TRIBUTE: First-glass locomotive

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HE'S starred in books, appeared in his own television series and is pictured on lunchboxes, pyjamas and duvet covers up and down the land.

HE'S starred in books, appeared in his own television series and is pictured on lunchboxes, pyjamas and duvet covers up and down the land.But now Thomas The Tank Engine's much-loved face is set to beam down on the congregation of St Edmund's Church in Emneth, near Wisbech.

The creator of the little blue locomotive, the Reverend Wilbert Awdry, who was vicar of the church between 1953 and 1965, is to be remembered with a new stained glass window.

The brightly coloured panel measuring 2ft by 18ins, commissioned by the Awdry family, bears the inscriptions "In memory of the Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry, vicar of Emneth 1953 - 1965".

The congregation is set to get their first glimpse of the memorial masterpiece on Sunday.

Denis Pickles, churchwarden at St Edmund's, said it took two years to get the design drawn up, approved by Ely Diocese, to get copyright for the image and have the intricate panel made.

He said: "It's delightful. It's a south-

facing window, so it's got the light behind it all day. People are very pleased there's going to be something a little bit different in the church, particularly our younger members."

Mr Pickles, who reads Thomas' adventures to his own grandchildren, added: "It's delightful that our vicar for 13 years, who has given so much joy to children worldwide, is to be celebrated in this way."

Mr Awdry, an avid train enthusiast, first made up stories about Thomas and his friends when his young son, Christopher, was ill with the measles.

The clergyman's wife, Margaret – who died in 1989, and already has a memorial at the church – encouraged him to get them published, and in 1945 Thomas The Tank Engine became a runaway success.

After writing 26 classic stories, Mr Awdry retired from writing, and the job passed on to his son, who lives in Oundle.

Mr Awdry was recognised with an OBE in the 1996 New Year's Honours list.

Sadly, he died a year later, aged 85.

Factfile

• The industry based around Thomas The Tank Engine is worth more than 1 billion.

• Nene Valley Railway was forced to change the name of its little blue engine to just Thomas, after a legal battle with the Britt Alcroft Company, which bought the rights from the Rev Wilbert Awdry.

• In November 1989, Thomas The Tank Engine appeared on a stamp, just in time for sending Christmas cards.

• Mr Awdry was paid just 37 12s for his first book.

• Thomas The Tank Engine was used in a railway safety guide for children, written by his son, Christopher.