By Ann Middleton.

A NUMBER of anniversaries are set to be marked in 2020, many for events that changed the World significantly.

One that could easily be overlooked amongst the plethora of commemorations, was barely noticed at the time but has gone on to have a profound effect on generations of children, was the publication in 1945 of the first of The Railway Series books by Reverend W Awdry.

The books’ central character was Thomas The Tank Engine, a cheeky blue locomotive who, with his friends, ran the railways on the fictious Isle of Sodor under the careful supervision of the firm but benevolent Fat Controller.

In the 75 years since the appearance of the first book Thomas has become a firm favourite with parents and grandparents still reading the stories they remember from their childhood to their own children, passing on the tales of this unlikely hero to a new generation.

Thomas’s influence has spread across the globe and the steam engine character now appears in films using the latest CGI techniques, is the star of a raft of DVDs and has inspired numerous toys and spin off merchandise.

What is remarkable is that the creation of The Railway Series was entirely accidental; Awdry never intended to be a children’s author, he was a vicar with an interest in railways having grown up close to the Great Western Railway mainline not far from the famous Box tunnel. When his son Christopher fell ill with measles, Awdry made up stories to keep him amused and the ones Christopher liked the most were about a group of steam engines.

The young lad pestered his father to tell and retell the stories and was upset if his dad misremembered, left out details or changed the ending so the Reverend ended up writing them down so he could deliver the consistency his young son craved. . . and the rest is history!

With the stories having been inspired by the GWR, it is fitting that the celebrations to mark the 75th Anniversary will kick off at Didcot Railway Centre – the living museum of the Great Western Railway – on Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 March. The event will feature the famous tank engine himself along with Toad the brakevan, The Fat Controller and Sodor station sweepers Rusty and Dusty.

Classic Thomas stories will be brought to life, there will be party games and sing-alongs, balloon modellers, clowns, a chance to see some friendly Great Western engines in the engine shed and, of course, unlimited rides behind Thomas himself!

Tickets at