"The Fat Controller seized his hat..."
No amount of political correctness can erase several generations of British children’s collective memory concerning Sodor’s philosopher-king, the Fat Controller, in trademark garb of top hat, tails and spats. By this title he is quoted in the House of Commons by MPs in Hansard (See the new section below of the actual quotations).
His various identities are described as follows:
Fat Director: In "The Three Railway Engines" (1945) and "Thomas the Tank Engine" (1946) - seen smoking a cigar
Fat Controller: In "James the Red Engine" (1948) onwards - following nationalisation in 1948.
The "stout gentleman":
In "Toby the Tram Engine" (1952), incognito on holiday with grandchildren Stephen and Bridget on Toby's doomed old railway.
Sir Topham Hatt:
Name painted on trunk in "Henry the Green Engine" (1951) with which Percy collides. Otherwise named in rebuke of Diesel by Duck in "Duck and the Diesel Engine" (1958) - "Sir Topham Hatt to you," and formally named in the introduction to that book.
To add further confusion, there have been three Sir Topham Hatts according to the Rev Awdry in The Island of Sodor. The first (1888-1956) ruled until the end of "Four Little Engines". He is not a knight but a baronet, a hereditary title conferred on nationalisation in 1948 (By this logic, the "Fat Director" was thus plain Mr Topham). His wife, who makes a brief cameo in "Toby the Tram Engine", is Lady Jane Hatt. The second Fat Controller, Sir Charles Topham Hatt (1914-) ruled from "Percy the Small Engine" until retirement in 1984. We can only assume that the fat controlling man in Christopher Awdry's books from that date on is the boy from "Toby the Tram Engine", Steven Topham Hatt.
Nowadays Hansard, the British Parliament's venerable record of proceedings, is searchable online. There follow all references to the stout man of national affairs since 1999:
1. House of Lords, 5 Apr 2001, 6.46 p.m.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for introducing this debate. I profess to feeling a certain degree of intimidation--or perhaps not intimidation, but something similar--at the professional and academic expertise which certainly my noble friends who sit in front of me have brought to this debate.
I started my life-long interest in railways approximately 50 years ago when, one Christmas, I received a first edition of Thomas the Tank Engine in a parcel from Santa Claus. As a book dealer, I very much regret that I do not still own that first edition. My mother gave it away to the local hospital with a load of Eagle annuals and other things, which I also regret I no longer own.
From a childhood enlivened by the Reverend W Awdry's books, I remember the wonderful character of the Fat Controller. He was a bureaucrat; he was a man with a hat; and he was derided by the people who really ran the railway--who, in those stories, were the engines--for not knowing much about rail engineering. It sounds a little like Railtrack.
Nowadays, we have the Rail Regulator; we have the Strategic Rail Authority and its chairman; we have Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate, which I believe is now part of the Health and Safety Executive; we have the Secretary of State; we have Railtrack and its own Fat Controller; we have the train operating companies with all their Fat Controllers, including the rail freight companies; and, of course--a matter about which we should be very pleased in your Lordships' House--we have the Minister. I do not by any means suggest that the Minister is a Fat Controller; he is far too lean and hungry.
However, a question that people ask time and time again in relation to the railway industry in this country is: who is the Fat Controller? Who is in charge? Where does the buck stop? The truth is that no one knows. Until that matter is sorted out, or, at least, until our incredibly fragmented railway system is de-fragmented to some degree, I do not believe that we shall make a great deal of progress.
2. House of Commons, 10 May 2000, 9.19pm
Mr Jenkin: The final part of the Bill is old Labour striking back at railway privatisation. There is a role for Sir Alastair Morton in helping the industry to develop, but not for the rebirth of the old British Railways Board; not for whole new powers to direct investment; not for new powers for unlimited fines; not for powers for the interference in access agreements; and not for the restoration of the ultimate control over the industry, once again, by the Secretary of State--the Fat Controller himself.
3. House of Commons, 18 Jan 2000
Mr Snape: The hon. Member for North Wiltshire started with a ritual dig at the Deputy Prime Minister with whom I have served on various Committees, as has the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea. My right hon. Friend is not someone who seeks to avoid his responsibilities, but, as Deputy Prime Minister and the head of a significant Department, he has many other pressing duties that take up his time. He has been described as the Fat Controller: staying with the Rev. Awdry and "Thomas the Tank Engine'', was not Gordon the pompous locomotive? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will play the role of Gordon.
Mr. Gray: The humble shunter.
4. House of Commons, 19 Jul 1999
Mr Redwood: The Opposition urge the House to adopt our reasoned amendment to the procedure for the handling of the Bill. An enormous mess and muddle has been revealed at the top of Government, a huge row between the Prime Minister and his deputy and obvious second thoughts around the ministerial table about the wide-ranging powers that are being offered through the Bill to the Secretary of State and to the quango creature that is being established beneath him. If this were the world of "Thomas the Tank Engine", this would be the Bill to make the Fat Controller wax lyrical at night at the great strengthening of his powers.