The following is an excerpt from Chapter One of Jamie Carter’s biography of Jason Zodiac.
I took the M5 Southbound, past Bristol, to Junction 23 – and Glastonbury. I was due to meet Screaming Lord Smith on top of the Tor at eleven o’clock, and it was best to get an early start as the roads are always shite. Why Glastonbury Tor? Well, Matt Mackenzie always did have a flair for the dramatic. That was his real name, Matt. Matt Mackenzie. Member of the T-Service.
As the cult TV buffs out there will already remember, the TV drama series ‘The T-Service’ was a drama series that ran for three seasons between 1967 and 1969. It was a sci-fi horror comedy thriller about a super-team backed by the British Government ,a group of eccentric characters saving the world from a different threat each week. This was the BBC’s answer to the colorful psychedelic spy shows that ITC were putting out, like The Avengers and The Prisoner. The ‘T’ in the T-Service stood for Terror. The star of the show was Jason Zodiac, a real flamboyant swinger with a command of occult magical arts and a knack for pulling dolly birds. The other regular characters all had their own back stories and super powers too: Screaming Lord Smith, Tangerine, Uncle Jack, Camera Obscura, token American liaison the Someday Man, all led by the scientific genius Doctor Chess, receiving their assignments from a shadowy government contact known only as The Minister.
Great names. They don’t make TV like that any more, eh?
One reason why The T-Service had gained such notoriety is that it had fallen victim to the BBC video-wiping purge in the early 1970s, and only a handful of episodes actually existed. The stories where The Beatles and Mick Jagger had co-starred were still around, of course, but classic stories like ‘Rock and Roll Circus’, ‘Scavenger Hunt’, ‘Death By Chocolate’ and ‘Festival of the Damned’ were lost forever.
Or so we thought, until Matt Mackenzie contacted Fugue magazine, claiming to have unearthed an 8mm film copy of ‘Festival of the Damned’.
I got to the Tor just before eleven, parked the car, and trudged up the hill to the famous artificial mound, with its signature spiral path winding around it and the beautiful stone tower on its crown. There was a cold February wind blowing, but I was wrapped up warm in quilted jacket, scarf, sweater and gloves, so it wasn’t too bad.
When I got to the top of the hill Matt was standing by the stone tower waiting for me. I could recognize him from his publicity shots; he’s put on weight and lost a bit more hair, but his face was still the craggy, lined, handsome face that had got him the part on the show. Screaming Lord Smith’s super-power on the show was a jacket he had designed himself that could emit psychedelic blasts of coloured light that could confuse, blind or hypnotize the baddies. Which is pretty funny when you remember that the first T-Service series was filmed in black and white. Today, though, there was nothing psychedelic about him. He had a long black wool coat that almost stretched down to his feet.
“Good morning, Mr. Smith,” I said. “Or can I call you Screaming Lord?”
He laughed. We shook hands. “Hello, Mr. Carter.”
“Call me Jamie.”
We stood on top of the Tor, the solid reassuring presence of the tower behind us, buffeted by the wind as we looked out across the rolling Wiltshire countryside. The stubby hedgerows, the scattered farm buildings, the roads carrying their ceaseless loads of traffic.
“I’d forgotten how far away the Tor is from the town,” Matt said.
“Yeah, it’s quite a way. Have you been back here since the filming?”
“I went to the Glastonbury Festival a couple of times in the 70s. saw Pink Floyd headlining one year and Thin Lizzy the next.”
“Me too. I saw Pink Floyd here,” I said, thinking there was not much I could remember about it. Most of what I could remember was the sheer paranoia of having my stash stolen or being arrested because of it. Ah, youth.
Matt pointed away across the fields. “We filmed ‘Festival of the Damned’ down there. The director put down flat wooden supports for the cameras, because he wanted to recreate the effect of filming in studio. Several cameras filming the action at the same time, from different angles. Cameras and arc lights moving across the wooden planks on wheeled tripods. All the cameramen had headphones on so the director could speak to them.”
“That episode had quite a strong opening scene, I remember.”
“Yeah, that got quite a reaction. The first thing you saw was Agent Teapot being chased across those fields by the Morris Dancers from Hell.”
“All the spies from that department had tea-service code names. Agent Sugar, Agent Milk, all that stuff. Teapot sends off a message in Morse code before he’s murdered by the Fool with an exploding pig’s bladder on a stick.”
I remembered watching it with my own mum and dad on Saturday teatime when I was about fifteen. It was a scene that was pretty scary and graphic for the time, and most people agree it was in influence on the writers of the classic 1971 Doctor Who story The Daemons, where menacing Morris Dancers almost burnt Jon Pertwee at the stake.
“I could never look at Morris Dancing again after that,” I said.
“Shame,” he said. “I was going to ask you to nip down there and join me for a dance.”
“I think I’d rather have a pint.”
We both laughed.
We carried on the interview at the King Arthur (Matt’s idea of a joke, considering all the legends surrounding this place), a nice comfortable pub on Benedict Street in Glastonbury town centre. Matt opted for the ploughman’s lunch, but after being out in that wind, I needed something piping hot. I finally chose the steak and kidney pie in gravy with a non-alcoholic beer to wash it down.
“Here it is,” Matt said, taking a videocassette wrapped in a plastic Sainsbury’s bag out of his attaché case. “The long-lost episode.”
I took it from him and peered at it, all kinds of thoughts going through my head. Front covers of Fugue magazine. DVD releases. Behind-the-scenes specials.
It had been a long-standing mystery in TV circles why The T-Service had never had the classic status it deserved. The shows that existed had never been repeated on TV and never released on video or DVD, and were never shown abroad. One theory is that Mary Whitehouse had angrily reacted to what she had called the ‘Satanist’ elements of the show – it was pretty edgy stuff, even for the late 1960s. Mary Whitehouse had even claimed in an interview that Jason Zodiac had conducted a Black Mass on-screen, but I couldn’t remember ever seeing that.
I talked it over with Matt, as well as the curious fact that all the cast of The T-Service had left the acting profession after the show was finally cancelled. The actor who had played Uncle Jack had died in the late 70s and Someday Man had passed away in the mid-80s. Matt Mackenzie himself had gone into record production; in fact, not many people know he was the producer on The Blobs’ best-selling debut album, We Are The Blobs.
“But what you really want to know,” Matt said with a sly grin, “is what happened to Jason Zodiac.”
Now we were getting down to it.
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