Henry lives on the Island of Sodor with many other locomotives, including Thomas the Tank Engine. He is engine number 3 on the North Western Railway, and was one of the first engines to be described, appearing in the first book. Henry is a little smaller than Gordon the Big Engine, who also appeared in the first book.Henry's first (mis-)adventure was in 'The Sad Story of Henry', the third story in the Railway Series book The Three Railway Engines. In this story he went into a tunnel and refused to come out due to fears that the rain would spoil his paint. As punishment, the Fat Controller ordered that he was bricked up in the tunnel forever. Weeks later, he was eventually let out to help Edward pull Gordon's express train, after Gordon burst a safety valve. As a reward, he was given a new coat of paint, and Henry chose blue. Later on, however, he was painted green again.
Henry was originally a failed prototype engine, who as the result of a small firebox (which was a similar shape to Gordon's) was often ill and a poor steamer. The Fat Controller gave him special Welsh coal, which helped. But worse was to come – Henry had an accident while pulling the express fish train known as the Flying Kipper. The Fat Controller sent Henry to the works at Crewe, where they rebuilt him into his present shape. Henry was given a new firebox which gave him a similar specification to an LMS Class 5MT "Black Five" locomotive. This cured his illness completely.
Henry now works on the main line. He can pull coaches and trucks equally well, and sometimes even hauls the Express when Gordon is not available. He is still the engine responsible for the Flying Kipper.
Behind the scenes, Rev. W. Awdry had a great deal of trouble with the illustrators' depiction of Henry. He was unhappy with the way C. Reginald Dalby had portrayed the character, as he looked almost identical to Gordon, especially when he was painted blue at the end of Book 1 and in Books 2-4. In one illustration in Tank Engine Thomas Again, he looks identical to Gordon.
To make things worse, the character was portrayed inconsistently, often having several different appearances within the space of a single story: in most of Dalby's illustrations Henry was portrayed as a 4-6-0, but occasionally he becomes a 4–6–2 instead.
Awdry's original idea had been to write Henry out of the series, hence the character's illness. But by the sixth book, Henry the Green Engine, he had decided against such a drastic measure. He instead decided to have the character involved in a serious accident, allowing him to be rebuilt into a Class 5MT which, being a real locomotive, would effectively force Dalby to be consistent.
Accounts differ as to when the accident actually took place. In The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways the Rev. Awdry states that it occurred in 1935 (when Stanier 5MTs were still being built). However, Sodor: Reading Between the Lines, by Christopher Awdry, states that it took place in 1951, the year the book was published. The latter is not necessarily an oversight on Christopher's part, because the stories suggest it could just as easily be either. Certainly the dates listed in The Island of Sodor are all consistent with one another, and suggest that for the earlier books, the events on the railway happened many years before the books were published. On the other hand, some instances mentioned in these books would indicate that the stories were more likely set around the time of publication.
There is a certain amount of debate as to the nature of Henry's rebuild, caused by the book The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways. It was written to provide some historical background to the world of The Railway Series and to correct pictorial inconsistencies that had occurred in the earlier volumes. In this book, the Rev. W. Awdry claims that the pre-rebuild and post-rebuild Henry are actually two completely separate engines. But the stories do not indicate this since he still seems familiar with events that happens before the crash, and the other engines certainly don't know this. Indeed, Gordon in the story following the rebuild, and in the story 'Percy Takes the Plunge', set after the rebuild, Henry recalls the events of 'The Sad Story of Henry', which suggests that his memory survived the rebuild. As both sources may be considered equally canonical, the question of whether there have been two Henrys or one will always have a paradoxical answer and will likely remain unanswered.
The same book featured a certain amount of retcon to explain Henry's old shape in the first place. The explanation devised was that he was an experimental locomotive built according to plans stolen from Sir Nigel Gresley. Owing to a mistake, the wrong plans were taken and the locomotive built was so riddled with faults that the only person who could be persuaded to buy it was the Fat Controller (then the Fat Director), who at the time was desperate for any locomotive he could get. The name of the thief is never revealed. The Fat Controller claims that he wanted an Atlantic (a locomotive with a 4-4-2 wheel arrangement). This latter point is worth noting, as William Middleton, the very first Railway Series artist, portrayed Henry as this type of engine, as did Awdry's initial sketches.
The Island of Sodor also features a biography of the Fat Controller, which mentions that he was apprenticed with Stanier at Swindon Works. It is possible that this is another piece of retcon to explain how he was able to have Henry rebuilt so easily – something that even Rev. W. Awdry admitted was "a mystery".
In the book Sodor: Reading Between the Lines, it is said that Henry looks very much like a Stanier 5MT, which suggests that he is not totally identical to one of these engines. It is not clear why Christopher Awdry should have felt the need to contradict his father, who was, of course, the original author, but it may be simply a result of copy-editing errors and publication deadlines – there is a second error (or misprint) in the same book, the character Mavis is correctly described as a Drewry Class 04, yet is inaccurately said to be an 0-4-0.
Henry as a modelEdit
C. Reginald Dalby, Sodor’s first CME, originally drew Henry for the first book "Three Railway Engines" as an engine similar to Gordon. In this incarnation he was a rather sickly engine until "Henry the Green Engine" (1951), when he was found to run well on Welsh coal (in real life, high-calorific anthracite which supplied the GWR). Unfortunately in that book, he was involved in a serious accident and sent to Crewe. The staff at Crewe, the LMS loco engineering headquarters, "rebuilt" him as that railway’s most prolific loco, the 4-6-0 5MT "Black Five." The eagle-eyed will spot that Henry's top-feed (the nub in front of the dome) is somewhat forward along the boiler than most 5MTs, corresponding to 1940s modifications by HG Ivatt.
First appearing in 1934, "Black Fives" were Sir William Stanier’s most rugged and versatile design. They were similar to his "Jubilee" 5P express passenger loco, but with slightly smaller driving wheels to give it ability to haul freight as well as passengers. They show the hallmarks of Stanier’s distinctive standard LMS style, a practice he brought with him from his previous employers, the GWR of Churchward and Collett, with the purpose of using interchangeable parts on very different locos. Stanier’s ideas led the way for British Railways standard designs of the 1950s.
The model Henry made by the Rev W Awdry is said to have had as many problems as his fictional counterpart, according to the Reverend himself in this text from his Model Railway Scrapbook:
"A Graham Farish (1950 Henry) adapted. I had a lot of trouble with this loco at first. Bought second hand, it reached me in a deplorable condition. But, when all the dirt and fluff had been removed from the wheels, gears and motor, it proved quite a useful engine. The main disadvantage was that one had to start it with full regulator away, then with throttle down immediately afterwards. This made smooth starting impossible, and shunting difficult."
It is said that this model "did not make it into preservation"
From The Thomas the Tank Engine Man. Used with the approval of Brian Sibley
Hornby, meanwhile use a tool for Henry that was first used for their Black 5 in 1973. It was converted to make Henry after the company upgraded its Black 5 model with a new super-detailed tool.
Henry was the central character of what might be the most controversial story in the history of the Railway Series. In the story Henry's Sneeze', the character blasts some troublemaking schoolboys with soot. The story was attacked in 1972 due to the fact that it described the boys in question to have been rendered "as black as [the N word]."
The story was considered so controversial that it was actually reported in the national press. Awdry himself claimed that it was a case of oversensitivity on the part of the race relations board; a complaint that was misinterpreted by some members of the public as meaning that he was a racist. To solve the problem, he changed the offending sentence to "as black as soot", which has been used in subsequent editions of the book.