Nick Setchfield’s spine tingles as he recalls Sapphire And Steel’s titles sequence.
Television title sequences tended to make sense in the ’70s. Imported cop shows reeled you in with rapidfire montages of rough justice and burning tyre rubber. Quiz shows tempted you with aspirationally spangly graphics and the soul-stirring words “From Norwich, it’s the Sale of the Century!” Coronation Street’s eternal northern terraces were reassuringly free of that foreign art muck. So imagine the national brain-melt that met episode one of Sapphire And Steel when it debuted in July 1979, an improbable squatter in the 7pm Emmerdale Farm slot. Even now, nearly four decades on, its title sequence remains a masterclass of wilful weirdness.
It begins with an insistent shimmer of notes, like a signal reaching you from some remote, unknowable realm (HTV Wales, in my case). A pale blue walkway unfolds against a primitive animated starfield. A grid forms. Is it a spider’s web? Or a targeting display? A green squiggle races across it, pulsing like a hospital monitor. In the corner of the screen a cartoon star ignites.
Then comes the voice. “Any irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension,” it declares, and it sounds as if God’s in no mood for explanations. The grid fizzes like a sparkler, explodes, decays. “Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life.” You hear the words but you need a particle collider to decode them. An ominous, half-glimpsed shape hovers on the screen (Dr Fate’s helmet? The Great Lord Cthulhu?). “Medium atomic weights are available,” the voice assures us, and that’s a good thing, right? Kettle drums pound. Sparkling pinballs race out of the darkness. “Gold, lead, copper, jet, diamond, radium, sapphire, silver and steel…” It’s the periodic table as poetry. “Sapphire and Steel have been assigned!” God, the thrill of that pay-off, every time. As a kid I memorised every word of that cryptic, electrifying introduction (I had to ask my dad what transuranic meant – he didn’t know, which made it extra-cool). I liked that it left space for answers. As inscrutable, as intriguing, as its heroes and their adventures, this isn’t just a title sequence – it’s pure imagination fuel.
Just like Sapphire, Nick is good at turning back time.