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Series logo. The tug featured is Ten Cents
Format Children's
Created by Robert D. Cardona
David Mitton
Starring Patrick Allen
Simon Nash
Shaun Prendergast
Sean Barrett
Chris Tulloch
Timothy Bateson
John Baddeley
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of episodes 13
Running time 15 mins (9 episodes)
20 mins (4 episodes)
Distributor hit entertainment plc
Original channel ITV (UK) (1988-90)
ABC (Australia) (1990)
Original run September 30 1988 – January 4 1989

TUGS was a British children's television series of thirteen episodes first broadcast in 1988. It was created by the producers of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, Robert D. Cardona and David Mitton.

Tugs is about two anthromorphized 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, the Z-Stacks are underhanded and devious.

The series was noted for the high quality of its animation, which used detailed live-action models (much like sister series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends) [citation needed].


After two successful seasons of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, Robert D. Cardona and David Mitton decided to create a new television series - TUGS. The series was filmed at Shepperton Studios in 1988 using a similar animation process to its railway-based sister series. The only notable difference was that the boat models were pulled by 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 Britain, and then on Australia's ABC network. The rights to the series were sold and it's currently not known who owns them. Redubbed and heavily edited footage later resurfaced as part of the low-budget children's series 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 onwards. They are still used in current seasons.

David Mitton continued to work on Thomas until he retired after the seventh series in 2003, whilst Robert D. Cardona emigrated to Canada and devised a similar program about tugboats called Theodore Tugboat.


Thirteen episodes of TUGS were made. The series was "darker" in tone than many other television programs aimed at children. The plots often featured crime, violence and destruction, with punishment given to the characters carrying out these actions. The dialogue, too, was quite mature for a children's series. It featured slang and terminology that might these days be considered "over the heads" of young children. Characters would often insult each other, as well as using historical and maritime terms.

Major characters

Star Tugs: Big Mac and Sunshine working Up River

The Star Fleet

Ten Cents

Ten Cents is a lively and cheeky young cockney harbour switcher tug with a heart of gold. He is often considered the main character of the series, having being featured prominently in most episodes. Ten Cents almost always works with Sunshine, and the two are inseparable.

Big Mac

Big Mac is one of the fleet's strongest and roughest tugs. Despite his blunt and abrupt exterior, he is a kind and loyal tug who never likes to hurt others' feelings, and will always stand up for those in trouble. Despite fan speculation that he is Warrior's brother - this was never confirmed in the program. They are, however, good friends, and always look out for each other.


The fleet's (and indeed, Bigg City Port's) only paddle steamer, the wisest and oldest tug of them all; OJ is genuinely respected by everyone in the port. He is good natured, and despite his increasing frailty, is the Star's quickest thinker. OJ is loyal to his comrades, and to Captain Star.

Top Hat

Top Hat is a stuck-up, snobbish railway tug. He wears a top hat and monocle, and loathes dirty work. His fellow Star Tugs have somewhat mixed feelings towards him - although they dislike his attitude, they acknowledge that he is a hard worker. He is the greatest wit of the fleet, but he can be quite hypocritical when it comes to acts of bravery.


Warrior is the Stars' third strongest tug. He is rather dense and clumsy and in one episode (named after him) he tries to do something about this. Warrior has good points to him - he is brave, helpful and good-hearted, and is loved and cherished by his peers. His closest friend and greatest defender is Big Mac.


Hercules is the most mysterious of all the Star Tugs. He is an ocean-going tug, and so is often out of the port for long periods of time. He is vain, and vague, and thinks he is cleverer than he is in reality. He can always be found in the estuary with his sweetheart Lillie Lightship. Even the Z-Stacks know not to antagonise him when he is in port - he is the strongest Star by far. Tugs fans consider him the most undeveloped of all the major characters, but maybe this suits his personality.


Sunshine is the star's newest recruit. He was originally from Up River, where he worked for the Salvage fleet (often heard about but never seen). Captain Star initially employed Sunshine on a temporary basis, but after the events of the first episode decided to make him Star No. 7. Sunshine is shy and bashful but strong-willed despite his size. He mainly works with Ten Cents, his best friend.

Captain Star

The proud owner of the Star Tugs, Captain Star narrates the series in past tense. His distinctive voice was provided by Patrick Allen, a veteran voice actor. Captain Star appears in every single episode. He can be gruff, but is always fair. The Stars respect their leader, and are proud to be a member of his fleet.

The Z-Stacks

The devious, tricky and scheming boats. They are always finding ways to hinder and infuriate the Star Tugs.


The most devious Z-Stack of them all, and therefore their leader. Zorran is cunning and malicious. He is a scheming bully who will do absolutely anything to get ahead, and doesn't care who gets hurt along the way. All the other Z-stacks are secretly afraid of him.


Zebedee is an easy-going tug who often winds up the Stars for one reason or another. He is a very complex character, and beneath his tough exterior is one of the only Z-Stacks to have a conscience. This depth was explored in the episode High Winds.


Zak is a devious and revolting tug, who, unlike any of the others, was never really explored within the episodes. He is quite a violent character - for instance, he once suggested that the best way to deal with the Stars was to "blow them up". He considers himself something of a schemer, but doesn't really think his plans through. He mainly works with Zebedee.Although it seems Zak has many appearances, he never had his own episode, like Zip.


Zug is an ambitious young tug, and one of the Z-Stack switchers. He mainly works with Zip, the other switcher, and likes to think of himself as the intelligent one. Compared to Zip, he certainly is intelligent. However, compared to anyone else, he is not. He comes up with devious plans for him and Zip to use, though the plans usually fail.


Zip the Harbour switcher is rather dense. He often has to leave Zorran or Zug to do the thinking for him and he is a sheep who follows orders bluntly, but loyally. He usually works with Zug his best friend.

Captain Zero

The devious and scheming owner of the Z-Stack fleet. He is known to have criminal connections. He only appears in a very small number of episodes, and is quite bad tempered. He is voiced by British actor Mike Mulloy .

Other Notable Characters


Grampus is a naval midget submarine, who enjoys his free time spent underwater. He is a valuable asset to the Stars, as he is capable of all sorts of tasks that the tugs can't perform. He finally joined the fleet in the episode 4th of July.

Izzy Gomez

Izzy is a scheming tramp steamer who is friends (of a sort) with both the Star Tugs and the Z-Stacks. He will often try to convince tugs to tow him into port for free, or at least for a cut-price rate, and is not above trying to sneak in against the law. However, he does have a good streak that was revealed in Sunshine, so he is perhaps more of a rogue than a villain. He has a strong Mexican accent and wears a sombrero.

Lillie Lightship

Lillie is a vivacious bright young ship, with a long standing affection for Hercules. She is the only major female character in the series. All of the tugs appear smitten with her, and she knows it! The charming lightship is always to be found at Dender Rocks, guiding their way home with her bright light.

See also

The Major Locations in Bigg City Port

For other minor locations see the article Bigg City Port

  • Star Dock - the home of Captain Star's well-known and much-loved fleet. Appears in every episode.
  • Zero Dock - the home of Captain Zero's devious Z-Stack fleet. Appears in most episodes.
  • Lucky's yard - this is where ships and tugs alike go to get repaired when they are damage or in need of maintenance. Appears in most episodes.
  • Up River - former home of Sunshine, when he worked for the Salvage Company. Home to Billy Shoepack, Sea Rogue, His Uncle and Boomer (as a houseboat). In charge on logging.
  • Dender Rocks - home of Lillie Lightship, appears in most episodes.
  • Municipal Garbage Corporation - where Lord Stinker gets his garbage loads from, and the Jack the Grappler resides, appears in Regatta and Bigg frezze.


Unfortunately, the cast of TUGS was never credited. Some of their identities are still ambiguous. However, thanks to the diligent research of various members of the Clearwater and Sodor Island Forums, several have been uncovered;

Hopefully, more will be discovered over time.


TUGS Merchandise was rather common in the early 1990s. Some of that merchandise includes:

  • Ertl models - Ten Cents and Sunshine are the only known models (although Ertl were supposed to release all of the Star Tugs).
  • 13 Photo Books - Different titles for the TV series such as Ghost Fleet (Ghosts), Warrior's Longest Day (Warrior) and Bigg City Freeze (Bigg Freeze)
  • 2 Annuals
  • VHS Videos
Trapped/Ghosts/High Winds
Jinxed/Quarantine/Up River
Bigg Freeze/Warrior/High Tide
Munitions/4th of July

Note on the Videos: The versions of the episodes on the videos were significantly edited for unknown reasons. Many original scenes had been extended/deleted and the program now had two different alternate title sequences

  • Jigsaw
  • Bed set
  • Board Game
  • Thimbles
  • Card Game
  • 5 Buzz Books - Kidnapped, Run Aground, Nothing to Declare and Treasure Hunt"
  • Publicity Pack - Ultra Rare!
  • Activity Books
  • Bath books
  • Magazines


  • Two of the Z-Stacks, Zebedee and Zip, appeared in an episode from the fifth series of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends called Something in the Air. The models had been heavily modified (including the removal of 'head' and hat) to look less characteristic, and more contemporary in appearance to the setting of the story.
  • "High Tide" was the only episode to include Zak in main plot and focus.
  • Captain Star (as the narrator), Ten Cents, Sunshine and Top Hat were the only characters who appeared in every episode.
  • "Up River" is the only episode not to feature the Z stacks
  • Sunshine's smoke stack was originally white and he is from the salvage company in Up River. In the pilot episode, there is a goof as such, where Sunshine still sports his original white stack, but is half painted star tug yellow, this was obviously some kind of goof, because Sunshine hadn't officially joined the Star tug fleet yet, and would have no reason to be half-painted in their colours.
  • A Second season was talked about,but (as of yet) nothing has been done.
  • Ghosts was the only episode to use cartoon animation.
  • On the Sunshine/Pirate and Munitions/4th of July videos Captain Star was called Captain Starr with two Rs (as in Ringo Starr).
  • The engines (such as Puffa) and the tugs are of the same gauge as the Thomas the Tank Engine models
  • "Jinxed" and Sunshine are the only episodes to use stock footage
  • Captain Zero only ever appeared in 3 episodes with speaking roles.
  • Hercules was absent for 6 episodes in the series - more than any other main character. Warrior, Big Mac and OJ all starred in 12 individual episodes - being missing in 1 episode each respectively.
  • Zorran was absent in 1 episode, Zebedee and Zak were absent in 4 episodes each, Zug was absent in 3 episodes and Zip was absent in 2 episodes.
  • There is an American spin-off of TUGS called Salty's Lighthouse, in which several characters have different voices, some have different names, and some male characters are considered female. Despite this, Salty's Lighthouse is not official canon of TUGS.
  • A Campaign is underway at Sodor Island Forums to get TUGS onto DVD.

See also

External links