Ivor the Engine is a British stop motion animated television series created by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin's Smallfilms company. It follows the adventures of a small green steam 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.


Having produced the live Alexander the Mouse,[i] and the stop motion animated The Journey of Master Ho[1] 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.[2]

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,[2] 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.[2] The story lines drew heavily on, and were influenced by, the works of South Wales poet Dylan Thomas.[3]


Ivor the Engine was filmed using stop motion animation techniques featuring 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The series was originally made for black and white television by Smallfilms for Associated Rediffusion in 1958, but was later revived in 1975 when new episodes in colour were produced for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.[4][5]


The original series was in black and white and comprised six episodes which told 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 revisit 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.[6][7][8]

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:-

UK VHS Releases

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 an omnibus.

VHS video title Catalogue Number
Catalogue Number
(Uc rated)
Year of release Episodes
Ivor the Engine and the Dragons BBCV 9015 BBCV 4033 1 October 1984 The Egg, The Proper Container, The Alarm, The Retreat, The Seaside, The Lost Engine, The Outing, Cold, The Endowment, Half-crowns, Chickens, St George and Retirement.

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

VHS video title Catalogue Number
Catalogue Number
(Uc rated)
Year of release Episodes
Ivor the Engine and the Elephants BBCV 9017 BBCV 4015 7 October 1985 Mr Brangwyn's Pigeons, The Visitor, The Invalid, The Boot, Banger's Circus, Sheep Herding, Juggernaut, The Bird House, Bluebell, Dai and the Donkey, Time Off, Sledging and The Rescue.

In the early 1990s a video 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, all 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 'The Fire Engine', 'Mrs Porty's Foxes', 'Gold?', 'Mrs Porty', 'The Water Tower', 'Cold' and 'The Endowment'.



The locomotive of the Merioneth and Llantisilly Rail Traction Company Limited. Much like 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 Grumbly 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

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

The 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 and overly strict, he is a good person at heart.

Owen the Signal

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

Evans the Song

Evan Evans is the portly choirmaster of the Grumbly and District Choral Society.[9] He is also Jones the Steam's wife's uncle .[10]

Mrs. Porty

A rich and eccentric aristocratic lady 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

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

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

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

A circus elephant with Charlie Banger's Circus. She is normally placid, but does not like taking medicine or being bathed by anyone except her owner, Bani Moukerjee. When Ivor met her, she had escaped and was asleep on the track with an injured foot. 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

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

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

Claude Gilbert was the station master of Tan-y-Gwlch station in the original black-and-white series, and would share a cup of tea with Jones whilst Ivor rested at the platform. It was he who directed Jones and Dai to Mr Jenkins the Builder when they were searching for organ pipes to replace Ivor's whistle. Like Mr. Morgan, he only appeared in the first black and white series and was not seen again.

Mr Hughes The Gasworks

The gruff but kind-hearted proprietor of the local gasworks, he is well-known for keeping pets, in particular budgerigars. He is asked to provide shelter for Alice the Elephant when she has an injured foot, and, despite his initial reluctance, he more than rises to the occasion.

Miss Ludgrove

The local vet, with a dry sense of humour, who comes to examine Alice's injured foot.

Mrs. Williams

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

Eli The Baker

The feisty but big-hearted and hard-working local baker.

Mrs. Thomas

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.


The Juggernaut is a diesel railway lorry made out of bits, bobs and flanged wheels, which appears towards the end of the series. Due to its brakes being as unreliable as its engine, it runs down a hill and falls into the lake soon after starting service, nearly killing Idris, whom it was carrying on a chestnut barrow.


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[11]
  • Snowdrifts[12]
  • Ivor the Engine and the Dragon[13]
  • Ivor the Engine and the Elephant[14]
  • Ivor the Engine and the Foxes[15]
  • Ivor's Birthday[16]
  • 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.[17]

Influences and future appearances

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 The Amazing Adventures of Morph episode, The Magic Wand, when Gobbledygook the alien was trying to change Chas back into a dog, Ivor, painted in navy blue with his name "Ivor" in white, makes a cameo appearance.
  • 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.[18] 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.[19]
  • In June 2014, Smallfilms collaborated with board game company, Surprised Stare Games, to launch an Ivor the Engine boardgame [20]
  • 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.
  • The Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway hold an annual Ivor the Engine Weekend in August.


  1. ^ Paper puppets, moved by magnets and filmed in real-time

  1. ^ Postgate, Seeing Things, pp. 203–204.
  2. ^ a b c "An interview with Oliver Postgate". Clive Banks. March 2005. Retrieved 2008-12-09. 
  3. ^ "Bagpuss creator Oliver Postgate in his own words". guardian.co.uk. Guardian News and Media Limited. 2008-12-09. Retrieved 2008-12-09. 
  4. ^ "British actor Anthony Jackson dead at 62". The Big Cartoon Forum. 10 December 2006. Archived from the original on 14 July 2012. Retrieved 30 October 2009. 
  5. ^ DeMott, Rick (18 December 2006). "Ivor the Engine Actor Dies". Animation World Network. Retrieved 2010-01-28. 
  6. ^ Lost episodes of Ivor the Engine discovered in 'priceless' haul found in pig shed< at dailymail.co.uk
  7. ^ Laura Chamberlain (27 October 2010). "Ivor The Engine episodes unearthed". BBC Wales Arts. Retrieved 26 March 2011. 
  8. ^ "1960s' Ivor the Engine episodes unearthed in Kent". BBC News. 26 October 2010. Retrieved 26 March 2011. 
  9. ^ "Ivor the Engine: People – Evans the Song". SmallFilms (Official Website). Retrieved 13 January 2010. 
  10. ^ Ivor The Engine: The First Story, ISBN 0-9552417-0-7, page 15
  11. ^ ISBN 0-9552417-0-7
  12. ^ ISBN 0-9552417-1-5
  13. ^ ISBN 0-9552417-3-1
  14. ^ ISBN 0-9552417-2-3
  15. ^ ISBN 0-9552417-4-X
  16. ^ ISBN 0-9552417-5-8
  17. ^ "Cult TV - Interview with Oliver Postgate". BBC Cult TV. 2005-04-27. Retrieved 2008-12-09. 
  18. ^ "Postgate's genius lives on at museum". Canterbury City Council. 16 December 2008. Archived from the original on 31 October 2010. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  19. ^ "Children's TV character Ivor the Engine brought back to life in a new mobile phone game". Kentish Gazette. 27 April 2011. 
  20. ^ "Ivor the Engine". Surprised Stare Games. 31 May 2014. 

External links