Ivor the Engine is a British children's animation by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin's Smallfilms company. It is a children's television series relating the adventures of a small green locomotive who lived in the "top left-hand corner of Wales" and worked for The Merioneth and Llantisilly Railway Traction Company Limited. His friends included Jones the Steam, Evans the Song and Dai Station, among many other characters.


Background Edit

Having produced the live Alexander the Mouse, and the filmed The Adventures of Ho for his employers Associated Rediffusion/ITV in partnership with Firmin, Oliver Postgate and his partner set up Smallfilms in a disused cow shed at Firmin's home in Blean near Canterbury, Kent.[1]

Ivor the Engine was Smallfilms' first production, and drew inspiration from Postgate's World War II encounter with Welshman Denzyl Ellis, a former railway locomotive fireman with the Royal Scot train,[1] who described how steam engines came to life when you spent time steaming them up in the morning. Postgate decided to locate the story to North Wales, as it was more inspirational than the flat terrain of the English Midlands.[1] The story lines drew heavily on, and were influenced by, the works of South Wales poet Dylan Thomas.[2]

Production Edit

Ivor the Engine was filmed using stop motion techniques, animation using cardboard cut-outs painted with watercolours.

The series was originally made for black and white television by Smallfilms for Associated Rediffusion in 1958, but was later revived in 1975 when new episodes in colour were produced for the BBC.

The series was written, animated and narrated by Oliver Postgate. Peter Firmin provided the artwork. The sound effects were endearingly low-tech, with the sound of Ivor's puffing made vocally by Postgate himself. The music was composed by Vernon Elliott and predominantly featured a solo bassoon, to reflect the three notes of Ivor's whistle.

Voices were performed by Oliver Postgate, Anthony Jackson and Olwen Griffiths. Anthony Jackson provided the voices for Dai Station, Evans the Song and Mr. Dinwiddy.[3][4]

Episodes Edit

The original series was in black and white and comprised six episodes which told the story as to how Ivor wanted to sing in the choir, and how his whistle was replaced with steam organ pipes from the fairground organ on Mr Morgan's roundabout. There then followed two thirteen-episode series, also in black and white. Black and white episodes were 10 minutes each.

In the 1970s, the two longer black and white series were re-made in colour, with some alterations to the stories, but they did not remake, or re-tell, the content of the original six. The colour series consisted of 40 five-minute films. These would often each form part of a longer story.

Although the six original black and white episodes were subsequently released on video, the two longer black and white series (totalling 26 episodes) were not and for many years were thought to have been lost. In October 2010, however, film copies of all 26 episodes were discovered in a pig shed.[5][6][7]

When the colour series was subsequently released on DVD, some of the episodes whose content linked, were edited together, with the relevant closing and opening titles and credits removed.

The colour series episodes were:-

  • 1. The Railway
  • 2. The Egg
  • 3. The Proper Container
  • 4. The Alarm
  • 5. The Retreat
  • 6. The Hat
  • 7. Old Nell
  • 8. Mr. Brangwyn's Pigeons
  • 9. The Visitor
  • 10. The Invalid
  • 11. The Boot
  • 12. Banger's Circus
  • 13. Unidentified Objects
  • 14. Mrs. Porty's Foxes
  • 15. Bluebell
  • 16. Dai and the Donkey
  • 17. Gold
  • 18. Mrs. Porty
  • 19. Cold
  • 20. The Endowment
  • 21. Snowdrifts
  • 22. Cold Sheep
  • 23. The Fire Engine
  • 24. Sledging
  • 25. The Rescue
  • 26. The Water Tower
  • 27. Mrs. Bird
  • 28. The Cuckoo-clock
  • 29. The Trumpet
  • 30. Time Off
  • 31. The Seaside
  • 32. The Lost Engine
  • 33. The Outing
  • 34. Half-Crowns
  • 35. Sheep Herding
  • 36. Juggernaut
  • 37. The Bird House
  • 38. Chickens
  • 39. St. George
  • 40. Retirement

UK VHS Releases Edit

Throughout the 1980s and the early 90's the BBC released a few videos of Ivor the Engine.

In 1984 a single 57 minute compiled video called Ivor the Engine and the Dragons with 13 stories joined up together as different minute episodes.

VHS video title Catalogue Number


Catalogue Number

(Uc rated)

Year of release Episodes
Ivor the Engine and the Dragons BBCV 9015 BBCV 4033 1984 The Arrival of The Dragon, A Dragon's Best Place,

Ivor Goes Missing, A Dragon's Endownment, Half-Crowns, Ivor Gets Covered with Chickens, The Dragon's New Home.

In 1985 a single 58 minute compiled video called Ivor the Engine and the Elephants with 13 stories joined up together as different minute episodes.

VHS video title Catalogue Number


Catalogue Number

(Uc rated)

Year of release Episodes
Ivor the Engine and the Elephants BBCV 9017 BBCV 4015 1985 The Day of the Elephant, Sheep-Herding, The

Juggernaut and the Bird House, Bluebell the Donkey, Time Off for Jones and Dai, A Snowy Rescue by the Elephants.

In the early 1990s a video release with six black and white stories of the very first Ivor the Engine series in the late-1950s (previously broadcast on Associated-Rediffusion) and seven colour episodes of the 1970s BBC series of Ivor the Engine shown as single episodes was released. The video was introduced by Oliver Postgate.

VHS video title Catalogue Number Year of release Episodes
Ivor the Engine- The First Story BBCV 4652 5 August 1991 the first six episodes in black and white and seven

colour episodes that are 'Ivor the Fire Engine', 'Mrs Porty's Lost Fox', 'Gold Under The Ground', 'Mrs Porty Buys The Railway', 'The Water Tower', 'A Volcano Problem' and 'The Endownment'.

Characters Edit

Ivor Edit

The locomotive of the Merioneth and Llantisilly Rail Traction Company Limited. Unlike real steam locomotives, Ivor has a mind of his own. He can drive himself and, using his whistle, can speak. His fondest dream is to sing with the Grumbley and District Choral Society, a dream that is realised when his whistle is replaced with three pipes from an old fairground organ. He becomes the first bass of the choir, as well as providing them with a means of getting from place to place.

Ivor enjoys doing all sorts of things that people do. As well as singing in the choir, he likes visiting the seaside, making tea from his boiler and spending time with his friends. He is fond of animals, and has several of them among his friends. He can be wilful and disobedient at times, and it is not unknown for him to go and do his own thing when he should be working. He dislikes shunting and timetables.

Jones the Steam Edit

Edwin Jones is Ivor's driver. He is a cheerful and kind-hearted man who perhaps sympathises more than most railway staff with Ivor's idiosyncrasies. Postgate and Firmin describe him as "an ordinary engine driver who is there to cope with whatever needs to be coped with". People who are new to the area find him rather eccentric for talking to his engine.

When not driving Ivor or helping the engine with his latest flight of fancy, he enjoys fishing and day-dreaming.

Dai Station Edit

Station master at Llaniog. He is a stickler for the regulations of the railway, but sometimes bends the rules to help his friends. His life is made a little difficult by the fact that Ivor really doesn't care much for regulations at all. Although he is often gloomy, he is a good person at heart.

Owen the Signal Edit

Owen the Signal inhabits a signal box near Ivor's shed and makes an occasional appearance in the episodes.

Evans the Song Edit

Evan Evans is the portly choirmaster of the Grumbley and District Choral Society.[8] He is also Jones the Steam's wife's uncle .[9]

Mrs. Porty Edit

A rich eccentric who enjoys the occasional glass of port and has new hats sent from London every week. She is also technically the owner of the railway, having bought it when the line was threatened with nationalisation. However, she does not bother much with the day-to-day running, and things remained much the same after she bought it.

Mr. Dinwiddy Edit

A very odd, possibly insane miner who lives in the hills and digs for gold. He enjoys explosions and mining. In fact, his mountain is full of gold, but as soon as he digs it up, he puts it back again. He often has need of new boots.

He is something of an amateur scientist. He describes himself as "educated" and knows "something about rock". He has constructed a few odd devices, including a donkey carriage and a bubble-blowing machine.

Bani Moukerjee Edit

An elephant keeper from India, who works for Charlie Banger's Circus. He is in charge of the elephants Alice, George, Margaret and Clarence, who all obey him without question.

Idris the Dragon Edit

A small, red Welsh dragon who also sings in the choir for a time. Having been hatched from an egg in Ivor's fire, he lives with his wife Olwen and their twins, Gaian and Blodwyn, in the extinct volcano Smoke Hill. As well as singing, he proves useful by cooking fish and chips for the choir using his fiery breath.

Unfortunately, Idris runs into trouble when Smoke Hill goes cold and needs to be kept hot in order to survive. The gasboard provide a temporary furnace, but when that became too expensive (and decimalisation renders the slot-machine inoperable), the only other option for the dragons is a heated cage. Luckily, Mr Dinwiddy is able to provide a solution, and they now live in a geothermally-heated cave under the ground.

Alice the Elephant Edit

A circus elephant with Charlie Banger's Circus. She is normally placid, but does not like taking medicine. When Ivor met her, she had escaped and was asleep on the track. Since then they have become friends. She and her elephant friends were able to help Ivor when he got stuck in the snow.

Bluebell the Donkey Edit

A donkey who lives at Mrs Porty's house. She cannot talk, but she and Ivor just enjoy sitting around together. As the Merioneth and Llantisilly Rail Traction Company Limited has only one locomotive (apart from the short service of Juggernaut), Bluebell is sometimes called upon to provide motive power. Examples include the towing by chain of the broken down locomotive Juggernaut and also the pulling of Mrs Porty's donkey cart when this was temporarily set on the railway tracks to pursue 'robbers' when Ivor had been 'stolen' in the episode The Lost Engine; in this latter case, like a locomotive, Bluebell strictly observed the railway signals, halting the chase until Owen the Signal had raised the signal arm.

Morgan the Roundabout Edit

Mr Morgan is the fairground owner. He gave Ivor some pipes from the steam organ on his roundabout, so that Ivor could sing in the choir. He only appeared in the very first black and white series.

Claude Gilbert Edit

Claude Gilbert was the station master of Tan-y-Gwlch station in the original black-and-white series, who would share a cup of tea with Jones whilst Ivor rested at the platform. Like Mr. Morgan, he only appeared in the first black and white series and was not seen again.

Mrs. Williams Edit

The local postmistress, who is a bit batty and a bit of a gossip. She occasionally interacts with Jones and Ivor.

Mrs. Thomas Edit

The local fish-and-chip shop owner. A plump woman with a big voice, she is kind and cheerful and serves the choir with food after their sessions.

Juggernaut Edit

The Juggernaut is a diesel railway lorry made out of bits, bobs and flanged wheels. It falls into the lake soon after starting service, nearly killing Idris.

Books Edit

Original book cover c.1962

Ivor the Engine published by Abelard Schuman in 1962.

Six story books, based upon the TV series were published in the 1970s and were reprinted in 2006/07:

  • The First Story[10]
  • Snowdrifts[11]
  • Ivor the Engine and the Dragon[12]
  • Ivor the Engine and the Elephant[13]
  • Ivor the Engine and the Foxes[14]
  • Ivor's Birthday[15]
  • also The Ivor the Engine Annual c.1978

As the books were published in the early days of political correctness, London Borough of Hackney Public Libraries banned the entire series because of the Indian elephant keeper, called Barni. They thought ethnic minorities might be offended by him.[16]

Influences and future appearances Edit

Ivor at the Battlefield Line Railway in August 2007

  • BBC2 Wales revived Ivor for a series of promotional spots advertising their new digital television channel "2W" for Wales. Oliver Postgate and Anthony Jackson provided new dialogue for these spots.
  • Postgate and Firmin created a map of their fictional railway which was adhered to rigidly during filming.
  • In 2007 'All Aboard with Ivor' events were held at various heritage

railways around the UK following the modification of a small Peckett industrial locomotive to resemble Ivor. Railways hosting the event include the Battlefield Line Railway in Leicestershire, the Watercress Line in Hampshire and the Cholsey and Wallingford Railway in Oxfordshire.

  • On the Loonee Tunes! album by the British ska band Bad Manners is a song titled "The Undersea Adventures of Ivor the Engine".
  • The Who namecheck 'Ivor The Engine' in their song 'A Quick One,

While He's Away', which appears on their 1966 album 'A Quick One'.

  • Some of the artwork from production is on display at the Rupert Bear Museum, along with several other items from Smallfilm's history.[17] The Rupert Bear Museum is now part of the Canterbury Heritage Museum in Stour Street, Canterbury.
  • In April 2011, Smallfilms collaborated with mobile gaming company,

Dreadnought Design, to launch an Ivor the Engine game under the newly created Smallworlds brand.[18]

  • In June 2014, Smallfilms collaborated with board game company, Surprised Stare Games, to launch an Ivor the Engine boardgame [19]
  • Gideon Coe uses Ivor's Cruising Theme as the musical bed over his last song leading up to midnight on BBC 6 Music to say nighty night.

Repeats Edit

Ivor the Engine has been broadcast several times on BBC1 and BBC2 from 1975 - 1990, CBBC on Choice have broadcasted Ivor the Engine once in 2000, from Monday 3rd July 2000 - Friday 25th August 2000. It hasn't been shown on CBBC on Choice since this one occasion like Paddington Bear but they have both been repeated on Nick Jr.