Thomas & Friends
Thomas & Friends (originally known as Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends or simply Thomas the Tank Engine; later called Thomas & Friends: Big World! Big Adventures!) is a British children's television series. Based on The Railway Series of books by Reverend Wilbert Awdry and his son Christopher, English writer and producer Britt Allcroft arranged a deal to bring the stories to life as the TV series. In the United Kingdom, it had its first broadcast on the ITV network in 1984. In the United States, it had its first broadcast on Shining Time Station in 1989.
|Thomas & Friends|
Logo from Series 7 onwards.
|Also known as|
|Created by||Britt Allcroft|
|Based on||The Railway Series|
|Voices of||See List of Thomas & Friends voice actors|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||24|
|No. of episodes||578 + 6 Double-length Specials (list of episodes)|
|Original release||9 October 1984 –|
These books follow the adventures of a group of anthropomorphised locomotives and road vehicles who live on the fictional Island of Sodor. The titular protagonist Thomas is the most popular and famous character in the series. The books were based on stories Wilbert told to entertain his son, Christopher, during his recovery from measles. Many of the stories from the first four series are based on events from Awdry's personal experience.
Before the airing of the first episode of Thomas & Friends in 1984, previous attempts had been made to adapt Awdry's stories for television. The first was in 1953, when the editor of the Railway Series books, Eric Marriott, was approached by the BBC, who wished to use live-action model trains to re-create two stories from Awdry's first book, The Three Railway Engines.
The engines were portrayed by 00 gauge Hornby Dublo models and driven on authentic sets in the style of the original illustrations. The first episode, based on "The Sad Story of Henry", was broadcast live on the evening of Sunday 14 June 1953 from Lime Grove Studios. The live broadcast did not fare well. Reportedly, a failure to switch the points caused the model of Henry to derail and viewers of the live broadcast witnessed a human hand, said to be one of a crew member, picking him up and placing him back on the rails. Models moved jerkily, and all effects and music had to be superimposed.
By 23 June, news of the broadcast hit the front pages of The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. Awdry himself branded the episode as "unprofessional", and the point-switching debacle as an "elementary mistake". As a result, the second episode scheduled for 28 June 1953 was put on hold, and then later cancelled. After the "Sad Story of Henry" fiasco, the BBC did attempt to rescue the project by offering to give Awdry and the Railway Series publishers greater creative control over the production of the episodes, but the publishers declined the offer, preferring to focus on publishing new books for the series.
Nearly twenty years later, the BBC featured Awdry's stories in the television story-telling show Jackanory. Fourteen years before Thomas and Friends was aired, Ted Ray, sitting in a stationmaster's office, read out five Railway Series books between 20 September to 2 October 1970.
Thomas and Friends and its success
In 1979, British television producer Britt Allcroft was producing a documentary on the Bluebell Railway, a heritage railway in Sussex which actually featured in the Railway Series book Stepney the Bluebell Engine. As part of her research before filming, Allcroft read some books in The Railway Series and was highly entertained and impressed with the stories which Awdry had written, later remarking that "there was something in the stories that I felt I could develop that would connect with children. I saw a strong emotional content that would carry with little children's experiences with life."
Allcroft worked to convince Awdry that she could, with funding, convert the stories into a successful television show. Her efforts were successful, and she purchased the television rights from the publishers of The Railway Series at a cost of what was then £50,000 ($74,000 in U.S. dollars at the time). Allcroft still had to work to raise the money to finance production and, despite showing a keen interest, wanted a level of creative control which she did not want to forego. In the end, after several years of searching and having to place a second mortgage on her home, Allcroft raised sufficient funding from her local bank manager.
By 1981, Allcroft had secured the finances to produce the show, she started to assemble the crew, including producer and director David Mitton, also the founder of Clearwater Features Ltd.; crew member Steve Asquith; American-born producer Robert D. Cardona; and composers and songwriters Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell, who are also musicians.
The series started production in 1984 by Allcroft's production company, The Britt Allcroft Company; Clearwater Features Ltd. (Mitton and Cardona's company); and ITV's Central Independent Television region. The series was originally shot and produced with live action models at the Clearwater in house studio in Battersea, a suburb of London, for Series 1. It later relocated to Shepperton Studios, Middlesex, southwest of London for subsequent series. The use of moving models was seen at the time of the series' conception as an effective method of animating the stories. Locomotives and other vehicles were operated by radio controls, while humans and animals were static figures. Stop-motion was occasionally employed for instances in which a human or animal character would move. Hand-drawn animation was used in Series 3 to create bees (as seen in the episode "Buzz Buzz").
The first series (1984) used stories from the first eight books, along with one specially written by the Rev. W. Awdry, Thomas's Christmas Party. The second series (1986) used stories from Book No.9 (Edward the Blue Engine) to Book No.30 (More About Thomas the Tank Engine). The latter book was unusual, as it was written specifically by Christopher Awdry to be adapted by the show. At that time, it was a contractual obligation that the series could only adapt stories that appeared in print. The series also used a story from a Thomas Annual, "Thomas and Trevor", and a specially written stand-alone story, Thomas and the Missing Christmas Tree. One episode ("The Missing Coach") was in the process of being filmed, but was cancelled mid-way through filming as Allcroft decided it was too confusing for young viewers. The production team went on to use "Better Late Than Never" instead. The story "Gordon Goes Foreign" from the Railway Series book The Eight Famous Engjnes was also planned to be adapted but was scrapped due to budgetary limitations.
In between production of the second and third series, the production team were focused in producing two other television series: Tugs, which ran for one series in 1989 for Television South (TVS); and the American television series Shining Time Station, which repackaged Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends for the American television market from 1989 to 1996.
Just before production of series three, Clearwater closed on 31 December 1990, with The Britt Allcroft Company becoming the sole producer. Series three was broadcast in 1992 on CITV. It was made at a cost of £1.3 million (approximately $9.3.million in U.S. dollars at the time).[verification needed] The series was a combination of episodes derived from The Railway Series, stories in the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends magazine (written by Andrew Brenner, who would later become the show's head writer starting in Series 16), and a couple of original stories by Allcroft and Mitton.
One of the primary reasons for diverging from the original books was that many of the stories not yet used featured large numbers of new characters, which would be expensive to produce. Another reason was that the producers wanted more stories about Thomas, the nominal main character. Awdry complained that the new stories would be unrealistic (see Henry the Green Engine for more details). Robert D. Cardona left as producer, while Britt Allcroft joined David Mitton as co-producer. Angus Wright took over as executive producer.
Series four was first released directly to video between 1994 and 1995 before its broadcast debut on Cartoon Network. The producers planned to introduce some new female characters, including motor car Caroline, Nancy, and The Refreshment Lady. Some commentators took this as a response to accusations of sexism levelled against the series two years earlier. In reality, these were not "new" characters, but creations of Awdry from the original Railway Series books. Series four was almost entirely based on The Railway Series. The narrow gauge engines were introduced, and were the focus of a number of episodes. Only one original story ("Rusty to the Rescue", written by Allcroft and Mitton) was used, but this took certain elements of plot and dialogue from Stepney the "Bluebell" Engine.
The fifth series (1998), also first released directly to video before its TV airings on Cartoon Network, was a radical shift, as all episodes were written by Allcroft and Mitton with no further stories being adapted from the Railway Series. This series saw the introduction of new characters, such as Cranky, The Horrid Lorries and Old Slow Coach. It also focused on more dramatic and action-oriented plot-lines, with more severe accidents, than in the earlier series. After series 5, Angus Wright stepped down as executive producer. It was also the final series broadcast on Cartoon Network, as Nickelodeon UK would eventually acquire the broadcast rights to the show for it to air on their newly created Nick Jr. channel in 1999. CN continued to air older series until their broadcast rights fully expired in 2001.
Thomas and the Magic Railroad was released in July 2000 in the UK, US, and Canada. It featured new characters created by Allcroft, along with characters from the show that introduced Thomas to the U.S., Shining Time Station. Despite high production values and the popularity of the show, the film was criticised by British reviewers who were unfamiliar with Shining Time Station. The movie was well received by young children on both sides of the Atlantic, but made only $19.7 million at the box office, against a cost of  The film was broadcast on BBC1 on 1 January 2004 and again on 29 December 2008.
Thomas and Friends
The sixth and seventh series continued to introduce action-packed storylines and new characters, and saw the introduction of a writing staff. The sixth series in 2002 was an attempt to create a spin-off based on the successful "Bob the Builder" series. Two episodes introduced a group of construction machine characters known as "The Pack". The spin-off did not materialise for some time. Eventually, in 2006, thirteen episodes were released straight to DVD in two collections: On Site with Thomas and Thomas' Trusty Friends. It was the first series broadcast on ITV since series 3.
The fact that older sets were used and the episodes were shot on 35mm camera (as opposed to the digital camera used at the time of the episodes' release) suggest it was filmed some time before Series 8. In Series 7 (2003) the programme title was officially shortened to Thomas & Friends, this name having been used on merchandise and video covers for three years previously. Phil Fehrle replaced Allcroft and Mitton as producer, though Mitton remained as the director. Executive producer Angus Wright was replaced by Peter Urie and Allcroft as executive producers for Series 6.
In 2003, Allcroft stepped down as executive producer, making Urie the sole executive producer for Gullane Entertainment, and Jocelyn Stevenson was the executive producer for HiT Entertainment.
The eighth series (2004) was the first released directly to VHS and DVD as four episodes in the US and six in the UK were released before airing on television on Nick Jr. in the UK and PBS in the US. It introduced a number of significant changes to the show. Many of the original founding team involved in the original show since 1984 left the production, including Britt Allcroft, director and writer David Mitton, and original composers Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell. The latter two had been embroiled in a protracted legal dispute with HiT before their departure. Asquith, who was part of the original production team since 1984, took over as director, while Simon Spencer replaced Phil Fehrle as producer.
A new theme song and incidental music were composed by Ed Welch and Robert Hartshorne, respectively. Episode runtime was increased to seven minutes. The series was produced using digital video camera, creating a somewhat different look for the show. Other changes included the additions of CGI educational sequences and transitions between stories. Executive producer Peter Urie also left, while Jocelyn Stevenson remained in her role as executive producer. Sam Barlow became the story executive, while Abi Grant and Paul Larson served as script editors. This series saw the adoption of a centralised cast, including Thomas, Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, Toby and Emily.
A straight-to-video film, Calling All Engines!, was released shortly before Series 9 in 2005. While featuring characters from Thomas and the Magic Railroad, it was not a direct sequel. It proved successful, which resulted in more direct-to-video specials being produced.
Series 9 (2005) and 10 (2006) saw the expansion of the supporting cast with new and old characters. From Series 9 the narrator would call out the episodes' names and from Series 11 the theme song was sung starting with the sound of a train whistle. Series 10 aired with twenty-eight episodes rather than the twenty-six of previous years. The eleventh series (2007) was filmed in high definition format. Twenty episodes aired in the original broadcast, while six were released directed to DVD as Engines and Escapades. Jocelyn Stevenson had stepped down as executive producer after Series 10, with Christopher Skala taking her place as executive producer for Series 11. Sharon Miller became the script editor from Series 9 to 11.
Series 12 (2008) saw the introduction of CGI effects (provided by HiT Entertainment's subsidiary Hot Animation), with the intent of producing the show entirely in CGI the following year. The traditional models and sets were still used, but with computer animated faces superimposed on the models to allow for changing facial expressions. Humans and animals were fully computer animated to allow for walking movement. Only twenty episodes were produced and broadcast (the U.S. broadcast featured six additional episodes from Engines and Escapades). Sharon Miller became the head writer, starting with Series 12.
HiT announced multiple changes to the show beginning in 2009. One new aspect was the introduction of live-action host segments to Thomas' home video releases. The host took the form of a character who worked on The Fat Controller's (Sir Topham Hatt's) railway, who would instruct viewers in craft projects. For the final 2 DVDs released for series 12 in 2009, the host was named Mr. Arkwright, played by Robert Slate. In 2010, beginning with the DVD "Splish Splash Splosh", the host was named Mr. Perkins, played by Ben Forster, and has remained host until Forster died in 2017 after a battle with cancer and will be replaced by Mark Moraghan, who will play "Mr Evans" in the upcoming web series.
For budgetary reasons, the other major changes were a move to production in CGI, rather than using physical models, and the addition of a voice cast to support the established narrator. The DVD feature, Hero of the Rails, was the first Thomas & Friends production to showcase these changes, and Series 13 was the first television series in the new format. The CGI animation for the series was provided by Nitrogen Studios of Vancouver.
In September 2010, Apax was preparing to sell off HiT Entertainment and its franchises, including Thomas – regarded as the single most valuable asset – in order to help clear HiT's debts, and in February 2012, sold the company, along with the Thomas properties, to "US toy giant", Mattel.
During production of Series 16 (2012), Sharon Miller stepped down as head writer, and Andrew Brenner, who had written some Thomas stories in the third series, assumed the role after serving as script editor for "Blue Mountain Mystery". Additionally, Sam Barlow stepped down as story executive after the sixteenth series, and the production of the CGI animation was moved from Nitrogen Studios (of Vancouver) to Arc Productions (of Toronto). King of the Railway and Series 17, both released during 2013, serve as the first special and series developed by the new animation and production teams respectively.
2014 saw Tale of the Brave and Series 18, the second special and series animated by Arc, respectively. 2015 saw The Adventure Begins, a special coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the franchise, and Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure; Series 19 began airing that same year. 2016 saw some changes; longtime composers Robert and Peter Hartshorne, father and son team, left the series and Chris Renshaw and Oliver Davis took over. 2016 also saw Thomas & Friends: The Great Race and Series 20 began airing the same year. Series 20 was the last series of the show to air on PBS Kids; when Series 21 began airing in 2017, the American broadcast of the show was moved to Nick Jr., ending a period of almost 28 years of Thomas & Friends on American public television. 2017 also saw Journey Beyond Sodor. The show was pulled away from Nick Jr. at the end of 2019.
A twenty-second series of Thomas and Friends was announced consisting of 26 episodes with, among many other changes, such as Edward, Henry and Toby being removed from the Steam Team to make room for two new female steam engines named Nia (Africa) and Rebecca (UK), and the narrator has been replaced with Thomas talking to the audience (however, Mark Moraghan, the previous narrator has said that he will still work on the series). Series 22 is set after Big World! Big Adventures!, which came out on 20 July 2018. It introduced gender-balanced and multicultural characters, and features a new theme tune. The series is split into two-halves; the first half sees Thomas travelling around the world and visiting India, Australia, and China, while the second half takes place back on the Island of Sodor. The series was released on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu in the late half of 2018.
Thomas & Friends has since been renewed for a 23rd series which debuted in 2019.
A 24th series is set to be released in September 2020. The series will also be the final series animated by Jam Filled Toronto. It is currently unknown which studio will succeed them.
Originally, narrating was used as the only voice in the series until 2008. Britt Allcroft thought it essential to convey the episode as a story that would be read from a book at home. Individual voice-over actors were given to both the UK and US dubs of the series, following the switch to full CGI animation in 2009.
List of productions
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||26||9 October 1984||8 January 1985|
|2||26||24 September 1986||17 December 1986|
|3||26||25 February 1992||14 July 1992|
|4||26||16 October 1995||20 November 1995|
|5||26||14 September 1998||19 October 1998|
|6||26||16 September 2002||21 October 2002|
|7||26||6 October 2003||10 November 2003|
|8||26||1 August 2004||24 October 2004|
|9||26||5 September 2005||25 November 2005|
|10||28||4 September 2006||17 September 2006|
|11||26||3 September 2007||15 January 2007|
|12||20||1 September 2008||26 September 2008|
|13||20||25 January 2009||19 February 2009|
|14||20||11 October 2010||8 November 2010|
|15||20||1 March 2011||28 March 2011|
|16||20||20 February 2012||25 December 2012|
|17||26||3 June 2013||21 November 2014|
|18||26||25 August 2014||31 July 2015|
|19||26||21 September 2015||10 March 2017|
|20||28||5 September 2016||20 December 2017|
|21||18||18 September 2017||22 December 2017|
|22||26||3 September 2018||15 May 2019|
|23||20||2 September 2019||15 May 2020|
|24||20||2 May 2020||TBA|
Films, specials, and miniseries
Home video history
Over the history of the programme, the TV episodes and specials have been released for home viewing in a variety of compilations, formats and languages, by a variety of publishing houses.
Up until series 12, narration and dialogue were performed by a single storyteller. Starting from series 22 onwards, Thomas the Tank Engine himself takes over as the narrator.
The original live action models were filmed on an extensive model railway layout built at the studios. The models were built to the 1:32 scale, known in model railway circles as "Gauge 1". From Series 1 to 3, the locomotives used chassis made by Märklin with specially made bodies. Along with the moving-eye and eyelid mechanisms and resin faces, these bodies also included smoke generators. Coaches and trucks were made using Tenmille kits. Later models were constructed entirely from scratch. Some of the models from the sister television series Tugs were reused in later episodes of the series.
From Series 5 to 12, some larger-scale models were used for the narrow gauge characters, to more easily fit the complex mechanisms into them while retaining a sufficient level of detail. In Series 6, the characters known as "the Pack" (construction machines) were also constructed on a large scale, and larger models of Thomas and Percy were made to interact with them. In the ninth series, another larger Thomas model was built to the same scale as the narrow gauge engines to provide greater possibilities for interaction. It was joined by a large version of James in the tenth series. In 2009, some of these models were put on display in a special exhibit at Drayton Manor Theme Park's Thomas Land. Nitrogen Studios, who provided the animation for the series from series 12 to 16, also had some of the original models on display.
At the show's conception in 1984, live action model animation would not deliver lip sync, but show co-creator Britt Allcroft and model director David Mitton did not see this as an inhibition. About 20 years later however, with advancement in technology, the show saw the introduction of CGI by HIT Entertainment's subsidiary HOT Animation. At first this was used to generate smoke and other effects, but later, HIT (the current owners of Thomas) announced its intent to introduce a fully CGI series in 2009. With Series 12, CGI by Nitrogen Studios was used to animate characters' faces and to make people and animals mobile within the stories. The following series (the show's 13th) saw a transition to full CGI animation.
Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell composed the show's original main title theme, incidental music and songs, which were used for series 1–7 comprising 182 episodes between 1984 and 2003. The instruments for series 1–2 was the Roland Jupiter-6 and instrumentals for series 3–7 was the E-mu Proteus sound module.
In 2004, Robert Hartshorne took O'Donnell and Campbell's place as composer, while Ed Welch became the show's songwriter from Series 8 to The Great Discovery, and Welch left after The Great Discovery. Hartshorne took his place as songwriter from Series 12 and onwards. From Day of the Diesels/2011-2016, Robert's son Peter Hartshorne helped him with the music.
In 2016 the Hartshornes left the series and Chris Renshaw and Oliver Davis took their places.
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Since series 12, there has been a head writer for the series. Prior to the introduction of a head writer, the script editor performed similar duties. Sharon Miller served as head writer from series 12–16 and stepped down after series 16 and was replaced by Andrew Brenner, who had written many "Thomas" stories for various magazines as well as his own original stories, several of which were later adapted for television episodes for Series 3 and Series 5, for which he had remained uncredited. Brenner had been a writer of several other children's animated series, such as Angelina Ballerina, Tractor Tom, Fireman Sam, The Amazing Adrenalini Brothers, Spot, Poppy Cat, and Binka, as well as being the creator of Caribou Kitchen, and Humf and writer for several magazines featuring children's characters such as The Real Ghostbusters, Fireman Sam, Scooby-Doo, Tom and Jerry, and Thomas's sister series Tugs and has written scripts and took over as head writer for Thomas for King of the Railway until the twenty-third series. David Stoten succeeded him as head writer starting with the twenty-fourth series. Sharon Miller has also been the voice director since the second CGI animated film Misty Island Rescue, and continues to work on the series in this capacity.
- Script editors
- Abi Grant (series 6)
- Jan Page (series 7)
- Abi Grant and Paul Larson (series 8)
- Sharon Miller (series 9-11)
- Becky Evans (series 16, last few episodes)
- Head writer
- Sharon Miller (series 12–16)
- Andrew Brenner (series 17–23)
- David Stoten (series 24 onwards)
In the United States, the series had first appeared only as sequences on Shining Time Station during the program's run from 1989 to 1995 on PBS. The sequences of the series later aired in 1996 on Mr. Conductor's Thomas Tales. The series aired as Storytime with Thomas on Fox Family (now Freeform) from 1999 to 2001. When Thomas & Friends returned as a stand-alone half-hour program on PBS Kids, it was first distributed from 2004 to 2007 by Connecticut Public Television, and then by WNET from 2008 to 2017. It also aired on Sprout from 2005 to 2015. The rights to broadcast the series through PBS expired in December 2017, thus ending a period of almost 30 years of programming related to Thomas & Friends on American public television. In 2018 and 2019, Nickelodeon held exclusive rights to the series in the United States. In 2020, the streaming rights were sold to Netflix, with traditional television rights (if any) left unresolved. It also airs on Kabillion.
The program airs in Australia on ABC Kids and on Four in New Zealand. In France and Spain, it plays on Playhouse Disney. It aired on Disney Channel in both Italy, Japan, and Korea. In Canada, it plays on Disney Junior, TVOntario, Family Jr., Knowledge Kids, MBC 3 and Spacetoon in the Middle East, and e-Junior in the United Arab Emirates.
|Mandarin Chinese||托马斯和朋友/湯瑪士小火車||CCTV (China)/Momo Kids (Taiwan)||The series in China is known as 托马斯和朋友 and 湯瑪士小火車 in Taiwan, and is dubbed in Mandarin Chinese with Simplified and Traditional Chinese subtitles. The series is narrated by Jiang Guangtao in China and Guan Zhihong in Taiwan.||China, Taiwan|
|Thomas e Seus Amigos||Discovery Kids (Brazil)||The series in Brazil is known as Thomas e Seus Amigos, and is dubbed in Brazilian Portuguese. It even has an official YouTube channel known as Thomas e Seus Amigos.||Brazil|
|Azerbaijani||Thomas və Dostlari||ANS TV||The series in Azerbaijan is known as Thomas və Dostlari, and is dubbed with audio in Azerbaijani.||Azerbaijan|
|Thomas e os Seus Amigos||Canal Panda/RTP2 ZigZag||The series in Portugal is known as Thomas e os Seus Amigos, and is dubbed into European Portuguese.||Portugal|
|Castilian Spanish||Thomas y Sus Amigos||RTVE Clan||The series in Spain, is known as Thomas y Sus Amigos, and is dubbed into Castilian Spanish.||Spain|
|Catalan||En Thomas i els Seus Amics||YouTube TV||The series in Catalonia, Spain is known as En Thomas i els Seus Amics, and is dubbed in Catalan.||Catalonia|
|Romanian||Thomas şi Prietenii Săi||Minimax TV||The series in Romania is known as Thomas şi Prietenii Săi, or Locomotiva Thomas şi Prietenii Săi, and is dubbed in Romanian.||Romania|
תומס הקטר וחברים
Israeli Educational Television
|The series in Israel is known as תומס הקטר and תומס הקטר וחברים, and is dubbed in Hebrew.||Israel|
Common Sense Media rated the show a 4 out of 5 stars stating:
Parents can be assured that this series has educational aspects as well as behavioural modelling. The Thomas the Tank Engine stories were conceived by a young British boy early in the 20th century, who would listen to the trains as they chuffed through the countryside. The stories he told his son – who has consequently passed them on to his own son – have been documented in books and toy train models. Since the series was introduced to television viewers in the 1980s, Thomas & Friends has seen a healthy fan base sprout worldwide.
In the 2010s, Thomas & Friends became the subject of several internet memes such as the "Thomas O'Face" and "The Fat Controller Laughed" and was even the centrepiece of an article for The New Yorker, which explored supposedly authoritarian subtexts present in the show.
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- These series also aired in a half-hour format.
- Until Series 20, these series also aired in a half-hour format. As of series 22, the episodes themselves only run for 7 minutes, with the remainder of the episodes being used for educational segments.
- The first half for series 3 was released straight-to-video before airing on TV. ITV also rebroadcast series 6-8 after the Nick Jr. airings.
- These series were later broadcast on TV through Cartoon Network, but they were first released to VHS in the United Kingdom.
- Series 6-8 were reran on CITV, while series 9-11 were reran on Channel 5.
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