman and general all-round fix-it man. One of the character's quirks is his apparent inability to remember nouns – whatever he is referring to is always a "whatchumacallum", as in "Petey, bring me the watchumacallum from on top of the shelves."
- Engine Crews
Each of the engines (see below) has its own 2-man crew. Many times, these are just "Princess' Driver", "Phineas' Fireman ("Stoker" in some international versions) etc, but some of them have names that are fairly consistent. We know, for example, that Dart's driver is named Thomas (more often "Tom"), and his fireman is called Nobby. Alexander's driver is called Joe Button, and we know that he is the brother of Whitby's driver Clem.
In addition to the above, there are numerous bit-part characters such as station masters, railway porters, other signalmen and so on. Many of these were given names, but they were rarely brought back to appear in more than one story.
The engines that Petey rides each have their own character and personality. The more important ones are:
Dart is probably the main character among the engines, though the large cast of engines revolves somewhat, with each engine taking his or her turn in the spotlight. He is a small engine with bright red paintwork and a happy-go-lucky temperament. He often gets into trouble for trying to take on more than he can handle, but Petey and the other engines are often able to help him out of his jams.
Specifically, Dart is an 0-6-0 saddle tank engine, similar to several of this type that were used on the various regional railways of the Western Isles.
Whitby is almost a twin for Dart in terms of size and shape, but he is blue and has a very different personality. Where Dart is cheerfully over-eager, Whitby is cautious, humble and a little negative towards himself. He never thinks he can succeed at the bigger jobs, though he's always prepared to try if it is clear that someone has to do the job.
The big red engine Alexander is the biggest and fastest of the engines on Petey's railway. He and Princess take it in turns to pull the express trains. Alexander is self-important almost to the point of being pompous (Don't call him "Alex"), and frequently gets taken down a peg or two by the other engines, but he has a good heart and never really resents this. In addition, he is very bold, and can have a tendency to think that he is big enough and fast enough to face any problem.
Princess is a little smaller than Alexander, and not quite as fast, except on Alexander's off days. Her personality is gentler, too, and she has less of Alexander's rash charge-ahead mentality. She can be more than a little bit vain, and can be something of a diva, but most of the engines readily forgive her moods. Her paint is a dark magenta or purplish colour, with gleaming golden brasswork.
Phineas is the oldest of the engines, and has lots of stories to tell. He fits fairly naturally into the wise-counsellor Merlin/Gandalf role, and often helps Petey find the answers to problems, usually by telling a story. His paintwork is dark blue, and formerly had gleaming brass fittings, but these are not often very bright these days. Because he's very old, he breaks down a lot, but he takes things in his stride, but he doesn't like to be made to feel unimportant by the newer and larger engines.
Rhys is medium-sized, yellow-painted and speaks with a Cambrian accent. He, loves to sing and has a sly sense of humour, though he can be a bit moody at times.
Serpentine is a big, dark green engine who is often the main antagonist of the stories. He is portrayed as cold, grouchy, a bit ruthless, and somewhat lazy and vain.
Greaser (not his real name) is the single diesel engine – dirty a lot of the time, but a hard worker and very helpful. He has a cheerfully working-class kind of personality, and he is often quite cheeky to his superiors, but he always gets the job done.
- Selwyn the Dragon
Selwyn was introduced in The Railway Dragon (1953) and was one of the most popular of the characters, despite only appearing two or three times. He is a large, red, fire-breathing, Cambrian dragon, a bit sleepy and very shy. The idea of a real dragon was a rather whimsical one for a series so otherwise grounded in the real nuts and bolts of railway engineering, but "It seemed to fit" was the only response the author ever gave to how and why he'd introduced the character. The television series was careful not to overuse Selwyn, although he has appeared more times than he ever did in the original books.
One of the particular visual quirks of the TV series is that the engines' faces are only visible part of the time. When the engines are interacting with Petey or his Grandfather, they have faces, but not at other times. This led to several speculations on the exact nature of the reality of the engines' personalities: Were they regular engines that "came to life" around Petey or his Grandfather? Was it a big game of "Let's Pretend"? The visual designer's comments, however, suggest that he was simply trying to portray how engineers and others often attribute personality to large and complex machinery, and how this is not always apparent to others.
Another subtle visual feature was the use of station name plates. Multiple made-up name plates were created for a large number of stations, most with a typically English air: Buxford, Crofton, Dunsmore Hill, Melbridge, Sidwell Bassett, Shelcombe, Tadcaster. There were also, however, a number of typically Cambrian and Scots station names as well.
Whenever the engine characters are surprised or annoyed, they utter particular expletives that have a "steam-engine-like" tone to them. Typical of these are "Burst my funnel!", "Cinders and Soot!" and "Boilers and Brake-vans!" "Disturbance and Confusion" is a common catchphrase used when things Aren't Going Right, normally when someone or something is to blame (as in "You have caused Disturbance and Confusion!"). Conversely, all the engines strive to be a "Really Helpful Engine": one that runs well and on time, without accidents and troubles, and most importantly, gets the job done.
Petey's Railway began life as a series of books written in the 1930s to 1950s. Many of the books were written in the immediate post- GW2 period.
It was very popular, and in the 1970s a TV show was produced based on the books. Petey's Railway was cutting-edge for its time, combining live-action footage with amimation. It did extremely well, but was costly and difficult to produce, and budgetary constraints forced the cancellation of the show after 4 seasons. Reruns of the show continued to be aired well into the late 1980s, however, but with diminishing returns despite the continued popularity of the books, perhaps due to the by then badly dated special effects.
In 1996, a new series was produced, again combining live action with animation, which could be done much more cheaply by this time because of advances in technology. Despite protests from parents familiar with their fondly-remembered Petey's Railway it was extremely successful. The series has been translated and exported to a large number of countries all over the world, most of which have their own local names for the characters.
The Petey's Railway series was considerably long, even for children's books, at some 56 books in total. Some of the better-known stories were:
- The Little Red Engine (1932). This was the first book, which introduced Petey, his Grandfather, and the engines Dart and Whitby.
- The Little Controller
- The Great Adventure
- The Cambrian Flyer
- The Big Red Engine (1938). Introduced Alexander.
- On Track
- Engines Old and New
- Carriages for Princess
- Full Steam Ahead!
- Rhys Comes Home
- The Railway Dragon (1953). Selwyn the Dragon was introduced.
- Buxford Junction
- Hobson's Choice