Farewell to Pugwash…(and Seaman Staines and Master Bates)


On hearing that the cartoonist John Ryan, best known as the creator of the popular childrens cartoon series Captain Pugwash passed away on 22nd July at the ripe old age of 88 I was reminded of that old well-travelled urban myth from the late 1980s/early ’90s.   According to this myth Captain Pugwash was laden with sexual innuendo and included characters with double entendre names like Seaman Staines, Master Bates and Roger the cabin boy.  Totally untrue, but quite widely believed.

According to his obituary  in the Guardian Ryan was a devoutly religious man with conservative views who preferred the old style traditional Latin mass and was a regular contributor to the Catholic Herald newspaper.  So it’s not surprising that wasn’t happy about the slandering of his creations in this way and got his lawyers to order the papers which published these scurrilous falsehoods to issue a full retraction. 

Still, it was funny though.

Alright then, mildly amusing.



  1. I ‘ve heard about Captain Pugwash, but never seen it. It was banned in South Africa back in the ’70s because the pirate ship in it was called the Black Pig. The government of the day saw this as an affront to their racial purity and didn’t want to put ideas in people’s heads.

  2. May he rest in peace. I think that the world could do with more people like John Ryan. A true gentleman by the sounds of it. I certainly enjoyed Captain Pugwash as a child, and despite the fact that his innocent natured illustrations have now long been technologically overtaken, I am sure that Pugwash and friends will be rediscovered by future generations of parents and children, seeking something authentic and pure from the past.

  3. I couldn’t agree more Phil. I hope you didn’t think I was being disrespectful to the man!

    He certainly lived a healthy and fulfilling, prolific life. Although Pugwash was undoubtedly his most famous creation, of more groundbreaking significant was Mary, Midge & Mongo, a cartoon about a young girl living in a high rise tower block which broke the mould in portraying an alternative environment to the cosy, middle class settings which had typified most children’s literature and TV up to that point. John Ryan RIP.

    As a footnote to the “urban myth” mentioned above, it’s worth noting that there is a character in Oliver Twist called Charlie Bates, a member of Fagin’s gang of juvenile delinquents. Dickens regularly refers to him in the narrative as “Master Bates”. You can imagine the hilarity this caused when I was studying the text for GCSE English lit. A bunch of sniggering 15 year old boys and an angry, and somewhat bemused female teacher.
    Now, did Dickens intend this as a deliberate innuendo in the hope of shocking (or perhaps slipping it innocently over the heads of) a prudish Victorian readership? The evidence certainly points this way in terms of the inconsistencies of the narrative . The title character is always referred to by Dickens as Oliver, but never “Master Twist” for instance. So it’s nothing new!

    And don’t worry I haven’t forgotten about “Dynamite”! I’ll publish it as soon as I can.

  4. Master Bates, leaves Seaman Staines, then goes over to Roger the Cabin Boy.

    Myth? … Don’t make me laugh!
    Are you so naive to think that everybody else is naive?

    It was funny before, and even funnier when he got found out!

    1. You could always back up your claim that the double-entendres are not a myth by posting links to episodes in which they feature. I’ll wait here.

  5. Around 1950 my parents subscribed to “The Eagle” for me and my brother. Captain Pugwash occupied a third to a half of the back page. I found it rather boring and could not understand why my father and uncle found it so compelling while ignoring the (to me) far more enjoyable stuff like Dan Dare overcoming the evil Mekons. The reason was: – Roger the cabin boy, seaman Staines, master Bates, etc. There were one or two others which elude me for the moment. Anyone sufficiently exercised by the matter can settle it by finding old copies of the Eagle which would prove the point beyond reasonable argument.

  6. Thanks for your comments Antony. Well it’s certainly an undisputed fact that there were childrens TV shows back in the day which did employ innuendo that went over the heads of innocent kids. Was Pugwash really guilty of this? If anyone has any old copies of Eagle from the 1950s maybe they can settle the matter once and for all!!!

  7. There are loads of episodes of Captain Pugwash on YouTube. Unfortunately they clearly feature a Master Mater, Tom the cabin boy and no sign of any Seaman Stains! Although on member of the crew is called Willy.

  8. Well, I have just watched episode 5, the pirate picnic and Master Bate not Bates is a main character in it. So the lore is partly true. Staines and Roger were made up.

  9. Thank god for Youtube! Many full episodes of Captain Pugwash and I defy anyone to hear any other names than Seaman Stains and Master Bates. Clear as anything.
    The only name that isn’t in the crew of the Black Pig is Roger the cabin boy, he is definitely Tom the cabin boy.
    As for Pugwash being an Australian sexual slang word, I’ve lived in Australia for 40 years and never heard that word outside of the cartoon.

  10. I was also a resident topical cartoonist for the Herald group (specifically the Glasgow Observer) though I once had a quarter front page spread on The Catholic Herald for one of my cartoons. Ryan, half-seriously, said don’t do that again, I need the money. He let me watch the animation process of Pugwash in a studio in his home.

  11. I don’t know how Ryan could work for the Herald. Satire and religion do not mix and I forget the number of my cartoons that were censored. But then I met Vicky (Victor Weisz): probably the top political cartoonist of his age. But in spite of that, he suffered from censorship. I would see him shamble dismally into the New Statesman office with at least half a dozen in the hope that the editor would like one. He struck me as humorless and depressed. Not long he and one other top cartoonist committed suicide. So I got out. I regret it now. Satirical humor is a deadly serious business. If you didn’t laugh, you would cry.
    Show biz is strange. I also wanted to be a cartoonist as a kid. I would draw caricatures of my teachers on the blackboard. Of course, they went through the motions of outraged academia but I swear their mouths twitched. So after my stint in National Service, I took a folio of drawings into a top Fleet Street cartoon agent. He said, basically, that they were crap. Dazed, I walked into the newspaper office directly opposite to him. It happened to be the Herald.
    It was lunch hour and there was only one girl eating sandwiches. I asked if anyone would take a look. She said leave it there. I returned, expecting it to be still lying there. But the girl said that not only did the editor want to see me but the newspaper baron was in there with him. They signed me up on the spot. All within the space of one hour.
    Right now, I’m trying to publish a novel. Literary agents are hell.

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