Bear with me, kids, as the way to present this week’s Showcase is…weird.
Shining Time Station was a PBS series taking place in the titular station. (The show would later air on Fox Family and Nick Jr.) Run by Stacy Jones, the cast would include the arcade section operator, Horace Schemer (who was always living up to his last name, but being the comedy relief not really succeeding), Stacy’s young nephew Matt, and Tanya, whose grandfather was the mechanic in season one but she remained as Matt’s friend through the series. There’s one more person but we’ll get to him later, plus a bunch of local townsfolk and visitors who end up at the station.
“Tis A Gift” is the Christmas episode, an hour-long special that ends the first season. Being Christmas of course the station is busy. Matt and Tanya are forced to hang out with a local mean girl, Horace and Stacy compete to be “Santa’s Helper”, and there’s also a Mr. Nicholas who is waiting for a train nobody can find a record of. There’s also a puppet band inside of Schemer’s jukebox that plays some Christmas songs for the occasion.
That last person is tied to the reason this show exists. Thomas And Friends is a UK franchise about a group of living trains on the island of Sodor and this show was meant to introduce it to the colonies. It works, as many parents and former parents can attest to, or at least their wallets can. The show’s been relaunched a few times, but the original was narrated by Ringo Starr. When it was brought over here as part of Shining Time Station Starr would come along as the magical lilliputian Mister Conductor, who would tell the stories to the kids as a framing device. In season two he left to focus on his music. The stories would be dubbed over by the new narrator…George Carlin. Yes, apparently the comedian known for his occasionally vulgar language-filled but blunt topical humor was considered the best choice for a children’s show. I’d shrug but he actually was quite good in the few episodes I watched out of curiosity or waiting for something else to come on. This show was not part of my viewing schedule, but Christmas Spotlight isn’t just about my nostalgia, it’s about good Christmas specials for you to have on each year when YouTube posters both official and not make them available. Also he was played by Alec Baldwin in Thomas And The Magic Railroad, a theatrical movie I have not seen at all.
Here is where the weird part comes in with tonight’s presentation. The uploader I’m using removed the Thomas And Friends segments out of copywrite concerns though that didn’t extend to the North American parts apparently. So whenever Mr. Conductor blows his whistle to transition to the Sodor stories it just jumps back to him and the kids. In order to give you as close to a complete experience as I can, stop the video and scroll down. The three stories of this hour-long special are there for you to enjoy. I have tried to get the Ringo Starr narrations but that’s where the fun really begins. The official US YouTube channel features the Carlin redubs while the UK channel has Starr’s dubs (leaving in references to characters like Fat Controller) but as part of a collection of episodes rather than on it’s own. So I’ve done my best to get postings of the Starr episode, about 5 minutes in length, and even the US version from Shining Time Station. However, don’t be surprised if you get Starr’s UK readings or Carlin’s readings at some point depending on what’s available when you come across this. It’s a hodgepodge but hopefully you’ll enjoy it anyway.
Shining Time Station
Thomas Story 1: “Terrance The Tractor” (aka “Thomas, Terrance, And The Snow”)
CURRENTLY AVAILBLE CONDUCTOR: Ringo Starr (US version)
Thomas Story 2: “Thomas’s Christmas Party”
CURRENT CONDUCTOR: Ringo Starr, the UK version with “Fat Controller”, includes the Thomas The Tank Engine And Friends intro and outro
Thomas story 3: Thomas And The Missing Christmas Tree
CURRENT CONDUCTOR: Given the starting arrangement for this article (episode 1 using Ringo’s US, episode 2 his UK) I figured I’d give you a sample of George Carlin’s narration from the official US channel. Of course this can all change depending on the whim of spambots and rights holders.
Who’s your favorite Mister Conductor?