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Ace of Wands: The Meddlers (part three)

You have to accept a certain amount of fumble in stagy British videotape drama from the early seventies. Still, the surprise appearance of both a whacking huge microphone and, in a later scene, one of the cameras really is amazing. I think that Ace of Wands was made in much the same way that Doctor Who was in the seventies, with the director working from a control booth and cutting from camera to camera. Did he just not notice these intrusions? Was the budget so tight that they couldn’t afford retakes?

I’m certain there’s another accident that happens in the climax, when Tarot reveals all and lets everybody know that the treasure everybody’s looking for – the reason villains are trying to get the people who work the market to clear out – is not a chest full of thousands of pounds, but a chest full of hundred year-old IOUs. The stagehands above the set tipped a cascade of dust and dirt between the cameras and the actors, and Michael Mackenzie got some in his eyes. He delivers his lines flawlessly while simultaneously blinking furiously. I bet that was amazingly uncomfortable!

I didn’t actually ask our son what he thought of this story. I didn’t need to. He waited patiently but wasn’t at all engaged or excited. I’m amazed that they did something so down-to-earth and ordinary to launch a new season and new cast. The other five stories have their share of troubles from tight budgets, but none of them are so darn mundane. On the other hand, he corrected his mother, reminding her that the name of this series is Ace of Wands and not The Tarot Show as she called it, so he’s paying attention!

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Ace of Wands: The Meddlers (part two)

This serial continues with evidence coming down stronger on the side of this all being a Scooby Doo plot, with a rich developer called Mr. Dove – that guy in the high rise we saw last time – hiring the dirty musicians to mess with the barely-making-ends-meet people who run the market stalls. This has all been clearly designed from the appearance backward. The scruffy villains are threatening because they’re so peculiar. In a less far-out program, Mr. Dove would certainly hire some large men who look like they can break bones, instead of these weird, gangly, dirty street musicians, but they wouldn’t be weird, only worrying, and this is going for weird.

This story is a little interesting from an archaeological standpoint, I think. There’s a thread about the old stories of old buildings, things that have always been around, photographed throughout time, that resurfaces in a later P.J. Hammond script for Sapphire & Steel. And now that I think about it, Michael Standing’s character, Mr. Spoon, is a spiritual antecedent of Johnny Jack in the final S & S story as well.

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Ace of Wands: The Meddlers (part one)

Back in the seventies, Thames TV looked across town at the remarkable success that the BBC was having in deleting, trashing, and wiping their early color television shows and decided they needed to get in on that action. They even found a perfect candidate for a program that lots of people really loved and would miss if they threw it out. It was called Ace of Wands, a series created by Trevor Preston in which a stage magician with psychic powers – you remember when Uri Geller was actually a comic book character in the Marvel Universe? Kind of like that – matched wits with bizarre criminals in modern London. Tony Selby and Judy Loe played his sidekicks, and his villains included Russell Hunter, Christopher Benjamin, Isobel Black, and Hildegarde Neil. Thames destroyed all of the first two seasons, the vandals. They even dumped Tim Curry’s second credited TV part.

Fortunately, the third and final season of Ace of Wands was spared the ax. It aired from July through November in 1972. Michael MacKenzie was back as the adventurer Tarot, and in the first serial, “The Meddlers,” written by P.J. Hammond, he meets two new associates, Mikki and Chas, played by Petra Markham and Roy Holder. Michael Standing plays the leader of an unkempt street band who seem to malevolently hover over a failing urban market, where fires break out, goods are smashed, and vegetables rot before they should. Rumor has it that a man had been killed there a hundred years ago and placed a curse on the land. Or is there a more real world reason for all the unhappiness and violence?

I didn’t dare ask our son whether he enjoyed it. This is a very slow opener, with very little action, and what action we do see is pretty incompetently staged and edited. Nothing is very strange and certainly not scary, and the whole affair violates the “show, don’t tell” rule to absurd degrees. This episode doesn’t work well, but the engaging characters and realistic mood promise better things. Indeed, better and weirder is definitely to come.

In fact, the thing that generated the most enthusiasm was a strange decision by the set designer. There’s a high-rise towering over the market, and a shadowy man on the top floor keeps an eye on the stalls through binoculars. He has a desk, and he keeps a python in a birdcage, but he has no other furnishings. There’s so much empty space that our son suggested that he could play tag in the man’s office.

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