The name or term "fat controller" has since been adopted in various contexts in the English language, beyond the sphere of the original stories.
Origin of nicknameEdit
The character is first seen in "The Sad Story of Henry" in the first book in the Railway Series, The Three Railway Engines. When Henry refused to leave a tunnel, the story says "a Fat Director who was on the train told the guard to get a rope". The character is referred to as the Fat Director/Controller for the remainder of the Railway Series, both in the narrative and by the other characters. The name Sir Topham Hatt is first mentioned in the Foreword to Henry the Green Engine and also appears on his luggage trunk in the same book in the story "Percy and the Trousers". The first use of the name Sir Topham Hatt in the narrative comes in Duck and the Diesel Engine when Diesel refers to the character as "Your worthy Fat..." but is interrupted and firmly corrected by Duck who says "'Sir Topham Hatt' to you".
Biography (Railway Series)Edit
There have been three Fat Controllers. This is not revealed directly in the stories, as they all look very similar and are all known as Sir Topham Hatt. However, the books The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways (written by Rev. W. Awdry and George Awdry) and Sodor: Reading Between the Lines (by Christopher Awdry) make this clear.
Sir Topham Hatt IEdit
He was a talented engineer who was apprenticed with Sir William Stanier at the Great Western Railway's Swindon works, which gave him a great love of all things Great Western. He went on to assist A. W. Dry in the construction of the Tidmouth, Knapford and Elsbridge Light Railway, which became Thomas' branch line, and designed the locomotives that ran upon it.
When the standard gauge railways of the Island were merged into the North Western Railway in 1914, Topham Hatt was called upon for his engineering skill. He constructed a bridge to link Sodor with the Mainland, as well as a number of branch lines and improvements to locomotive facilities. He was immediately made a Director of the railway.
Topham married Jane Brown and fathered a son (Charles Topham Hatt) and a daughter (Barbara Jane Hatt). Jane was sister to Sir Handel Brown, Liberal MP for Sodor East and owner of the Skarloey Railway, making all successive descendants of the two railway families cousins. Charles wed Amanda Croarie, daughter of the owner of the Ffarquhar Quarry Company, and Barbara married Henry Regaby, the Viscount Harwick. In light of this, Topham's family unit can be seen as an alliance of several of the most prominent families in Sodor.
When the North Western Railway was nationalised and became part of British Railways in 1948, Topham Hatt was made Controller of the railway. 1948 also saw him made a baronet for his services to the railways of Sodor.
Sir Topham Hatt IIEdit
Charles Topham Hatt was the son of the first Sir Topham Hatt and the second Controller of the NWR. He too served an apprenticeship with Stanier, this time working under the locomotive designer. Like his father, he was an innovative engineer and made a number of improvements to the railway and its engines. He was also the originator of the scheme to construct the Arlesdale Railway and the ballast consortium that used it.
He was responsible for the line's policy of retaining steam locomotives long after they had been abolished on the rest of British Railways, and while Dr Beeching was closing down branch lines on the Mainland, Charles was reopening them on Sodor.
Sir Topham Hatt IIIEdit
Stephen Topham Hatt was first seen as a child in the book Toby the Tram Engine. As an adult, he was made the third Controller of the North Western Railway. His son, Richard Topham Hatt, is tipped to be the next Fat Controller and on Stephen's death will inherit the family's Baronetcy and the title 'Sir Topham Hatt'.
Mode of dressEdit
In his iconic top hat and morning suit, the Fat Controller looks rather old-fashioned and formal. However, it should be noted that until at least the late 1950s it was customary for railway officials in Britain to be so dressed – for Sir Topham to be dressed any other way would be far more unusual.
Sir Topham's householdEdit
Wife: Lady HattEdit
Lady Jane Brown Hatt helps her husband run the railway, and is happiest when she sees new lines opened, and has had some special birthday parties. She likes the railway, but had a certain dislike of Annie and Clarabel, calling them beach huts. Later, she took a liking to them, after they got new coats of paint. Although her husband runs a railway, she likes a day out on a boat or in their car.
Grandson: Stephen HattEdit
Stephen Topham Hatt lives on the Island of Sodor, and regularly has outings and holidays with his grandparents and sister. Stephen loves trains, and was excited when he first met Toby the Tram Engine.
Eventually, Stephen ultimately took the railway over, and is the current Fat Controller.
Granddaughter: Bridget HattEdit
Bridget Amanda Hatt lives on Sodor, and regularly goes for outings and holidays with her grandparents and her older brother, Stephen. On one occasion they went to Toby the Tram Engine's old line, and she thought he was an electric tram.
Whilst many names have been put forward, it seems that no one true figure inspired the character. Wilbert Awdry claims the character was originally created as a nod towards 'pompous railway officials' of the time, 'who gave out plenty of orders, but never actually did anything.' This is particularly reflected in the first book, The Three Railway Engines, but over time, the character softens, becoming more of a father, or perhaps grandfather figure to the engines.
Some have even suggested the idea that, with Awdry being a clergyman, the Fat Controller was meant to act as an omnipresent, God-like figure. This was never the intention, although in The Thomas the Tank Engine Man, Awdry states he is happy to go along with this idea if it gives the young children 'an idea of there being someone who is in control of the world.'