Wilbert Vere Awdry, OBE, (15 June 1911 – 21 March 1997), was an English clergyman, railway enthusiast and children's author, better known as the Reverend W. Awdry and creator of Thomas the Tank Engine, who starred in Awdry's acclaimed Railway Series.
Awdry was born in Romsey, Hampshire in 1911. The son of a clergyman, he was educated at Dauntseys School, West Lavington, Wiltshire; St Peter's Hall, Oxford (BA, 1932), and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He was ordained into the Anglican priesthood in 1936. In 1938 he married Margaret Wale, and two years later took a curacy in St. Nicholas' Church, Kings Norton, Birmingham where he lived until 1946. He subsequently moved to Cambridgeshire, serving as Rector of Elsworth with Knapwell, 1946–53, and Vicar of Emneth, 1953–65. He retired from full-time ministry in 1965, and moved to Stroud, Gloucestershire.
After the death of his brother in the First World War, he adopted a pacifist ideology.
The characters that would make Awdry famous, and the first stories featuring them, were invented in 1943 to amuse his son Christopher during a bout of measles. After Awdry wrote The Three Railway Engines, he built Christopher a model of Edward, and some wagons and coaches, out of a broomstick and scraps of wood. Christopher also wanted a model of Gordon; however, as that was too difficult Awdry made a model of a little 0-6-0 tank engine. Awdry said: "The natural name was Thomas – Thomas the Tank Engine". Then Christopher requested stories about Thomas and these duly followed and were published in the famous book Thomas the Tank Engine, released in 1946.
The first book (The Three Railway Engines) was published in 1945, and by the time Awdry stopped writing in 1972, The Railway Series numbered 26 books. Christopher subsequently added further books to the series.
Awdry's enthusiasm for railways did not stop at his publications. He was involved in railway preservation, and built model railways, which he took to exhibitions around the country.
Awdry wrote other books besides those of The Railway Series, both fiction and non-fiction. The story Belinda the Beetle was about a red car (it became a Volkswagen Beetle only in the illustrations to the paperback editions).
Wilbert Awdry was awarded an OBE in the 1996 New Year’s Honours List, but by that time his health had deteriorated and he was unable to travel to London. He died peacefully in Stroud, Gloucestershire, on 21 March 1997, at the age of 85. His ashes are interred at Gloucester Crematorium.
Two locomotives are named after him. The first, a Class 91 Locomotive, bears the name The Rev W Awdry. The other, a Hunslet Austerity 0-6-0ST engine on the Dean Forest Railway is named Wilbert after him; and was used as the title character in Christopher Awdry's Railway Series book Wilbert the Forest Engine.
'Letter' to ChristopherEdit
In the second book in the series, Thomas the Tank Engine, Awdry wrote this 'letter' to Christopher:
- Dear Christopher,
- Here is your friend Thomas, the Tank Engine.
- He wanted to come out of his station-yard and see the world.
- These stories tell you how he did it.
- I hope you will like them because you helped me to make them.
- Your Loving Daddy
Subsequent books featured a similar letter from the author, addressed to the readers of the book as "Dear Friends", which introduced the background to the stories within the book.
This text also appears at the beginning of Thomas and Friends episodes from 2003-today. The "letter" appears with a story book showing Thomas on the front cover with "THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE" at the top and BY THE REV. W. AWDRY at the bottom. The book then opens up and we see the letter, after the letter is finished a "steam" transition appears and it transitions to the Thomas & Friends theme song. A flash version of this letter can be seen on the Thomas & Friends website as "Author's Message", (which inaccurately states that Awdry wrote the letter in The Three Railway Engines which is the only Railway Series volume not to begin with a Foreword).
Appearences in the Railway SeriesEdit
The Reevrend Awdry himself makes a few appearences in the Railway Series books he made through the years, the most notable ones was where he appeared along with his friend Teddy Boston in Small Railway Engines and Duke the Lost Engine as the Thin Clergyman. A memorial to him was erected at Tidmouth Terminus in the most recent Railway Series volume, Thomas and his Friends.