FIFTY years ago, Hereford's burgeoning Christmas spirit was highlighted by the appearance of three enormous angels, crafted by the emerging genius of world-famous sculptor, Walenty Pytel.

The 12ft celestial beings, commissioned for a modest £100 by Hereford City Council, towered impressively above shoppers in High Town. Yet their dramatic presence was to cause a less than celestial palaver, and all these years later their maker, now 73, and his wife, Mary, are wondering just what happened to them.

"The sculpture was like the first Angel of the North!" said Mary. "We just hope it wasn't scrapped."

Since Polish-born Walenty's remarkable career was launched in the early 1960s, he has produced iconic works all over the world. In Herefordshire, where he came to live with his parents after the war, Pytel creations have become an important part of the landscape. In London, beneath Big Ben stands his 26-ft Jubilee Fountain, commissioned by Parliament, and at Birmingham International Airport his 28-ft Three Egrets commemorate 40 years of peace in Europe. The sculptor also created the largest metal sculpture in Europe - the Fosser sculpture, weighting 36 tons, for the JCB company.

A few years ago, Walenty was badly injured when he fell off a ladder at his Bromsash home. It was three days before he was discovered. "My wife was away, and my daughter found me, I understand I only had an hour left to survive," he explained. Walenty couldn't work for eight months, his career prospects looked bleak.

"But suddenly it all came back. I'm doing better work now, and I work faster too." Among his latest pieces, two gigantic dipping swallows are due to be unveiled in Ledbury in the New Year. At Weobley, a Pytel magpie (2000) dominates the village centre, and his famous 19-foot woodpecker statue (1969), now stands guard near Hereford Cider Museum.

Walenty's early life in Herefordshire began at Leominster where his father worked as a painter and decorator. Later, hopes of art college looked unpromising. "My parents would have had to pay, but when the college saw the sort of work I was doing, they said they wouldn't charge anything." For five years he studied at Hereford, and at 21 decided it was time to get to work.

"I mostly did birds and fish," he said. "Normally artists want to do a picture of a human, but I just wanted to do wildlife." After a while, the great and the good sought work by Walenty Pytel, and his name became known universally.

He still keeps up a busy work schedule, while making certain allowances. "Now I only weld and sculpt two days a week. I go fishing on the other five days." The arrangement works well. "Welding every day can be bad for the eyes, but my eyesight is good," he said.

He was just 23 when he he produced the Three Angels for Christmas, 1965. Four metres high, the thin metal sculptures were hoisted into place in High Town, Walenty's first public commission.

Long-time friend, the Kington historian, Roger Pye recalls that the angels and accompanying polystyrene snowflakes caused quite a stir. "The angels prompted much publicity in the Hereford Times, in the national papers and on TV," he said."Walenty decorated the whole of High Town with his stylised angels and polystyrene snowflakes. They caused uproar!"

The sculptor well remembers the commission. "I made sculptures that hung on metal rods - 400 of them around the town," he said. "But there was a lot of wind, the circling steel got very hot and the pieces fell off." He added: "Some flew through windows and windscreens, the whole of Hereford stopped!"

Half a century on, both he and his wife would love to know where the angels landed, and if they will ever come home to roost.