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Friday, 20 July, 2001, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Red flag for hairy Fat Controller
The Fat Controller
The railway must find a clean-shaven Fat Controller
The owners of a steam railway have been told to sack their Fat Controller unless he shaves off his beard.

But John Keohane has to keep it for his other job - as a beefeater in the Tower of London.

The shaving order has come from the company that licences Thomas the Tank Engine steam days, based on the children's stories.

Its representatives paid an incognito visit to the South Devon Railway between Totnes and Buckfastleigh.

John Keohane
Beefeater John Keohane at the tower
The company, Gullane, has said it will not allow the railway to run any more Thomas specials unless the Fat Controller character is clean shaven.

They say it matters because that is how children see him in the Rev Wilfred Awdry's stories.

But the beard is virtually a part of the uniform for a Yeoman Warder at the Tower.

Mr Keohane said children did not notice the facial hair.

'Right shape'

"They are seeing a person in the uniform, doing what they are expecting the Fat Controller to do.

"I think that is much more important than what I look like."

Thomas the Tank Engine
Characters have smooth, shiny faces
Richard Elliot, the railway's general manager, is now reluctantly looking for a replacement.

He said: "John Keohane is the best man for the job.

"He is the right size and shape to take on the role."

His beefeater background also lends weight to the character, said Mr Elliot.

"He is a commanding presence on the platform.

"Quite frankly, with the crowds that we have on Thomas days here, we need somebody who is going to be in authority.

"When he is the Fat Controller, people listen to him."

See also:

15 Feb 99 | Entertainment
Thomas steams into Hollywood
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