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Tugs (stylized as TUGS) is a British children's television series first broadcast in 1989. It was created by the then 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.

Created by
Written by
  • David Mitton
  • Robert D. Cardona
  • Chris Tulloch
  • Tarquin Cardona
  • Gloria Tors
  • Roy Russell
Directed by
  • David Mitton
  • Chris Tulloch
Voices of
Narrated byPatrick Allen
Theme music composer
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series1
No. of episodes13 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)
Production location(s)Shepperton Studios, Surrey, England, United Kingdom
CinematographyClearwater periscope lens system
  • Pete Best
  • Phil Sanderson
Camera setup
Running timeApprox. 15–20 minutes
Production company(s)Tugs Limited
DistributorClearwater Features
Original network
Picture formatPAL (576i)
Audio format
Original release4 April (1989-04-04) –
27 June 1989 (1989-06-27)
Related shows

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 some models and sets from the series were 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 went 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 1989 and 1993.

Format and productionEdit

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.[5] The set featured the Clearwater Periscope lens system, a type of professional video camera used to film at the models' eye level.

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.[5]

Throughout the series, the two fleets primarily contest contracts to dock and tow larger sailing vessels and objects, including ocean liners,[1] tramp steamers[6] and schooners.[7] Various other contractual obligations were also completed by the two fleets, including transportation of stone,[6] munitions[8] and logging fell.[7]

In early 2013, having long been presumed destroyed, the original models from the series were located and purchased by a group of fans under the name the Star Tugs Company. The group now owns the majority of the major and supporting cast (with the exception of Top Hat, Grampus and The Coast Guard, the whereabouts of which are unknown), several alternate faces for the characters and various props.

Cast and charactersEdit

Star FleetEdit

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.[9] 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.[9] 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 of the Z-Stacks after his explosives barge spontaneously detonated.[10][11]


Tugs first aired on Children's ITV 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.[12]

The series also aired in Japan with Japanese voice-overs.[13]

Airing historyEdit

Merchandise, music, and home video releasesEdit

A number of items of Tugs merchandise were produced surrounding the series' release in the early 1990s, including:

  • Ertl models - Ten Cents and Sunshine models were produced by toy company Ertl. The full Star Fleet cast were originally to be produced, but only these two were made. None of the Z-Stacks were produced.
  • Photo books
  • 2 hardback annuals
  • 1 hardback dot-to-dot
  • 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 on various synthesizers.[15] Pete Zorn played the saxophone in the theme.[15]

VHS releasesEdit

A number of VHS versions of the series were released between 1989 and 1993 in the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan. All 13 episodes were originally twenty-minutes long, but were edited to fifteen minutes for television broadcasts, most likely due to time slot issues. Three of these videos contained three fifteen-minute episodes, while two contained two twenty-minute episodes. 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"
  • "High Tide"/"Warrior"/"Bigg Freeze"
  • "Jinxed"/"Quarantine"/"Up River"
  • "Munitions"/"4th of July"

A four episode, 65 minute version was released in 1993:

  • "Trapped"/"Ghosts"/"High Winds"/"4th of July"[16]


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.[12]



  1. ^ a b c Mitton, David (director) (1989). "Sunshine"/"Pirate" (videotape). Surrey, England: Tugs Ltd. UPC 5016500102026. Retrieved 16 June 2010.
  2. ^ a b "TUGS airdates". BFI. Retrieved 28 August 2007.
  3. ^ "Who Drove Thomas To Success?". Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  4. ^ "Theodore Tugboat - Nighttime Adventures". Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  5. ^ a b c "TUGS: Behind The Scenes". Archived from the original on 17 July 2011.
  6. ^ a b Mitton, David; Tulloch, Chris (directors) (1990). "High Tide"/"Warrior"/"Bigg Freeze" (videotape). Surrey, England: Tugs Ltd. UPC 5016500109322. Retrieved 16 June 2010.
  7. ^ a b Mitton, David; Tulloch, Chris (directors) (1990). "Jinxed"/"Quarantine"/"Up River" (videotape). Surrey, England: Tugs Ltd. UPC 5016500109421. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
  8. ^ Mitton, David (director) (1989). "Munitions"/"4th of July" (videotape). Surrey, England: Tugs Ltd. UPC 5016500102125. Retrieved 16 June 2010.
  9. ^ a b Interview with Robert Cardona for Model Boats Magazine, July 1990.
  10. ^ "TUGS Cast and Crew". Retrieved 27 August 2007.
  11. ^ "Tugs (1989)". Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  12. ^ a b "Salty's Lighthouse (1997)". BFI. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  13. ^ "Characters (voice: short title) Introduction". Google Translate. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  14. ^ "RTÉ Network 2". 3 December 1990. Archived from the original on 10 April 2015.
  15. ^ a b "Mike O'Donnell". 20 July 2007. Retrieved 4 November 2017. There were no new instruments, as I recall it was the same kit we used for Thomas.
  16. ^ "Tugs - Trapped / Ghosts / High Winds / 4th July [VHS] [1989]". Retrieved 21 November 2009.


External linksEdit