Friday, July 24, 2009

John Ryan and Captain Pugwash

Ten years ago I was down in Rye - no doubt it was something to do with Malcolm Saville - and went into a bookshop there. I saw a display of Captain Pugwash books and told the owner how much I admired John Ryan's work. "He was in here five minutes ago," he replied, "you could have met him."

John Ryan died today aged 88. I am too young to recall Captain Pugwash's heyday: I discovered him as an adult through Ryan's picture books. But I do have fond memories of Sir Prancelot from the early 1970s.

Pugwash war revived in the 1990s. This was in the days when I did not have a television, but I did see an episode at someone else's house. The animation had been jazzed up and modern sensibilities had dictated that the Captain should have a Black crewman. But he was as stupid as the other pirates, so that was fine.

What did matter was that Tom the cabin boy had been given a voice. In the books (and, I believe the original television series, Tom was always the hero and always "said nothing"). Presumably in order to signal to the hoped-for American audience that Tom was a good character, he had an Irish accent.

One other thing has to be mentioned in connection with Captain Pugwash: the myth that the stories contained all sorts of obscenities. Seaman Stains, Master Bates, Roger the Cabin Boy... You know the sort of thing. confirms that these stories are nonsense, suggesting that the jokes are far older than Pugwash. ("Pugwash" isn't rude either, incidentally.) It also quotes a Guardian apology from 1991:
In the Young Guardian of September 13 we stated that the Captain Pugwash cartoon series featured characters called Seaman Staines and Master Bates, and for that reason the series had never been repeated by the BBC. We accept that it is untrue that there ever were any such characters. Furthermore, the series continues to be shown on television and on video. We apologize to Mr. Ryan, the creator, writer and artist of the Captain Pugwash films and books. We have agreed to pay him damages and his legal costs.
"Young" Guardian? "In the Young Guardian"? No wonder the country is in the state it is. Give our young the original Pugwash, not sniggering like this.


Unknown said...

Someone is doing a very good job of covering up the truth about Captain Pugwash's characters! I saw this on TV as a kid and (at least in my country), there was indeed a Master Bates, Seaman Staines and Roger the Cabin Boy. I e-mailed Snopes a few years ago when I saw with amazement that they were denying it, but they continue to propagate this lie. Even more amazing is that John Ryan won his lawsuits! I have made contact today with someone who will hopefully be able to provide me with copies of these original tapes.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever find evidence of this? I so want to prove to people that it's true!

Unknown said...

Oh, my email is ... new to this..! didn't wanna be 'anonymous' !!

Unknown said...

Unfortunately not. The person I was in contact with simply stopped responding. Weird.

Anonymous said...

You won't find any evidence because someone has made it up. The crew in all the books and TV series had the names Master Mate (as you might expect on a ship) Pirates Barnabas and Pirate William (or Willy for short which is about as double as any entendre gets)and Tom the cabin boy.
So as much as people sadly want to believe that a children's story had such (very) obvious smutty names which would never have been broadcast in the first place.

Mark said...

"Anonymous", did you not read my original comment? This is not some rumour that I heard and foolishly decided to support without evidence. This is something I saw with my own eyes and remember clearly.

Tom the Irish cabin boy said...

For me, the original Captain Pugwash series resembles life and that Tom “the cabin boy” is the humbled, divine and loving character that we all should aspire to be or become. Throughout the series we see Tom use his knowledge to help the pirate crew and Captain Pugwash accomplish whatever task. He also shows great care and attention by feeding the crew and looking after the ship because the rest of the characters are not capable of doing so. I see Tom as the main character although slightly hidden amongst all the confusion. Tom is also a prime of example of the quote or mindset “the more you know the more you can do”. Of course this is just my take on Captain Pugwash….