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Tugs (TV series)

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First episode date
26 November 1988

Narrated by

Final episode date
27 June 1989


Tugs (TV series) List of Tugs characters Wikipedia

Created by
Robert D. CardonaDavid Mitton

Written by
David MittonRobert D. CardonaChris TullochTarquin CardonaGloria TorsRoy Russell

Directed by
David MittonChris Tulloch

Voices of
Patrick AllenSimon NashChris TullochTimothy BatesonShaun PrendergastSean BarrettLee CornesJohn BaddeleyNigel Anthony

Theme music composer
Junior CampbellMike O'Donnell

PBS, ITV, Australian Broadcasting Corporation


Thomas and Friends, Dramarama (TV series), Fraggle Rock

Episode 1 sunshine

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. 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.


Tugs (TV series) Nerdversity 101 Podcasts Nerdversity Reviews Tugs

The series was set in the Roaring Twenties, and was produced by Tugs Ltd., for Television South (TVS) and Clearwater Features Ltd. The music was composed by Junior Campbell and Mike O'Donnell, who also wrote the music for Thomas & Friends.

Tugs (TV series) Tugs HQ Theme Tune YouTube

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. All thirteen episodes of the show were released on VHS between 1988 and 1993. The series was popular and has gained a cult following.

Tugs sunshine s01 e01

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. The series was animated using live-action models, which were seen as the most realistic method of portraying real tugboats. 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.

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

In early 2013, having long 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.

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. 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. 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.


Tugs first aired on CITV in the United Kingdom, and then on Australia's ABC TV. 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.

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

Airing history

  • United Kingdom
  • TVS (1988–1989)
  • CITV (1989)
  • Australia
  • ABC TV (1991–1993)
  • Ireland possibly
  • The Den (1990)
  • Japan
  • TV Tokyo (1992)
  • United States
  • The Disney Channel (1993-1994)
  • Univision (1995-1998)
  • France
  • France 2 (1995-1996)
  • Russia
  • VID TV (1996-1997)
  • Mexico
  • Univision (1997-1998)
  • Merchandise, music, and home video releases

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

  • Ertl models - Ten Cents and Sunshine models produced 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
  • 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"
  • 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 only one was found and it 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.


    Tugs (TV series) Wikipedia