P. J. Hammond Interview

© Copyright Rob Stanley, 1993, 1996

RS: Joanna Lumley has stated that her understanding of Sapphire & Steel was that they were "aliens" - what briefs were she and David given about the nature of their characters?

PJH: I would not agree with the word "alien" because it has a hostile ring to it. In fact, Sapphire & Steel were never alien to the world as we know it. Their mission was to help it. As far as their adversaries are concerned, I suppose they could best be described as supernatural `do-gooders'.

RS: In 1980, World Books published a Sapphire & Steel Annual, which contained several short stories; did you write these and, retrospectively, how happy were you with them?

PJH: I did not write the stories for the Sapphire & Steel Annual, but, as with the Look In magazine, I was sent proofs to read in advance of publication. My only reservations with the stories was that Sapphire & Steel were able to move back in time. This tended to contradict the premise which had been set in the original TV series, that `time' was only allowed to break into the present day. As both of these publications were geared to younger readers, it did not worry me too much.

RS: How closely did you work with the actual production of the series, and what aspects did you find most rewarding/frustrating?

PJH: I worked very closely with the production of the series. This in itself was rewarding, plus the fact that it was virtually an instantaneous experience because production began the moment the first draft of an episode was delivered. In fact, during the making of the station story, which was an eight-parter, the first five episodes were in production while I was still writing the last three. In other words, no-one, including myself, had any idea what the ending was going to be while the show was being made. A nerve-racking experience but an exciting one, often bringing the best out of all those involved.

The only frustrations that I felt were due to the lack of time available to set up some of the fantasy situations. We called them `tricks'. Some of the tricks were very time-consuming and used up most of the production time available. And of course there was also a story to be told and acting to be done. I can give you an example; In the final episode of the Mister Shape Story (Adventure Four), when Sapphire & Steel were trapped inside a photograph, I wanted their view of the situation from issued the photo, looking out. I think this would have been both effective and frightening, but sadly we ran out of studio time.

RS: What were the crew like to work with?

PJH: Because Sapphire & Steel was regarded as something of an innovation at the time of its production, all those working on the show became very involved. I suppose it made a change from all the social realism dramas that had been around for so long. Actors and production crew alike would often come up with ideas whenever a `trick' was difficult. For instance, during the burning of the books in the first story, when the dancing page of poetry refused to be burned, chroma-key failed to produce a satisfying effect after hours of trying. The cameramen gave up their tea break to experiment with a fishing rod and line - which worked, and was used!

RS: Joanna (Lumley) mentioned that a further series was initially suggested - how would you have gone about releasing Sapphire and Steel from their trap, had this gone ahead?

PJH: A further series was though of, but only in a vague sense. During the writing of episode six, I felt that we had gone as far as we could for the time being, and that maybe the series should be rested - hence the cafe in nowhere. Of course, this would not necessarily have meant the end of Sapphire & Steel. I believed that their fate was to spend a number of earth years in the trap. This means that they could emerge again whenever the need arises, perhaps being even older.

RS: If the show's budget had been bigger, what changes would you have liked to have seen?

PJH: Well, aside from having more time to set up the fantasy situations, as previously mentioned, I suppose that shooting the whole programme on film would have allowed us more freedom of movement. Yet the very nature of studio production somehow seemed to enhance the menacing, claustrophobic nature of the stories.

RS: Joanna mentioned that, initially, her powers in action were to have been demonstrated by a throbbing vein in her forehead - were there any other significant ideas for the show which weren't used?

PJH: I'm afraid that the throbbing vein is a new one on me! Perhaps this stemmed from conversations between Joanna and the producer; Sean O'Riordan has always had a great gift from inventiveness. He was ideal for the show and was always thinking up new ways of getting messages across on screen. To my knowledge, there were no ideas left unused.

RS: Which was your personal favourite story, and why?

PJH: The railway station story seemed to be the favourite of most people, and I'm also very fond of this one. But I think my real favourite is Adventure Four; Old photographs have always fascinated me, and the idea of sepia children climbing in and out of them was exciting to write. I also enjoyed creating Mister Shape, the first identifiable adversary that Sapphire & Steel had so far encountered.

RS: What was your opinion of the Fifth Adventure - the only one to be written by authors other than yourself?

PJH: Through working too hard on the show I had to take time out for a rest. Therefore, Don Houghton and Anthony Read were asked to contribute to the series. While they used a different approach to the Sapphire & Steel saga, by incorporating a 1930's detective story style, it is not a direction that I would personally have chosen.

RS: What other powers (if any) would you have liked to have seen Sapphire & Steel develop?

PJH: I think the powers shown were enough. By the end of the second series, I believe the viewers were in a position to know exactly what Sapphire & Steel were capable of, and where they could sometimes fail. Perhaps specialist powers from some of their back-up colleagues could have been used to good effect had we gone for more episodes.

RS: There were occasional implicit romantic scenes between Sapphire & Steel, and Silver came across as an overt `charmer' - was the basis of this simply a case of operators mimicking human behaviour, or was it true emotional response of their part?

PJH: I would say that it was a true emotion response. While Sapphire & Steel etc. are more than mere mortals, they are still mortal-shaped and, to a degree, mortal-mined.

RS: In the final Adventure, there is reference to a distinct `elemental' hieracrchy - Investigators, Operators and Specialists, Sapphire & Steel being Operators, and Lead and Silver being Specialists; what distinctions had you in mind between the three groups?

PJH: I envisaged Investigators - characters we did not see - doing a recce before the story began. Sapphire & Steel, having been briefed, would then arrive to carry out the operation, and would be provided with the necessary Specialist back-up when needed.

RS: Each of the Sapphire & Steel assignments took place in the present. There was mention made, however, that they had worked on assignments in the past (on the Marie Celeste, for example). Were they, therefore, able to travel through time, or was it merely a case of them having been around for centuries?

PJH: I think you've hit on the answer there yourself; they have been around for centuries.

RS: In the Fifth adventure, one of Mulrine's guests is given "first level" telepathic abilities by Sapphire. Was this your concept, or Houghton & Reads? And, bearing in mind this ability to `bestow' powers in this fashion, could it be possible that Sapphire & Steel were once humans themselves, and had been `altered' by other beings?

PJH: The use of `first level' telepathic abilities was not my idea. However, I think it was a very good concept on the part of that story's writers. I don't think that Sapphire & Steel were ever human in the basic sense. Without attempting to sound religious, I think they come closer to representing the spirit and the soul.

RS: Interestingly, the final adventure's title sequence differed from the previous five's - Lead being replaced by Mercury. Was this due to two title sequence voice-over's being recorded, and a mistake being made with the broadcast version, or were there tentative plans to introduce Mercury as a character?

PJH: I really can't answer that! You're very clever to have noticed the character change - I hadn't. I think this must have been a producer's whim. Mercury, like most of the other characters mentioned, could well have made an appearance, had the series continued.

RS: Finally, Peter, what are your fondest recollection of the making of the show?

PJH: There were many amusing and interesting events during the show's production - perhaps too many to mention. But I still remember, with great affection, the head lighting man asking how on earth he was supposed to light utter and complete darkness, as in the seance sequence in Adventure Two; children with sepia clothes and sepia make-up running around the studio restaurant to the surprise of visiting guests; using a whole series of lights beams so that one patch of light could be seen descending a flight of stairs; listening to the young actress in Adventure One recite every line of `The House That Jack Built' from memory, without making a single mistake; drinking with the railway station ghosts in the bar, and having lunch with people from the past and present.

Of course, there is talk, here and there, of the possibility of the series returning. Unfortunately, those that run the TV companies have been shunning Sci-fi and fantasy on a reasonable scale for some time. Should they eventually have a change of heart, who knows? Perhaps we could one day unlock the door of the cafe that is in nowhere....


Eternal thanks to Rob Stanley for making this (hiterto unpublished) interview available for inclusion with these pages.