Captain Pugwash, from the title sequence of the 1974–75 series
|Publisher||The Eagle, Radio Times|
|Written by||John 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.
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. 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.
Prior to the 1974–1975 series, the first generation of Captain Pugwash episodes were filmed in black and white and were first shown on British TV between 1957 and 1966. These early episodes numbered a total of 58 episodes, with the producers using the production codes CP001 to CP058; the later 30 episodes CP059 to CP089, from the second generation of the series, were produced in colour 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 '80s.
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 character actor James Saxon.
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.
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.
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!"
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.
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.
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.
This pirate queen appeared in the second series when she hijacked the captain's ship to escape from the authorities.
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.
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.
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.
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, played by accordionist Tom Edmundson and arranged by Philip Lane. It was recorded in 1954 in Northumberland on the button accordion and chosen from the BBC sound library. Edmundson 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. Other background music was provided by BBC music arranger and pianist Johnny Pearson.
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. The origin of this myth is likely due to student rag mags from the 1970s.
In May 2017, a live-action film adaptation was announced, 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.