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Sapphire and Steel – UK TV Series

All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic, heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.

Sapphire and Steel

These words opened every episode of the series.  Sapphire and Steel aired on, what was then, the third channel on UK television.  At the time there were only 3: BBC1, BBC2 and ITV.  Channel 4 was still a few years off and ITV was the newcomer to the UKTV scene.

This series was presumed forgotten and has never been repeated.  It ran, sporadically, from July 1979 to July 1982 and was probably one of the most intelligent and least patronising series broadcast.  As a primary school child, this was the show that you ran to discuss with your friends.  And I’m willing to believe that you’ve never heard of it.

The two characters, Sapphire and Steel were played by Joanna Lumley (The New Avengers, Absolutely Fabulous) and David McCallum (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Invisible Man) and were Operatives sent from an unknown place by an unknown organisation to battle forces that would weaken the barriers of reality and doom the planet.  We are also told very little about the character’s back stories: we know they have worked together for a long time, we know that Sapphire is the diplomat of the team and knows more about humanity, we know that they are aliens (of a sort) and that Steel appears to have enjoyed a liaison of some sort with Jet and that Sapphire had a relationship of some sort with the Technician Silver. And very little else.  Each series gave us a little more information about the characters, but you really had to pay attention to catch it.  In a time when we are force fed every last detail of a character’s story in most television shows, this is absolutely unheard of.

Sapphire and Steel

Of the characters, Steel’s powers are not really shown apart from the fact that he is able to drop his body temperature down to near absolute zero, he employs telekinesis, that he is able manipulate most machinery and electronics, that he can be extremely strong (as when he ties a knot in an elevator cable to prevent the car from reaching their floor), he can render people immobile with a touch and that his body can be impervious to injury.  We are also shown his single mindedness and callousness with human lives.  Sapphire has a wider range of powers: she can turn back time for varying periods, she can tell the age of any object and when it was made, she can tell the age of any human being and the exact point at which they will die, she employs “spot analysis” to divine whether a person is a human or not, she can tell what period they have arrived in and which period(s) they are in at any one moment and she can create visual images of anything or anyone.  Both Operatives have telepathy, the ability to teleport and the ability to change the clothes they are wearing (the clothes are described as “images”).

The series neatly straddled the line between a paranormal show, a horror show and a science fiction show, employing elements of all three.  We are told that what we know as ghosts are in fact fragments of Time (Time being one of our and their enemies).  The shows, created on a fairly low budget, were forced to be very inventive in their special effects and to rely very much on lighting, atmosphere, small sets and extremely good acting.  Each show took place in a limited number of sets: a railway station, a farmhouse, a service station and so on.  The actors rarely ventured out side 4 sets and the special effects were mostly a matter of lighting and the musical score.  And yet, they managed to enthrall and spook viewers effectively.  The final series, especially, showed the quality of acting and what any programme maker worth his salt (or her) can do with just a few sets and a small number of actors.

Sapphire and Steel (from the opening credits)

Sadly, the show ended after just 6 series when the two main actors lost interest in the show and wanted to stop.  And it languished for over a decade until it was released on video (and later on DVD), riding the ever present wave of nostalgia for shows from the 70s, 80s and 90s.  The writers of the new Doctor Who series have cited that they used it as a reference point.  It was an intelligent drama for adults, teenagers and children who like that sort of thing.

I believe that there is no real reason that it could not be remade (or a sequel created) now.  The fact that we know so little about the characters means that there will be no continuity to break, new actors could be used (regeneration, as in Dr Who?) and Russell T Davies and the BBC have shown that a writer who loved the original and has respect for the original can make an excellently updated version of the show.  It’s no longer so revolutionary, elements of the show can be seen in Dr Who, though this should mean that it can return and have a familiarity.  Of course, the show would need some excellent actors, though television science fiction/paranormal shows are now commonplace so the required actors can be found.  Get a taste for the shows at Veoh – several episodes have been uploaded there.

Sapphire and Steel (with mustache!)

To illustrate this, the company Big Finish have released several audio book productions with David Warner and Susannah Harker in the lead roles – they have managed to recreate the atmosphere and the few sets and have managed to be successful doing so.  I believe this shows that there is an audience out there and the correct calibre of actors, writers and composers to do it real justice.

So, join me in demanding a return!!

Copyright Notice: “Sapphire and Steel” is a registered trademark of Carlton International Media Ltd.; the “Sapphire and Steel” logo and all images from the television series are copyright Carlton International Media Ltd. unless otherwise stated; music is copyright the original composers and producers; no copyright infringement is intended.

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  1. hari says:

    Sadly inventiveness and originality have gone out of the lexicon of producers and broadcasting companies.

    haris last blog post..Boxi and Panjo – Modern Art

  2. Ray says:

    Sadly, that is all too true

  3. “And I’m willing to believe that you’ve never heard of it.” – you are right! But it looks like something I’ll try to find on DVD as after reading this I’m craving an episode to check it out for myself.

  4. Ray says:

    Take a look at the link I posted to Veoh. It originally was aiming to be a children’s show – hence the first Assignment – but morphed into a drama for adults and children. Definitely watch it and, if you like it, grab the DVDs. If enough people buy it and want more, there’s more chance of it being made!

  5. Never heard of the show. Not surprising since I wasn’t even born then. But sure sounds far ahead of its time. Looks like ‘Heroes’ took inspiration from it.

  6. Ray says:

    I suspect that a number of programs were inspired by it. Another reason it died off was that TV execs didn’t believe that audiences would continue to watch the show without being given a clear backstory and idea of the final aim. Idiots.

  7. How many BBc channels where there?

  8. Ray says:

    There were 2 (not counting the World Service) and there are now around 7.

  9. thank you very much

    komik resimlers last blog post..internete bağımlımısınız

  10. bkm mutfak says:

    thanks. Sadly inventiveness and originality have gone out of the lexicon of producers and broadcasting companies.

    bkm mutfaks last blog post..makinadan çıkan el kamera şakası

  11. There were 2 (not counting the World Service) and there are now around 5. thanks

    anında görüntü shows last blog post..makinadan çıkan el kamera şakası

  12. Chris says:

    I’ve never seen it on BBCA, as I am in the states….I will look for it online. Thanks for the heads up!

  13. I am prepared to join you in asking for a return. What do we do next?

  14. Ray says:

    Good question. I think the first step is to put the word out on forums and blogs and to buy the DVDs and audiobooks. Show the programme makers that the audience is out there.

  15. Sounds like a cool show to me!

  16. Sounds like the show was ahead of it time!!

  17. Ray says:

    Hugely ahead of it’s time. With a nice undercurrent of intelligent drama being released, a remake or reimagining of this would fit in nicely.

    Rays last blog post..Sapphire and Steel – UK TV Series

  18. Yeah very true but I like the shows anyway.

  19. That’s Illia from The Man from Uncle. He always got a bad rap. Congratulations on your page rank. How’d you do it?

  20. Ray says:

    I followed advice from – RT is wise in the ways of page rankings!! I haven’t checked my rankings in ages – are they good then?

  21. I can’t believe it took me this long to spot this, Ray. I’m usually on my toes. Yep, recognized The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as soon as the page loaded. He did an invisible man stint too. But my favorite was him as the dude with the big head on the “Outer Limits” (the original).

    RT Cunningham@Nursing School’s last blog post..A Nursing School in the Philippines and Necessary Equipment

  22. Ray says:

    The Invisible Man absolutely rocked. That and this show were among the staples of my childhood TV viewing :)

  23. ive seen this show on rerun…i love it. Way before xfiles

  24. Ah Saphire and Steel, I was just a youngster when this was on so thanks for filling me in on their ‘powers’… I think that goes some way to explaining why I found it so odd and spooky. I remember the railway station episode being very unnerving. Who would play Joanna in the remake I wonder? I’m off to Veoh!

  25. Ray says:

    Good question. Susannah Harker plays Sapphire in the Big Finish audio plays and she has a great voice for it. I wouldn’t mind seeing her reprise the role for television.

    If this were pitched at the same audience as The X Files, Heroes, etc it should be a success.

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  29. As I am in the US I can’t say much of the content of this post but I did notice your comment about following advise from RT and I realized that I subscribe to his blog too. Seems to offer up some real gems. Thanks for the interesting read. It is cool to hear about life different from what we experience here in the US. We have this crazy way of thinking that the world ends at the borders for some odd reason. We are weird.

    Deb@how to scrapbooking tips´s last blog post..We All Need Crafts

    • Ray says:

      Hi Deb and welcome. It is always good to see what other countries do – by default, because of film and TV, we are all very aware of how the US does things, but it great to see what non-US countries do.

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  36. Sorry I really hated that series. That was boring. Did not mean to hurt anyone though.

    • Ray says:

      That’s your opinion and no one should be hurt by it. I enjoyed the series (as shown by these posts :) ) but don’t expect everyone to be the same as me. At least, not until I am Master of the Universe, then all bets are off!

  37. I was too young when this show used to play. But I have heard about this a lot and am looking forward to collect a DVD or something. Does anyone knoe where can I get one?

  38. I am suprised at how good some of the shows are that the Uk produces. From the old days of monty phtyon and benny hill or dave alien to doctor who they have some great shows that wind up in the states sooner or later.

    Jeff@Cheap dsl.´s last blog post..los angeles cheap dsl.

  39. I love Uk shows, although they are a lot under rated.

  40. karan says:

    This blog is pretty interesting, will add a bookmark, thanks.

  41. Hey, I think I remember these shows from when I was a kid. They were broadcast on our local PBS station. I really liked them because the show wasn't predictable – it contained aspects of mystery. Thanks for the write-up.

  42. yeah it was a cool show. been a long time…

  43. yuki sale says:

    It sounds like a cool show to me!