1 9 7 0 – 1 9 7 2 (UK)
46 x 25 minute episodes
Debuting on 29 July 1970, the Thames Television series Ace of Wands introduced Tarot (Michael Mackenzie), a young stage conjurer and escapologist of independent means (he lived in a luxurious penthouse apartment) whose youthful appearance concealed a mysterious background and a resourceful mind.
Billed as a “20th Century Robin Hood with a pinch of Merlin and a dash of Houdini”, he was assisted in his adventures by his stage manager Sam (Tony Selby) – a reformed ex-convict who had also been a seaman, gravedigger, fish porter, fairground boxer and bodyguard – and his orphaned stage assistant and fellow telepath, Lillian Palmer – known as Lulli (Judy Loe) – who he met when she backed her beach buggy into his E-type Jag.
The eccentric tweed-suited Mr Sweet (Donald Layne-Smith) ran an antique bookshop in the London suburb of Bloomsbury and frequently assisted Tarot’s investigations with his remarkable knowledge and international reputation as a lepidopterist and entomologist.
In the background perched Ozymandias – a Malayan Fishing Owl (in a non-speaking role, obviously!).
The so-called “Ace of Wands” and his companions ran into a host of weird and wonderful Batman-esque super-criminals with names like Madame Midnight, Mr Stabs (an evil magician who would unleash his powers via a rhyme that began “Hand of stabs . . .”) and Ceribraun (a wheelchair-bound chess master). Perhaps the most sinister was Mama Doc, who turned people into dolls that bled when broken.
In the final season, Tarot moved to a houseboat on the Thames (named Joker III), and Sam and Lulli were replaced by brother and sister duo, photographer Chas (Roy Holder) and journalist Mikki (Petra Markham).
Conveniently Mikki also shared Tarot’s telepathic powers. Mr Sweet (now based at a university) also featured again.
Many restrictions were placed on filming: No more than three minutes of outside filming were permitted per episode, and locations were limited to a 30-mile radius of the Teddington studio.
Two permanent sets were constructed – Tarot’s luxurious penthouse apartment and Mr Sweet’s bookshop – and a maximum of two extra sets per episode were allowed.
The cast was also limited to ten people per episode (including the regular cast). The series gave early (albeit minor) screen roles to Tim Curry and David Prowse.
Trevor Preston and Pamela Lonsdale created the series. Preston is best known these days for his contributions to Euston Films programmes like The Sweeney.
Michael Mackenzie’s wife at the time, actress Ann Holloway, starred as Karen Glover in Father Dear Father.
Lillian “Lulli” Palmer
Mr Sebastian Sweet
Henry T Peacock