Tugs (TV series)

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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
Production location(s) Shepperton Studios, Surrey, England, United Kingdom
Cinematography Clearwater periscope lens system
Editor(s) Pete Best
Phil Sanderson
Camera setup multi-camera
Running time approx. 15–20 minutes
Production company(s) Tugs Limited
Distributor Clearwater Features
Original network ITV Network, ABC TV
Picture format PAL (576i)
Audio format Monophonic
Original release 26 November 1988 (1988-11-26) – 27 June 1989 (1989-06-27)
Related shows Thomas & Friends
Salty's Lighthouse
Theodore Tugboat

Tugs (stylized as 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 deals 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 Television South (TVS) and Clearwater Features Ltd.[2] The music was composed by Junior Campbell and Mike O'Donnell,[1] who also wrote the music for Thomas & Friends.[3]

Due to the bankruptcy of Television South, 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 & Friends from 1991 onwards, with footage from the original program being heavily dubbed and edited for use in the 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

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 and 1988, in Shepperton Studios, Middlesex, where Thomas & Friends was also filmed at the time.[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]

Cast and characters

Star Fleet

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 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 City.[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]


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

  • United Kingdom
  • Australia
    • ABC TV (10 June 1991 – 11 June 1993)
  • Ireland possibly
  • Japan
  • United States
    • NBC (1993-1994)

Merchandise, music, and home video releases

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

  • Ertl models - Ten Cents and Sunshine models produced[17] 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[18]
  • Jigsaw sets
  • A bed cover
  • A Tugs-themed board game
  • Collector's 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.


The music for Tugs was composed by Mike O' Donnell and Junior Campbell, and was largely performed by Pete Zorn on various synthesizers.

VHS releases

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"[19]

U.S. releases

VideoTec was to release the series in the United States in 1992; a screentape of the episodes "Munitions" and "Pirate" was produced, but was never released for retail.


Tugs remains only on VHS. In 2005, however, footage from the show was included as part of an episode of Salty's Lighthouse on the DVD Toddler Time.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Mitton, David (director) (1989). "Sunshine"/"Pirate" (Videotape). Surrey, England: Tugs Ltd. UPC 5016500102026. Retrieved 2010-06-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "TUGS airdates". BFI. Retrieved 2007-08-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Who Drove Thomas To Success?". sodor-island.net. Retrieved 2010-06-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Theodore Tugboat - Nighttime Adventures". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2010-06-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Toonhound - Tugs". Toonhound.com. Retrieved 2008-09-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Behind the Scenes". Bigg City Port website. Retrieved 2007-08-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Behind The Scenes! - Other articles on behind the scenes". sodor-island.net. Retrieved 2008-12-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 Mitton, David; Tulloch, Chris (directors) (1990). "High Tide"/"Warrior"/"Bigg Freeze" (Videotape). Surrey, England: Tugs Ltd. UPC 5016500109322. Retrieved 2010-06-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 Mitton, David; Tulloch, Chris (directors) (1990). "Jinxed"/"Quarantine"/"Up River" (Videotape). Surrey, England: Tugs Ltd. UPC 5016500109421. Retrieved 2010-06-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Jinxed.2FQuarantine.2FUp_River" defined multiple times with different content
  10. Mitton, David (director) (1988). "Munitions"/"4th of July" (Videotape). Surrey, England: Tugs Ltd. UPC 5016500102125. Retrieved 2010-06-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 Interview with Robert Cardona for Model Boats Magazine, July 1990.
  12. "TUGS Cast and Crew". TV.com. Retrieved 2007-08-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Tugs (1989)". hollywoodupclose.com. Retrieved 2010-06-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Salty's Lighthouse (1997)". BFI. Retrieved 2010-06-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Characters (voice: short title) Introduction". Google Translate, translated from original website (in Japanese). Retrieved 2010-06-17. External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "RTÉ Network 2". 3 December 1990. Archived from the original on 10 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Image of Ten Cents and Sunshine models". Facebook. 2008-06-30. Retrieved 2009-01-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Image of Tugs Dot-to-dot book". Facebook. 2008-06-30. Retrieved 2009-01-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Tugs - Trapped / Ghosts / High Winds / 4th July [VHS] [1989]". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2009-11-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links