'Heartbreaking' Emmerdale episode as vicar Ashley Thomas dies

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Viewers of Emmerdale were left sobbing as vicar Ashley Thomas died after a long storyline about his stroke-related early onset vascular dementia.

Fans called for actor John Middleton to receive an award for his performance on the ITV soap.

The episode opened with Ashley's wife Laurel, played by Charlotte Bellamy, reading to him from a memory book, saying: "I was never much for writing but now suddenly there isn't enough time to say all the things I want to say to you and not enough space on these pages to write them down.

"If only we had known how quickly the last chapter would arrive, we wouldn't have wasted precious paragraphs with stories about other people when my story was always about you."

Various members of the village came to pay their respects as Ashley briefly regained consciousness during a moment alone with his wife, clutching her hand and saying her name.

After looking at family photographs around the room as she rushed to get him another pillow, Ashley closed his eyes for the last time.

Sitting next to him, Laurel said: "You're home now Ashley, with your family ... and this is where you will be forever."

Actress Sheree Murphy, who played Tricia Dingle on the show, wrote: " What an amazing heartbreaking episode ... well done John and @MissCBellamy just brilliant."

She added: "Well done @john_Middleton_ you are going to be so missed."

One fan wrote: "Crying at tonight's ep of @emmerdale. Bravo to all the cast and crew especially @MissCBellamy and @john_Middleton_. #ByeAshley."

Another wrote: "#goodbyeashley So so sad. He was someone important in the village. Good luck @john_Middleton_ I hope you get an award for this. Incredible."

Another viewer praised the show saying: "One of the most important stories of the past few years on British television, told note-perfectly by @emmerdale. A public service, truly" as another said: "no words for how beautifully compelling those final moments were! I rly felt every emotion deep in my heart. end of an era #GoodbyeAshley."

Other fans also said they were moved to tears, with one writing: "#GoodbyeAshley #RIPAshley so heartbreaking, cried my eyes out. Standing ovation @john_Middleton_ @MissCBellamy well done all involved" and another saying: "#GoodbyeAshley Brilliantly acted. Such a sad story line. Tears are flowing."

Middleton first appeared in Emmerdale in 1996 and said he hopes to take on a completely different role next time.

He told ITV's This Morning: "I'd love to play someone totally evil."