The Tugmen's Tale

Mike Crawley and Garry Bales: tugmen who sailed out of Hull between the 1960s and 1980s

Hull on Film: Tales From A City Exhibition (2018) by Yorkshire Film ArchiveYorkshire Film Archive

Mike Crawley - tug man (2018) by Yorkshire Film ArchiveYorkshire Film Archive

The Tugmen's Tale: Mike Crawley

Born in Hull, on the Willerby Road, Mike Crawley first went to sea in 1963, after completing a radio operator’s course and joining the Merchant Navy. He later transferred to inshore tugs, working in Hull docks, then to offshore or deep sea tugs, and also worked in the North Sea for the oil industry.  Mike’s career on the tugs took him across the world, before he changed direction to pursue a life behind the camera, becoming, amongst other things, a successful television cameraman specialising in live broadcasts for horse racing.

Mike Crawley - A Tugman's Tale (2018) by Yorkshire Film ArchiveYorkshire Film Archive

A deep sea voyage in the tug ‘Serviceman’: Mike brought along his 8mm cine camera to record on-board life on this long trip which began in Hull, called at Rotterdam, and finally ended in Nigeria.

The tug pulled three barges, or pontoons, at a few knots down the English Channel, across the Bay of Biscay, steadily heading down the west coast of Africa and finally up the Bonny River to Port Harcourt.

Mike Crawley - The Tugmen's Tale (2018) by Yorkshire Film ArchiveYorkshire Film Archive

Garry Bales (2018) by Yorkshire Film ArchiveYorkshire Film Archive

The Tugmen's Tale: Gary Bales B.E.M

Gary Bales worked on the tugs sailing out of Hull from 1972 until 1988. In 1982, he embarked on a journey that was to be quite unlike any other: setting sail for the South Atlantic on board the ‘Irishman’, as part of the Task Force employed to liberate the Falkland Islands, during the war between Argentina and the United Kingdom.   On 25th May 1982, the Argentine air force hit the British merchant ship ‘Atlantic Conveyor’, killing 12 of the crew. The ship was abandoned but remained afloat; the ‘Irishman’ was sent to salvage the vessel. Gary Bales and his tug mate, Dennis Betts, managed to board the burning ship to attach the tow line, not once but twice. They were awarded the British Empire Medal for their bravery.

Garry Bales - The Tugmen's Tale (2018) by Yorkshire Film ArchiveYorkshire Film Archive

The Irishman (1982)Yorkshire Film Archive

Garry Bales & Dennis Betts aboard 'Irishman' (1982)Yorkshire Film Archive

Credits: Story

We are indebted to the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting our work to preserve these films and make them accessible for future generations. The research has been extensive and the exhibition contains only some of the stories we have discovered. To see further films visit

It is not possible to list everyone who has helped with this project – we are hugely grateful for the generosity of responses we have received, from families, historians and volunteers. In particular we would like to thank:

Gary Bales BEM, Jonathan Barker, Pete Bass, Val Baxter, Keith Bolton, Mike Crawley, Tom Goulder, Tony Porter, Malcolm Dunn, Daniel Morgan.

Curator: Martin Watts, Hull on Film
Editor: Andy Burns, Yorkshire Film Archive
Writer: Ruth Patman, Yorkshire Film Archive
Archivist: Megan McCooley, Yorkshire Film Archive

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps