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Ace of Wands (1970-72)

Courtesy of Fremantlemedia

Main image of Ace of Wands (1970-72)
Thames for ITV, tx. 29/7/1970 - 29/11/1972, 46 x 25 min episodes total across 3 series, colour
Created byTrevor Preston
ProducersPamela Lonsdale, John Russell
Writers includeTrevor Preston, P.J. Hammond, Don Houghton, Victor Pemberton
Title MusicAndrew Bown

Cast: Michael Mackenzie (Tarot); Judy Loe (Lulli); Petra Markham (Mikki); Roy Holder (Chas); Donald Layne-Smith (Mr Sweet); Tony Selby (Sam); Fred Owl (Ozymandias)

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Tarot the magician battles evil with the aid of his companions and his trusty familiar Ozymandias the owl.

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Trevor Preston's original treatment for Ace of Wands described the show as a children's crime drama that featured "an antithesis to the technocratic detective" in the charismatic form of Tarot, a 'super-sleuth' magician with natty dress sense and a wide range of quasi-magical powers. Preston devised the show alongside producer Pamela Lonsdale, with whom he had previously worked on an adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (ITV, 1967), and the two of them were keen to create a children's drama that was much more in tune with the interests and fashions of its target audience. They also assembled an appealing group of companions to assist Tarot with his adventures, including his cockney stage manager Sam, telepathic assistant Lulli, antiquarian bookseller Mr Sweet, and the sagacious owl Ozymandias.

The series was certainly striking, with an attention-grabbing psychedelic credit sequence and a catchy theme tune (co-written by Preston) that was soon released as a single. Over the first two seasons, a format was established in which Tarot and his team would battle against outlandish villains with magical powers and dastardly inventions. The most striking of these villains was Mr Stabs who appeared in 'Seven Serpents, Sulphur and Salt' and was so popular he would reappear in two spin-off programmes. Sadly these first two seasons no longer exist in the archive, which is doubly unfortunate as they are generally regarded as containing the best episodes of the series, after which Preston moved on to new projects.

Despite this, enough of Ace of Wands survives to demonstrate why it is remembered so fondly. In the final season, Tarot recruited some replacement companions, Mikki and Chas, to confront demented pensioners, the dubious Egyptian mummy Atep, and most memorably of all, the mind-warping power of Mr Peacock in P J Hammond's 'Peacock Pie'. Tarot and his young friends were last seen in the vicinity of a large explosion, but unfortunately there was to be no rescue this time as a change of personnel at Thames meant that Ace of Wands was replaced by the juvenile delinquents of The Tomorrow People (ITV, 1973-79, 92-95). This abrupt ending, and the absence of repeats or a DVD release has added to the cult appeal of the programme, and regardless of the clumsy scripts and patchy acting, it has remained a favourite memory of those who saw the original transmissions.

John Williams

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Video Clips
1. The bank meeting (3:00)
2. Mr Peacock's plan (4:53)
3. Mr Peacock's mind (4:19)
Complete episode - 'Peacock Pie' - Part 1 (13:20)
Part 2 (11:13)
Catweazle (1970-71)
Owl Service, The (1969-70)
Tomorrow People, The (1973-79, 92-95)
Preston, Trevor
Children's Fantasy and SF
Children's TV Drama