A POPULAR Thomas the Tank Engine event has been derailed after the Fat Controller was told he wasn't sufficiently qualified.

Despite playing the role on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway for more than 20 years, Derek Robinson has been ordered attend an acting course to allow him to portray the portly gent in the correct manner.

As a result, the railway has cancelled this September's Thomas the Tank Engine weekend.

The order came from Hit Entertainment, which owns the rights to Thomas the Tank Engine events.

And it said that the railway must obey if it wants to retain its licence to stage Thomas events.

This means having everybody associated with an event undergo a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check, having a single admission charge for the railway, and enrolling any would-be Fat Controllers on an acting course in York or London.

Mr Robinson, from Whitby, said: "I've played the Fat Controller for the last 20 years and now I'm being told I have to go on a course to learn how to do it. It's ridiculous.

"It must take around 200 people to stage the event on the railway and for everybody to be CRB checked is too impractical and too costly. It is political correctness gone mad.

"As an entertainer I am CRB checked - as I should be - but for everybody involved to be checked, including canteen staff and the like, is ridiculous.

"It is disappointing that the Thomas the Tank Engine weekend will not be taking place on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, not only from a Fat Controller's point of view, but for everybody who looks forward to the event."

The Thomas the Tank Engine weekends and Day Out with Thomas events have been running on the line between Whitby and Pickering every year for more than 20 years and they always draw huge crowds.

Phil Bustard, marketing and external affairs manager for the railway, described Hit's demands as "too onerous" and "extreme." He said, instead, the railway will organise its own family event for September 6-7.

A spokeswoman for Hit Entertainment said: "The course is designed to achieve a high level of performance for all our Fat Controller's. We can't have anyone playing the role, they have to be trained in performing and acting."