Writing, life, politics

Review: The Fat Controller’s Busy Day

One of the hazards of having a day job, a writing career on the side, and a two-year old daughter, is that it does rather cut into the time you have available to actually read fiction, let alone review it. But I do feel that as an author it’s important to try and “put something back” by providing reviews, so I’m going to start now with some thoughts on something I read recently.

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FatControllerPic“The Fat Controller’s Busy Day” is a frankly disturbing piece of work, reading – as it does – like Animal Farm might have read had it been written by a reactionary conservative rather than a progressive socialist. The story’s essential plot is as follows.

The manager of Sodor’s railway system, the hereditary baronet Sir Topham Hatt, has been slimming down his workforce, promoting Thomas the Tank Engine to his own branch line while leaving his previous shunting position unfilled. Historically, tender engines have not been required to assemble the coaches that make up their trains. But Hatt now decides to eliminate this labour demarcation, and orders them to shunt.

Three of the tender engines – Gordon, James and Henry – refuse, working to rule, and performing only those duties that they have previously performed. They will pull trains, but not assemble them. On the first day of the work to rule, Hatt asks the fourth tender engine, Edward, to assemble the passenger trains. Edward, who Hatt sees as a “really useful engine”, but whom might less charitably be seen as a management lackey and class traitor, agrees, and as a result is ostracised by his workmates.

Upon hearing of this, Hatt – who is colloquially known as “the Fat Controller” – is outraged. He immediately institutes a lockout, barring the three protesting engines, and initiates an emergency passenger service using Edward and Thomas, a tank engine happy to serve as a strike-breaker. However, more labour is required, so Hatt now recruits a new tank engine, Percy. Percy, a young and naïve engine unaware that he is being recruited into the management side of a labour dispute, eagerly agrees.

The three engines successfully run the emergency service. There are fewer trains than usual, but the passengers are content as they wish to see the three “rebellious” tender engines punished. Eventually, the three tender engines – who have been confined to their engine shed – agree to comply with all Hatt’s demands. From now on they will accept the abandonment of their previous, protected status, and will shunt alongside their tank engine colleagues.

I feel this book is fundamentally misnamed. The Fat Controller has not had a busy day, being as he is a capitalistic industrialist born into inherited wealth who emotionally manipulates his workforce into serving him, and backs this up with an extensive propaganda campaign. I personally feel that this book would have been more honest, had it been titled “Edward the Scab and Percy the Strike-Breaker”.

On the other hand, my daughter loves it.


  1. Mary

    I agree with your assessment, as an American. However, keep in mind this is a British show with their particular cultural history. They still have a House of Lords and a House of Commons. But, if seen from a child’s point of view, the controller being the parent figure and the trains being the children, what is this story saying? Do whatever you are told to do, trusting authority to have your best interests at heart? Respect your elders? Pouting and rebellion doesn’t get you anywhere? A family pulls together to get the job done? He IS the controller, afterall. Hence, he must control all day. Overall, the message is one of safety, security and predictability for the child. You are a good father for reading to your daughter. Thanks for your review!

    • Jonny (Admin)

      Sorry for the late reply (been mad busy lately). I should point out that I’m British myself, which is probably why I’m seeing all sorts of class issues in it. My review was tongue-in-cheek, but I genuinely do find the story a bit troubling. 🙂

  2. Mary

    PS. If it makes you feel any better. Here is the description of the Fat controller from the welovethomasthetrain.com website.

    The Fat Controller is the director of the Railway and is responsible for making sure the engines are always Right on Time and Really Useful.
    The Fat Controller was awarded a knighthood for his services to the railway industry and is also know as Sir Topham Hatt.
    He has a firm but kind manner in dealing with the engines and staff, and has risen through the ranks from a railway engineer to his current position.-

    • Jonny (Admin)

      Sorry, very late reply! I can’t see how that is correct, because his mother is Dowager Hatt. And dowager is defined as:

      a woman who holds some title or property from her deceased husband, especially the widow of a king, duke, etc. (often used as an additional title to differentiate her from the wife of the present king, duke, etc.):

      (Like the Dowager Countess in Downton).

      So the “Sir” title must be an inherited, hereditary baronetcy:

      a member of a British hereditary order of honor, ranking below the barons and made up of commoners, designated by Sir before the name and Baronet, usually abbreviated Bart., after:
      Sir John Smith, Bart.

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