TUGS - 20th Anniversary (1989-2009)

2009 marks the 20th anniversary that TUGS first began airing in the UK and Australia in 1989. To our disappointment, only one season-worth of 13 half-hour episodes were ever produced.
Even-so, this short-lived series created by Robert D. Cardona and David Mitton has left a lasting impression on fans, who still have fond memories of the show.
We  therefore dedicate this special section of SiF to the creators of TUGS, and to the production crew who introduced us to Bigg City Port, the Star Fleet and the Z -Stacks.
Giles Christopher - 2nd Assistant Cameraman
These days, Giles Christopher makes his living as a professional photographer with Media Wisdom, a professional and versatile photo media company co-founded with Abi Cockroft, Producer and Shoot Coordinator.  Twenty years ago,  Giles could be found right in the midst of Bigg City Port as 2nd Assistant Cameraman on TUGS.  Here, Giles shares his memories and anecdotes of working on the series... 
James Gratton - Received 14 April, 2009

Can you tell us how and when you became involved with TUGS and of your contributions to the series?

I was there from the beginning – I helped Terry Permane build the custom fitted motion control inverted periscope camera rig and did the first test shots of the model boats.
When I interviewed the Set Designer for Thomas and the Magic Railroad in Toronto, I was shown several brilliant concept sketches that were drawn by Bob Gauld-Galliers for the TV series. Would you know if the same type of artwork/storyboarding was done for TUGS?
Yes, there were some quite detailed storyboards of expressions & shots
What was it like working continuously in an aquatic set environment with electrical and delicate optical equipment? Was it inconvenient at times for the crew?
What can I say, a year in fishing waders!! All the electrics were ceiling rigged so not a worry about electrocution. The main worry was falling over and crushing the valuable ‘Stars’ - which happened. I took out a few wharfs and masts in my time there!!!
Can you share what it was like working for David Mitton and Robert Cardona?
Both lovely people. Bob was the studious individual, and the academic of the pair who kept the budget on track. David was the decadent, eccentric, amenable creative character, who wanted all the filming toys and was often told by Bob they were too expensive! – a great team though. You always avoided going to the 'Office', as David’s dog, a West Highland terrier was always there growling and ready for a scrap! He was called, Bolshy Bertie, ‘The White Fluff ball with Teeth!!

And the same re: working with the other crewmembers Bob Gauld-Galliers, Nigel and Terry Permane, Dave Eves, Chris Tulloch etc?
I helped Terry Permane build the camera rig – Terry is an electronics genius as well as a top cameraman – Chris was a very likeable character who put 100% into his work and Dave Eves, ‘Top Tug Keeper’, who also ran his own full size steam roller in his spare time.
This steam machine was exactly like the Aveling and Porter models. It was more of a tractor than a steam roller like the "Clyde or Molly Pugh" on their site!! He used to do take it out on the weekends and show us pictures of it. Very well kept and very proud.
footnote: Fans who want to learn more about another one of  David Eve's passions - a replica he built of a Showman's road locomotive should check out the January 2008 issue of "Old Glory" magazine - p.56-59
Do you still keep in touch with a few of your old colleagues from the show?
No, not really – paths have drifted apart. I bump into the odd face from time to time.
The models of course were the stars of the show. Can you tell us a bit about them, and were you privy to discussions as to how David and Robert came up with their names, personalities and basis from real-life tug prototypes?
I’m not sure of the source of the characters. Top Hat looked like the English Carry-On actor, Kenneth Williams, and Zorran the Baddie had to be Quentin Tarantino (was before QT hit big time, Maybe he modeled himself on Zorran!!).
Can you describe what a typical setup and episode filming work day was like from start to finish?
We would set camera up – load film – go through storyboard – and out the ‘Tugs’ would come, like royalty. Each tug having a keeper and human controller. We would shoot a few set up’s and that would be it for the day!! Film off to the labs, and rushes the following morning!
The episodes were initially filmed on 35mm. Did you ever have the opportunity to screen the rushes? Would you know what eventually happened to them?
It was all 35mm motion picture film. Yes I regularly saw rushes without music and voices and colour grading. David would be there in rushes with his double size TUG mug full of coffee and wearing the Captains hat!!
Looking back, do you have a favourite TUGS character and/or episode?
Yes, I think is has to be ZORRAN (Quentin Tarantino Lookalike)

Do you have any special memories or anecdotes of your time with TUGS?
Every day was fun with great characters behind the lens too!! Spending a year in fishing waders is a special memory too and a constant bad back, from bending down all day, Filming the tugs and putting the miniature clapperboard on the shots!
When did you find out that there wouldn’t be a 2nd series? Were there any indications beforehand that David and Robert were preparing for one?
No indications – was very sad when shooting ended and we had to pack everything up!!
David Mitton had purchased a real tugboat - "Kennet" around or during that time. Did he ever talk about it or invite anyone for a tour?
Yes – saw lots of pictures. He was planning to take it to Cannes to promote the series (not sure if he did). He had the Star captain's hat too, that he always wore on set. I never got to go on the Tug though.
Note: More info about Mitton's tug - 'Kennet' can be found HERE
Did your experience on TUGS aid or have any influence on what you do now as a professional photographer?
Yes, most certainly. It was my start in the camera department and I went on to be a cameraman in my own right, and later changed tact and became a Photographer.
Lastly, given that TUGS celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2009, would you like to say anything special to the fans that still have fond memories of the show?
Thank you all for supporting this innovative series - and making the sore back and soggy feet worth it!!

And we in turn express our gratitude and thanks to Giles for setting some time aside from his (busy!) schedule to answer our questions. We wish Giles and Abi all the best success with Media Wisdom.


Paul Cave - Camera Crew Focus
Former TUGS Camera Focus Puller Paul Cave is now a professional Cameraman/Director with Fluidmoves, a company based in the West Sussex area in the UK specialising in videography services from television to extreme  sports. When contacted, Paul was kind enough to tell us a bit about his time with TUGS...
28 May, 2009

Can you tell us about what you did before joining TUGS and how you joined the series?
I worked as a freelance loader then went on to focus puller with Clearwater working mainly on commercials. I worked with Harrison. I think I took over from Giles Christopher.
Would you be able to describe what's involved with camera focusing with regards to TUGS?
As far as the camera focusing is concerned we worked with an early motion control and a periscope lens.
What was it like working for/with Bob Cardona, the late David Mitton and the rest of the crew?
It was good fun working with Bob and David, we had a good atmosphere but there was a lot of hanging around waiting for sets to be dressed.
Did you have a favorite TUGS character model?
The steamboats.
When did you learn that TUGS would not be returning? Did you feel as we do that the series had a lot of potential?
I didn’t hear anything. It would probably have been cheaper to film a 2nd run because all the characters, sets and props would have been stored.
Would TUGS be able to work and be successful in 2009?
I think so.
Do you still keep in contact with any of the old TUGS crew?
Did the experience gained on TUGS help your professional career?
Hopefully yes but right now we are experiencing difficult times in the UK.
2009 marks TUGS' 20th Anniversary. Is there any special message that you would like to pass on to the fans?
Yes. Congratulations! I must admit I was not aware of the anniversary or the passing of Dave Mitton.

SiF would like to thank Paul for his reply, and wish him and Fluidmoves all our best :)

Text and Images prepared by Ryan Healy and James Gratton, with with many thanks to our contributors who have shared their memories of working on TUGS.