The series was based on The Railway Series, a series of books created by the Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry. The books, which told of the adventures of a group of living, talking trains, were based on stories which Awdry told his son Christopher to entertain him during Christopher's recovery from measles.
Ringo Starr was the first narrator of the television series, then in the British version of Thomas & Friends, he was replaced by Michael Angelis who still narrates today ever since 1991.
In the American version of Thomas & Friends, Ringo Starr was replaced by George Carlin in 1991 and then was replaced by Alec Baldwin who still narrates today ever since 1998.
Characters from the series include Henry, Duck, Trevor, Bertie (a bus), Donald & Douglas, Percy, James, Gordon, Toby, Daisy, Mavis, Harold (a helicopter), Diesel, Bill & Ben, Edward and the Fat Controller (who is called Sir Topham Hatt in North America).
Many of the charcters are based on actual British trains and vehicles from the 1940s and 1950s.
Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends was produced by Gullane Entertainment Ltd. Hit Entertainment now owns the Thomas licenses for broadcast and merchandising.
In 1989, Allcroft co-created an American spinoff for the Thomas series called Shining Time Station and in 2000, Allcroft directed the Thomas series' motion picture debut film called Thomas and the Magic Railroad.