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 residents 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:

Other fans of the show also paid tribute.

John 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.”