Captain Pugwash


Over the Christmas break we are revisiting some vintage children’s TV programmes.

PRODUCED and directed by the brilliant Gordon Murray, who would go on to give us the Trumptonshire TrilogyCaptain Pugwash was compulsory teatime viewing on the BBC between 1957 and 1966. It was introduced by a version of the Trumpet Hornpipe, performed by solo accordionist Tom Edmondson in the front room of his home in Harbottle, Northumberland. For his efforts he received the princely sum of 30 shillings (£1.50).

The programme, written by John Ryan, featured a form of cutout animation which involved levers fixed to the back of characters and objects such as Pugwash’s ship, the Black Pig. Narration and all the voices were provided by the actor Peter Hawkins, who was hugely in demand for this sort of work and went on to be the voice of the Daleks on Doctor Who.

Despite his claim to be the ‘bravest buccaneer’, Pugwash is in fact a bit of a wuss, greedy and thick with it. His arch-enemy is Cut-Throat Jake, captain of the Flying Dustman.

Despite his shortcomings, Pugwash usually achieves a happy ending to his four-minute adventures thanks to help from the real hero of the show, Tom the Cabin Boy, the only crew member who can actually sail the ship. (Not Roger the Cabin Boy. In 1990 a scurrilous item by Victor Lewis-Smith and Paul Sparks in the late, unlamented Sunday Correspondent claimed that there were characters called Master Bates and Seaman Staines, while ‘pugwash’ was an Australian term for a certain sexual practice. All untrue, of course, and writer Ryan took legal action to point this out.)

The great charm of the programme is its crude, black-and-white sets and childlike animation. However in 1974 a more sophisticated colour version was commissioned, still with Peter Hawkins doing the voices. In 1998 the franchise was sold to the Britt Allcroft company, which produced 26 episodes of its own. I’m afraid I can’t comment on the post-black-and-white era. However Captain Pugwash and his crew still occupy a small corner of my mental poop deck. ‘Blistering barnacles, me hearties!’

Here are two episodes, one from the 50s and one from the 70s.

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