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Monday, 15 February, 1999, 11:58 GMT
Thomas steams into Hollywood
Thomas the Tank Engine: Chuffed to be a movie star
Children's favourite Thomas the Tank Engine is to become a Hollywood star - in a new film based on his adventures.

The multi-million dollar musical will be a combination of both live action and model animation.

The film will be made by the Britt Allcroft Company, which bought the rights to Thomas the Tank Engine last year for 13.5m.

Ms Allcroft said the production would be "a rocking, rolling movie for the whole family, packed with songs and adventure."

Thomas and the Magic Railroad will start shooting in Britain and Canada in June this year. It is expected to be released in summer 2000.

The Reverend Awdry invented Thomas in the 1940s for his son
The character of Thomas was originally created in the 1940s by the Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry to entertain his son who was sick with a bout of measles.

The tales developed into 26 Thomas the Tank Engine stories which have become very popular - worldwide sales are estimated to have reached more than 20m.

The Rev Awdry, who was awarded an OBE for services to children's literature, died in 1997 aged 85.

The adventures of the plucky little engine were also turned into a children's TV series narrated by the British actor Michael Angelis.

Last year a new TV series of Thomas the Tank Engine went into production at Shepperton Studios for Rupert Murdoch's Fox Family Channel.

Narrated by Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin, the new version is designed to be broadcast in the US. Some concessions have been made to a more sensitive American audience - The Fat Controller is called by his less amusing and more polite name Sir Topham Hat.

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BBC News 24's Matthew Leach considers whether success will make Thomas go off the rails.
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