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The Illustrators page.

The Thomas The Tank Engine Man:
The Reverend W.Awdry

Wilbert Awdry with an engine from the Dean Forest Railway

The Man who was to Create Thomas The Tank Engine and the Other Characters in the Famous Railway Series was Born on 15 June 1911, The son of the Reverend Vere Awdry, Vicar of Ampfield, Near romsey in Hampshire. He Was Christened Wilbert Vere Awdry (his first name combining those of his Fathers favourite brothers, William and Herbert) and inhertited a passion for Steam Engines which had led his father to build a model railway layout in the vicarage garden. Wilbert's Father used to take him on walks around the pasrish during which they often met and talked with local railwaymen; and, long before he could read, Wilbert would sit poring over the pictures in his father's bound copies of The Railway Magazine.
A brother, George, was born when Wilbert was five and, soon afterwards, the awdry family moved to Box in Wiltshire, Near the Great Western Railway's main line from paddington to Bristol. It was here that the seeds of the Railway Series were sown.
Lying in his bed as a child I would hear a heavy goods train coming in and stopping at Box station, then the three whisltes, crowing for a banker, a tank-engine, which would come out of his little shed to help the good train up the gradient. There was no doubt in my mind that Steam Engines all had definite personalities. i would hear them snorting up the grade and little imagination was needed to hear the puffings and pantings of the two engines the conversation they were having with one another: 'I can't do it! I can't do it! I can't do it!' 'yes you can! Yes you can! Yes you can!'
Wilbert was educated at Dauntsey Scholl in West Lavington, Whiltshire, before going to St Peter's Hall, Oxford, where he gained his BA and MA. Deciding to go into the ministry of the church of England, Wilbert studied theology at Wycliffe Hall and, Before being ordained, worked as a teacher at St George's Scholl in jerusalem. It was there that he met and became engaged to Magaret Emily Wale, a teacher at the English High School in Haifa. Returning to England, Wilbert was ordained deacon at Winchester Cathedral in December 1936 and became a curate at odiham in Hampshire. Marrying Margaret when she returned from the holy Land in 1938, Wilbert once been his school chaplain. Problems arose in 1939, when - as war in Europe became am inevitability - Wilbert declared himself a pacifist. He was asked to leave the parish and was on the point of giving up his work as a priest when the pacifist Bishop of Birmingham appointed him to a curacy at the parish of King's Norton.
It was in Birmingham, in 1940, that Wilbert and Margaret's first child, Christopher, was born, followed by two daughters, Veronica in 1943 and Hilary 1946. When Christopher was two years old he was confined to bed with measles. Wilbert entertained his son with a story about a little old engine who was sad.
'Why is he sad, Daddy?'
'Because he's old and hasn't been out for a long time.'
'What's his name, Daddy?'
It was the first name that came into Wilbert's head. By question and answer, he invented the Cinderella-type story of 'Edward's Day Out': how the little engine was eventually given a chance to take out a train of his own. The story was told over and over again and was eventually written down and illustrated with simple line drawings. The adventures of Edward - along with two other engines, Gordon and Henry - might easily have been forgotten had not Margaret Awdry encouraged her husband to offer them to a publisher. In 1945, after being turned down by several publishers, the book was accepted by Edmund Wad and published as The Three Railway Engines.
The most famous of all Wilbert awdry's engine characters appeared the following year in Thomas the Tank Engine.
In 1946, Wilbert was given his first parish at Elsworth and Knapwell, near Cambridge, where he stayed for seven years before moving to Emneth, near Wisbech, During these years, Wilbert continued writing books for children and from James the Red Engine in 1948, published a new Railway Series title each year untill his last book, Tramway Engines, in 1972, The stories featured the already established engines, Thomas, Edward, Gordon and Henry, as well as introducing new characters in such volumes as Toby the Tram Engine, Percy the Small Engine and Duck and the Diesel Engine which featured the type of disagreeable non-steam engine that were increasingly taking over from traditional locomotives to the disgust of wilbert Awdry and many other steam enthusiasts.
With his brother, George, Wilbert invented a fictional setting for his stories situated between the British mainland and the Isle of Man and called the Island of Sodor. The Awdry brothers made maps and wrote a long, detailed history of the island, it's people and raiwlay engines which helped shape many of the events described in the later volumes of the series.
Wilbert also pursued other railway interests: building ambitious model railway layouts in each of his vicarages, taking railway excursions at home and abroad with his brother or his friend the Reverend 'Teddy' Boston, and becoming involved with the work of various railway preservation societies, such as the Talyllyn Railway in Wales, which was to inspire the Skarloey Railway on the Island of Sodor, featured in such books as Four Little Engines and The Little Old Engine.
Another preserved railway was to honour the author of the Railway Series when, in 1987, the Dean forest Railway named one of it's engines 'Wilbert'. By this time, however, Wilbert Awdry had long ceased to be a fulltime clergyman. In 1965, he had retired, or as he put's it, gone 'into private practise', and moved with his wife to Stroud in Gloucester. Sadly, margaret Awdry died in 1989, the year after she and Wilbert celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary.
In addition to the Railway Series, Wilbert Awdry wrote two children's novels about the adventures of a little red three-Wheeled car, Belinda the Beetle and Belinda Beats the Band, and co-edited and contributed to several adult books about railways.
In 1983, eleven years after Wilbert Awdry wrote his last Raiwlay Series title, his son, Christopher, published Really Useful Engines, the first of, to date, fourteen books about the engines of Sodor. The book, like its succesors, was illustrated by Clive Spong who - like Reginald Dalby and John Kenney before him - studied at Leicester College of Art. The following year, 1984 saw the premiere of Britt Allcroft's popular Tv series, Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, narrated by Ringo Starr.
The fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the Three Railway Engines was clebrated in 1995 with an exhibition at the National Raiwlay museum in York. An InterCity 225, running on the east coast line between London and Glasgow, was named the 'Reverend W.Awdry' and the same day saw the publication of a biography, The Thomas the Tank Engine Man. In recognition of his services to childrens literature, Wilbert Awdry was awarded an O.B.E. in the 1996 New Years Honours List.
in his later years, Mr Awdry suffered from osteoporosis, but despite becoming increasingly bed-ridden, he managed nevertheless, to reply to the voluminous correspondence he recived from Thomas fans all over the world. After a prolonged illness, Wilbert Awdry died peacefully, aged 85, on 21 March 1997, at his home in Stroud.

The Man Who Set The Style:
C. Reginald Dalby

C. Reginald Dalby, set the style for the series

PUBLISHED in 1948,  James the Red Engine, was the first of nine volumes of the Railway Series to be illustrated by C. Reginald Dalby, who also re-illustrated the Three Railway Engines and made a few improvements to the pictures in Thomas the Tank Engine.

although Dalby's illustrations didn't entirely satisfy the author, and errors in detail caused all kinds of problems, his pictures - with their bold lines, lively energy and bright, gem-like colours- quickly caught the imagination of young readers and undoubtedly set the style for the seires.
Born in Leicester in 1904, C. Reginald Dalby (The C was for Clarance, a name he disliked and never used) won a scholarship in 1917 to Leicester College of Art, after which he worked for five years as a commerical designer from the firm of victor ward, producing a variety of packaging desings -  the first of which was label for a beer bottle! He also had the disinction of painting the very first Glacier Mints Polar Bear on the side of a Delivery van for Fox's, a company then based in Leicester.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, Reginald Dalby joined the Royal Air Force and served as an intelligence Officer with little-known MI9, where he was responsible for devising methods of 'escape and Evasion' to be used by air-crews who baled-out behinf enemy lines.
And at the end of the war, Dalby was offered an intelligence post with Earl Mountbatten in India, which he turned down becuase he wanted to get back to the drawing-board. but with a few or no openings in commerical art, he eventually had to accept a job with The Blood Transfusion Service in Sheffield. However, within sin months he was back in Leicester, once more looking for works as a freelance artist.
The publisher Edmund Ward knew Dalby's work, and when an illustrator was needed for the third book in the Railway Series, he was a natural choice.
The two men met in Leicester's Royal Hotel where Ward showed Dalby the authors 'Matchstick sketches' and asked him to turn them into finished illustrations.
The collaboration between author and illustrator was not an easy one and Reginald Dalby once described the creator of the Railway Series as 'a pendantic, remote man with whom co-operation was difficult'. It is true Dalby did not share the authors passion for Railway Engines: 'To Dalby', Wilbert Awdry once Remarked, 'One engine was very like another. Living in Leicester, he could ahve gone to Leicester Midland or Central any day and seen real engines, but he preffered to sit in his studio and draw what he though was a good picture.'
Dalby certainly drew some good pictures, although his complacency about railway engineering resulted in a deluge of letters from puzzled readers. Problems came to head in 1956 when Percy the Small Engine. Although the book contained some of Dalby's finest illustrations, Wilbert Awdry objected to the way in whcih the artist drew Percy who looked, as he put it, 'like a green catapillar with red stripes!' In response, the artist decided to end his association with the series.
The railway illustrations were only a small part od Dalby's work, occupying him for around six weeks each year. He continued with his commerical work as well as doing his own drawings and paintings and, in 1955, wrote and illustrated a children's book of his own. Inspired by the ferries that worked at Poole Harbour in dorset, it featured a character called Tubby the Tugboat and was called Tales of Flitterwick Harbour.
A great traveller with an inquiring mind and a love of people and places, Reginald Dalby drove to Costa Blanca on a six week trip that tunred into a three year sojourn! He later Discovered and fell in love with Greece, making many drawings and painting of that country as well as of France and Spain.
Reginald Dalby died at the age of 79, after a short illness, in 1983.

A Lightness of Touch:
John T.Kenney

John T.Kenney at work on an equine portrait

Edmund Ward's book catalogue for 1957 announced the future publication of a new title in the Railway Series, The Fat Controller's Engines. When it eventually appeared, the title had been changed to The Eight Famous Engines: and instead of Reginald Dalby's familiar illustrations, the pictures were by john T.Kenney.
The choice of Jphn Kenney as a succesor to Dalby was a happy one: another Leicestershire man, he brought a freshness and a new liveliness to the twelfth title in the seires with pictures that combine a lightness of touch with a more realistic look.
'We got on splendidly', Wilbert Awdry has recalled. 'John Kenney was as different from Dalby as chalk from cheese. He was interested in the work and used to go down to his station and draw railway engines from life,' The engines which Kenney are longer, larger and less like the 'toy trains' of Dalby's pictures. As for his human characters, they are real people: Pushing barrows, leaning on shovels, running along station platforms; and the scenery recalls those airy, luminous country scenes that featured on 1950s railway posters.
John T. Kenney - his full names was John Theodore Eardley Kenney - was born in 1911. like his predecessor, he trained at Leicester Colleg of Art before working for J. E. Slater, a local firm of commerical artists.
During the Second World War, John Kenney served with the 121st Light AA Regiment. Although not employed as a war artist, he made dozens of on-the-spot drawings recording the D-Day landings of 1944 and the triumphant sweep across Europe which followed. When the war ended, Kenney returned to Leicester and his former employers, J. E. Slater, where he met his future wife, Peggy.
In addition to being a commerical artist, Kenney began establishing himself as an illustrator of books, including two childrens stories of his own - The Grey Pony in 1945 and, the following year, The Shetland Pony - which were published by Edmund Ward. When, in 1957, ill health drove Keney to relinquish his work in commerical art and become a freelance artist, it was Ward who commissioned him to illustrate the series of adventure stories about 'Hunter Hawk, Skyway Detective' (Which included such exciting titles as Smugglers of the Skies, Commandos of the Clouds and Outlaws of the Air) As well as the twelfth title in the Railway Series, The Eight Famous Engines.
Apart from the illustrations of the Awdry stories, the art of John Kenney - if not his name - has been known to millions of children through his work for another leicester publisher, Ladybird Books. Kenney undertook a vast amount of Research to gather the authentic historical detail which he incorporated in some twenty-seven titles, including The Story of Nelson (with which he had endless problems over flags!), William the Conqueror, Charles Dickens, Florence Nightingale, The First Queen Elizabeth and King Alfred the Great. Since each book contained twenty-four full-page colour illustrations, the work was very demanding.
Although Kenney only illustrated in the Railway Series, he made a significant contribtution by creating a naturalistic - less story bookish - settings and giving personality to the human characters in the stories. He was also the fine artist to draw a number of new engine characters, including Donald and Douglas (the scottish Twins), Daisy, Diesel and Duncan.
The Railway Series demanded precise draughtsmanship and when John Kenney began having Problems with his eyesight, he decided to give up the work, illustrating his last title, Gallant Old Engine, in 1962. Nevertheless, he continued drawing and painting - especially horses, for which he had great passion.
in 1972 an exhibition of his paintings was on show in Chicago when John Kenney died, aged 61 years.

A New Look:
Peter and Gunvor Edwards


When John Kenney decided to give up illustrating the Raiwlay Series, the books' editor, Eric Marriot, approached Swedish - born illustrator, Gunvor edwards to see wether she would try her hand at some illustrations for the lastest title, Stepney the "Bluebell" Engine. Gunvor acceped the comission and decided to start well into the book with a difficult picture showing the big diesel standing alongside four of the engines in their shed.
The painting had to be quite small, about ten by six inched, and Gunvor soon realised that duplicating the sort of pictures used for thr series was not going to be easy. Unhappy with the project, Gunvor turned for help to her British artist husband, peter Edawrds, who was, as he put it, 'trying to be a "serious" artist'. Although no more able to imitate the style of the earlier books than his wife, Peter Edwards managed tp produce a set of illustrations that satisfied the author and the publisher.
Although Edwards' style was more impressionistic than his predecessors, Wilbert liked his work becuase he drew from life and 'obviously had an affection for the characters'. Published in 1963, Stepney the "Bluebell" Engine carried the joint credit: 'with illustrations by Gunvor and Peter Edwards', but it was almost entirely Peter's work.
Peter Edwards was born in London in 1934 and, during the Second World War, was evacuated to Devon and North Wales. He was educated at Quintin School and, in 1950, began studying illustration at Regent Street Polythenic. It was there that he met and fell in love with the Swedish artist Gunvor Ovden, who had comr to Britain after a year of working on set designs for the Royal Opera in Stockholm.
At the end of thier studies, Gunvor returned to Sweden and Peter entered National Service. In 1956, Peter joined Gunvor in her homeland where, the following year, they were married and recived their forst comissions as illustrators, Returining to London in 1958, they began prolific careers in art and design. One of Peter's earliest books was Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, One of Gunvors was Mary Hayley Belle's Whistle Down the Wind.
Gunvor went on to illustrate Barbara Sleigh's Ninety - Nine Dragons, Barbara Softly's Magic People and More Magic People, Margaret Stuart Barrie's Maggie Gumption' books and David Thompson's 'Danny Fox 'stories, as well as her own books Cat Samson and Grandmothers Donkey.
Of the Railway Series titles illustrated by Peter Edwards, Several featured interesting new landscapes such as the wind - swept peaks in Mountain Railways drawn from sketches made on Snowdon Mountain Railway. Such pictures came as a welcome changes after those endless lines running through fields of cows or beside the sea.
He also illustrated the first appearance of several new engine characters, among them Oliver, duke and the Small Railway Engines, as well as portraying the author as the Thin Clergyman who, with the Fat Clergyman (inspired by Wilbert Awdry's friend the Reverend 'Teddy' Boston), makes an appearance in some of the stories.
Like Reginald Dalby, Edwards illustrated nine titles in the series, concluding in 1972 with Tramway Engines, the twentysixth and last book to be written by the Reverend W. Awdry.
Peter Edwards has illsutrated a diversity of other childrens books, including The Great Escape by Monica Dickens, The Dining Room Battle by Compton Mackenzie and John Wyndham's The chrysalids and Trouble with Lichen. He also worked as a painter of murals, portraits and landscapes and as a set-designer for such projects as the Astrids Lindgren Museum in Stockholm (where he designed the train ride) and the london Dungeon.

This page is Dedicated to the Four Greatest illustrators of the Railway Series since 1945 to 1975.
Wilbert Awdry
C. Reginald Dalby
John T. Kenney
Peter and Gunvor Edwards

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