Classic TV intros #7: Sapphire and Steel

A regular series looking back on classic TV show intros …

Programme

Sapphire and Steel (34 episodes, 1979-82).

Premise

An attempt to bring science fiction to a mainstream prime-time audience, this series was conceived by the venerable P J Hammond (who has written for series as varied as Z Cars, Eastenders, Midsomer Murders and Torchwoood). It revolves around two inter-dimensional operatives – Sapphire and Steel – played by Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous, The New Avengers) and David McCallum (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Colditz, NCIS). The pair are assigned to investigate strange events which threaten the integrity of Time. Across six multi-episode adventures, they look into a series of eerie mysteries based as much in ghost stories and straight horror as they are in science fiction. The programme was characterised by simple, theatre-like staging with minimal special effects – a necessity brought about by tight budgets – which lent the show a distinctive and spooky atmosphere.

The intro

The 50-second intro remains as haunting today as it did during its original run, despite graphic effects which look like something created by a teenager using a BBC Micro. Cyril Ornadel‘s discordant brass theme – which sounds and feels like the downbeat cousin of the optimistic classic Star Trek music – plays underneath the following weighty voiceover:

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.

The intro begins with a moving star field, with a computerised meandering path being overlaid on top of it. This is then replaced by an erratic sinusoidal curve over a dissolving rectangular grid. A series of balls representing the narrated medium weight elements then flies out of the screen, before finally being replaced by the pair representing Sapphire and Steel. Unusually, the show’s title is not displayed.

Mere words do not do justice to the visceral impact the intro has on the viewer, which evokes sensations of both mystery and fear in much the same way as the original Doctor Who theme did. Even now, it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and I am taken back to a time when, as an eight or nine-year old, the series’ more chilling moments would regularly have me watching from behind a cushion. Look past the hokey graphics, and you will find a timeless classic of an intro.

Trivia

Twice during the series’ run, Lead’s place in the voiceover is replaced by Mercury. The character of Mercury is mentioned but never seen.

The implication in the intro is that all investigators are medium weight chemical elements. However, of the ten named characters (including Mercury), only six are actual elements –  Jet, Diamond, Sapphire and Steel are not.

Other than Sapphire and Steel, the only other ‘elements’ ever seen in the series are Silver and Lead.

Links: IMDbTV.comWikipedia

Previous classic TV intros

#1 – Knight Rider

#2 – The Sopranos

#3 – Hawaii Five-O

#4 – Life On Mars

#5 – Battlestar Galactica

#6 – Danger Mouse

Do you think the intro for this show deserves the status ‘classic’? And do you have a favourite of your own? Watch out for more ‘Classic TV intros’ posts coming soon.

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13 thoughts on “Classic TV intros #7: Sapphire and Steel

    • Cheers James.

      You’re right: the ending was never resolved. Joanna Lumley has said in interviews that P J Hammond did tell her that it was only meant as a season-ending cliffhanger, and that he had another adventure in mind to follow it up, implying that Sapphire and Steel would have escaped from the cafe – Hammond himself confirmed this. But a combination of rising production costs, ATV being reorganised into Central and the difficulty in co-ordinating the stars’ availability meant the series never returned.

      I haven’t seen S&S since the initial run ended in 1982, but it left a huge impression on me – it was a source of many nightmares during those years! – and it strikes me that it would be a great candidate for a remake. Something which captures elements of The X-Files, Torchwood and Fringe, perhaps?

  1. Shh! It’s on the list! A Blake’s 7 revival has been so close to reality so many times that I have given up hoping. Ah, memories. I used to have a Matchbox model of the Liberator … * sighs wistfully *

  2. Another classic there Tim. The second story being particularily memorable, as wel as the one with photos and also the finale with its cliffhanger ending.

    Great stuff!

    • By my reckoning, it’s 28 years since I last watched the show, but my memory is full of images from the show such as the ons you mention. I’m just off to add the DVD set to my Amazon wish list …

      • I watched most of them on video in the nineties when they were originall released. I am not sure if I saw any of them on their original transmissions.

  3. Pingback: Classic TV intros #8: The Equalizer « Slouching towards Thatcham

  4. Pingback: Classic TV intros #9: Treme « Slouching towards Thatcham

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