Wilbert Vere Awdry (1911 - 1997) is famous for one thing: Thomas the Tank Engine.
Awdry wrote the books in the immediate post-war period, when the UK railways were gradually replacing steam engines with diesel-electrics and Dr. Richard Beeching was pulling up branch lines all over the UK. The idea sprang from stories Awdry made up to tell to his son Christopher who was ill in bed with the measles. Christopher demanded that the stories be told over and over, and would not let his father change any detail. This scenario will be familiar to anyone who has tried to tell made-up stories to 3-year-olds. Awdry's solution was to write them down. And then, because there were a lot of different stories, to set up a map of their fictional home, Sodor
Awdry said his interest in railways was sparked by his father, also a vicar, who used to take the young Wilbert on walks in the Hampshire countryside, often stoppping to talk to the plate layers working on the railway line. This was around 1914, the beginning of the Great War in Europe. Awdry senior retired in 1916, when young Wilbert was just 5 years old, and the family moved to a house in Box, Wiltshire, adjacent to Brunel's Great Western Railway. Those who know Box will know that it is a long climb: two miles of 1 in 100 grade. The old steam engines found it hard to climb this hill, so the railway company provided a small tank engine to help pull the goods trains up the hill. Awdry said that he lay awake at night as a boy, imagining the conversations these snorting steam engines might be having.
Following a training into the priesthood and his ordination in 1936, Awdry was appointed curate in King's Norton in Birmingham. In 1943 His 3-year-old son Christopher fell ill with the measles. To keep Christopher amused, Awdry would tell him stories made up on the spur of the moment, and based around those childhood memories. Because Christopher wanted the same stories over and over and told with the same words, Awdry wrote them down. He claims to have had no thought of getting them published.
Through family contacts and pressure from relatives, the stories found their way to a literary agent
and from there to a Mr Edmund Ward, a publisher
. The rest, as they say, is history.
Awdry was persuaded to write one book a year, and continued to do so for over 25 years. Awdry continued as a minister, moving from parish to parish while writing these books, and was able to retire in 1965, aged just 54, leaving him more time to write. He continued with the one book per year tradition, eventually retiring from his writing in 1972.
He was awarded the OBE in 1995
Awdry died after a long period of ill-health at his home in Stroud, Gloucestershire on Friday March 21, 1997
The original 26 books, written by Awdry, together with year of publication.
The Three Railway Engines (1945)
Thomas the Tank Engine (1946)
Janes the Red Engine (1948)
Tank Engine Thomas Again (1949)
Troublesome Engines (1950)
Henry the Green Engine (1951)
Toby the Tram Engine (1952)
Gordon the Blue Engine (1953)
Edward the Blue Engine (1954)
Four Little Engines (1955)
Percy the Small Engine (1956)
The Eight Famous Engines (1957)
Duck and the Diesel Engine (1958)
The Little Old Engine (1959)
The Twin Engines (1960)
Branch Line Engines (1961)
Gallant Old Engines (1962)
Stepney the 'Bluebell' Engine (1963)
Mountain Engines (1964)
Very Old Engines (1965)
Main Line Engines (1966)
Small Railway Engines (1967)
Enterprising Engines (1968)
Oliver the Western Engine (1969)
Duke the Lost Engine (1970)
Tramway Engines (1972)
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