Captain Pugwash steers, observed by his arch-enemy, Cut-Throat Jake.


Original Medium: Comic books
Published in: The Eagle
First Appeared: 1950
Creator: John Ryan
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Pirates, who are colorful and lead action-packed lives, would seem like ideal adventure heroes. No-doubt the paucity of pirate heroes in adventure fiction is due to the fact that it's hard to make a hero out of somebody who sails around all over the place …

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… committing armed robbery. It may be possible to catch one in an occasional heroic act, but by-and-large, that's not really what piracy is all about.

One of the few to achieve noticeable success as a series hero was DC/All-American's The Black Pirate, who, early on, had dedicated his piratical career to a king, achieving a sort of honorary hero-hood due to the fact that kings are entitled to loot and pillage all they please, as long as they call it "war". He spent most of his series tenure as a superhero-like period piece. Other cartoon pirate protagonists, such as Long John Silver and Mad Jack the Pirate, didn't last so long.

And then there's Captain Pugwash, who started in a 1950 British comic book and, with BBC shows, children's books and whatnot, has been around ever since. He achieved his longevity by seldom if ever being seen in an actual act of piracy. He's like Moby Duck, supposedly a whaler, who's never been actually shown doing anything that might harm a whale.

The 1950 Btitish comic book where Pugwash debuted was the first issue of Eagle, dated April 14 of that year — the one that also introduced Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future. He was created by cartoonist John Ryan, whose other comics creations include Lettice Leefe, the Greenest Girl in School.

Pugwash lasted only three months in Eagle, because he was aimed at a younger demographic than the comic's publisher was trying for. Ryan replaced him with Harris Tweed, Extra Special Agent. But when he was invited to produce a comic for Radio Times, the British magazine that, since 1923, had published that country's broadcasting schedules. Ryan brought Pugwash back and made him a regular.

Captain Horatio Pugwash was a dumb, pompous, greedy scaredy-cat, tho he fancied himself the "bravest buccaneer". He was cuddly and likeable, as nobody who engages in actual piracy could possibly be. His crew on The Black Pig included Master Mate (not very bright, and he keeps a teddy bear where the others won't run across it too often), Tom the Cabin Boy (the only one who can actually sail a ship), Barnabas and Willy (the yin and yang of piraticalness). His arch-enemy was Cut-Throat Jake, captain of The Flying Dustman (the British word for "garbage collector"). Jake is the only one who wears an eye patch, tho that's a standard accoutrement for a fictional pirate.

In 1957, TV producer Gordon Murray (Murray's Marionettes) produced a series of five-minute Pugwash adventures that weren't exactly animated — they were made by manipulating cut-outs of the characters. In fact, the first few episodes were broadcast live. A total of 86 were made, most of which were filmed in black and white. It was narrated by Noel Coleman (The Dancing Princess).

There is an Urban Legend that the characters in this production were named after off-color terms, such as "Master Bate" rather than Master Mate. Most who have written about Pugwash have mentioned this legend only to deny it. According to the legend, that's why it was originally cancelled in 1967. Even Pugwash himself was supposedly named after an Australian slang expression for a lewd act. The fact is, this allegation is unsupportable. In fact, the British newspaper Guardian was successfully sued in 1991 for printing it. Still, there are die-hards who believe it, claiming that unaltered videotapes would clearly demonstrate the truth of the assertion, if only any could be found. No such double entendres are found in the comics, and the Australian slang term doesn't seem to exist.

Starting in the late 1960s, Ryan wrote a couple of dozen children's books about Captain Pugwash. In 1975, BBC aired a new series of Pugwash cartoons, this time using true animation. Peter Hawkins (Tomfoolery) did his voice. In 1998, he was animated again, this time with new characters such as The Governor of Portobello and pirate queen Maggie Lafayette. This time, the captain's voice was done by James Saxon (who did a live-action role in Tales from the Crypt).

Pirate characters may not tend to have very enduring series in America. But at least one in Britain turns up generation after generation.


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Text ©2010-11 Donald D. Markstein. Art © The Eagle.