Captain Pugwash, Master Bates & Co

July 25, 2009 at 3:21 pm (Art and design, BBC, Catholicism, comedy, Guardian, Jim D, media)

The death a couple of days ago of John Ryan, creator of Captain Pugwash (and other children’s TV series, such as Mary, Mungo and Midge), brings to mind an enduring urban myth.

It is still widely believed that Captain Pugwash was, in reality, a risque  sexual satire that included such characters as Master Bates, Seaman Staines and Roger the Cabin Boy.

In fact, these “characters” never existed.

To the best of my knowledge, this falsehood was a harmless piece of  mildly subversive playfulness put about by the humourist Victor Lewis-Smith, who never expected it to be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, Ryan (a deeply religious Catholic) didn’t appreciate the joke and took legal action against the Guardian and the Sunday Correspondent  for promulgating Lewis-Smith’s little jape.


  1. Shachtman said,

    Master Bates definitely existed.

  2. Jim Denham said,

    Tel us more, Shact…

  3. Rosie said,

    I remember being really outraged by Captain Pugwash when I was a kid. The story would usually go that Captain Pugwash because of his stupidity and vanity would get the Black Pig and its crew into trouble. They would be rescued by a smart ruse of Tom the Cabin Boy. Tom would never get any credit for it – he would just “smile and say nothing” while the incorrigible Captain Pugwash would boast about his own acumen. I thought that was really NOT FAIR.

    The whole family used to watch Captain Pugwash. At one time we were fattening a pig that we called Pugwash, though he was white rather than black.

  4. Shachtman said,

    Jim , i’m sure i used to watch it and laugh at Mster Bates. But maybe it’s my brain playing tricks. When i’m really bored i’ll see if it’s on You Tube.

  5. Jim Denham said,

    Shacht: what were you on in those days?

  6. Rosie said,

    There’s a more literary example of the Sly Wankery trope.

    In Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist one of Fagin’s gang is a lad called Charley Bates.. Bates is referred to variously as Mr Charles Bates, Charley Bates, Charley and Master Bates. Out of 28 references, he is called “Master Bates” 7 times. Whereas Jack Dawkins aka the Artful Dodger is called Jack Dawkins, John Dawkins, Dodger, Mr Dawkins, but never “Master Dawkins”. This may be a joke by Dickens’s. Young Bates shares the same Christian name as the author and he reforms at the end of the novel.

    • Peter Donnelly said,

      In the 1997 adaptation of Tom Jones, the young Sophia calls Tom ‘Mr Jones’ instead of ‘Master’ despite their young ages.

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