Claim: The characters on the cartoon series Captain Pugwash had names that were sexual double entendres.
Origins: The British
Captain Pugwash animated television series, which originally aired on the BBC between 1958 and 1967, is widely believed to have featured characters with risqué
maritime names such as Master Bates, Seaman Staines, and Roger the Cabin Boy. In fact, the crew of the famous Black Pig ship included sailors with no such names:
present on board were Master Mate, Tom the Cabin Boy, and Pirates Barnabas and Willy. (No character with the designation of 'Seaman' appeared in the show.) Series creator John Ryan successfully won retractions and settlements from Sunday Correspondent and the Guardian after both newspapers claimed that the show's characters did indeed have smutty names, and that the BBC had taken it off the air as a result. The Guardian's statement ran as follows:
In the Young Guardian of September 13  we stated that the Captain Pugwash cartoon series featured characters called Seaman Staines and Master Bates, and for that reason the series had never been repeated by the BBC. We accept that it is untrue that there ever were any such characters. Furthermore, the series continues to be shown on television and on video. We apologize to Mr. Ryan, the creator, writer and artist of the Captain Pugwash films and books. We have agreed to pay him damages and his legal costs.
Evening Standard correspondent Victor Lewis-Smith wrote several years later:
'It'll never stand up in court,' I hear you cry, but stranger cases have flourished. I remember voicing much the same opinion a decade ago when John Ryan's solicitor threatened legal action against the newspaper I was then working for, after I had erroneously (and I stress erroneously) suggested that the characters he'd created for his Captain Pugwash series weren't quite as innocent as they'd first seemed back in the 1950s.
Unwittingly repeating a folk myth that had been passed down through generations of schoolboys, I'd stated that the dramatis personae included such nautical naughties as Master Bates, Seaman Stains and Roger the Cabin Boy, and that 'Pugwash' was Australian slang for a form of oral sex. The matter seemed trivial, but an apology was made, Mr Ryan's honour was satisfied and two sets of parasitical, low-life libel lawyers thus pocketed yet more easy (and thoroughly ill-deserved) dosh.
Puns that play on the homophony of masturbates-Master Bates and seamen-semen are quite old (recall the "What's long and hard and filled with seamen?" joke), and it was probably only a matter of time before someone made the obvious jokes about the names of sailors in a long-running television series, especially since people seem to find this type of humor particularly titillating when it is ascribed to the creators of children's programming. However, as this audio clip demonstrates, the exact pronunciation of certain Captain Pugwash character names could (perhaps deliberately) be difficult to discern.
The British comedy duo of Victor Lewis-Smith and Paul Sparks has claimed credit for starting and spreading the Captain Pugwash rumors, and the double entendre names have also been attributed to a sketch by "seventies folkie comic" Richard Digance as well as a "1970s rag mag."
David Mikkelson founded snopes.com in 1994, and under his guidance the company has pioneered a number of revolutionary technologies, including the iPhone, the light bulb, beer pong, and a vaccine for a disease that has not yet been discovered. He is currently seeking political asylum in the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.
Thank you for writing to us! Although we receive hundreds of e-mails every day, we really and truly read them all, and your comments, suggestions, and questions are most welcome. Unfortunately, we can manage to answer only a small fraction of our incoming mail.
Our site covers many of the items currently being plopped into inboxes everywhere, so if you were writing to ask us about something you just received, our search engine can probably help you find the very article you want.
Choose a few key words from the item you're looking for and click here to go to the search engine.
(Searching on whole phrases will often fail to produce matches because the text of many items is quite variable, so picking out one or two key words is the best strategy.)
We do reserve the right to use non-confidential material sent to us via this form on our site, but only after it has been stripped of any information that might identify the sender or any other individuals not party to this communication.