History of the railway Series

The Railway Series books have lasted over 65 years in a full print run and produced up to 41 individual books, here we examine those 65 years that were to become a phenomenon...

The image that begin it all...

From the point of their creation in 1945, the Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s characters have played a major role in children’s lives, but only meant for one in the beginning.  Christopher Awdry was three years old when he fell ill with measles and confined to bed to recover.  After eventually exhausting all other forms of entertainment that were available to them, the Reverend began to create his own stories to keep the invalid’s spirits up.

Middleton's Edward

Being raised by a Railway Enthusiast, Wilbert Awdry developed a passion for locomotives of his own.  As a child he would listen to the puffing sounds of the engines outside his home in Box, Wiltshire, and in his own mind, would imagine them conversing with one another.  The rhythmic sounds of big goods engine at the front struggling with his load would call, “I can’t do it! I can’t do it!” while the ‘banker’ it had crowed for to help push would call back, “Oh yes you can!  Oh yes you can!  It would be these experiences that he would draw from when developing his own stories.

The Three Railway Engines

The first story that sprang to mind was a simple one about a little engine who hadn’t been out for a long time, and finally been given the chance to run again.  However, this little engine wasn’t Thomas The Tank Engine – it was Edward The Blue Engine!  Edward’s Day Out was the first of three stories that were told over and over again to the young Christopher Awdry.  The stories comprised of three characters: Edward, Gordon and Henry.  Edward was small and hadn't been out for a long time; Gordon was proud and boastful, but soon got his comeuppance; Henry was worried in case the rain would spoil his paint and wouldn't come out of a tunnel, and in the end became bricked up inside for his bad behaviour! 

The Three Railway Engines Book

These stories were told regularly to amuse the mind of the three year old, and were later written down by his father so as to prevent making further mistakes when reading them.  Sensing potential in the tales, Mrs Awdry suggested that the stories should be sent for publication, and after much persuasion, attempts were made by the Reverend.  After many rejection letters he finally found a publisher in the form of Edmund Ward, a distant cousin of his wife, who asked for a fourth story where Henry was released from his incarceration and therefore provided a happy ending to the book.  The Reverend Awdry agreed to the terms and wrote the fourth story, which went on to become the standard routine for his books from there on in.  Christened The Three Railway Engines, the book went on to become a popular title following publication in 1945.

The original Gordon - consigned to history

The first volume was illustrated simplistically by an inexperienced artist, William Middleton, who had been hired through Edmund Ward’s printing connections.  These were not entirely to the satisfaction of the author, however, thoughts on the book were primarily as a one-off concern.  This was not to be the case – and Middleton’s versions of The Three Railway Engines were to become obsolete in subsequent editions of the book, being reillustrated by C Reginald Dalby, the first long-term illustrator for the Railway Series, to bring them into line with the later additions and the far superior quality of the images presented.

Thomas in the shed with Edward and Henry

The popularity of the first book prompted a second.  This time, the impact would be more widespread as he introduced his most iconic character, Thomas The Tank Engine, and chronicled his heart warming tale of determination, in which Thomas sought freedom from shunting coaches at the Big Station for the bigger engines, wanting to leave the yard and see the world, believing throughout that he could do the work the bigger engines did, finally doing so after being rewarded with his own Branch Line for his hard work and bravery in helping to rescue James after he crashed on his first day.  The Reverend Awdry wrote his first preface in this book, dedicating it to the child who had began it all, Christopher.

Thomas at the water tower

Middleton was not asked back to illustrate Thomas the Tank Engine, this duty falling to another artist, Reginald Payne, who suggested basing Thomas on an E2 Billington Tank.  Payne’s illustrations were advancement on Middleton’s, creating a more realistic scene and developing Awdry’s vision of his ‘region’.  Little did Payne realise that he had played a major part in creating an icon that would resonate for several decades as one of the most popular children’s characters of all time...

The famous red engine

Following a year's hiatus in 1947, Awdry was asked to write another book, which he used to properly introduce James The Red Engine , which also saw the introduction of the man who set the style’ C Reginald Dalby.  Dalby and Awdry had very different views on how the illustration of the books should be done, and whilst the presentation of Dalby’s work was of a very eye-catching standard, which differentiated his work from other illustrators and Awdry’s writings from other authors, the technical and sizing inaccuracy that plagued the drawings led to a difficult relationship for both author and illustrator.  Awdry did not like Dalby’s attitude to the task in hand, and encouraged him to draw from life, but this was not forthcoming from the artist, who felt that the stories had a very short shelf-life.

Thomas and Bertie

However, Awdry would later go on to produce a new book every year with the exception of 1971, until Tramway Engines in 1972.  Throughout these, he developed a ‘proper’ railway network, complete with its own complexities and eccentricities, and with the help of his brother George, set about mapping his railway and creating a fictional history for the North Western Railway’s home, The Island of Sodor.

Percy, Edward and Thomas at Tidmouth

Through the use of this framework, the stories that the Reverend told were able to develop as a result.  Awdry treated Sodor as a working railway network, complete with Branch Lines, the first exposed one being given to Thomas.  He also drew inspiration for his stories from real life events, a prime example from the earlier books being in Troublesome Engines, which reflected the strike action taken by workers when disputes between management and staff came to a head.  In this particular case, the big engines demanding a tank engine to do their shunting in the yard, an order fulfilled by Percy.

And from there, as with any railway, it continued to grow and develop and this was reflected in the character base used.  Thomas was joined by Toby on the Branch Line, and was later joined by Percy when the workload at the Big Station became too great for an engine of his size, prompting the arrival of Duck. 

Skarloey receives a greeting from the children

But whilst Awdry was keen to draw inspiration mainly from articles in The Railway Gazette, in 1952, he found himself with a suggestion by LTC Rolt, General Manager of the Talyllyn Railway in North Wales.  The Talyllyn had become the first railway in the world to be run entirely by volunteer labour, sparking the preservation movement which saw numerous other lines being saved, reopened or rebuilt.  The Rev Awdry had become one of these early volunteers and spent several summers working on the railway.  It was thought to be a splendid idea by both Rolt and Awdry for a new set of stories, but publishers were initially reluctant at the introduction of these new characters.  After successfully persuading Kaye and Ward, the Skarloey Railway was introduced through Edward in the book Four Little Engines.

Talyllyn - illustrated by John Kenney

Relations between the Talyllyn and Skarloey Railways were cultivated throughout Awdry’s later books and a strong bond between the two railways emerged, which remains prominent to the present day on the Talyllyn Railway, who have devoted part of their Narrow Gauge Museum to the memory of Wilbert Awdry, even recreating much of his study.  The promotion of the railway led to their fictional ‘twinning’ in The Little Old Engine, following Skarloey’s return from repairs, which happened around the same time as Talyllyn’s return to service.  The centenary of the Talyllyn Railway was also acknowledged in the 1965 book, Very Old Engines, which drew from very early Talyllyn Railway events.

"A green caterpillar with red stripes," - W. Awdry

Difficulties between Awdry and Dalby came to a head in 1956, and the artist withdrew his support for the series.  Having illustrated nine of the books since his collaboration with Awdry in 1947, he also reillustrated The Three Railway Engines and made improvements to Thomas the Tank Engine, however, his unrealistic design for Percy had raised too many concerns for Awdry to ignore.  With Dalby gone, a replacement artist was brought in, with John T Kenney taking over the role and while attempting to emulate his predecessor, created a far more realistic and exciting vision for the Railway Series illustrations which pleased the Reverend Awdry no end.

The Devious Diesel...

The twelfth book in the Railway Series, The Eight Famous Engines, was hoped by Awdry to be the last with the engines visiting the Mainland to ‘prove’ their existence.  Kaye and Ward weren’t keen to end the series, and urged Awdry to continue.  This he did beautifully with the introduction of the series’ most iconic villain.  Diesel was presented to the audience initially as an arrogant, over-confident and slimy creep who was trying to supersede his steam engine counterparts.  Plans for modernisation were already underway, and the character was made to reflect this – he was a precursor for things to come and themes that Awdry would go on to discuss and develop within his series of stories.

A haven for steam is born

However, Awdry did not wish to present all Diesels as antagonists.  Characters such as Rusty and Daisy were introduced to counteract the influence of Diesel, living in harmony alongside the existing fleet of steam locomotives, as opposed to replacing them.  But The Twin Engines presented the grimmer reality of what was happening throughout British Railways’ Modernisation Plan.  Donald and Douglas were one of the first examples of a threat to the existence of steam, with two engines escaping the cutter’s torch by sneaking away together to Sodor from Scotland – with one of them there on false pretences.  It also presents one of the first instances of the Island of Sodor as being a ‘haven for steam’.

Awdry's Friendly Diesels

The Gallant Old Engine

John T Kenney’s final contributions to the Railway Series were in Gallant Old Engine, at which point his eyesight was deteriorating and felt that his work may suffer as a result.  Kenney honourably stood down as the illustrator for the series in 1962, and the search began again for a new artist.  A young artist called Gunvor Edwards took up the role, but found it difficult to meet the postcard size images that Kaye and Ward required to fit the style of the books.  Her husband, Peter, stepped in to assist and thus began a third artistic style of Railway Series illustration, which would last until the final book in 1972.

Stepney the 'Bluebell' Engine

The idea of Sodor as a ‘haven for steam’ was further explored in Stepney the Bluebell Engine, written to promote the Bluebell Railway in Sussex, a fledging steam preservation society who were one of the first operational Heritage Railways specialising in safe-guarding the future of standard gauge locomotives.  Stepney’s book took a hard look at what was happening across the British Rail network and offered a glimmer of hope for the survival of steam, whilst still throwing mud in the eye of another uppity Diesel!

Culdee and Catherine

Awdry’s love of oddities continued to shine through as well as he developed Sodor further.  In his follow-up to Stepney, he introduced the Culdee Fell Railway, based on the Snowdon Mountain Railway in North Wales.  Mountain Engines introduced a set of new engines, three of whom were properly developed, and explored the complexities and difficulties of operating a mountain railway, which were predominately different to that of a normal operation.  Again, drawing inspiration from real life incidents that had taken place on the Snowdon Mountain Railway, Awdry only ever managed one volume for this railway.  Artist of the time, Peter Edwards, recalls the experience illustrating the volume fondly, even going down to the workshops of the railway to illustrate the locomotives the author had based his engines on from life.

Rex and Mike of the Small Railway

Awdry also began to explore his railway network by examining Edward’s Branch Line in Main Line Engines, introducing us to Boco, Bill and Ben and the China Clay Works at Brendam, as well as another Branch Line which would go on to be run by Duck, Donald and Douglas, connecting with a Small Railway, built on the trackbed of a former narrow gauge operation.  However, with steam evaporating on British Railways, the stories set on the Island of Sodor were beginning to prove more and more difficult to draw up.  Whilst aspects such as the Small Railway provided a distraction, Awdry’s ‘haven for steam’ had become an ideal in a modernising world.

The 'Steam Haven' is affirmed

Enterprising Engines coincided with the final year of steam on British Railways in 1968.  It was Awdry’s darkest work and the last book he wrote for the Main Line Engines.  Oliver’s escape from scrap was the starkest realisation of the threat facing steam in the Railway Series; however, the assurance was given that steam would always remain on the Island of Sodor no matter what.  The following books made an attempt to carry on the legacy of what Awdry had begun in his later books to develop his network, with stories devoted to newer characters and settings such as the Little Western and the Small Railway. 

Duke the Lost Engine

The author also chose to explore the past of the Skarloey Railway’s No.3 and No.4, delving into the defunct Mid Sodor Railway – proof that not everything is sacrosanct on the Island... however, continuing the legacy of happy endings as the two were reunited with their old friend, Duke, who had been lost for 26 years in an old shed.

Mavis with the trucks

In 1971, Awdry was finding it increasingly difficult to draw material for a 26th volume, and thus plumped instead to produce The Surprise Pack, filled with ‘stories, games, puzzles, things to make and things to do’.  The final Railway Series volume to be written by the Reverend Awdry was Tramway Engines, fittingly set on Thomas’s Branch Line.  The book explored the troubled relationships between Thomas and Percy, and Toby as he struggled with his new companion, Mavis, who was the new shunter at the Quarry.  Although Awdry had fully intended to write another, the 27th volume to be named Really Useful Engines, he felt he would be scraping the bottom of the barrel for story ideas and did not wish to impart that upon his readership.

1979 and 1980 Annuals

Back cover of the 1980 annual - smoke rings

The Railway Series lay dormant for eleven years, however, in this time, the Reverend Awdry compiled two Annuals for 1979 and 1980.  Neither of these contained new stories, but provided some background information as to where Awdry drew inspiration for some of his stories, bringing some of the heritage railway lines he frequented to the fore such as the Talyllyn, Ravenglass and Eskdale, and Sodor’s nearest island neighbour, the Isle of Man.  The annuals were illustrated by Edgar Hodges, who sought to emulate the style set by Peter Edwards in the 1970s.  A Sodor Island interview with Edgar can be found by clicking here.  Also throughout this time, Willie Rushton continued to read the Railway Stories aloud for audio cassette, the final edition of The Railway Stories audio books being released in 1984.

Useful as ever after 11 years...

But the spirit of the Railway Series never went away.  Kaye and Ward publishers were still eager to receive new material from Awdry, and were most surprised and pleased when a 27th Railway Series title was delivered to them for consideration.  Not by the Reverend, but by his son, Christopher.  Christopher Awdry had been inspired by a visit to the Nene Valley Railway, where a Driver had suggested an incident to him for his father’s consideration as a story.  Knowing his father had long since retired, Christopher began writing new stories based on the characters for his son Richard, who was now three.  Again, Margaret Awdry played a hand in spurring him on, and the Reverend encouraged Christopher to contact Kaye and Ward.

Gordon the Big Engine

Christopher had attempted to carve out an identity as a writer in his own right, penning several Detective novels aimed at the adult market.  These were not deemed fit for publication, but Christopher himself wrote it off as a learning curve.  Instead, he began contributing articles to Steam Railway magazine, the idea for his first Thomas story arising when he was researching a story on van restoration.  Kaye and Ward welcomed the new addition and thought it would be a ‘really useful’ tie-in for the upcoming television series, which was due to begin airing the following year.  However, the revival could have ended as quickly as it had begun, as the head of Heinemann Books at the time hated the Railway Series and it was only through the persistence of editor Rosemary Debnam that the books were able to continue through Christopher.

Thomas and the Missing Christmas Tree

The unique feature of Christopher’s books, by comparison to his father’s, were that they would all be done by the same illustrator – Clive Spong.  Clive had been a fan of the books through childhood and would go on to be very involved in other books published under the Awdry name, such as tie-in books and pop-up books based on classic stories.  In the 2007 compendium of Christopher Awdry Railway Series books, the author praised his illustrator for the stylistic quality he brought to the fifteen books they worked on together, as well as the multitude of tie-ins that were produced for association with the TV Series.

The tie-in illustrations of Spong & Lings

Thomas's Christmas Party book cover

Although the Reverend Awdry had retired from writing new material, he did bring himself to adapt a new story written by Britt Allcroft and David Mitton – Thomas’ Christmas Party, which was illustrated by Clive Spong as a tie-in book for both the Railway Series and TV Series universes, as part of an agreement that all material broadcast had to appear in print form first.  Further to this, the Reverend also adapted two of his older books for TV Series tie-in, Thomas Comes To Breakfast, and Thomas and Gordon Off The Rails – based on Off The Rails and Down The Mine (illustrated by Stephen Lings).

Sir Handel and Gordon

Christopher continued on to develop a modern image of Sodor.  He showed the continuing disharmony of steam and Diesel engines on the Island in James and the Diesel Engines, and furthered explored the relations between the Talyllyn Railway and Skarloey Railway further by writing about Sir Handel’s trip to Wales in Great Little Engines, based on the mock-up of the Talyllyn’s No.3 from 1982 to 1984.  However, his 1986 offering More About Thomas The Tank Engine, was at the request of Britt Allcroft who wanted more Thomas related material for the TV Series.  Three of the stories made it to the 1986 broadcast and brought back characters such as Bertie, Harold and Terence, primarily for TV Series attention.

Not the last time Diesel would come back....

Relations between the TV Series and Awdry family were generally positive, with Christopher actively writing additional stories for Annuals as well as the official Railway Series books from 1984 onward.  In addition to these, Christopher also produced several tie-in books for the TV Series audience such as Thomas and The Evil Diesel, Thomas and the Missing Christmas Tree (written for television by Britt Allcroft and David Mitton – adapted by Christopher) and Thomas and the Hurricane (illustrated by Stephen Lings).  Throughout the 1990s, a number of books aimed at younger children were also produced. 

A High Speed Train on Sodor?

Throughout the 1980s, the TV Series had little influence over what Christopher wrote, and allowed him to continue developing Sodor in modern time in the real world.  High Speed Trains such as Pip and Emma were prominent examples of modern transport, and presented a very stark contrast to the quaint ways of working on the Island of Sodor.  It was around the time of writing Gordon the High Speed Engine in 1987 that Christopher was able to give up his job at the Inland Revenue and pursue a career as a writer, both in fictional storytelling and as a railway historian in his own right.

The Island of Sodor

In 1987, the Reverend Awdry and his brother George presented an indepth guide to the Railway Series books and Sodor universe.  The Island Of Sodor looked at all aspects of the island’s fictional history, a complete encyclopedia on everything regarding Sodor from the building of the railways, the history of the locomotives, the prominent Railway staff members and their families, as well as the History of the Island itself politically, economically and socially.  The book only received one print run throughout 1987, and has since become a collector’s item, with all copies signed by the Reverend Awdry and some with his brother George’s accompanying.  In recent years, prices when sold at online auction site E-bay often have been known to exceed the 100 mark, the highest recorded sale being a whopping 155!

Jock the New Engine

However, as the influence of the TV Series grew, it began to impact upon the Railway Series.  Kaye and Ward were bought out and Heinemann Books took over their publications, relaxing the rules imposed upon the TV Series and allowing for Thomas to take greater presence in the centre stage of the stories.  Whilst Christopher Awdry was allowed some level of creative freedom to develop new characters such as Jock the New Engine, set on the Small Railway, the publishers were keen to play on the popularity of the TV Series title character – thus, the majority of Christopher’s stories throughout the 1990s were set on the Ffarquhar Branch Line.

The Fat Controller's Engines

The thirty-ninth book in the series would also coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the Railway Series, and while Christopher had already written a volume he was satisfied with, the publishers rejected it and favoured a Thomas volume instead.  Until the 11th hour, the new book was to be called The Fat Controller’s Engines, however, the publishers felt it would be better to market the book as Thomas and the Fat Controller’s Engines instead, reckoning it would sell more copies.  Sadly, this did not have the desired effect.  (Throughout the period that the Railway Series was out of print, this volume was the most difficult to find!)  Christopher had suffered a similar rejection before, previously with a book called Barry the Rescue Engine.  Barry would have been a BR Standard 2 class engine, and had been intended to be an engine rescued from Barry Scrapyard in South Wales for restoration.  The publishers vetoed the book on the grounds that they wished to concentrate on existing and popular characters in the Railway Series.

Wilbert's Biography

To coincide with the 50th anniversary, Wilbert was honoured with the release of a biography written by Brian Sibley, and a special documentary shot as part of the Bookmark series, called The Thomas The Tank Engine Man.  Both looked at the early life of Awdry, the development of the Railway Series books, and the phenomenon that ensued as a result of the TV Series.  Initially reluctant, the Reverend agreed to be interviewed by the crew and shared his views and experiences on his stories and the impact of Britt Allcroft’s production.  At the time of filming, the Reverend was bed-ridden with illness, and whilst attempting to get out of bed for the producers, found himself unable to do so.  To preserve his dignity, the production team masked the fact he was in a bed through clever camera work.  At this point in time, the producer of the Documentary, Nicholas Jones, is actively seeking to commit it to DVD as it has become such a popular, but rare, feature.  A special page on the Documentary, as well as a tribute to the Reverend by Nicholas Jones can be found by clicking here.

Rev Wilbert Awdry - 1911 to 1997

The 40th volume in the Railway Series was to be the last for eleven years.  New Little Engine was based around the construction and launch of a new Skarloey Railway engine, Ivo Hugh.  In 1996, Heinemann Books were selling off their children’s publishing wing, and with an opportunity in place, Britt Allcroft seized the chance to buy out the copyright to The Railway Series by 1998.  In 1997, the Reverend Awdry died peacefully after a prolonged illness, honoured with an OBE in the Queen’s Honours List of 1995, which he was too ill to attend at the time.  In honour of his passing, The Thomas The Tank Engine Man documentary received another airing in his honour.

Henry the Green Engine - in the new format

The rights to publish the books again were given to Egmont Books, who went about reformatting the style of the Railway Series volumes.  The initial plan had been to republish the books again over a number of years, whilst still incorporating new titles into the series.  However, as opposed to continuing to print the existing versions, Egmont discontinued the entire series immediately in favour of the new one.  The new format did not sit well with fans of the Railway Series, with the illustrations chopped and altered in a bizarre new style, which spread out across the pages and omitted the details of Dalby, Kenney and Spong.  An initial print run of 14 books, 12 of the Reverend’s and 2 of Christopher’s were made, but no further editions were released after these, given the unpopularity of the new format.

Sodor: Reading Between The Lines

Christopher was not asked to write further Railway Series material for Egmont for quite some time.  During this time he set up a new business, Sodor Enterprises, specialising in marketing material he had written based on real railways such as the Eastbourne Railway, which developed as a whole new set of books, and a special book to raise funds for the Corris Railway called Hugh Goes Sliding, based on a true life event with illustrations by Jonathan Clay, which were reminiscent of the Railway Series.  It was through Sodor Enterprises in 2005 (60th Anniversary of The Railway Series) that he was able to write Sodor: Reading Between the Lines, a follow up to The Island of Sodor, in which he chronicled the inspiration behind most of the forty Railway Series books, stories and characters, as well as shedding light on his own thoughts about the situation with Thomas and the lack of Awdry family involvement.

Chris Awdry at the Talyllyn

From 2004 onward, all 26 of the Railway Series books written by the Reverend Awdry returned to an individual print run by Egmont.  The publishers had decided to revert back to the classic format and scrapped the failed new one.  Christopher continued to lobby executives from both rights holders, HIT Entertainment and Egmont Books, trying to convince them that the Railway Series had a future.  Following yet another failed meeting in 2005, Christopher began the “Get Thomas Back on Track” campaign, and started a full petition to get the original books back into a full print run of 40.  Thousands are thought to have signed the petition from across the world in order to show their support for the family to be involved in the product once more.  Through his involvement in Days Out With Thomas events, and touring various book shops throughout Britain, Christopher appeared to have finally convinced Egmont publishing to begin reprinting the original books by late 2006. 

The New Collection

Initial confirmation was received by a member of the Sodor Island Forums, which revealed that the books from 27 to 40 were earmarked for republication in August 2007 in both an anthology like his father’s and in individual print.  It was revealed by online shop Amazon that the first new book by Christopher Awdry since 1996 would be available in September 2007. 

Thomas and Victoria became the 41st Railway Series book, supposed to be released in 1998 as a new format publication, however, due to Egmont's lack of confidence in the selling power of the books, they declined to do so at that time.  The new release was followed with an anthology of Christopher Awdry's work, which has gone into a secondary print run following publication in September of 2007, following popular demand for the books' return.  However, in spite of the popularity of the new title, it took Egmont Books three years to commission a new Railway Series title.  This time, it was to celebrate a very special anniversary.

Railway Series 41 - published 2007

Railway Series 42 was shrouded somewhat in mystery, particularly because Christopher Awdry was producing the title from scratch and not using work that he had ‘banked’.  Throughout 2010, he and his sister Hilary Fortnam took part in various interviews on radio and television to maintain involvement with the 65th Anniversary year of Thomas and the Railway Series books, where Book 42 was frequently mentioned as an upcoming title – but with no definitive information regarding what it was going to be about.

Sodor Castle in our mock image

Early in 2011, Amazon.co.uk listed the new title as Railway Series 42 and hinted toward a new character being introduced into the Railway Series.  Sadly, no information was forthcoming from Egmont Books as it had been previously in 2007, and curiosity was abound on the fan-forums.  But this proved to be something of an advantage to the Staff at Sodor Island Forums who decided to capitalise upon the lack of information to play an elaborate April Fools Day joke, where we would allude to knowing information about the new character is – and hint that it could be one of our own Extended Railway Series characters.  For the most part, the joke was well-received, however, there were those who felt it was a bridge too far, when all was revealed on April 1st 2011.  The joke was intended as a means of promoting Railway Series 42, and heightening interest, as explained in this SiF Blog Post here.

Railway Series 42 had been christened as Thomas & His Friends, which many hoped would be a prototype title – however, it carried the title all the way through to publication.  The book was intended as a means of marking 100 years of the Rev. Awdry’s birth, however, despite this milestone, very little publicity was given to the book by Egmont or HIT Entertainment in the run up to its publication in July of 2011.

Awdry Family with Sir Handel

However, the Talyllyn Railway in Mid-Wales, home to Awdry’s Skarloey Railway held a very special event on the day of the Rev. Awdry’s centenary to mark the occasion.  All three of Awdry’s children attended the event, gave speeches and rode in a special train hauled by ‘Peter Sam’ and ‘Sir Handel’ along the length of the railway.  Christopher Awdry was interviewed for the occasion by ITV Wales, who covered the story as a special interest item.  The Talyllyn Railway was the first Railway Preservation Society in the world, and three generations of the Awdry family have participated there as volunteers, with Christopher holding Society Presidency for a time, and the Rev Awdry being a volunteer Guard.  His grandson, Richard, has assumed this role as well on the railway, and his mother, Diana (Christopher’s former wife) is a blockwoman and an active volunteer.  Click here to read more about the Awdry Centenary Event.

Railway Series 42 - Thomas & His Friends

Railway Series 42, Thomas & His Friends was due for release on the 4th of July 2011, however, due to difficulties at Egmont, the publication date was pushed back a week whilst they printed the books, ready for dispatch.  The books were each received at varying intervals by fans, eager to read the next instalment of the Railway Series books, and many were not disappointed by what they received.  Christopher Awdry fulfilled a long-intended wish of his by introducing Pip & Emma, the High Speed Train, as part of the Sodor Railway network, running services to London from Tidmouth, and displacing Gordon on the Express services.  Two of the stories were clearly recycled and expanded from the 1980s Annuals and the Thomas Noisy Book, which Christopher Awdry had written in the mid 1990s, these being Thomas & The Swan and Gordon’s Fire Service.

Awdry's bust is unveiled

Thomas & His Friends closed with the story, Centenary, which saw a bust of the Rev. Awdry (referred to as the Thin Clergyman) unveiled at Tidmouth Station by a Prince.  The book ended on an ominous note, with the words, THE END, at the bottom of the page – something that has never happened on any other Railway Series book.  Whilst this may be the definitive end of the Railway Series as we know it, Egmont Books have said they will be considering new Railway Series titles for future... whether Christopher Awdry intends to write more at this point in his life is another story altogether.

The Centenary Library (2011)

Despite the future of newer titles is at this moment uncertain, it didn't mean that the legacy of the originals were over. Following previous complete box sets of the entire series devoted to Wilbert's work, another was released in 2011 named "The Centenary Library".  In 2012, Egmont and HiT Entertainment released the first four books for Apple's iBook app, although these are the only digital media titles.

Remastered Railway Series illustrations

In 2013, the Railway Series was to have a bigger recognition on television screens. When Andrew Brenner took over the head writer position for the current television series he chose to feature stories from the books in a series of live action interstitials read by the character Mr. Perkins (Ben Forster) with additional and remastered illustrations by animation illustrator Loraine Marshall, presenting the series to a whole new audience it wasn't always able to reach. This October, the anthology release Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection (first published 1996) will be republished to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Railway Series next year.