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Friday, July 16, 1999 Published at 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK


Thomas finds his voice

Thomas found his voice on the Isle of Man

The BBC's Rachel Ellison meets the voice of Thomas
A fireman from the Isle of Man has steamed into the title role of Hollywood's first film version of Thomas the Tank Engine.

John Bellis, who also works as a taxi driver, met the film's producer Britt Allcroft in what he thought would be a routine pick-up from the airport.

In the event, it turned out to be an impromptu audition for the voice of Thomas in a multi-million pound film of Rev W Awdry's children's stories about a train yard.

[ image: John Bellis: Sounded just like Thomas]
John Bellis: Sounded just like Thomas
Hearing Bellis utter only a few words was enough to convince Allcroft that he spoke just the way she imagined Thomas would have talked. A few days later she offered him the job.

Speaking about his good fortune in those soon-to-be famous tones, 35-year-old father of two Bellis said: "It's fantastic.

"I'm a bit shelI-shocked and have to keep pinching myself to remind myself that it has really happened."

He continued: "All the lads at work have been really supportive, all the management have been really supportive and they are all going round singing Thomas The Tank Engine tunes."

The big screen version of Awdry's classic will be called Thomas and the Magic Railroad.

In the film, Bellis's voice will feature alongside those of Hollywood stars Peter Fonda, Alec Baldwin and 11-year-old Mara Wilson.

Fonda, star of the cult movie Easy Rider and who was Oscar-nominated for Ulee's Gold, will play the new character of Grandpa Burnett Stone.

[ image: Alec Baldwin to play Mr Conductor]
Alec Baldwin to play Mr Conductor
Baldwin, who is already known to Thomas fans in the US where he narrates the animated series, will play the role of the magical Mr Conductor.

Wilson, who starred in Matilda and Mrs Doubtfire, takes on the role of Grandpa Stone's 11-year-old grand-daughter Lily.

A fireman for the last 13 years, Bellis has a few weeks to get ready for his role before jetting off to Toronto to start recording with his co-stars.

After that, he will return to the Isle of Man where filming begins.

But, Bellis says he has no intention of changing career and, and by the time the film is released next year, he will long have been back at work.

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