March 04, 2006


“There is a corridor, and that corridor is time. It surrounds all things and it passes through all things, you can’t see it – only sometimes and it’s dangerous. You cannot enter into time, but sometimes time can try to enter the present. Break in. Burst through and take things. Take people. The corridor is very strong; it has to be. But sometimes, in some places, it becomes weakened. Like fabric, worn fabric and when there is pressure put upon fabric…….Time comes in……….”

A break from our recent decadent escapades takes us to TV land where I have the pleasure of looking at the classic ‘individual’ Sapphire and Steel.

Sapphire and Steel in my opinion was one of the most unique television science fiction dramas ever made. Although I had already started a liking towards ‘Doctor Who’ on BBC 1 it didn’t really scare me that much even though I was about 5. I can’t recall scurrying away at the show behind a sofa come to think of it. Sapphire and Steel made me grab a cushion, it was so ethereal even at a very young age I was fascinated and genuinely concerned about the stories. The
show was originally shown in 1979, in a Tuesday and Thursday night format.

The programme was utterly unique in it’s conveyance of menace, a claustrophobic menace and the inescapable, using the crudest resources (by our standards to date) available to work in favour than work against we can see an example of the televisual medium at it’s very best.

A brew of the bewilderingly paranormal and the perplexing marriage of science fiction with thriller this was addictive, compulsive viewing that really exercised the imagination. The show even seemed to, at times; make fantasy seem plausible – P.J Hammond, the writer, expertly crafted old historical sensation with new modernism to create a scary alien menace that seemed so otherworldly but so close to home at the same time.

The show ran from 1979 – 1982 consisting of a mere six stories. This intensely claustrophobic and eerie slab of fantasy emerged from the corridors of ATV (ITV Midlands Area) thanks to Sir Lew Grade, I have admiration for this man and the deepest respect as he made television for the viewer, not for the profit and he was not frightened of sticking his neck out and saying ‘give it a whirl’, a crucial part of ingenuity , creativity and evolution that one will never see these days.

The series was actually commission don the strength of one episode penned expertly by P.J Hammond. An allowance of £2500 per episode was negotiated and was given a 5.30 p.m transmission slot in the schedules. When the two leads were announced as David Macullum and Joanna Lumley the casting allowance was raised to £10,000 per episode and the time slot moved to 7.30 p.m. 36 episodes were made. After its four year reign, the series ended for good.

This was allegedly due to an amalgamation of things; sfx costs, high production charges and the irregularity of the actors’ availability. In 1982 ATV became Central Television; with the outbid changing the face of the station and its output programming this also put an end to our time detectives’ assignments.

Viewed in contemporary times the imagination evident throughout the series still bursts through, the expert use of facilities available, the lighting and the successful usage of sound with music can be seen, and you simply can’t help admiring it.

Sapphire and Steel has been quoted and referred to as the precursor to the infinitely inferior ‘X-Files’, I say inferior because they had better technology, more media whoring and let’s face it after the fourth season this became the stereotypical U.S cannon fodder and a dead horse flogged too many times. S & S was leagues above this show and has never quite been equalled.


Adding, I believe, to the mystery of the stories was that they had no real reference point. The first five could easily be shown out of synchronisation to the non-anal viewer and they wouldn’t notice. The sixth story is a kind of ending but not a definite one that you need to make of it what you will.

The video releases in 1992 onward referred to them as ‘adventures’ and the recent DVD releases as assignments. Fans of the show have also contributed their own titles. To confuse matters more, I am going to create my own titles but will also refer to them as they were initially intended ‘Story 1, Story 2, etc, etc’. It was also rumoured that P.J Hammond was the originator of some of the episode titles for fans to ‘freely use’, this is in fact bollocks.

So let’s introduce the stories, I hope I haven’t pissed any ardent purists with my version of titles but I do think they are quite cool, I have tried to amalgamate the best of the titles used from varied sources.

Story 1 - House of Clocks

Story 2 - Soldier at the Station

Story 3 - Revenge of the Beasts

Story 4 - Picture Man

Story 5 - The Virus of Dr Mcdee

Story 6 – Johnny Jack

STORY ONE – House of Clocks (6 episodes) (ITV Regional)

Tx date; 10th July 1979 to 26th July 1979


A remote house by the sea, upstairs little Helen Jardine is being read her favourite nursery rhymes before she goes to sleep.

Downstairs dutiful son Robert is studying ; all that can be heard are the feint voices of the parents and the ticking of the several clocks that seem to dominate over the sounds of anything else, a rhythm, a rhythm of times measurement…..then the clocks stop.

Rob discovers his parents have vanished and his younger sister has been left apparently traumatised by some terrifying act of the paranormal.

Rob contacts the police and in a matter of minutes there’s a bang at the door… Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.

Sinister child’s’ rhymes, ghostly manifestations of plague victims and roundheads are linked to a crack in times’ surface which could ultimately destroy every living thing in the present time.

* The character of Lead made his first and only appearance in this story.

Written by P.J Hammond

Directed by Shaun O’Riordan

Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) Steele (David Macallum)

Robert Jardine (Steven O’Shea) Helen Jardine (Tamasin Bridge)

Lead (Val Pringle)

With; Felicity Harrison, Jon Golightly, Charles Pemberton and Ronald Goodale.


Sapphire is trapped in the picture at the top of the stairs and will soon be at the mercy of the ghosts of the past.

In Part Two; Stories 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 reviewed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved this series - not that I understood much of it. And of course, Joanna Lumley was gorgeous as Sapphire.

I see the Region 2 DVD releases are now unavailable, so may have to splash out on the Region 1 boxset, which at least has a few extras.

Liked reading your blog - S&S was a very under-rated gem of a series, infinitely superior to Dr Who & the X-Files.

Incidentally, PJ Hammond has been recruited by Russell T Davies as one of the writers on the new Dr Who spin-off 'Torchwood'. I don't think much of the new 'Who', but it will be interesting to see what Hammond can bring to Torchwood.

3/07/2006 8:39 pm  

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