title faces Look-In
Angus today

If Angus Alan was a childhood hero of mine then he was an unsung one. Writing virtually all of Look-In's prodigious comic strip output with barely a published credit, he was the 'mystery man' who wrote the comic storylines for Sapphire and Steel. I was delighted when Angus recently got in touch with me via the site to tell me a little about his time working on the S&S strip ...

Angus' strip cameo
Above: Angus as he appeared drawn by Ranson in Sapphire and Steel's third comic strip assignment

You can find other online interviews with Angus at these links:

A look at Angus' time writing Dangermouse for both television and comic strip at Cosgrove Hall Ate My Brain

1987 correspondence regarding TV21 by Shaqui Le Vesconte

More on Angus' Look-In career at John Stewart's Look-Out site

How did Look-In's Sapphire and Steel strip come about? The strip started very early almost as if the decision to adapt the series had been taken before the shows aired. That seems to have been the case with many other strips (the Space:1999 strip launched simultaneously with the series' UK TV premiere). How did Colin Shelbourn, the Editor (and Alan Fennell before him) go about getting rights - did he go looking or did people come to him, mindful of the publicity a cover or strip would bring their series?

I can't remember what happened initially. As far as I recall, I was summoned (with Arthur Ranson, I fancy) to a preview of the first episode. Colin had spotted that the series was about to appear on TV, and had thought that it might be good for Look-In. Therefore he had made the right enquiries and had offered the right amounts and had acquired the rights to produce the series as a weekly strip. Such was the way things worked.

The S&S strip began four weeks after the first aired episode on TV so was produced in advance of the series going to air. Obviously a preview of the first episode would help but you'd need to know more. I understand you went for lunch with PJ Hammond before writing the strip? How on earth did he sum up what was, even by the end of its TV run, a hard to fathom series?

Colin, Arthur and I went along to see the show, and of course the writer P.J. Hammond was there. I remember him well. A very likeable man - but he seemed vague about what the stories were all about. And both Arthur and I were frankly baffled by it all. Colin was just Colin. Smiling, pleasant, dignified. He had neither to script nor to draw!

P. J. H. answered my questions, but I remember thinking that what he said gave me the license to go jump off the roof. There was something he told me about "a little spot on a painting that suddenly becomes more than a spot - it becomes a new world in a new dimension." Or something like that. "Thung Shwam Musheeee," I replied, and he nodded, sagely. No, I jest. But, being a pro (cue music, har de harr harr) I went away and produced my first Sapphire And Steel synop. First instalment plus run-on. I don't remember what it was, but P. J. H. liked it. (Thung Shwam Musheee, he may have said.)

You had some great artists at Look-In - Mike Noble, John Burns, Jim Baikie, Martin Asbury ... who decided who would do which strips, you or your editor (Alan Fennell giving way to Colin Shelbourn in the mid 70s)? And who assigned Arthur Ranson to Sapphire and Steel? For me he really was the only artist who could have leant it that mysterious, shadowy feel.

Arthur was assigned to Sapphire and Steel simply because he was available. We prided ourselves, at Look-In, on our artists. We had the best. But many of them worked elsewhere, being freelances.
  We seldom, if ever, used foreign artists for strips (although Alan and I at Fleetway Publications had employed Catalan, Italian and Argentinian artists galore). Arthur has a certain touch - he is a 'fey' sort of bloke, into all sorts of alternative culture and so forth. He put his all into certain episodes of S and S.

We worked very closely together on it all, which was quite unusual. Although many artists - John M. Burns, Martin Asbury, Bill Titcombe, Graham Allen etc etc - were and are my greatest friends, Arthur and I were especially close. We spent a lot of time in the County Arms working out our S & S routines. And he actually bought some film (it is rare to see a strip illustrator actually buy anything) to take pictures of me at one instance to illustrate one of the S & S instalments. One of the strips featured the 'ghost' of a French naval lieutenant of Bonaparte's time, and Arthur included drawings of me. The balding head was perfectly shown (see a frame of Angus' cameo, left)! He could have done it perfectly well off his own bat, but he always felt himself dependent upon that damned Grant Projector.

Did you get any feedback from the Sapphire and Steel cast or crew over the strip?

One of my great regrets is that I was on holiday when Joanna Lumley visited the Look-In offices. She apparently was very complimentary about the scripts. I would have loved to have met her.

So why did the S&S strip end - was it that the series was so long off TV or was it simply becoming unpopular with the readers?

The series came to a close just like all the others in Look-In. It was not particularly that the interest had waned (although that may have had a bearing on the situation). It was that the intitial contract - "we'll buy this for so many weeks" - had run out, and nobody thought it was worth extending it. Banal, but true. The sublime always takes second place to cash.

You next went on to do Buck Rogers with Arthur Ranson and turned in some strips that were far too classy for that particular TV series. Were these unused S&S strips? One in particular about a baby turning into a powerful mutant creature was very S&S-ish, also one about Buck living in a dreamstate and meeting the Death figure from the Seventh Seal ...

We went on to Buck Rogers. And no, we didn't use any reserved S & S scripts on the series. I perhaps have to admit that a writer's work tends sometimes to become much of a muchness, hence the plot similarity. I don't remember the story about the baby-cum-mutant. I suspect that may have something to do with a factor quite out of my control. Blame James Gloag/Whyte & Mackay or some folks similar.

Angus Allan, thank you very much.

Interview Link