Captain Pugwash

Captain Pugwash

"Captain Pugwash" is a fictional pirate in a series of British children's comic strips, books and animated films created by John Ryan. He famously appeared in a British animated TV series, first shown on the BBC in 1957.

The eponymous hero - Captain Horatio Pugwash - sails the high seas near New Zealand in his ship the "Black Pig", ably assisted by cabin boy Tom, pirates Willy and Barnabas, and Master Mate. His mortal enemy is Cut-Throat Jake, captain of the "Flying Dustman".


Captain Horatio Pugwash made his debut in a comic strip format in the first issue of "The Eagle" in 1950, then appeared regularly as a strip in "Radio Times". In 1957 the BBC commissioned a series of short cartoon films produced by Gordon Murray. Ryan produced a total of 86 five-minute-long episodes for the BBC, shot in black-and-white film, but later transferring to colour. Ryan used a real-time technique of animation in which cardboard cutouts of the characters were laid on painted backgrounds and moved with levers. The characters' voices were provided by Peter Hawkins. The last series of Pugwash shorts by Ryan was produced in 1975.

Although there are many anachronisms in the series, the book "The Battle of Bunkum Bay" gives some useful clues as to the era in which the stories are set. In this book, the King of England strongly resembles George I and the King of France resembles Louis XIV, suggesting that this story took place in 1714-15. However, one of the few direct references to a date is in the original TV series is the episode 'Pirate of the Year' where Pugwash enters the "Pirate of the Year contest 1775"

A number of spin-off books were written by John Ryan, and in the 1980s he drew three new Pugwash comic strip storybooks: "The Secret of the San Fiasco", "The Battle of Bunkum Bay" and "The Quest for the Golden Handshake". The rights to Captain Pugwash were purchased by HIT Entertainment, who from 1997 have issued a number of digital and part computer-animated cartoon films based on the Pugwash character, set on the island of "Montebuffo", "somewhere in the Spanish Main". Peter Hawkins did not provide the voices, HIT Entertainment instead employing character actor James Saxon.

A DVD containing 'ALL 30 heroic high sea adventures from the classic 70s TV series' filmed in colour (156 minutes running time) was given away with the Sunday Times on 20 January 2008.

A related book by John Ryan was "Admiral Fatso Fitzpugwash", in which it is revealed that Pugwash had a medieval ancestor who was First Sea Lord, but who was terrified of water.


Captain Pugwash

The pompous but likeable captain of the Black Pig. Although he boasts of being the "bravest buccaneer", he is actually quite cowardly and stupid. His greed often gets him into trouble. Despite all this, he usually wins the day - either with the help of Tom the Cabin Boy or through sheer luck. Strangely enough, despite being a pirate, he is rarely seen committing any acts of piracy.

Master Mate

A somewhat dopey character, who has a tendency to use malapropisms and to mispronounce common words. He has a teddy bear in his bunk and is quite mild-mannered. It is not entirely clear why he is the mate, as he does not appear to have any authority over the rest of the crew. He was present in the first ever Pugwash story, in which he was depicted as being constantly sleepy.

Pirate Barnabas

The most aggressive of the pirates, but in reality just as harmless. He is quite rebellious and grumpy, and is perhaps marginally more intelligent than Willy, the Mate or the Captain. He was not present in the 1997 series."No good will come of this, mark my words!"

Pirate Willy

A simple sailor from Wigan. He appears to be the youngest crew member (apart from Tom). He is a gentle soul, and is against using violence. He does, however, have the occasional brainwave and has been the crew's saviour (admittedly sometimes more by luck than by design). "Just you wait 'til we get back to Wigan - we won't half have a 'tail' to tell!"

Tom the Cabin Boy

It might be argued that without Tom, Pugwash would have been sunk long ago. He is the most intelligent and resourceful member of the crew, the only one who can cook and the only one who can actually sail a ship. Although Pugwash would never admit it, Tom's ability to think up schemes is probably the only thing that prevents him from being a total failure as a pirate. Tom is an expert concertina player, and part of his repertoire is "The Trumpet Hornpipe" (the "Captain Pugwash" theme).

He was portrayed with a Home Counties accent in the first television adaptation, and with an Irish accent in the 1997 series.

Cut-Throat Jake

Captain Pugwash's fearsome arch-enemy, captain of the "Flying Dustman" (a pun on the Flying Dutchman combined with a reference to the occupation of Dustman). When he is not scheming to bring about Pugwash's downfall, he is a rather more competent pirate than his enemy, and always seems to have plenty of treasure. He speaks with a stereotypical West Country accent, and is easily recognisable by his eye patch and enormous black beard.

Characters added in the later series

* JonahThis character replaced pirate Barnabas, who featured in the older series. His catchphrase is "No good will come of this, mark my words!"
* Governor of PortobelloThis character lives at the top of the island in a mansion covered in vines. He talks very loudly and his head of guard, Lt. Scratchwood, usually acts as a megaphone. He is deeply in love with Donna Bonanza and attends to her every need.
* Maggie LayfayetThis pirate queen appeared in the second series when she hijacked the captain's ship to escape from the authorities.
* Swine An Australian pirate who works for Jake. He almost always has a mug of grog in his hand. This character appeared in the original series, but never spoke, nor was he named.
* WankaA Mexican who works for Jake who speaks little English. He repeats everything that Jake says, annoying him greatly. Again, this character was an unnamed, unspeaking character in the earlier series.
* Lieutenant ScratchwoodThe voice for the governor and the law for the town of Portobello. In charge of the guard and collecting taxes, he also spends his time chasing criminals.


Captain Pugwash is renowned for his exclamations, owing something to the style of Captain Haddock in "The Adventures of Tintin":

* "Dolloping doubloons/dolphins!"
* "Coddling catfish!"
* "Lolloping landlubbers!"
* "Suffering seagulls!"
* "Staggering stalactites!"
* "Nautical nitwits!"
* "Plundering porpoises!"
* "Kipper me capstans!"
* "Tottering turtles!"
* "Dithering dogfish!"
* "Scuttling cuttlefish!"
* "Stuttering starfish!"
* "Blistering Barnacles!"

Cut-Throat Jake has occasionally been known to utter the similar exclamation, "Scupper me skull-and-crossbones!"


The series had a memorable signature tune "The Trumpet Hornpipe" which was played by accordionist Tom Edmundson and arranged by Philip Lane. He had learned the tune from Jimmy Shand. The tune appears to have been popular from the mid-19th century, but its composer and country of origin are unknown. In the United States it is known as the "Thunder Hornpipe".

Captain Pugwash books

* Captain Pugwash: A Pirate Story (1957)
* Pugwash Aloft (1960)
* Pugwash and the Ghost Ship (1962)
* Pugwash in the Pacific (1963)
* Pugwash and the Sea Monster (1976)
* Captain Pugwash and the Ruby (1976)
* Captain Pugwash and the Treasure Chest (1976)
* Captain Pugwash and the New Ship (1976)
* Captain Pugwash and the Elephant (1976)
* The Captain Pugwash Cartoon Book (1977)
* Pugwash and the Buried Treasure (1980)
* Pugwash the Smuggler (1982)
* Captain Pugwash and the Fancy Dress Party (1982)
* Captain Pugwash and the Mutiny (1982)
* Pugwash and the Wreckers (1984)
* Pugwash and the Midnight Feast (1984)
* The Battle of Bunkum Bay (1985)
* The Quest of the Golden Handshake (1985)
* The Secret of the San Fiasco (1985)
* Captain Pugwash and the Pigwig (1991)
* Captain Pugwash and the Huge Reward (1991)

*The books were 32 pages each, alternating 2 pages full colour and 2 pages black, blue and white, by Puffin Books.

Television Episodes

*Sticky Moment
*The Stowaway Sheep
*The Portobello Plague
*The Doubledealing Duchess
*The Emperor's New Clothes
*The Boat Race
*The Fat Cat
*The Vanishing Ship
*The Dingly Dangly Crab
*Chests of Drawers
*Hot Chocolate
*The Melodious Mermaid
*The Brush with Art
*The Pandemonium Parrot

Myth of double entendres

There is a persistent urban legend, originating in the now-defunct UK newspaper the "Sunday Correspondent", which ascribes sexually suggestive names - such as Master Bates ("masturbates"), Seaman Staines ("semen stains"), and Roger ("meaning to bugger") the Cabin Boy - to "Captain Pugwash" 's characters. John Ryan successfully sued both the "Sunday Correspondent" and "The Guardian" newspapers in 1991 for printing this legend as fact. [cite web|url=|title=Pugwash!|publisher=Snopes]

According to another version, "Pugwash" also had sexual connotations e.g. it could be a term for oral sex used in Australia, but no evidence to back this up has ever been found. In fact the name was believed to have been taken from a newspaper article about the Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, an international organisation that brings together scholars and public figures to work towards reducing the danger of armed conflict, which had its first conference in Pugwash, Nova Scotia in 1955.

The wide acceptance of this falsehood probably owes something to the long standing associations in people's minds between sailors and ribaldry, as in the song, "'Twas on the Good Ship Venus". This legend may also have been subconsciously reinforced in some people's minds by the fact that there actually were fictional nautical characters with names a bit like these suggestive names. "Swallows and Amazons", a very well-known British children's novel, really did have a male character called "Roger" and a female character called "Titty". In "The Onedin Line", a very popular BBC television programme in the 1970s, the ship's mate was called "Mister Baines", which in some people's minds could become merged with "Master Mate" to create "Master Bates", and Charles Dickens regularly refers to The Artful Dodgers accomplice Charley Bates as "Master Bates" in the literary classic "Oliver Twist".

This legend may also owe something to the fact that it was shown on the 5.35pm or 5.40pm slot on BBC1. Scheduling has since changed, but for many years the children's programmes on BBC1 would end with a 5-minute programme immediately before the early evening news, and these shows could sometimes achieve a cult following among adult viewers. They could end up reading more than was there into some of them e.g. the alleged drug references in "The Magic Roundabout".

It has also been suggested that the pronunciation of "Master Mate" was slurred at times thanks to Pugwash's rather nasal voice, and some people could mishear it. Popular industry screenwriting website Scriptmania, presenting a feature on UK Children's television, have produced a soundbite which they claim is taken directly from an episode of the show, containing the words "I certainly did, Master Mate", which can be heard here: - [ Click this link] . Additionally in the episode "a shot across the bows" , the Captain frequently calls for "Master Mate", and the potential for mishearing is clear.

There may even be a sly reference to the myth in the title of the DVD of the computer animated series "Captain Pugwash - Sticky Moments And Other Swashbuckling Adventures".


ee also

*List of animated television series

External links

* [ Pugwash website by HIT Entertainment]
* [ Captain Pugwash Interactive Storybook]
* [ Pugwash urban legend] (
* [ Toonhound Captain Pugwash page]
* [ "Captain Pugwash" at Nostalgia Central]
* [ Captain Pugwash - "A Shot Across The Bows" on YouTube]

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