James is very proud of his splendid red paintwork. He hates pulling trucks and believes that he should only pull coaches. He thinks himself superior to the others and can be shallow, boastful, naughty and vain, particularly to those who appear old-fashioned, weak, slow, or dirty. This has caused him to have somewhat of a rivalry with Toby. However, on a number of occasions, he has found himself in need of help from those whom he has insulted and is, in the end, apologetic.
James was the last engine to retain a prejudice against diesels. However, after stalling on a cold day, he was rescued by the Works Diesel and James had to admit that nothing was wrong with diesels. This appears to be one of the few lessons that has stuck.
Despite everything else, James has shown a caring side, is normally hard-working and like everybody else, wants to be a responsible, reliable and really useful engine on Sir Topham Hatt's railway.
In The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways, it is stated that James is based on a Class 28 locomotive from the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Works, itself a development of the Class 27. The Class 28 engines were designed by George Hughes and had Belpaire fireboxes, a Schmidt superheater and an extended footplate and sandbox. James has been modified with an experimental leading pony truck (making hime a 2-6-0 instead of a 0-6-0), six 5'6" driving wheels, and a Fowler tender.
Sodor "historian" Martin Clutterbuck has pointed out that James strongly resembles a G&SWR "Austrian Goods" 2-6-0 from the Glasgow and South Western Railway, but with the addition of a Belpaire firebox. At any rate, the Reverend W. Awdry used an engine of this class to represent James on his model railway. It is possible that he rejected this prototype for James' official "biography" on the grounds that an English locomotive would be more likely to end up on Sodor.
James was originally painted in L&YR's mixed traffic black with red lining before his accident and was given his red coat with yellow stripes and black lining to cheer him up. Sometime during the 1960s, James' black lining was repainted blue and gold. James has the number "5" painted in bright yellow with a blue border on his tender sides.
In the television series, James has always been painted North Western Railway red with gold stripes and black lining, with three exceptions: in the tenth season episode The Green Controller, when he was painted yellow and black, like a bumblebee, on Percy's orders. Then, in the thirteenth season episode, Tickled Pink, James was painted in a pink undercoat. Though he was painted red in his official debut episode, he was painted in his black livery from the Railway Series in The Adventure Begins and had lining on the back of his tender. This disappeared when he was given his red livery. In The Great Race, golden linings and certain flowers were added to him for the best decorated engine parade.
In the Railway Series, he carries two builder's plates on the sides of his cab.
- Season 100 - Geoffrey's Real (cameo), Toby and Philip (cameo), Henry the Warrior, Diesel Saves the Day (cameo), Trouble with Brakevans, Samson's Waste Dump, Jealous James, The Crashing Kipper, Mike and James, The Lost Letters (cameo), Snowploughing at Christmas, The Christmas Engines, Duncan's Dilemma (cameo), Henry in the Darkness, and Timothy and the Aquarium (cameo)
- Michael Angelis (Thomas and the Magic Railroad; original workprints only)
- Susan Roman (Thomas and the Magic Railroad)
- Keith Wickham (UK; Hero of the Rails onwards)
- Kerry Shale (US; Hero of the Rails - eighteenth season)
- Rob Rackstraw (US; The Adventure Begins onwards)
- Fabrice Trojani (France and French speaking Canada; eighth season onwards)
- Katsuji Mori (Japan; first - eighth seasons)
- Masashi Ebara (Japan; Calling All Engines! onwards)
- Helge Winther Larsen (Norway; Hero of the Rails - Tale of the Brave)
- Paul Ottar Haga (Norway; eighteenth season onwards)
- Simone Crisari (Italy)
- Héctor Emmanuel Gómez (Latin America; Thomas and the Magic Railroad; TV Version)
- Mario Castañeda (Latin America; Hero of the Rails onwards)
- Wanja Gerick (Germany; Thomas and the Magic Railroad)
- Tobias Schmidt (Germany; Hero of the Rails onwards excluding Day of the Diesels)
- Waldemar Barwiński (Poland; Hero of the Rails onwards)
- Jeremy Luton (The Netherlands)
- Asaf Corman (Israel; Thomas and the Magic Railroad)
- Gadi Levy (Israel; Tale of the Brave and King Of the Railway)
- Gilan Shachaf (Israel; Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure)
- Troells Toya (Denmark)
- Lucas Gama (Brazil; seventeenth season onwards)
- Ulisses Bezerra (Brazil; Tale of the Brave only)
- Jorge Teixeira (Spain)
- Petri Hanttu (Finland; Hero of the Rails onwards)
- Olga Kuznetsova (Russia; excluding Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure)
- A large-scale working replica of James, along with replicas of Thomas, Percy, Harold and Jack, was created by BBC Visual Effects for a tour in 2003. The battery powered locomotive is listed in the 2004 Guinness Book of Records as the largest model railway engine ever built, at 2.64 x 1.5 x 6.52 metres.
- In Toby's New Whistle, James revealed that he once had a three-chimed whistle.
- In the television series, James has been painted four different liveries, more than any other engine. These include his Black, Red, Busy Bee (Black and Yellow), and his pink livery.
- One of James' models is currently on display in Japan at the Hara Railway Museum (previously on display at Nitrogen Studios). Another model was sold to an unknown buyer.
- In an interview with SiF, Andrew Brenner stated James was one of his favourite characters, along with Toby, Bill and Ben.
- Nathan Clarke did an audio sample for James on his DAA Management Page.
- James' whistle is a low G and middle D flat chime.
- James is named after James Furze, a friend of the son of the man who published the second book in the Railway Series.
- James is the only Sodor Steam Team member to not have a video for Meet the Contenders.
- James has undergone numerous modifications through the television series, including:
- Season 3:
- His brake pipe now faces downwards.
- Season 4:
- His whistle sound changed to a higher-pitched version of Duck's, except in Bowled Out.
- The brass window frames on his cab became smaller.
- Season 5:
- His whistle changed back to how it originally sounded.
- His brake pipe now faces upwards.
- Thomas and the Magic Railroad:
- His brake pipe now faces downwards again.
- The curve on James' cab lining underneath his window became shallower.
- Season 6:
- His safety valve disappeared.
- Season 10:
- The rivets on his buffers disappeared.
- His buffers were moved down slightly.
- Season 12:
- His signature crow's feet thinned.
- His eyebrows became thicker.
- Hero of the Rails:
- He increased in size, making the top of his boiler the same height as Gordon's. His cab, funnel and tender were also scaled up accordingly, though his cab roof became rounder and his cab windows became slightly smaller.
- The curve on James' cab lining became even more shallower.
- His signature crow's feet returned.
- Season 17:
- He gained permanent lamps on his front and tender.
- The Adventure Begins:
- Painted in his black Railway Series livery and received external brake shoes with wooden blocks were added on his rear driving wheels. Following his accident, he still had his brake shoes, but the wood blocks were replaced and he was repainted into his current livery. This change only appeared in this special.
- His brake pipe now faces upwards again.
- His side rods became silver.
- Season 3: