Wednesday March 23rd, 2011

Although he started life as a comic strip in the first issue of ‘Eagle’ in 1950, Captain Horatio Pugwash is probably best remembered from his stints as a children’s TV staple for the BBC. After eight years as a featured comic strip in the ‘Radio Times’, Birtian’s best loved pirate was given his own show which initially ran for 58 episodes, which were broadcast repeatedly between 1957 and 1966. In 1974 he returned to the screen in full colour for 30 exciting episodes and thus his status in kids TV folklore was secured.

Myths abound with regard to the dubious content of the show, all of which are perfectly untrue. Pugwash’s regular screen chums aboard the ‘Black Pig’ were Tom the Cabin Boy, Master Mate, Willy and Barnabus along with his arch nemesis Cut-Throat Jake of the ‘Flying Dustman’.all created by groundbreaking cartoonist and animator John Ryan.

To make the show, Ryan developed a ‘live’ animation technique that utilised cardboard cuts outs moved by levers (pretty much like you see in pop-up books). Each scene (or ‘caption’) was created in sizes to accommodate camera movement and zoom before being animated to a pre recorded script (voiced by Peter Hawkins). There were roughly 50 captions per five minute show and each episode took between two and three weeks to complete, which is very fast indeed for animation (each 25minute episode of the Simpsons takes six months).

Pugwash himself was basically a pretty inept pirate and a bumbling fool. He went from one disaster to another usually saved by ever resourceful Tom the Cabin Boy, the only member of the crew with any real intelligence. Tom was also responsible for playing the iconic theme-tune on his concertina - one of the many historical gaffes in the show, which was set in the 18th Century, whereas the instrument was actually invented by Charles Wheatstone a hundred years later.

To be honest the crew of the Black Pig were uniformly rubbish as pirates. Even the aggressive Barnabus rarely did anything very bad. Willy had the odd brainwave and got to use his catchphrase 'Just you wait till we get back to Wigan – we won't half have a 'tail' to tell!' whenever his star shone. Cut Throat Jake was actually genuinely menacing and by the amount of treasure he had aboard the ‘Flying Dustman’ was a pretty efficient pirate to boot.

But it is Pugwash we all love. His ineptitude and cowardice are the stuff of TV legend as are his countless catchphrases - 'Dollopping doubloons!', 'Kipper me capstans!', 'Lolloping landlubbers!' – to name but a few. Such is his continuing popularity that he was revamped as a fully animated series in 1998 and a series of graphic novels have since been published by John Ryan. His image is used and copied in the media regularly and he still turns up on Kids TV and DVD today.

So three cornered hats off to one of the most unlikely heroes of the fictional seven seas and long may Captain Pugwash fly the Jolly Roger. 'Coddling catfish!'
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