Thomas & Friends is a children’s show adapted from the Reverend Wilbert Awdry and his son Christopher Awdry’s “The Railway Series” stories, while this is certainly the most famous adaption of the Awdry’s stories it was not the first. The first attempt was a live broadcast in 1953 by the BBC, however, the broadcast didn’t fare well and caused a full series never to be produced.
In 1953 the BBC approached the Railway Series editor Eric Marriott and inquired about the possibility of adapting at least two stories from the Railway Series to television in June of that same year. The proposition was agreed to by the author. The broadcast was to be done using 00 Gauge Hornby Models, while the sets were reminiscent of the books illustrations. This was to ensure that authenticity to the Author and Publishers requests. The episode was broadcast live from Lime Grove Studios on Sunday June 14, 1953.
The story that the BBC chose to adapt was Wilbert Awdry's third story "The Sad Story of Henry". However the director had to deal with the 00 Gauge Models, Superimposed rain, effects, music , and a narration by Julia Lang. The script was 'freely adapted' to ensure the broadcasts meet the ten-minute broadcast limit. The models were reported to jerk around as they moved. Other than that the broadcast went fine until, the engine derailed. This was caused by the mistake of not switching the points before the engine arrived at them. To the surprise of the viewers, a hand picked up the engine and put it back on the rails!
The incident made the front of several newspapers a week later. This caused the June 28 broadcast to be put on hold and later cancelled and although numerous attempts were made to revive the series, but all were unsuccessful.
As the show was broadcast live and knowing the BBC's track record for preserving old content, it is no surprise that the broadcast is lost. It is highly unlikely that anyone recorded the single broadcast. Nothing is known to be left of this project, will probably never surface, and there is very, very little evidence that this broadcast ever occurred in the first place.