Monday, 29 December 2014

Favourite TV Series Narrators

My last blog post of the year. Let's go out with a bang, eh? Requested by someone a few months ago, here's my list of favourite TV series narrators!

Over the last 30 years, Thomas and his friends have had his adventures told by 7 people over different periods in the UK and America. So it's only fair that I rate them from least favourite to favourite!

There are only two conditions here:
  1. English speaking narrators only. The UK and US dubs are the only ones I really watch and the only ones I can understand.
  2. TV series narrators only. So if their only contributions were either narrating one off segments or Railway Series stories, they're exempt.

Least Favourite: Alec Baldwin
Out of all the American narrators of the show, he was the first one I'd (unintentionally) heard due to Shining Time Station: The Movie. His acting was terrible and his narration just felt like he was bored throughout.

This is what happens when you spend your budget in the wrong places; you hire people that only care about the money, rather than making something entertaining to sit through! (although the movie itself was a huge abomination anyway, but I digress).

But when I heard some of his work during series 5 and 6, all became clear. His performances were consistently awful; even the most action packed episodes were boring to watch. Trust me, if I'd been born in America, Rusty and the Boulder would have been given a much worse rating (although, since the Railway Series isn't as common over there, maybe it wouldn't).

Like I said, Alec Baldwin felt like he took the job for all the wrong reasons, as far as entertainment goes. I'm sure his pay cheque was pretty substantial, though...

6. Pierce Brosnan
It was a tough choice between Baldwin and Brosnan as far as bad narration is concerned, but I prefer Brosnan's performance a bit more as there seemed to be some effort there. And he only narrated one special, so fans weren't stuck with him that long.

That said, it was a bit of a shame that his schedule meant he couldn't finish his work on series 12. It would have been interesting to hear if he'd improved or not. It does make The Great Discovery a bit more special though, even though his narration was one of the major things I didn't like about it.

5. Michael Brandon
I may get a bit of stick for this, but I think Michael Brandon is the most overhated narrator the show has had. Fair enough, he wasn't the best, but at least he tried, and I respect that.

The major problem he had was trying to make awful episodes feel entertaining, which is an unenviable task for anyone. Then there was the problem of too much narration when the show went CG. I personally think that, had he actually stayed on, he'd have done a great job with the current batch of episodes.

Also, his voice for Diesel was the best of the American cast, and was one of the few that I preferred the American voice to the UK one (the others being the Logging Locos and Victor from Hero of the Rails-series 16).

4. Ringo Starr
Another controversial choice, I imagine. We go from the most hated to the most overrated, in my view.

Whenever Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends is mentioned in any conversation I've had, Ringo's name quickly follows. While it's understandable, since he was the narrator of the first two series, I just don't think he was all that good. Sure, his voice was soothing, but we're watching television, not getting ready for bed. There should have been more enthusiasm there.

To be fair though, he was far better in series 2, where he picked up his game. And he also did really well reading the Ladybird book adaptations. That's where the soothing voice makes a lot more sense, as they can be listened to before bed and his narration would help a child settle down.

On the whole though, I don't think he was brilliant or terrible. More middle of the road, really. Fitting, isn't it?

3. George Carlin
You would have thought that someone who produces such risqué performances on stage in front of thousands of adults couldn't produce one that was suitable for kids.

You'd be wrong.

Since I'm British, I never knew of George Carlin growing up, but after getting the Internet and seeing his performances via YouTube, I grew attached (even if I'd say otherwise). He was, hands down, the best exclusive narrator that America had because he had the whole package.

He gave the engines distinctive voices. His charisma shone through with every episode. He was just a brilliant narrator overall. It was a crying shame that he was replaced for series 5, and his passing in 2008 was extremely sad. You'll always be missed, George...

2. Michael Angelis
I was born in 1990. I grew up during the "peak" of Thomas' television career. I hate series 3-5, but if there's one thing I couldn't hate about those episodes, it was Michael Angelis' superb narration.

For me, he's the most undervalued narrator the show has had. While, yes, his performances took a bit of a nosedive between series 8-12, his other performances were top drawer (even if he was used too much in the CG era).

The main thing I loved about his narration was that, from his first lines in A Scarf for Percy, he got it. He understood how to tell a story for television audiences fantastically and he was just a joy to listen to. Even in my most disliked episodes from his (series 3-5) stint, I can't hate his narrations.

The main thing is that I respect him for staying on for 21 years, despite being replaced. Twice. The dedication he had to the franchise was, in my view, second to none, narrating not just for the TV series, but for many audiobooks, including The Railway Stories. For that, I have a huge respect for him because of that, and I was disappointed to hear that he'd gone, but I was amazed by his replacement..!

Favourite: Mark Moraghan
Yes, he's only narrated two series and specials so far. Yes, the role of narrator is (rightly) limited now that the new team are in charge, but I absolutely love Mark Moraghan's performances.

My first experience seeing Mark Moraghan on screen was on British football drama Dream Team, which aired on Sky One dirung my teenage years. And while the show itself got a bit stale as it went on, the series where Mark played the manager were my favourites because everyone did a brilliant job in the roles they were in (especially him).

So to hear that he was going to narrate the show I've loved for my whole life was a dream combination for me and, thankfully, his performances have been absolutely amazing so far. As I've said, the narrator's role has been trimmed quite a bit in recent years, but he puts his all into every line, and because his role is relatively small, I can appreciate it so much more when he speaks.

Here's hoping that Mark can build further on Michael's legacy while continuing to carve out his own!

Have a happy new year, and I'll be back with the Thomas reviews on Tuesday Janiary 13th (unless something suddenly crops up between now and then!) Until then, if you wish to share your thoughts, feel free in the comments below or on Twitter @ChrisTomson2013!


  1. You know, I'm a huge George Carlin fan. Being an American, he was the first narrator I ever heard, on the Trust Thomas VHS. (There's a Trust Thomas in the United Kingdom too, but the episode order is a little different. But that's another story) Anyways, I owned a lot of George Carlin CD's of his stand-up comedies like You Are All Diseased and Complaints And Grievances. He gave the characters great voices and gave them more character. His narration made the characters even more interesting to observe because of the personality George gave to the characters in their voices.

    R.I.P. George. You will be missed... (1937 - 2008)

  2. Personally, I think Ringo Starr is the worst narrator of the show, as controversial as that may sound. Being American, I grew up with George Carlin (2nd favorite narrator) and Alec Baldwin (4th favorite). But Ringo? I don't CARE what he's done in the past, he's bland, he's painful to listen to, he sounds DEAD INSIDE. I just hate it. It's painful.