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- There's a whisper down the field where the year has shot her yield,
- And the ricks stand grey to the sun,
- Singing:--'Over then, come over, for the bee has quit the clover,
- And your English summer's done.'
- You have heard the beat of the off-shore wind,
- And the thresh of the deep-sea rain;
- You have heard the song--how long! how long?
- Pull out on the trail again!
- There's a whisper down the line at 11.39
- When the Night Mail's ready to depart,
- Saying `Skimble where is Skimble has he gone to hunt the thimble?
- We must find him or the train can't start.'
- All the guards and all the porters and the stationmaster's daughters
- They are searching high and low,
- Saying `Skimble where is Skimble for unless he's very nimble
- Then the Night Mail just can't go.'
Skimbleshanks is described as living on the Night Mail overnight express train that travels on the British West Coast Main Line (WCML) between London Euston and Glasgow Central. He is however not exclusively based on the WCML, as he has visited Dumfries on the Glasgow South Western Line, then terminating at Glasgow St Enoch; but he spends most of his time on the WCML, allowing him to visit stations such as Crewe, Carlisle, and Gallowgate, all of which are on this line. In the musical, but not in the poem, he is also the third one to touch and accept Grizabella back into the tribe.
In the musical Cats, Skimbleshanks is depicted as an bright tabby cat. He is a figure of great importance in the train's operation; it will not leave without him, and he frequently looks in on the passengers and crew to ensure that everything is running smoothly. He is seen on the stage throughout the musical without his railway outfit until his song. When it is time for his number, he wears a brown waistcoat with a pocketwatch chain.
The role of Skimbleshanks was originated in London by Kenn Wells and on Broadway by Reed Jones. Geoffrey Garratt plays him in the 1998 video version of the musical. Jonathan Cerullo played the part in the USA on the National 3 Company. Felix Hess played the part in the Worldwide Tour from 2007-2008. In the worldwide tour at the moment he is played by Louie Napoleon. In the 2013 TIGS production he was played by Ethan Butson. In the 2016 Broadway revival he is played by Jeremy Davis.
Continuity with other musicals
The Night Mail's, and indeed Skimbleshanks', ultimate destination was Glasgow Central (formerly Glasgow St Enoch). In the late 1950s, this station was the departure point for the Starlight Express, a train which ran from St Enoch to London St Pancras via the former Great Central main line, and which was known for its unusual use of steam locomotives which were not commonly seen on those routes. The name "Starlight Express" would later become the title of Lloyd-Webber's next musical.