THE CONTINUING SAGA OF CAPTAIN PUGWASH
There is an incredibly persistent myth that the popular UK children’s animated series "Captain Pugwash" contained the following amongst its nautical cast: Seaman Stains, Master Bates and Roger the Cabin Boy. Even the word ‘Pugwash’ was suspected of being obscene (a sexual act in Australia). It is often stated that somehow, these characters got past naive TV censors and onto kiddies TV ‘much to the delight of older children and the mortification of parents’ until someone brought the matter to the attention of a famous campaigner for ‘decency in the media’. Another version of the myth suggested that the BBC simply omitted the ‘offending episodes’ containing Bates, Stains and Roger.
Captain Pugwash was created by John Ryan and aired between 1958 and 1967 (I'm sure I watched it in the early 1970s) and the crew of the "Black Pig" were Captain Pugwash, Master Mate, Tom the Cabin Boy, and Pirates Barnabas and Willy. It is likely that the common punning of masturbates/Master Bates and Seamen/semen became attached to the children's series; these puns certainly appealed to teens. I remember spoof Pugwash cartoons in student rag mags in the early 1980s which depicted the Pugwash crew as characters from the popular dirty ode "Good Ship Venus" ("Friggin' in the Riggin').
Several people insist they have videos of episodes containing these characters, but can never produce the said videos due to them being in ‘old Betamax’ or ‘2000’ format. One correspondent claims the tale is partly due to a doctored videotape. One writes "I believe it was a TV or radio spoof. I seem to recall the perpetrators were successfully sued and told any further such infringements would be met with the same action." In interviews, the creator of Captain Pugwash confirmed that this is a myth – the first mate was addressed as ‘Mister Mate’ or ‘Master Mate’. There was no Seaman called Stains, nor a Cabin Boy called Roger. The word ‘Pugwash’ did not refer to a sex act offered by Australian prostitutes.
Showing just how fallible human memory is, the myth is attributed to numerous sources: British comedians Victor Lewis-Smith and Paul Sparks; 1970s comedian Richard Digance (whom, it is said, was sued); Jasper Carrott (who did the infamous Magic Roundabout parody) and various 1970s student rag mags. One correspondent cited the sketch show "Not the Nine O'Clock News". Victor Lewis-Smith wrote: "I had erroneously (and I stress erroneously) suggested that the characters he'd created for his Captain Pugwash series weren't quite as innocent as they'd first seemed back in the 1950s. Unwittingly repeating a folk myth that had been passed down through generations of schoolboys, I'd stated that the dramatis personae included such nautical naughties as Master Bates, Seaman Stains and Roger the Cabin Boy, and that 'Pugwash' was Australian slang for a form of oral sex."
The idea that the innuendoes were responsible for the show's demise became common currency. In 1991, the Guardian newspaper stated that smutty character names had caused the BBC to stop showing Captain Pugwash. The Guardian's apology read "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 apologise 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."
This myth remains incredibly pervasive and, when asked to name characters from the show, many who grew up in the Pugwash era confidently cite the infamous Master Bates, Seaman Stains and Roger the Cabin Boy much to the bemusement of the show’s creator who had created an innocent kiddies TV series. It is now so much a part of British culture, that a newspaper article in May 2000 (almost a decade after the Guardian's public apology) compared the double entendres in some show to the "infamous Captain Pugwash 'Seaman Stains' character". Other "remembered" characters include "Shag the dog" or "Dick the dog", "Dicken the Cabin Boy" and (from someone with a very fertile imagination I guess) "Flay Sho the Cunning Linguist, Captain of a Chinese Pirate Junk". The animated series was screened for several years before it declined in popularity although it continued to be parodied (student revues, student rag mags, adult comics etc) so that individuals remembered the parodies rather than the show itself.
In true urban myth style, Philip Harvey adds: " The 'myth' was started after the pilot episode of the show starred those very characters. It was never shown on TV as it was only the pilot, a proof of concept. The creator realised the potential of the children's show, and saw that the political climate was a-changing, thus changed the names for the enlightened audiences, fearing he would be hanged till he be dead otherwise. My great-uncle's cousin's father's best friend from college once got the creator of the show drunk, and the secret was discovered despite the legal gag on the whole of the BBC never to mention anything. He even got hold of video evidence of the episode, but it was lost when the CIA's black helicopters 'paid him a visit' one night. At least, that's the rumour I heard."
In January 2004, the Captain Pugwash myth was revived in reports about the BBC's new version of the Andy Pandy which, claimed UK newspaper "The Sun" (20th Jan 2004, quoting series narrator Tom Conti), is littered with sexual innuendoes and double entendres. The Sun said it was not the first children's show to have adult humour slipped and cited The Magic Roundabout being littered with drug references. Ananova (same date) carried the same claim but wrote "most notably Captain Pugwash", thus perpetuating the Pugwash myth (this was rectified by Ananova when they were advised of the Pugwash myth).
The original adventures of Andy Pandy, Teddy and Looby Loo, shown in the Tuesday lunchtime "Watch With Mother" slot up until the 1970s, were widely parodied. A 1980s parody had Randy Andy playing with his big chopper (a model helicopter): "Children, just look at Andy's big chopper going up and down, up and down"; this being a joke about Prince Andrew joining the armed forces. Other spoofs had Andy, Teddy and Looby being told it was "Time for Bed" and climbing into the toybox together.
The new series is on BBC TV's CBeebies pre-school channel. The adult humour apparently includes "Teddy got very excited blowing the balloon. It was very big indeed"; Andy blowing on a big wooden horn and finding it "rather hard" and Andy making a cake with a big banana sticking out of it. Adult innuendo? Hardly. It's yet another case of dirty-minded adults reading their own smutty meanings into entirely innocent statements - and The Sun is surely a world leader in this. In the new series, Andy, Teddy and Looby don't even share a toybox!
Children's TV shows of yesteryear are common targets for adult humour parodies. Jasper Carrott's Magic Roundabout skit asked if Florence was a virgin (at the end of each Magic Roundabout episode, Zebedee tells everyone it is "Time for bed"). There are long-running jokes about "Muffin the mule and Dobbin the horse" being sex acts.
Spotting sexual references, real or imagined, in children's programmes or books has always been a common pastime, for example the infestation of "doxies" in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" in 2003 (doxy being slang for whore). The irony is that many more people have heard the urban myth and, much to John Ryan's chagrin, have grown up believing the myth, than have seen the original TV show. Anyone for finding some "facing the engine" innuendoes in "Ivor the Engine"?