The Fat Controller

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The Fat Controller
Sir Topham Hatt
Thomas and Friends character
Fat Controller TTTE 1.jpg
Sir Topham Hatt ("The Fat Controller"), as portrayed in the TV Series Thomas and Friends, here in static model form
(1984–2008, i.e. 'before CGI')
First appearance

The Three Railway Engines (The Railway Series)

"The Sad Story of Henry" (Thomas and Friends)
Portrayed by Kerry Shale (US)
Keith Wickham (UK)

The Fat Controller (named Sir Topham Hatt in the USA) is the head of the railway in The Railway Series of books written by the Rev. W. V. Awdry. In the first two books in the series (The Three Railway Engines and Thomas the Tank Engine) he is known as The Fat Director. In the third book (James the Red Engine) he becomes The Fat Controller, as the railway has been nationalised. His full name is revealed in the foreword to the book Henry the Green Engine.

The Fat Controller also appears in many episodes of the television series Thomas & Friends, adapted from the books. In this he was usually portrayed in the form of a static figure, but from Season 12 onwards was portrayed using CGI.

The name or term "fat controller" has since been adopted in various contexts in the English language, beyond the sphere of the original stories.

Origin of nickname[edit]

The character is first seen in "The Sad Story of Henry" in the first book in the Railway Series, The Three Railway Engines. When Henry refused to leave a tunnel, the story says "a Fat Director who was on the train told the guard to get a rope". The character is referred to as the Fat Director/Controller for the remainder of the Railway Series, both in the narrative and by the other characters. The name Sir Topham Hatt is first mentioned in the Foreword to Henry the Green Engine and also appears on his luggage trunk in the same book in the story "Percy and the Trousers". The first use of the name Sir Topham Hatt in the narrative comes in Duck and the Diesel Engine when Diesel refers to the character as "Your worthy Fat..." but is interrupted and firmly corrected by Duck who says "'Sir Topham Hatt' to you".

Biography (Railway Series)[edit]

There have been three Fat Controllers. This is not revealed directly in the stories, as they all look very similar and are all known as Sir Topham Hatt. However, the books The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways (written by Rev. W. Awdry and George Awdry) and Sodor: Reading Between the Lines (by Christopher Awdry) make this clear.

The Fat Controller, 1st Bt[edit]

He was a talented engineer who was apprenticed with Sir William Stanier at the Great Western Railway's Swindon works, which gave him a great love of all things Great Western. He went on to assist A. W. Dry in the construction of the Tidmouth, Knapford and Elsbridge Light Railway, which became Thomas' branch line, and designed the locomotives that ran upon it.

When the standard gauge railways of the Island were merged into the North Western Railway in 1914, Topham Hatt was called upon for his engineering skill. He constructed a bridge to link Sodor with the Mainland, as well as a number of branch lines and improvements to locomotive facilities. He was immediately made a Director of the railway.

Topham married Jane Brown and fathered a son (Charles Topham Hatt) and a daughter (Barbara Jane Hatt). Jane was sister to Sir Handel Brown, Liberal MP for Sodor East and owner of the Skarloey Railway, making all successive descendants of the two railway families cousins. Charles wed Amanda Croarie, daughter of the owner of the Ffarquhar Quarry Company, and Barbara married Henry Regaby, the Viscount Harwick. In light of this, Topham's family unit can be seen as an alliance of several of the most prominent families in Sodor.

When the North Western Railway was nationalised and became part of British Railways in 1948, Topham Hatt was made Controller of the railway. 1948 also saw him made a baronet for his services to the railways of Sodor.

The Fat Controller, 2nd Bt[edit]

Charles Topham Hatt was the son of the first Sir Topham Hatt and the second Controller of the NWR. He too served an apprenticeship with Stanier, this time working under the locomotive designer. Like his father, he was an innovative engineer and made a number of improvements to the railway and its engines. He was also the originator of the scheme to construct the Arlesdale Railway and the ballast consortium that used it.

He was responsible for the line's policy of retaining steam locomotives long after they had been abolished on the rest of British Railways, and while Dr Beeching was closing down branch lines on the Mainland, Charles was reopening them on Sodor.

The Fat Controller, 3rd Bt[edit]

Stephen Topham Hatt was first seen as a child in the book Toby the Tram Engine. As an adult, he was made the third Controller of the North Western Railway. His son, Richard Topham Hatt, is tipped to be the next Fat Controller and on Stephen's death will inherit the family's baronetcy and the title 'Sir Topham Hatt'.

Biography (television series)[edit]

In the television series The Fat Controller is always the same man, with the same wife and grandchildren. He is in his mid 40s (as evident in a newspaper article in the Great Discovery), although his voice in the UK versions sometimes hint at old age, and he has even appeared with a white moustache in certain episodes. Very little of his history is revealed, although we do see more of his extended family, including his mother (Dowager Hatt), and his mischievous brother (Sir Lowham Hatt).

He is shown to be a qualified railway engine driver when he brings Percy to the yard for the first time. He is in charge of all the engines on Sodor and seemingly has a great deal of say over other vehicles. As a young man, he learnt to drive in Elizabeth the vintage Sentinel lorry. He has overseen the construction of a number of lines, railway services, and has been involved with the opening of several tourist attractions on Sodor.

UK Narrator Michael Angelis portrayed the character with a strong Yorkshire accent, with a low gruff voice a trait of which has been continued when Pierce Brosnan briefly took over the mantle, and also when individual voice artists were brought in to voice the characters (The Fat Controller being voiced by Keith Wickham in the UK version, and Kerry Shale in the US version). In the American version, he has almost always been referred to by his actual name, Sir Topham Hatt, possibly because "fat" is a much more pejorative term in the US than in the UK

In the episode "Stop that Bus!" in season 15, Dowager Hatt called her son "Bertram" when he met her at the station after Thomas had taken her for a trip around Misty Island.[citation needed]

Mode of dress[edit]

In his iconic top hat and morning suit, the Fat Controller looks rather old-fashioned and formal. However, until at least the late 1950s it was customary for railway officials in Britain to be so dressed – for Sir Topham to be dressed any other way would be far more unusual.

In the television series, Sir Topham's suit has often been used for comic effect, being augmented with scarf and mittens in winter. The series plays on the outdated nature of this outfit, giving Sir Topham an entire wardrobe of old-fashioned and formal clothes for occasions when he is not "on duty". In the Season 8 episode "Halloween", he is shown wearing pyjamas and a nightcap, and in the Seasons 9 and 10 episodes "Flour Power" and "Sticky Toffee Thomas" he is briefly shown wearing a wizard costume. In yet another episode, he is shown wearing a kilt, a gift from a visiting Scottish Lord.

Sir Topham's household[edit]

Wife: Lady Hatt[edit]

Lady Jane Brown Hatt helps her husband run the railway, and is happiest when she sees new lines opened, and has had some special birthday parties. She likes the railway, but had a certain dislike of Annie and Clarabel, calling them beach huts. Later, she took a liking to them, after they got new coats of paint. Although her husband runs a railway, she likes a day out on a boat or in their car.

Mother: Dowager Hatt[edit]

Dowager Hatt visits Sodor occasionally, and her son held a party for her. Her Dalmatian dog (soon to be named Gremlin) ran away. She says the Railway is really useful, and the Fat Controller says she is always right.

Dowager Hatt has appeared in;

  • Season 5 - Gordon and the Gremlin
  • Season 6 - It's Only Snow (cameo) and Thomas the Jet Engine (cameo)
  • Season 9 - Thomas and the Birthday Picnic
  • Season 11 - Percy and the Left Luggage
  • Season 12 - Excellent Emily (does not speak)
  • Season 13 - Percy's Parcel
  • Season 14 - Jitters and Japes
  • Season 15 - Gordon and Ferdinand, Percy's New Friends (cameo), Edward the Hero, Up, Up and Away!, Stop that Bus!, Wonky Whistle (cameo), Tree Trouble and Fiery Flynn
  • Season 16 - Express Coming Through, Percy and the Monster of Brendam (mentioned), Thomas and the Sounds of Sodor (cameo), Muddy Matters (cameo) and Happy Birthday Sir! (does not speak)

She is the only member of the household to originate in the television series, never having appeared in the books.

Grandson: Stephen Hatt[edit]

Stephen Topham Hatt lives on the Island of Sodor, and regularly has outings and holidays with his grandparents and sister. Stephen loves trains, and was excited when he first met Toby the Tram Engine. Stephen also has a bit of knowledge about the Island, of which is the reason they discovered the Old Castle and the mine (in which Bertram was found).

Stephen Hatt only appeared in a few Season 1 and 5 episodes, and made cameo appearances in 'Thomas and the Tuba' and 'Thomas and the Circus'.

In the Railway Series, Stephen ultimately took the railway over, and is the current Fat Controller. In the television series he has always remained a child.

Granddaughter: Bridget Hatt[edit]

Bridget Amanda Hatt lives on Sodor, and regularly goes for outings and holidays with her grandparents and her Twin brother, Stephen. On one occasion they went to Toby the Tram Engine's old line, and she thought he was an electric tram.

Her parents (mentioned only in the book 'Sodor: Reading Between the Lines') are Charles and Amanda Hatt. Bridget was last featured in Season 5, but made a cameo appearance in Thomas and the Tuba, and Thomas and the Circus in Season 8.

Brother: Lowham Hatt[edit]

Sir Lowham Hatt is the jolly brother of Sir Topham Hatt, the son of Dowager Hatt, the great-uncle of Stephen and Bridget Hatt, and the brother-in-law of Lady Hatt.

Sir Lowham Hatt is mischievous and enjoys playing with the children. He seems to know little or nothing about railways. He played hide-and-seek with the children and then went into a signal box and pulled the lever, switching Gordon to the branchline. He dresses exactly like Sir Topham but has a moustache. It is unknown how and why he got his knighthood.

Sir Lowham Hatt first appears in Season 13.

Butler[edit]

Sir Topham has a butler who is featured in the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends TV Series. He has appeared in only two stories, "Thomas in Trouble" ("Thomas Breaks the Rules" in the United States) in Season 1, and "Fergus Breaks The Rules" ("Thomas and the Search for Fergus" in the United States), in Season 7.

Inspiration[edit]

Whilst many names have been put forward, it seems that no one true figure inspired the character. Wilbert Awdry claims the character was originally created as a nod towards 'pompous railway officials' of the time, 'who gave out plenty of orders, but never actually did anything.' This is particularly reflected in the first book, The Three Railway Engines, but over time, the character softens, becoming more of a father, or perhaps grandfather figure to the engines.

Some have even suggested the idea that, with Awdry being a clergyman, the Fat Controller was meant to act as an omnipresent, God-like figure. This was never the intention, although in The Thomas the Tank Engine Man, Awdry states he is happy to go along with this idea if it gives the young children 'an idea of there being someone who is in control of the world.'

Christopher Awdry suggests in Sodor: Reading Between the Lines that Sir Topham could have been loosely inspired by the doctor who treated him when he had measles.

Real Fat Controllers[edit]

"Day out with Thomas" events are a popular way of raising money for heritage railways. These events are an opportunity for children to meet characters from the books and television series (or at least, engines that have been "dressed up" to resemble them). These events are invariably presided over by a Fat Controller, played by a railway volunteer of appropriate age and build. The copyright holders are strict about how these volunteers should appear: the South Devon Railway's Fat Controller was forced to either quit or shave off his beard,[1] and it is absolutely forbidden for a Fat Controller to be too thin. In the United States, on the other hand, he is often portrayed by a person in a costume.

Other uses of the name "Fat Controller"[edit]

  • In Series 3, Episode 2 of To the Manor Born, during a meeting to protest the closing of the local railway station, the Rector loses his temper with an overweight representative of British Rail, played by Richard Thorp, and refers to him as "the Fat Controller".
  • In Australia the term 'fat controller' is also used to describe someone working within the finance industry, usually the financial manager of a company similar to the terminology 'fat cat' being used to describe people relating to government.
  • The name "Fat Controller" has also been given to a student magazine, an electronic snow glove[2] and at least one public house[3] in the United Kingdom.
  • It is also the nickname of Samuel Northcliffe, the malevolent influence on the life of protagonist Ian Wharton in British novelist Will Self's 1993 novel My Idea of Fun.
  • The British alternative rock band Catherine Wheel recorded the song "Here Comes the Fat Controller" on their 1997 album, Adam and Eve.
  • Electronic musician Squarepusher has a song called "Fat Controller" on his album Hard Normal Daddy.
  • In software development, "Fat Controller" is the name of an antipattern (The Fat Controller) related to MVC; opposite of Skinny Controller.

References[edit]

External links[edit]