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Tugs (stylised as TUGS) is a British children's television series of thirteen episodes first broadcast in 1989. It was created by two directors of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, Robert D. Cardona and David Mitton. Tugs is about two anthropomorphised tug fleets, the Star Fleet and the Z-Stacks, who compete against each other in the fictional Bigg City Port during the 1920s. The Star Fleet are honourable and hard-working, while the Z-Stacks are underhanded and devious. The series was noted for the high quality of its production, which used detailed live-action models (much like sister series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends).



  • After two successful series of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, Robert D. Cardona and David Mitton decided to create a new television series. Their aspiration eventually materialised Tugs. The series was filmed at Shepperton Studios in 1988 using large scale models, much like its railway-based sister series. The boat models were mounted on an underwater trolley pulled with transparent strings. Remote control devices were used to power mechanisms within the models, such as the moving eyes.
  • Tugs first aired on Children's ITV in the UK, and then was later transmitted in several other countries including (but not necessarily limited to) Australia, Finland, Singapore, Brunei, France, and Japan. Afterwards, the rights to the series were sold, and have been scattered through out the years. Robert Cardona most likely owned all of the rights up until the late 90's, since he licensed the footage to be edited and re dubbed for Salty's Lighthouse.
  • The models and sets were sold to Britt Allcroft, whose new company used the models, (albeit heavily modified) for Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends from 1991-2008. The switch from live-action models to CGI for the series in 2009 ultimately ended the use of the models, but some models such as the crane Big Mickey continue to appear in the CGI series.
  • After Tugs, Robert Cardona emigrated to Canada to direct a similar series about tugboats called Theodore Tugboat. David Mitton continued to work on Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends until he retired after the seventh series in 2003.


  • Thirteen episodes of Tugs were made from 1987 through December 1988. They first aired on the British TV channel, The Children's ITV Network in 1989, and were later transmitted in several other countries.

See:List of episodes *The TV versions of Sunshine, Pirate, Munitions, and Regatta differed from their original state. They were originally 20 minutes but modified and edited to 15 minutes for broadcast on television. This was most likely done because of time-slot issues. The original 20 minute director's cuts of these four episodes can be found on VHS. The other nine episodes were the same on TV as they were on VHS (already being 15 minutes long, there was no need to shorten them for TV).

Major characters

Star Fleet


The Major Locations in and near Bigg City Port

  • For other minor locations, see the articles Bigg City Port and Other Locations in TUGS
  • The Star Dock - the home of Captain Star's well-known and much-loved Star fleet. Appears in most episodes.
  • The Zero Dock - the home of Captain Zero's devious Z-Stack fleet. Appears in most episodes.
  • Lucky's Yard - this is where watercraft go to be repaired when they are damaged or in need of maintenance. They can also be scrapped. Appears in most episodes.
  • The River - former home of Sunshine, when he worked for the Salvage Fleet. Home to Billy Shoepack, Sea Rogue, his uncle and Boomer (as a houseboat). A few towns, a railway line and a logging industry are located along the river.
  • Dem Der Rocks - Hazardous large rocks near the estuary, home of Lillie Lightship, appears in many episodes.
  • Municipal Garbage Corporation - where Lord Stinker gets his garbage loads from, and where Jack the Grappler lives.
  • Liner dock: The tugs are often seen docking ocean liners in Bigg City's largest dock. Both tug fleets are frequently competing for contracts from liners to bring them into port. The Princess Alice is frequently seen in the background of most scenes at the dock, although plenty of other liners pass through as well. In "Bigg Freeze", the main liner dock freezes up due to bad weather, and the dock is replaced with a temporary one further out at sea.


Read more about the original Tugs cast


  • Although the series only had 13 episodes TUGS was rebroadcasted and re-dubed in many countries. 
  • Swedish - Bugserbåtar
  • Japanese
  • Finish - Purtilot
  • French


  • Music was composed by Mike O' Donnell and Junior Campbell who also composed the music for Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. Pete Zorn played the saxophone in the theme. The outro of the episode, Bigg Freeze, features vocals by Sue Glover. There was some talk of releasing a full-length 3 minute single of the theme music which also would have been sung by Glover, although these plans were not acted on due to Clearwater Features' bankruptcy.

Behind the Scenes

  • The Tugs set was built out of a large water tank, measuring 45ft. by 25ft. and with a depth of 14 inches. The complexity of building this tank is the reason why Tugs did not have a test pilot, unlike Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, in which one of the episodes, Down the Mine, was originally filmed as a test pilot before being reshot.
  • The water was 30 cm deep and was filled with blue/green dye to give the water a sense of depth. David Mitton reportedly kept goldfish in the water and fed them every day until the toxicity of the tank killed them.
  • The models were built by DBP models. Originally, they were built to run on a motor, but these turned out to be too heavy for the models to move, so the models were mounted on a chassis that was pulled by string.
  • The same set was used for most of the episodes. The scenery was changed to represent different locations.
  • To manoeuvre the boats, change faces, work on the set, etc., crew members wore galoshes and worked in the tank. According to model-maker Jeremy King, the constant bending down gave the crew cramps once production had ended.
  • The models were still onsite at Shepperton Studios until around the time David Mitton died. A liquidation company came in and removed them. According to Chris Lloyd, the crew-members were offered some of the models, but they had been in a container for a long time and were damaged. Eighteen original models of the show are now owned by The Star Tugs Trust.
  • According to a private interview in December 2012, the seller company of the face masks said, that after the production offices were cleared out, every single item came to them. They had several items about the second season, but now all of them have been sold. They have gone to sellers to the United Kingdon, the United States and Australia.


  • Tugs merchandise was rather common in the early 1990s. Some of that merchandise includes:
  • ERTL Die-cast Models - Ten Cents and Sunshine are the only known models (although Ertl were to release all of the Star Tugs).
  • 10 Photo Books - Different titles for the book adaptions such as Ghost Fleet (Ghosts), Warrior's Longest Day (Warrior) and Bigg City Freeze (Bigg Freeze) are altered titles of the actual episodes. Quarantine, Munitions, and 4th of July never got photo book adaptations (none have been discovered).
  • 1989 Annual
  • 1990 Annual
  • A Tugs board game
  • TUGS Bed Sheets
  • Jigsaw Puzzles
  • Thimbles
  • Pin Badges
  • Card Game
  • Buzz Books - "Kidnapped, Run Aground, Nothing to Declare and Treasure Hunt"
  • Publicity Pack
  • Activity Books
  • Bath books
  • TUGS Poster Magazine
  • Ten Cents bath toy (Japan-only)
  • Play kit (Japan-only)
  • Play sets with Ten Cents, Sunshine, Top Hat, and Zorran (Japan-only)
  • Plush toys (Japan-only)
  • VHS tapes from Castle Vision (UK/Australia)
CVI 1020 - Sunshine/Pirate
CVI 1021 - Munitions/4th of July
CVI 1037 - Trapped/Ghosts/High Winds
CVI 1093 - High Tide/Warrior/Bigg Freeze
CVI 1094 - Jinxed/Quarantine/Up River

Note on the Videos: The 20 minute director's cuts of Sunshine, Pirate, Munitions, and 4th of July were preserved on these tapes. They were edited to 15 minutes for the TV broadcasts, most likely for time-slot scheduling. Read more about Tugs merchandise


  • Ten Cents, Sunshine, and Top Hat are the only characters to appear in every episode.
  • "Up River" is the only episode not to feature the Z-Stacks.
  • "4th of July" is the only episode to have an alternate title: "Regatta".
  • A second series was talked about, but nothing has been done.
  • "Ghosts" is the only episode to use cartoon animation.
  • On the Sunshine/Pirate and Munitions/4th of July video descriptions, Captain Star is incorrectly called 'Captain Starr' with two R's (as in Ringo Starr).
  • The engines (Puffa and The Goods Engine) and the Tugs are of the same gauge as the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends ones.
  • High Winds is the only episode when a Z-Stack is the focus character.
  • Hercules is absent in "Trapped", "Jinxed", "Quarantine", "Up River", "Warrior" and "High Tide" - more than any other main character.
  • Big Mickey and the ocean liner model are the only Tugs models to appear in the CGI Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends series.
  • S.S.Vienna is re-named the S.S. Roxstar in the Thomas and Friends episode 'Seeing the Sights.'
  • The whole Star Fleet are featured in "Sunshine," "Ghosts,"  "Munitions," and "Regatta" (if Grampus is included).
  • While most episodes only have one word for a title, four of them are titled with two words, "High Winds", "Up River", "High Tide" and "Bigg Freeze".
  • There is an American spin-off of Tugs called Salty's Lighthouse, in which characters had different voices, some had different names, and some male characters were changed to female. Most scenes were re-edited to create new plots.
  • In the first intro, deleted scenes from Sunshine, Pirate, and Ghosts are included.
  • In an interview in April 2008, David Mitton revealed that a second series had been planned well in advance of the shooting/filming of the first series. Already, over 96 scripts had been written by Mitton himself and other writers with a regular 13 episodes to be produced. Most of the series would have been set 'up river' instead of the Bigg City Port setting, which Mitton considered restrictive and difficult to film in. As well as the same regular main cast, some new tugs would have been introduced. TVS going bankrupt ultimately halted the second series from being produced.