Down the years. I.T.V. attempted to invade 'Dr.Who' territory with varying degrees of success, the most recent being 'Primeval'. Back in 1970, Thames Television came up with this entertaining children's show created by Trevor Preston ( better known now for his work on Euston Film series such as 'Minder', 'The Sweeney' and 'Fox' ). It told of the exploits of 'Tarot', a flamboyant magician played by Michael Mackenzie. Described by his creator as a 'Twentieth Century Robin Hood, with a pinch of Merlin and a dash of Houdini', Tarot was something of an enigma. His talents included sleight of hand, escapology, hypnosis, even telepathy, all of which came in useful in his encounters with some of the country's greatest super-villains. Real-life magician Ali Bongo acted as Consultant on the series. Like Dr.Who, Tarot had assistants - the first was the beautiful Lulli ( Judy Loe, widow of the much-loved comedy actor Richard Beckinsale ). They met when her beach buggy collided with his sports car, and found they had an instant telepathic connection ( similar to 'The Champions' ). Then there was rough diamond Sam ( Tony Selby from 'Get Some In' ), who was Tarot's bodyguard cum stage manager. Appearing from time to time was the eccentric bookshop owner Mr.Sweet ( Donald Layne-Smith ). The other member of the cast was Ozymandias, Tarot's pet owl. The first 3-part adventure - 'One And One And One Are Four' - had a Nobel Prize-winning professor's benign invention - a paralysis-curing device - falling into the hands of the deadly Madame Midnight ( Hildegarde Neil ) who wished to sell it to the highest bidder. 'Mind Robbers' by William Emms concerned Government Ministers succumbing to a mind control plot.
The show, with its psychedelic title sequence and Andy Bown theme song, proved a big hit with both adults and children alike. Mackenzie and Loe became the David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson of their day. With 'The Avengers' having ended the year before, 'Ace Of Wands' seemed set to take its place. It certainly seemed more in step with the times. Season 2 opened with Preston's 'Seven Serpants, Sulphur & Salt' which introduced Russell Hunter ( 'Lonely' from 'Callan' ) as sinister magician 'Mr.Stabs'. He proved so popular he reappeared on his own in the children's anthology series 'Shadows' a few years later. But Don Houghton's 'Nightmare Gas' attracted the most interest. The plot revolved around a gas that made people see horrific visions, images that caused them to die of fright. One episode climaxed with Tarot imagining himself being burned at the stake in medieval times. Michael Winder's 'The Eye Of Ra' had Oscar Quitak as 'Ceribraun', a chess-playing computer genius after the titular gem, the light of which could turn people into chalk figurines. Tarot was nearly crushed to death on a giant-sized chessboard by two pieces, only to escape by achieving checkmate over his foe.
Though made on video tape and lacking the scope film might have brought, it still managed to thrill. Season 3 brought changes - a new producer ( John Russell replacing Pamela Lonsdale ) and new friends for Tarot - 'Mikki' ( Petra Markham ) and 'Chas' ( Roy Holder ). Otherwise things stayed much as before. 'Mama Doc' had Pat Nye as an obese old woman who injected people with an immobility drug and played with them the way a child might with dolls. The late Brian Wilde was brilliant in 'Peacock Pie' ( written by P.J. Hammond, future creator of 'Sapphire & Steel' ) as a mild-mannered man with the ability to make people see things which were not there. He tormented Chas at the end of one instalment with two different versions of the same woman - Mrs.Macfadyean - both endlessly repeating an offer of a cup of tea! It is hard to see why Thames threw in at the towel at the end of this run, but they did. The final story - 'The Beautiful People' - saw Tarot and his friends seemingly perish ( we never found out for sure ) in an explosion whilst defeating alien beings who have programmed domestic appliances to go berserk.
The show surprisingly enjoyed little merchandising - no Annual, no paperback book, no 'Look-In' nor 'T.V. Comic' strip, not even a 'Tarot' magic set! Thames' next venture into sci-fi was to be the long-running 'The Tomorrow People'.
'Ace Of Wands' is fondly remembered by those who saw it. Only Season 3 survives intact ( it came out on D.V.D. a few years ago ) which is a great shame. I'm not normally in favour of remakes, but - with the right people behind it - 'Ace Of Wands' could be a hit all over again.
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