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Sapphire and Steel (1979-82)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Sapphire and Steel (1979-82)
ATV for ITV, 10/07/1979-31/08/1982
34x30 min episodes in 4 series, colour
ProducerShaun O'Riordan
Created byP.J. Hammond
Written byP.J. Hammond
 Anthony Read
 Don Houghton

Cast: David McCallum (Steel); Joanna Lumley (Sapphire); David Collings (Silver)

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Agents from another dimension try to safeguard earth from attempts by evil forces to destroy the space-time continuum.

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Created by P.J. Hammond, Sapphire and Steel (ITV, 1979-82) was an exhilarating, frequently bizarre series whose striking originality remains undimmed since its initial screening. Although originally devised as a children's series, what emerged, with its sophisticated and enigmatic storytelling and emphasis on an atmosphere of fear, was clearly aimed at older audiences.

Ever-glamorous Joanna Lumley and a saturnine David McCallum played the mysterious title characters, elementals with special powers who were able to communicate telepathically. Much of the series' strength derived from the interplay between them, their scenes together charged with sexual energy, a factor enhanced in the two stories featuring the flirtatious Silver, played by David Collings.

The second story, set in a deserted railway station, is perhaps the best and best-remembered, due at least partly to the fact that at eight episodes it is by far the longest, and because it was halfway through its run when the 1979 ITV strike hit, keeping the channel off the air between August and October. When transmission was resumed, the story restarted from the beginning, climaxing with a chilling and cruel finale in which Steel sacrifices the innocent and blameless Tully (sensitively played by Gerald James) without the slightest compunction.

Although the third story included some location filming on the roof of a high story building, the series was otherwise wholly studio-bound, which gave the programme its distinctively claustrophobic feel, combining limbo sets, atmospheric lighting and clever use of minimalist music and augmented audio effects.

The fifth story, broadcast in the summer of 1981, was written by Don Houghton and Anthony Read to give Hammond a well-deserved rest and was a neat metaphysical reversal of a standard Agatha Christie scenario, with members of a dinner party killed one by one before vanishing out of existence.

The sixth and final story ended on a cliffhanger, with the protagonists trapped in a window in space, left to wander in time for eternity. Hammond has said that a further story was planned, but by 1982 commissioning company ATV had lost its franchise and interest in the series had waned. Sapphire and Steel, across 34 episodes, brilliantly combined science fiction, horror and fantasy with the time plays of J.B. Priestley and the absurdist work of Beckett and Pinter into a unique melange that in its imaginative writing and obscure plotting is still unrivalled.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Tully meets Steel (1:45)
2. Sapphire and Steel check station (2:59)
3. Steel questions Tully (3:22)
Complete episode (26:57)
Lumley, Joanna (1946-)
TV Sci-Fi