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Captain Pugwash

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Captain Pugwash
Captain Pugwash, from the title sequence of the 1974–75 series
Publication information
PublisherThe Eagle, Radio Times
Publication date1950; 70 years ago (1950)
Main character(s)Pugwash
Creative team
Written byJohn Ryan

Captain Pugwash is a fictional pirate in a series of British children's comic strips and books created by John Ryan. The character's adventures were adapted into a TV series, using cardboard cut-outs filmed in live-action (the first series was performed and broadcast live), also called Captain Pugwash, first shown on the BBC in 1957, a later colour series, first shown in 1974–75, and a traditional animation series, The Adventures of Captain Pugwash, first aired in 1998.[1]

The eponymous hero – Captain Horatio Pugwash – sails the high seas in his ship called the Black Pig, 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. Between 1957-66, Ryan produced a total of 58 five-minute-long episodes for the BBC, made in black-and-white.[2] Between 1974-75, a further 30 were made in a new series made in 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 Great Britain 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 in the original TV series is in 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 Ryan, who in the 1980s 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.

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.


The first Captain Pugwash episodes were transmitted in black and white between 1957 and 1966. The series was revived in colour and broadcast between 16 September 1974 and 11 July 1975. Captain Pugwash was also sold to various overseas TV stations, including Australia's ABC Television. There the show was screened during weekday afternoons in the 1970s and 1980s.

The rights to Captain Pugwash were purchased by The Britt Allcroft Company, which since 1997 has 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 a full cast with James Saxon in the title role.

In 2005, a black and white episode of Captain Pugwash was repeated on BBC4 as part of the Animation Nation season.[3]

A DVD containing "All 30 heroic high sea adventures" from the second-generation colour 1974-75 series (156 minutes running time) was given away with the Sunday Times on 20 January 2008.


A screen-used hand-painted Pugwash card 'puppet' from the 1950s when the series was filmed in black and white

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. Nevertheless, he usually wins the day – either with the help of Tom the Cabin Boy or by sheer luck. 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. Pugwash's adenoidal pronunciation of this character's name appears to be the main source of the urban legend about characters' sexually suggestive names.[4]


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.


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 till 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. The rest of the crew also found they were unable to operate without Tom, after he left with the captain when the crew mutinied. Tom is an expert concertina player, despite this being a 19th-century anachronism for an 18th-century pirate, 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

  • Jonah

This character replaced pirate Barnabas, who featured in the earlier series. His catchphrase is "No good will come of this, mark my words!" Jonah appears to be of a Jamaican origin. He is the tallest of the crew as he often hits his head on the ceiling of the ship's lower deck. He is also one of the strongest of the crew as he serves as the Black Pig's carpenter.

This character lives at the top of the island in a mansion covered in vines. He talks very quietly 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 Lafayette

This 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.

  • Stinka

A 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 Scratchwood

The 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 thieves.

Libel case regarding double entendres

There is a persistent urban legend, repeated by the now defunct UK newspaper the Sunday Correspondent, that ascribes sexually suggestive names – such as Master Bates, Seaman Staines, and Roger (meaning "have sex with") the Cabin Boy – to Captain Pugwash's characters, and indicating that the captain's name was a slang Australian term for oral sex.[5] The origin of this myth is likely due to student rag mags from the 1970s.[6]

John Ryan successfully sued both the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian newspapers in 1991 for printing this legend as fact.[7]


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!"
  • "Shuddering sharks!"

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


The series’ signature tune was the "Trumpet Hornpipe", a folk dance that dates to at least the early nineteenth century. Some early versions of the tune refer to it as "Lascelles Hornpipe" and "Baloon Hornpipe".[8] The composer and country of origin are unknown.

The original black and white episodes of Captain Pugwash used a solo rendition by accordionist Tom Edmondson, who had learned the tune from watching Jimmy Shand's band in Northumberland as a teenager.[8] Edmondson’s version was recorded in the front room of his home in Harbottle, Northumberland, on 12 July 1954.[9] The recording was made by folklorist Peter Kennedy as part of the BBC's ‘Folk Music and Dialect Recording Scheme’[10] and Edmondson was paid £1.50 (30s) for his efforts.[11] The track was transferred to disc for the BBC Sound Library and, according to John Ryan, it was later chosen as the Captain Pugwash theme by “a genius at the BBC”, whose name he could not remember.[8]

The full recording was issued by Peter Kennedy on his Folktrax label as part of a collection entitled "Scottish Accordion Music".[12] The original tape was donated to the British Library following Kennedy's death in 2006. As of June 2020, the tape has not been digitised.[13]

For the colour Captain Pugwash episodes, a new recording of the “Trumpet Hornpipe” was commissioned from Johnny Pearson in 1973. This version utilised accordion, bass and acoustic guitar, and the finished piece was retitled “Shipshape”.[8] The recording was published by KPM and was later added to the KPM Recorded Music Library who gave Pearson the composer credit.[14]

Many online sources state that Philip Lane arranged the original version of the Captain Pugwash theme. As Lane would have been four years old in 1954, this would seem unlikely; in fact, Lane is credited on-screen with orchestrating the score for the 1998 series. Johnny Pearson was not credited on these episodes.

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 Secret of the San Fiasco (1985)
  • The Battle of Bunkum Bay (1985)
  • The Quest of the Golden Handshake (1985)
  • Captain Pugwash and the Pigwig (1991)
  • Captain Pugwash and the Huge Reward (1991)

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

Television Episodes

1957–1966 series

Produced and directed by Gordon Murray (Series 1-8).

Series One [The Thrilling Adventures of Captain Pugwash and Stowaway Tom]

  1. Untitled - 08.10.57
  2. Untitled - 22.10.57
  3. Untitled - 05.11.57
  4. Untitled - 19.11.57
  5. Untitled - 03.12.57

These episodes were transmitted live[15] and voiced by Noel Coleman.[16] Only episode 2 exists in the BBC Archives as a 16mm film telerecording.[17]

Series Two [The Thrilling Adventures of Captain Pugwash and Stowaway Tom]

  1. Untitled - 20.04.58
  2. Untitled - 18.05.58
  3. Untitled - 13.07.58  
  4. Untitled - 10.08.58
  5. Untitled - 07.09.58  
  6. Untitled - 05.10.58
  7. Untitled - 16.11.58

The first four episodes were voiced by Howard Marion-Crawford, with Peter Hawkins taking over from part five.[16] These episodes all survive as 16mm film telerecordings apart from part six.[17]

Series Three [The Thrilling Adventures of Captain Pugwash and Stowaway Tom]

  1. Untitled - 22.02.59  
  2. Untitled - 14.06.59  
  3. Untitled - 05.07.59  
  4. Untitled - 26.07.59  
  5. Untitled - 23.08.59  
  6. Untitled - 06.09.59

Series 3-8 exist complete as 16mm telerecordings.

Series Four (21.02.60 - 29.05.60)

  1. The Firework Party
  2. Surprise Attack
  3. The Highwayman
  4. The Captain's Dream
  5. Gold Dust
  6. Abandon Ship
  7. Flying Buccaneer

Series Five (07.05.61 - 30.07.61)

  1. A New Ship
  2. The Cuckoo Clock
  3. The Powder Magazine
  4. Ivory Cargo
  5. New Sails
  6. On Trial
  7. The Map

Series Six (04.02.62 - 13.05.62)

  1. Night Attack
  2. Ghost Ship
  3. The Test
  4. The Secret Weapon
  5. The Crown Jewels
  6. The Doctor
  7. Press Gang
  8. Man Overboard

From 3 October 1962, series 4-6 of Captain Pugwash were repeated (skipping only The Powder Magazine and Ivory Cargo.) The twenty episodes ran until 29 March 1963.

Series Seven (05.04.63 - 07.07.63)

  1. King of the Barbary Pirates
  2. Arctic Circle
  3. The Smugglers
  4. Tug-of-War
  5. Solid Gold
  6. Heads or Tails
  7. Mobertory Bay
  8. Secret Mission
  9. Pleasure Cruise

Series Eight (1964)

  1. Black Pepper
  2. Home Grown
  3. Pirate Romance
  4. The Fortune Tellers
  5. A Cure for Hiccups
  6. High Society

Series Nine (1965)

  1. The Secret of the Stinkas
  2. The Submarine
  3. The Haunted Reef
  4. The Moon of Muddipore
  5. The Escape
  6. A Hairy Affair
  7. Hero Willy
  8. Total Eclipse
  9. The Dragon of Pop Sings Ho
  10. The Vanishing Island
  11. Captain Moonshine
  12. Carnival

Series Nine exists complete as 16mm telerecordings apart from The Haunted Reef and The Escape.[17]

Series Ten (1966)

  1. The Cruise of the Flying Pig: 1
  2. The Cruise of the Flying Pig: 2
  3. The Cruise of the Flying Pig: 3
  4. Open Day
  5. The Man in the Iron Mask: 1
  6. The Man in the Iron Mask: 2
  7. The Curse of the Pugwashes 1
  8. The Curse of the Pugwashes 2

Series Ten exists complete as 16mm telerecordings.

1974–75 series

  1. Down The Hatch
  2. Cannon Ball
  3. Monster Ahoy
  4. Mouse Amidships
  5. Showboat
  6. Flood Tide
  7. Pirate Picnic
  8. Fishmeal
  9. Mutiny On The Black Pig
  10. The Great Bank Robbery
  11. A Shot Across The Bows
  12. Wedding Bells
  13. Stung!
  14. The Golden Trail
  15. Diamonds On Ice
  16. Birthday Cake
  17. Witches Brew
  18. Six Foot Deep
  19. Riddle Of The Rubies
  20. Pirate Of The Year
  21. Easy Money
  22. The Plank
  23. A Fair Exchange
  24. Voyage Of Discovery
  25. Smugglers Cove
  26. The Flying Buccaneer
  27. Island Of The Dodos
  28. Caught In The Act
  29. A Tell Tale Tail
  30. Off With His Head

1997 series

  1. The Stowaway Sheep
  2. The Portobello Plague
  3. The Doubledealing Duchess
  4. The Emperor's New Clothes
  5. The Boat Race
  6. The Dingly Dangly Crab
  7. Chest Of Drawers
  8. The Vanishing Ship
  9. Hot Chocolate
  10. The Fat Cat
  11. The Pandemonium Parrot
  12. The Brush With Art
  13. A Hair-Raising Day
  14. Fiddle De Diamonds
  15. The Melodious Mermaid
  16. The Titanic Teapot
  17. The New Cabin Boy
  18. Treasure Trail
  19. Peppercorn Pistols
  20. Sticky Moments
  21. Muddling Monsters
  22. The Megamango Monkeys
  23. King Pugwash
  24. The Devil's Dog
  25. Perfumes Of Arabia
  26. The Admiral's Fireworks


In May 2017, a live-action film adaptation was announced, to be directed by John Hay and starring Nick Frost as Captain Pugwash and Jason Flemyng in an unknown role. Production was set to begin in 2018, with the plot following Captain Pugwash travelling to Botany Bay, where he eventually finds himself at the helm of The Black Pig on a mission to rescue Tom the Cabin Boy's father, who is marooned on a volcanic island.[18]

See also


  1. ^ Pilling, Jayne (2001). 2D and Beyond. Animation. Hove: RotoVision. ISBN 2-88046-445-5.
  2. ^ "Captain Pugwash: TV Series 1957-1966". David Higham Associates. 2018. Retrieved 31 October 2019.
  3. ^ "Animation Nation Shorts". The Radio Times (4231). 28 April 2005. p. 81. ISSN 0033-8060. Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  4. ^ snopes (23 January 2016). "'Captain Pugwash' Double Meanings :". snopes.
  5. ^ Davies, Ben (24 July 2009). "Pugwash author's legacy". BBC Online. Archived from the original on 28 April 2018. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  6. ^ "John Ryan – Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph. 24 July 2009. Archived from the original on 12 November 2012. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  7. ^ "Pugwash!". Snopes.
  8. ^ a b c d Darlington., Wilf (1992). "The Trumpet Hornpipe". Folk Music Journal. 6 (3): 277–290.
  9. ^ "Northumberland 1954 – Page 6 – Peter Kennedy Archive". Retrieved 9 June 2020.
  10. ^ "Peter Kennedy Archive – A unique collection of British and Irish traditional music and customs". Retrieved 9 June 2020.
  11. ^ Woolcock, Nicola (8 December 2001). "Pugwash Theme Tune Man Dies". Daily Telegraph.
  12. ^ "FTX-363 - THE BUTTON BUSKERS - SCOTTISH ACCORDION MUSIC". Retrieved 9 June 2020.
  13. ^ "Hornpipes: Trumpet / Millicent's favourite / Strand / Harvest home / Trumpet - British Library". Retrieved 9 June 2020.
  14. ^ "APM Music - Search". Retrieved 8 June 2020.
  15. ^ "Pugwash TV 1957-66 | Captain Pugwash Exhibition". Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  16. ^ a b "Search Results - BBC Genome". Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  17. ^ a b c "TV Archive". Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  18. ^ Solutions, Powder Blue Internet Business. "Battling barnacles! Nick Frost to play Captain Pugwash : News 2017 : Chortle : The UK Comedy Guide". Archived from the original on 15 September 2017. Retrieved 28 April 2018.

External links