Genre Children's
Running time 15 mins (9 episodes)
20 mins (4 episodes)
Creator(s) Robert D. Cardona
David Mitton
Starring Patrick Allen
Simon Nash
Shaun Prendergast
Sean Barrett
Chris Tulloch
Timothy Bateson
John Baddeley
Nigel Anthony
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original network/channel ITV (UK) (1989)
Original run 4 April 1989-
27 June 1989
No. of episodes 13
IMDb page

Tugs (stylized 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 & Friends, Robert D. Cardona and David Mitton.

Tugs is about two anthropomorphized 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 & Friends).


After two successful series of Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, Robert D. Cardona and David Mitton decided to create a new television series. Their aspiration eventually materialized Tugs. Just like Thomas & Friends, the series was filmed at Shepperton Studios in the late 1980s 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 (unlike Thomas and Friends and its other spin-off, Shining Time Station, this show was never exported to North America). After thirteen produced episodes, TVS filed for bankruptcy, the rights to the series were sold and scattered through out the years, and Clearwater Features closed its doors in late 1990, thus ending TUGS. Robert Cardona most likely owned all of the rights up until the late 90s, since he licensed the footage to be edited and redubbed 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 & 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 7th series in 2003.


13 episodes of Tugs were made from 1987 to December 1988. They first aired on the British TV channel, Children's ITV 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 originally released on VHS (already being 15 minutes long, there was no need to shorten them for TV).

Major characters

Star Fleet

Captain Star, Ten Cents, Big Mac, O.J., Top Hat, Warrior, Hercules, Sunshine, Grampus.


Captain Zero, Zorran, Zebedee, Zak, Zug, Zip

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.


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 online forums, several have been revealed.

Read more about the original Tugs cast


Although the series only had 13 episodes, TUGS was rebroadcasted and redubbed in many countries. 

  • Swedish - Bugserbåtar
  • Japanese - がんばれタッグス
  • Finnish - Purtilot
  • French
  • Portugal - Os rebocadores


Music was composed by Mike O' Donnell and Junior Campbell, who also composed the music for Thomas the Tank Engine & 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 three minute single of the theme music which also would have been sung by Glover, however these plans fell through due to Clearwater Features' bankruptcy.

Behind the Scenes

The Tugs set was built out of a large water tank, measuring 45 ft. by 25 ft. 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 its episodes, Down the Mine, was originally filmed as a test pilot before being re-shot for its first season.

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 they 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 2nd season, but now all of them have been sold. They have gone to sellers to the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia.


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

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".
  • "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 2 R's (as in Ringo Starr).
  • The Railway engines (Puffa and The Goods Engine) and the Tugs are of the same gauge as the locomotives in Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends.
  • High Winds is the only episode with a Z-Stack as 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. Big Mickey also gained a face in the show's twenty-first series.
  • S.S.Vienna is renamed the S.S. Roxstar in the Thomas and Friends episode "Seeing the Sights".
  • The whole Star Fleet are featured in “Sunshine”, “High Winds”, and “Bigg Freeze”. If Grampus was included, the whole fleet were featured in “Sunshine", "Ghosts",  "Munitions", and "Regatta".
  • 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 reedited 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 ninty-six scripts had been written by Mitton himself and other writers with a regular thirteen 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.


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