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,
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,
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
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
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.