From Tank Engines to Satellites

Anth Ginn, the creative mind behind Shorty the Satellite, The Scrubs and he Dubs, and The City of Lost Submarines, writes about his life, inspirations … and even makes a confession.


I’ve been married for about forty-five years. My wife, Dot and I met at teachers’ college in Alsager, Cheshire. We were fully qualified hippies with certificates in psychedelics, freedom, and guitar based rock music and part of a hippy, anarcho group called the Talke Pits Development Company.

Needless to say society wasn’t ready for us, and we were asked to leave college. We left town and went down to Glastonbury. It was 1971. Michael Evis and a bunch of rich hippies were organising the first Glastonbury music festival on Worthy Farm, in Somerset. The Talke Pits Development Company became part of the crew setting up the festival.

I wrote about those times in a book called The Nazis, the Hippies, the Guru and Bonzo the Lost Dog.

After Glastonbury, Dot and I travelled overland to India. We spent the winter in a grass hut on a beach in Goa, for which we paid 10p. After a year we returned to England and joined a Guru-cult. Meditation and vegetarianism were quite popular.

We calmed down a bit, moved into a squat in Clapham, South London, and found teaching jobs. We had two children and the years began to fly by. I became interested in educational robotics and was involved with several robots which appeared in the 80s. I wrote user guides, and the programming manual for Logo – a programming language in its own right. At the same time, I was writing my own stuff: stories, poetry, etc.

Then came my break with Story Teller. An old friend, Malcom Livingstone, the illustrator, contacted me. He’d been working for a partwork – Storyteller 1 by Marshall Cavendish. They wanted to bring a second series out, and were looking for new stories. I sent them “Shorty” and they liked it. After that came, “The City of Lost Submarines”, and “The Scrubs and the Dubs.”

I liked Story Teller. It had class. Great stories, great illustrators, quality tapes. I was proud to be associated with such an outfit.

What influenced me to write Shorty? Well, I confess it was inspired by the Railway stores of the Rev. Audrey – Thomas the Tank Engine etc. I loved those books in the 1950s, when I was growing up. I thought, “Why not bring Thomas the Tank Engine and his pals into the future? Use spaceships instead of steam engines.” Here endeth my confession.

The only characters based on real people were Molly and Bill, the robotic ice hockey sticks, and Ike the puck in the Christmas edition. These were named after my mum, dad and younger brother. No other spaceships have any connection with anyone living or dead. Any resemblance is purely coincidental.

I worked with Malcom on Shorty and The City of Lost Submarines. I’ve worked on lots of stuff with him over the years. He’s incredibly talented, creative and funny, and I’m always happy to work with him. It’s a privilege.

I think Nigel Lambert did a great job of reading the story. I was flattered.

The Scrubs and the Dubs was inspired by the fairy tale, “The Elves and the Shoemaker.” The elves come out at night and mend the shoes, but it’s a mystery because nobody ever sees them. Throw in a war between the diligent launderette pixies and the dirty burger elves and you have it.

Would I be willing to write more Shorty episodes? I certainly would.

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