Jolly Roger flies at half mast as the creator of Captain Pugwash dies

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HE CREATED a pirate hero who sailed through a generation's childhood aboard the Black Pig. John Ryan, the Edinburgh cartoonist who created the popular television series Captain Pugwash, has died. He was 88.

Long before Captain Jack Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp, hijacked the affections of children, there was only one pirate for those born in Britain. For more than 25 years the hapless Captain Pugwash rocked across television screens on a galleon made from cardboard, paperclips and sticky tape.

The BBC commissioned the first series based on the character in 1957, and it was shown in black and white over the next ten years. The children's programme was switched to colour episodes when the series was revived in the 1970s.

It is said that Mr Ryan developed a life-long fascination with pirates when his family moved to Morocco after his father was appointed the British consul-general.

Mr Ryan fought in Burma during the Second World War, and was often reprimanded for drawing caricatures of his commanding officers. He married in 1950 and, in order to make some money to complement his salary as a teacher, he came up with the cartoon character Captain Horatio Pugwash. In the same year, Pugwash appeared in the first edition of the Eagle comic, but it was another six years before Ryan found a company to publish his first Pugwash book.

He went on to write and illustrate more than 20 Pugwash books, but it was through the TV series that the character won broad appeal. The Black Pig first sailed on to the nation's screens in 1957, when children were introduced to the captain and his crew, Tom the Cabin Boy, Master Mate, Willy, Barnabas and the captain's deadly enemy, Cut-Throat Jake. Each episode took about three weeks to make.

The artist also went on to create another much-loved children's series, Mary, Mungo and Midge, which was considered to be the cutting edge of social commentary in 1969, as it featured a latch-key child called Mary who lived in a tower block with a dog called Mungo and a mouse called Midge.

Explaining the appeal of his most popular character, Mr Ryan once said: "Pugwash has two qualities which I believe are present in all of us to some degree: cowardice and greed.

"It is the conflict between these opposing emotions which make the stories work. The captain may be popular because we all have something in common with him. What would you do if you saw a delicious toffee on the nose of a crocodile?"

He is survived by his wife and three children.


IT WAS unfortunate that an urban myth attached itself to Captain Pugwash, but especially so for two newspapers, which in 1991 had to pay libel damages to John Ryan after claiming that the children's programme was taken off the air by the BBC because of the risqu names of some of the Black Pig's crew.

There are still people who will insist, wrongly, that there were characters on board called Master Bates, Seaman Staines and Roger the Cabin Boy.

In reality, the names were conjured up by students in the 1970s for university "rag mags", but during the 1980s and early 1990s the idea took hold that the jokes were fact.

At the time of the legal action, Mr Ryan said he welcomed the opportunity to put his side of the story. He added: "I don't want to go down as the man who wrote dirty books for children."

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