Ace of Wands (1970-72)

ITV’s early 1970s alternative to Doctor Who, Ace Of Wands remains something of a lost gem – especially as the bulk (and most of the best) of the series’ 46 episodes are believed to have been wiped. Created by Trevor Preston (whose past credits included gritty crime series such as Callan, Public Eye, and Special Branch) and children’s’ TV drama writer Pamela Lonsdale, the series chronicled the adventures of Tarot, a conjurer imbued with genuine supernatural abilities.

Like BBC’s Timelord (who, at the time was played by Patrick Troughton), Tarot had a coterie of assistants – most notably former jailbird Sam Maxstead (Get Some In! Mainstay Tony Selby) and the telepathic Lulli (Judy Loe, who subsequently showed up in BBC medical soaps Casualty, Holby City, and Doctors). Tarot himself was portrayed by Michael Mackenzie, a little known selection for the role whose most prominent previous appearance were bit parts in a couple of episodes of Sunday sitcom Doctor In The House. Despite this lack of experience, Mackenzie made the role his own, always looking groovy in the white Afghan coats, velvet jackets and spectacularly patterned shirts of the era. Thanks to coaching from the great Ali Bongo, the young actor also passed muster as an illusionist.

To offset the often spooky subject matter and Preston’s penchant for gritty drama, some light relief was provided by another of Tarot’s team, an owl named Ozymandias, who basically hung around looking startled. Despite this, the first series featured Tarot and the gang battling largely down-to-earth villains with the strictly limited budget ensuring that most of the action took place within studio confines.

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Season Two upped the magical ante with the introduction of evil mystic Mr. Stabs, portrayed with some vigour by the incomparable Russell Hunter (who had previously caught the eye as the unctuous bordello keeper in Taste The Blood of Dracula and more recently provided a facial template for the CGI Golllum in the Lord of the Rings film franchise). As the season rolled on tarot was faced with such varied challenges as overcoming an hypnotic ventriloquist’s dummy, gulping down great lungfuls of psychotropic gas and the recovery of a magical diamond.

The third and final season saw Selby and Loe replaced by brother and sister duo Chas and Mikki (Roy Holder and Petra Markham), with the majority of the scripting being taken over by PJ Hammond, who would subsequently go onto create the eerie and unreal Sapphire and Steel. It is this series that managed to survive ITV’s tape recycling, thanks to a chance discovery on a batch of second hand tapes that comedian Bob Monkhouse had purchased from the channel. Although perhaps less creepy than the previous season, the episodes are no less enjoyable, with season opener The Meddlers being a particular highlight.

Although a fourth season was discussed, ITV opted to commission The Tomorrow People as a roughly equivalent replacement. Despite this, Tarot’s legacy lingered for some time, with Russell Hunter reprising his role as Mr. Stabs for a stand-alone episode of the Shadows series in 1975. Nine years later, David Jason took on the role of Stabs for a prequel transmitted under the Dramarama banner. The theme song ‘Tarot The Mystic Man’ also lived long in the memory, recorded by multi-instrumentalist Andy Bown (formerly of the Herd), the track was a suitably quirky slice of folky psych and a minor hit at the time.

Ace of Wands theme and excerpt from The Meddlers


Originally posted 2011-02-28 15:14:29. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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