Tugs (TV series)

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This article is about the children's television series. For the boat, see tugboat.
Genre Children's television
Created by Robert D. Cardona
David Mitton
Written by David Mitton
Robert D. Cardona
Chris Tulloch
Tarquin Cardona
Gloria Tors
Roy Russel
Directed by David Mitton
Chris Tulloch
Voices of Patrick Allen
Simon Nash
Chris Tulloch
Timothy Bateson
Shaun Prendergast
Mike Mulloy
Sean Barrett
Lee Cornes
John Baddeley
Nigel Anthony
Narrated by Patrick Allen
Theme music composer Junior Campbell
Mike O'Donnell
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 1
No. of episodes 13 (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) J. Nigel Pickard
Producer(s) Robert D. Cardona
Editor(s) Pete Best
Phil Sanderson
Location(s) Shepperton Studios, Surrey, England, United Kingdom
Cinematography Clearwater periscope lens system
Camera setup multi-camera
Running time approx. 15–20 minutes
Production company(s) Tugs Limited
Distributor Clearwater Features
Original channel ITV Network, ABC TV
Picture format PAL (576i)
Audio format Monophonic
Original run 26 November 1988 (1988-11-26) – 27 June 1989 (1989-06-27)
Related shows Thomas & Friends
Salty's Lighthouse
Theodore Tugboat

Tugs (Stylized TUGS) is a British children's television series first broadcast in 1988. It was created by the producers of Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, Robert D. Cardona and David Mitton.[1] The series dealt with the adventures of two anthropomorphized tugboat fleets, the Star Fleet and the Z-Stacks, who compete against each other in the fictional Bigg City Port. The series was set in the Roaring Twenties, and was produced by Tugs Ltd., for TVS and Clearwater Features Ltd.[2] Music was composed by Junior Campbell and Mike O'Donnell,[1] who also wrote the music for Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.[3]

Due to the bankruptcy of production company TVS, the series did not continue production past 13 episodes. Following the initial airing of the series throughout 1989, television rights were sold to an unknown party, while all models and sets from the series sold to Britt Allcroft. Modified set props and tugboat models were used in Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends from 1991 onwards, with footage from the original program being heavily dubbed and edited for use in American children's series Salty's Lighthouse. Mitton returned to working with Thomas & Friends in 1991, while Cardona would go on to direct Theodore Tugboat, a similarly natured animated series set in Canada.[4] All thirteen episodes of the show were released on VHS between 1988 and 1993.

Format and production[edit]

The series consists of thirteen fifteen-minute episodes (though four exist as twenty-minute episodes on the Tugs videos), each told by the show's narrator, Captain Star (voiced by Patrick Allen). Filming and production of the series took place throughout 1987–1988, in west London's Shepperton Studios.[5] The series was animated using live-action models, which were seen as the most realistic method of portraying real tugboats.[6] The set featured the Clearwater Periscope lens system, a type of professional video camera used to film at the models' eye level.[7] Each model was mounted on a wheeled chassis, which were then pulled through the water using transparent string. Remote control devices were initially tested in operating the machines, but the tugboats became too heavy and unable to move through the water. Remote controls were instead used to power other devices, such as the moving eye features of the models and some cranes.[6]

Throughout the series, the two fleets primarily contest contracts to dock and tow larger sailing vessels and objects, including ocean liners,[1] tramp steamers[8] and schooners.[9] Various other contractual obligations were also completed by the two fleets, including transportation of stone,[8] munitions[10] and logging fell.[9] The series was considerably darker in tone than many other children's television programmes, with further plots involving crime, violence, and sabotage. The characters' dialogue, too, was somewhat mature for a children's series, featuring slang and terminology not normally directed at children. Characters would often insult each other, as well as use historical and maritime terms.

Cast and characters[edit]

Star Fleet[edit]

Star Fleet's Big Mac and Sunshine

The Star Fleet are the show's protagonists, who aim to work together to achieve contracts in the port. The models were styled upon the Crowley Maritime Corporation, founded in San Francisco in 1892.[11] They are led by Captain Star, who narrates the series. The fleet consists of Ten Cents, Big Mac, O.J., Top Hat, Warrior, Hercules and Sunshine.

Another tugboat, Boomer, is briefly a member of the Star Fleet after being found floating at sea. Boomer believes himself to be jinxed, and he certainly seems to bring trouble with him wherever he goes. After numerous nasty accidents, Captain Star sells Boomer, who is later made into a houseboat. It is unknown whether he remains part of the fleet after this. The adventures of Boomer are central to the episode "Jinxed". Grampus, a naval submarine who appears throughout the series, is purchased from the navy by Captain Star to work for the Star Fleet. It is also unknown whether this remains after the conclusion of the series.


The Z-Stacks are the show's antagonists, who are based off the Toon Patrol from Who Framed Roger Rabbit which was released the same year as their debut episode. They are frequently seen trying to sabotage the good work of the Star Fleet. They take on the more risky contracts in the port, at the attraction of a higher pay. The models' design was taken from the Moran Tugs of New York.[11] They are led by Captain Zero. The fleet consists of Zorran, Zebedee, Zak, Zug and Zip. As with the Star Fleet, Boomer also briefly worked for the Z-Stacks after being sold by the former. Despite this, Boomer was also cast out the Z-Stacks after his explosives barge spontaneously detonated.[12][13]


Voice actor Character(s)
Patrick Allen Captain Star (as narrator and character)
Sean Barrett Warrior, Johnny Cuba, Mighty Moe, Blair, Scuttlebutt Pete, Bluenose, Jack the Grappler, the Green Eyed Pirates, Nantucket
John Baddeley Top Hat, Zip, Burke, Puffa, the Coast Guard's Messenger, the Quarry Master, the Shrimpers
Nigel Anthony Big Mac, Hercules, Sea Rogue, Frank, Zebedee, Fire Tug
Timothy Bateson O.J., Big Mickey, Little Ditcher, Eddie, Lord Stinker, the Garbage Master
Lee Cornes Grampus, Billy Shoepack, Boomer, the Coast Guard, the Fuel Depot
Sue Glover Lillie Lightship, Pearl, Sally Seaplane
David Mitton Old Rusty
Mike Mulloy Captain Zero, Zug, Izzy Gomez
Simon Nash Ten Cents
Shaun Prendergast Sunshine, Zak, Sea Rogue's Uncle, Bell Buoy
Chris Tulloch Zorran

The series was also dubbed in other languages for specific territories. The Finnish language version of the show, for example, utilized a multi-actor voice-over translation.


Some of the models, including Big Mickey the crane were passed over as background models for Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. It was said that most of the original models had been repainted but in mid-2012, several face masks were auctioned off on eBay and Auction-Bay, and models of the characters were confirmed to still exist in December 2012. As of 9 January 2013, the models have been confirmed sold as a near-complete collection (a few models, most notably Top Hat and Grampus, have gone missing) and are being preserved by The Star Tugs Company Ltd, who have now began a trust to restore and preserve the models. They were delivered to their new owners on 26 January 2013.

The company ran a Kickstarter campaign in 2014 to create a permanent exhibition for the models, after successful funding, eight of the models were publicly shown at The Battlefield Line Railway on 8 and 9 March 2014. They were also seen at the Midland Railway Centre, in Ripley, on the bank holiday weekend of 3 to 5 May 2014 and are currently touring on various locations around the UK.


Main article: List of Tugs episodes

Tugs first aired on CITV in the United Kingdom, and then on Australia's ABC TV.[2] Talks of a second series were never finalised, and eventually all plans to create a follow-up were dropped. Redubbed and heavily edited footage aired later as part of American children's series Salty's Lighthouse, which aired in 1997.[14] The series also aired in Japan with Japanese voice-overs.[15]

Airing history[edit]

  • UK
  • Australia
  • Japan
    • Unknown


Range of Tugs merchandise available in Japan

A number of items of Tugs merchandise was produced surrounding the series' release in the early 1990s. Some of the merchandise includes:

  • Ertl models - Ten Cents and Sunshine models were produced[16] by toy company Ertl. The full Star Fleet cast were originally to be produced, but only the above two were made. In addition, none of the Z-Stacks were produced.
  • Photo Books
  • 2 hardback annuals
  • 1 hardback dot-to-dot book[17]
  • Jigsaw sets
  • A bed cover
  • A Tugs-themed board game
  • Collectors edition thimbles
  • Card Game
  • Publicity Pack

In line with the series being released in Japan, a range of Japanese merchandise was also released, such as models of the set and characters, videos, books and an LCD game.


TUGS goes down as having some of the most ambitious and unique music for a Children's television show ever, and despite being (with the exception of the saxophone in the intro, played by Pete Zorn) created entirely on various synth instruments, feels like a real orchestra. The music, as with that on Thomas the Tank Engine, was composed by Mike O' Donnell and Junior Campbell. Plans were afoot to have a 7" Vinyl single released of the theme tune featuring vocals by Sue Glover, however plans were never finalised, and were eventually dropped.

VHS release[edit]

A number of VHS versions of the series were released between 1988 and 1993 in the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan. Three of these videos contained three fifteen-minute episodes, while two contained two twenty-minute episodes (these episodes were edited to fifteen minutes for television broadcasts, most likely due to time slot issues). In addition, a number of original scenes were extended/deleted for the videos, including an alternate opening title sequence. Those released included:

  • "Sunshine"/"Pirate"
  • "Trapped"/"Ghosts"/"High Winds"
  • "Jinxed"/"Quarantine"/"Up River"
  • "Bigg Freeze"/"Warrior"/"High Tide"
  • "Munitions"/"4th of July"

A four episode, 65 minute version was released in 1993:

  • "Trapped"/"Ghosts"/"High Winds"/"4th of July"[18]


TUGS was never commercially available for DVD, although David Mitton had intentions to buy back the rights to the series to commission the series to the format along with a campaign by fans, primarily due to the aging VHS tapes becoming more scarce and the fans of the series increasing the shows recognition thanks to the internet. But after Mitton's passing in 2008 it didn't go any further and the series itself remains only on VHS. DVD quality footage from the show however surfaced in 2005 as part of an episode of Salty's Lighthouse on the UK DVD Toddler Time. Many YouTube users have pieced together the footage from the toddler time DVD to create DVD quality TUGS scenes (mostly from the episode High Winds).


  1. ^ a b c Mitton, David (director) (1989). "Sunshine"/"Pirate" (Videotape). Surrey, England: Tugs Ltd. UPC 5016500102026. Retrieved 2010-06-16. 
  2. ^ a b "TUGS airdates". BFI. Retrieved 2007-08-28. 
  3. ^ "Who Drove Thomas To Success?". sodor-island.net. Retrieved 2010-06-17. 
  4. ^ "Theodore Tugboat - Nighttime Adventures". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2010-06-17. 
  5. ^ "Toonhound - Tugs". Toonhound.com. Retrieved 2008-09-17. 
  6. ^ a b "Behind the Scenes". Bigg City Port website. Retrieved 2007-08-28. 
  7. ^ "Behind The Scenes! - Other articles on behind the scenes". sodor-island.net. Retrieved 2008-12-13. 
  8. ^ a b Mitton, David; Tulloch, Chris (directors) (1990). "High Tide"/"Warrior"/"Bigg Freeze" (Videotape). Surrey, England: Tugs Ltd. UPC 5016500109322. Retrieved 2010-06-16. 
  9. ^ a b Mitton, David; Tulloch, Chris (directors) (1990). "Jinxed"/"Quarantine"/"Up River" (Videotape). Surrey, England: Tugs Ltd. UPC 5016500109421. Retrieved 2010-06-19. 
  10. ^ Mitton, David (director) (1988). "Munitions"/"4th of July" (Videotape). Surrey, England: Tugs Ltd. UPC 5016500102125. Retrieved 2010-06-16. 
  11. ^ a b Interview with Robert Cardona for Model Boats Magazine, July 1990.
  12. ^ "TUGS Cast and Crew". TV.com. Retrieved 2007-08-27. 
  13. ^ "Tugs (1989)". hollywoodupclose.com. Retrieved 2010-06-17. 
  14. ^ "Salty's Lighthouse (1997)". BFI. Retrieved 2010-06-17. 
  15. ^ "Characters (voice: short title) Introduction". Google Translate, translated from original website (in Japanese). Retrieved 2010-06-17. 
  16. ^ "Image of Ten Cents and Sunshine models". Facebook. 2008-06-30. Retrieved 2009-01-06. 
  17. ^ "Image of Tugs Dot-to-dot book". Facebook. 2008-06-30. Retrieved 2009-01-06. 
  18. ^ "Tugs - Trapped / Ghosts / High Winds / 4th July [VHS] [1989]". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2009-11-21. 

External links[edit]