THEY’ve been among the country’s best-loved children’s TV characters for a generation.

Now Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends are set to star on a special stamp collection to commemorate the centenary of their creator’s birth.

And the East Lancashire Railway – which boasts Thomas the Tank as a visitor attraction – was the location for the launch.

Royal Mail will issue the collection today as tomorrow would have been the Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s 100th birthday.

His son, Christopher Awdry, said: “My sisters and I are delighted that the centenary of our father’s birth is being celebrated with these Royal Mail stamps.

“He would have been overwhelmed and deeply honoured to have been recognised in this way, and delighted that nearly 70 years after he first told me the stories, they would still be so popular.”

Awdry first created Thomas to entertain Christopher during a bout of measles he suffered as a child, before going on to write 26 volumes of The Railway Series between 1945 and 1972.

A television spin-off was first broadcast on the ITV network in September 1984 and still continues.

The centrepiece of the colourful stamp collection is a 1st Class stamp with Thomas pulling into the station under the guidance of the Fat Controller.

Friends James the Red Engine and Percy the Small Engine adorn the 66p and 68p stamps respectively, while diesel railcar Daisy takes pride of place on the 76p stamp.

The £1 and £1.10 stamps show Toby the Tram Engine and Gordon the Big Engine being kept out of mischief by the Fat Controller.