Monday, 21 December 2009

McGoohan on other people's Minds . DISinformation - How fallacious Fan-fables control the present by controlling the past.

As I have explained in some of my earlier blogging, the initial Prisoner cult clubs began around 1978, but around ten years later began to percolate their Information into the mainstream. This began with the first book outside of the cult itself in 1988, The Official Prisoner Companion. Presumably the word "Official" was used to define this publication from the club itself, which is ironic as the book largely perpetuates the many misconceptions and outright errors of the so-called research carried out by that club as well as beginning to invent it's very own fables, as I discussed in my first two or three Blogs.

Regular magazines were evidently published to the Prisoner Club subscribers in the 1980's, disseminating information to all of them. Much of the information seems to have relied solely upon various interviews with cast and crew members of The Prisoner, who were eagerly invited to various Conventions. These witness statements were made decades after the events, and were sometimes woolly and often a statement from one individual seemed to contradict the statement made by another individual. An outstanding example of this is the Prisoner writer, Lewis Greifer, who is reported by the cult members as saying in interview to them, that he and his friend, the ultimate script editor, George Markstein were discussing the concept of the prisoner before the involvement of Patrick McGoohan! On the other hand, the opinion of Bernie Williams, a young assistant director then, (and since a major Hollywood producer) was given unequivocally and is publicly available on an A&E video interview. He is quite clear that McGoohan was constantly under pressure from every member of the crew for direction and purpose from the very commencement of filming in Portmeirion.

Such contradictions are rarely resolved factually. Influential club members simply seem to elect to believe one version of events over another version and as the most up-to-date book published to accompany the Network's 2008 dvd set, reveals, these incorrect versions of history pervade even the most honest attempts at analysis to this day.

This often impeccable book refers to these contradictions but then, without any overriding definitive reason simply states that it was "in fact Markstein" who initiated the entire concept [page 11] . On the previous page however there is damning evidence of how much this book relied upon fallacious fan-club material for this opinion.

The production Guide states that Markstein worked as a crime reporter in Liverpool. I have seen no evidence that this is true. I have documented evidence that Markstein never left London and was in fact employed at the 3rd US Airforce base in South Ruislip as one of the writers for their Airforce Base newspaper, the UK Eagle. Markstein is also referred to as working for the Stars & Stripes military newspaper. He never wrote for that 'paper. As late as 1963, he was still suborning himself from the UK Eagle house magazine, as a correspondent for 'The Overseas Weekly', known to the American GI's of the time as 'The Oversexed Weekly', in light of its constant 'racy' content.

Because the cult stories and versions of history were never based on verifiable facts or even documented evidence the errors about George Markstein have significantly influenced the muddle about the series' production history. Many accounts even suggest that this man (who was born in 1929 making him 15 in 1945) had been involved with WW2 espionage! Unquestioning acceptance of this sort of legend have added unwarranted credence to the influence he had upon the TV series. As mentioned, the page of The Overseas Weekly I have scanned is from 1963. George Markstein did not even have a job in television three years prior to the inception of The Prisoner. It is worth remembering that he did not originate a single episode of The Prisoner, whilst McGoohan wrote at least three single-handed. Markstein finally wrote his first novel, but not until 1974, seven years after The Prisoner. His creative credentials simply do not justify the claims made on his behalf by the cult of The Prisoner..

In 1996, an American broadcaster commisioned Scott Apel to commentate upon the series for Channel KTEH in America as they broadcast the series in an episode order that had been concocted by them to try and *make sense* of The Prisoner. These commentaries naturally influenced those watching the programme and some of the ideas are as interesting as any others in regards to the themes underlying elements of the show. However, the information about the history of the production reveal a fascinating mixture of the insidious influence of the cult myths whilst simultaneously making completely contradictory statements about the same history. Some examples will make this clearer.

An Official book from 1988 stated that Living in Harmony was somehow censored by CBS in 1968 (see earlier Blog), yet an American expert evidently knew that this story was nonsense, but rather than challenge it, he instead puts a whole new twist on the legend and states that the series only had a sixteen week slot and so one episode had to be dropped. The expert knew the cult-myth was was incorrect but rather than find out the real reason for the episode that I have explained in the blog referenced, the self-styled expert merely invented a whole new *fact* !! As can be seen from this contemporary press cutting, there is no doubt whatsoever that the series was initially expected to run for the full 17 episodes.

It is especially annoying that the KTEH channel should commision an apparent expert and then present what was at best, a wild guess, as historical fact. Apel presents various ideas about what he calls the Symbology of the series and that is fair enough - you can agree or disagree, which is quite the purpose McGoohan desired of his show, but for Apel to present physical, real-life history in such a slap-dash manner is quite reprehensible. He was of course following the lead of the cult clubs.

The story of Living in Harmony and its absence from the schedules is a simple one, but the truth is so hard to find primarily because of a complete lack of any research scholarship in the past. There is a very strange passge in the 2008 Network book, which reads: Following The Chimes of Big Ben there was a one-week pre-empt before the series continued in standard UK order for a further eight episodes [page 66 ironically] I have no idea what this is even supposed to mean; but it is yet another unresearched version of the story I have fully explained here:

The story of the Harmony episode is a cautionary one, but apart from the stupidity of it all, with different factions of the interest group believing different versions of real-life history, as if it was equivalent to their differing opinion of what the show itself *meant*, it creates no real problem. However, the Creation Myth of the cults is more troubling. Scott Apel and KTEH amplified the still-echoing fallacies in 1996, as this video shows:

Apel perpetuates and amplifies the myth that George Markstein was the creative force behind The Prisoner and compounds the injury by then apparently congratulating McGoohan on the things he contributed.!!. The symbology of this is what we British would call Adding Insult to Injury.

It is of interest to note that in 2005 and in 2008, the only document claimed as extant that Markstein had anything to do with creating the prisoner was a *four-page* document. I have even seen a qualification of this story that the original of this was most certainly typed on Markstein's typewriter; implying that whilst no actual creative origination by Markstein can be corroborated, the use of his typewriter is proven !! Anyone interested in The Prisoner must surely take careful note that George Markstein was employed by Patrick McGoohan's Everyman company as a Script Editor. It would therefore be his job to type up such documents. There appears to be no evidence to demonstrate that Markstein did in fact originate this material in a creative sense. Interestingly, in the 2008 Network volume, two of the original writers' statements are referenced:

Page 117: Anthony Skene [writer of Dance of the Dead]: "I saw not one piece of paper" recalled Anthony Skene..... concerning the lack of a writers guide from Markstein during his meeting at MGM... "the show was a cosmic void. They sat there waiting for ideas...... a free hand? Oh God, yes!"

Page 129: Vincent Tilsley [writer of Chimes of Big Ben]: Vincent Tilsley received a call from George Markstein......... This was at a time when there was no format document and all that Markstein could offer the prospective contributor was a script for Arrival.

These two statements not only corroborate each other, which is a rare instance in the cult of the prisoner, but also give the entire lie to the idea that the script editor was even doing his job properly, never mind originating any of the ideas for the show. They also appear to contradict what has been published in even the more reliable prisoner history books: Dave Rogers, 1989: "What is beyond doubt, is that well before production got under way Markstein produced a four page writers brief."

Where Scott Apel got his idea that a sixty page outline existed can only be traced back to comments by Patrick McGoohan, who mentions a detailed brief he placed before Lew Grade. He mentioned this document to Warner Troyer in 1977:

I wrote a 40-page, sort of, history of the Village, the sort of telephones they used, the sewerage system, what they ate, the transport, the boundaries, a description of the Village, every aspect of it; and they were all given copies of this and then, naturally, we talked to them about it, sent them away and hoped they would come up with an idea that was feasible.

Presumably McGoohan would have passed this document to his script editor, as any Producer would. What then happened to it ? Nobody seems to know. Truly the web of disinformation about the production history of The Prisoner is worthy of the very best the village could ever have thrown at the hapless, but never helpless Number Six.

Merry Xmas from Moor and I look forward to seeing you in 2010.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

McGoohan on your mind? - Stage Whisper

I may, in earlier polemical blogs, have mentioned the play Serjeant Musgraves Dance that Patrick McGoohan performed in, in 1961, that has some elements that he seemed to exploit in his Fall Out episode, six years later. The play is finally being released by Network in February next year.

For anyone interested in the origins of The Prisoner, this might be more essential viewing than Orson Welles' movie version of Kafka's The Trial.

Be Seeing It.......

This is the contemporary review from "The Stage", the British theatre magazine.

"Drama set in the past that shrieks with symbolism must have some contemporary significance. So it is with Serjeant Musgrave's Dance.

John Arden's play set in an isolated strike-bound colliery town in Victorian England about a macabre recruiting party led by a religious fanatic on a mission of expiatory vengeance is a stark cry against war and imperialism mingled with a more obscure message condemning violence as a means of ending war and injustice. That at least is one interpretation.

His dramatic technique shows strong Brechtian influence, with poor humble people sprouting wisdom and rhyming couplets. Patrick McGoohan gave a powerful, sustained, and brilliant portrayal of the Serjeant - a giant of a man filled with guilt and righteousness, irrevocably committed to his insane search for atonement."

Saturday, 24 October 2009

McGoohan on my mind: Episode 18 – The Angry Outsider

Any brief browse of the Internet or published books will find “The Prisoner” and “Existentialism” referenced together.
It was ten years or so after the original broadcasts that Prisoner fans first began to study the series and during the course of Patrick McGoohan’s first major interview on the subject, it was evident that the underlying themes of the show were subject to intellectual exploration.

Troyer: What is your response to all the analysis and all the philosophising and criticism of the series? People have tried to make so much of it and to find so many levels of meaning, to parse it in so many directions.
McGoohan: I'm astonished! For instance, the beautiful presentation, the thing that you prepared for our good friends here, puts profounder meaning into many of the stories than I ever thought of.
Troyer: (Chuckling) Or more pompous?
McGoohan: (Automatically) Yeah. (Troyer chuckles again.)

McGoohan: No! Oh, no, not at all. No, no. I think it's marvellous; I'm most gratified.

I began this Blogroll in order to create a place to reflect and refute many of the cult-myths that have been built up by elements of the fan-base of The Prisoner over the years, since serious organised reflection upon it began around 1976. That isn’t to decry such reflection, but some of their conclusions from the series progression have been downright daffy. Sometimes these erroneous notions have developed, I think, because the students of the show and its origins have operated out of time. That is to say, they look back from the 1980’s and 1990’s at a show made in the 1960’s by men who were largely formed as personalities by the 1940’s and 1950’s. The cross-currents of the show’s past and the critiques of the varying present have often led to misunderstanding and subsequent confusion.

Since about 2002, I carried out amateur research on Patrick McGoohan’s career in Britain and my main area of interest at that time lay in his ten year theatrical career, that culminated in the famed production of Brand, in 1959. This study opened up the somewhat forgotten world of the British Repertory Theatre scene in Britain, that began to be killed off when television became more and available after 1955 – when commercial television began. In some of my earlier blogs I have suggested how McGoohan’s acting past fed into his eventual creation of The Prisoner – aspects of characters and plots from his many TV and movie roles in the years prior to 1966. The hugely varied roles he played in theatre no doubt also gave him a solid bed-rock of ideas. However, there is one particular aspect, related to the theatre, that I have only recently come to realise may have been either a direct influence upon his developing ideas, or at least go to demonstrate the zeitgeist that his philosophies derived from. None of this means anything of course. Every individual is the result of their own environment. That could be said to be an existentialist point of view.
Existentialism: Branch of philosophy based on the situation of the individual in an absurd or meaningless universe where humans have free will. Existentialists argue that people are responsible for and the sole judge of their actions as they affect others. All self-aware individuals can grasp or intuit their own existence and freedom, and individuals must not allow their choices to be constrained by anything – not even reason or morality. This freedom to choose leads to the notion of nonbeing, or nothingness, which can provoke angst or dread. Existentialism has many variants.

Prisoner fans have long been curious about the evident mild anti-intellectualism that McGoohan exhibited. In 1991, one of them quizzed him directly about the sources of his philosophical outlooks that permeated The Prisoner.

Just as he had, back in 1977, so in 1991 did McGoohan give no suggestion that he had derived his ideas from anywhere in particular. This conundrum has long exercised prisoner fan-thought and the most recent dvd releases have even included extras endeavouring to resolve the perceived "mystery".

There are many views expressed in "Don't Knock Yourself Out" the 90-minute retrospective included in the new Blu-ray edition of the classic 1967 British TV series The Prisoner, in stores Tuesday. But the majority opinion seems to be that its creator and star, Patrick McGoohan, lost his grip on the show over the course of its 17-episode run. The Prisoner has maintained a hold on the public imagination for more than 40 years. "Quite simply, there's never been anything like it," says the narrator, a statement that is hardly simple, skirting as it does the question of whether the show was a brilliant idea or a lucky fluke.

The present Fan Babylon continues to miss a simple way to understand how men like Patrick McGoohan could develop their philosophies without having to rely on any particular school of thought from outside of themselves. Was the show a brilliant idea or a lucky fluke? One part of the answer could lie in the events of 1956.

Angry young men was the catch-all name applied by the popular press to a group of novelists, poets, playwrights, and philosophers. The group was unusual in that the major figures had small respect for each other's work and almost never met. The figure of the AYM, as he was also known, proved a potent one for Fleet Street editors and theatre audiences after the seven years of austerity that followed the Second World War.
Paraphrased from

The ‘angry young men’ most famously are credited with transforming British theatre, with John Osbourne’s Look Back in Anger being the major theatrical work that launched the phenomenon into the public sphere. Patrick McGoohan, about to spend two years as a Rank movie-star in 1956, could not have failed to be interested in this ground-swell in the world of theatre that he was about to take a sabbatical from. However, the influence of the AYM was not just theatrical. Some while ago I was reading a book by Peter Hennesy: Having it so Good – Britain in the Fifties and came across a mention of someone I had never heard of: "Colin Wilson’s The Outsider, the cult book of 1956 swept the market……. The Outsider was not and is not, an easy read… Quite why the Sunday Times reviewed this book as “one of the most remarkable books I have read in a long time” is difficult to fathom [in 2006] but they did… suggesting that beneath the impulse to savour the fashionable book of the hour lay a confused fluidity of the beliefs into which Wilson tapped…… Wilson’s sudden fame had much to do with the random coincidence that suddenly “The Outsider” and “Look Back in Anger” had appeared in the same week. That was all the press needed to start talking about it….. The Daily Express ran a series on ‘Angry Young Men’. Wilson needed the money and wrote for it.”

So what? I can almost hear my blog-reader saying….. Patrick McGoohan never publicly recalled reading this book! However, Colin Wilson and The Outsider were evidently rampant in the media of the day and many other writers were writing about his book. One of them was Kingsley Amis – himself one of the Angry Young Men – and when I read his review of The Outsider from 1956, I could not help but make the connection between the philosophy of Colin Wilson, in 1956 and the philosophy of a contemporary of his, who made a television series exactly ten years later.

The Spectator – Kingsley Amis - 1956
“Here they come, tramp, tramp, tramp – all those characters you thought were discredited, or had never read, or had never heard of: Barbusse, Sartre, Camus, Kirkegaard, Nietzsche, Hermann Hesse, Hemingway, Van Gogh, Nijinsky, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, George Fox, Blake, Sri Ramakrishna, George Gurdjieff, TE Hulme and a large number of bit players. With admirable clarity and unpretentiousness, Mr. Colin Wilson shows that all his legionnaires, miscellaneous as they may seem, were animated by the same kind of distress and took up similar attitudes to it. The Outsider – their collective label – is the man who has awakened to the chaos of existence, to the unreality of what the literal-minded take to be reality. He does not accept the conditions of human life, and finds release from its prison only in moments of terror or ecstasy. He tries to solve the problem of his identity, to discover which of his many ‘I’s is his true ‘I’………”

So, am I claiming Colin Wilson is yet another *co-creator* of The Prisoner? Certainly not. Did Patrick McGoohan ever read ‘the Outsider’? His comments from 1991 suggest possibly not, but he had a lot of time on his hands in 1956/57. Would Patrick McGoohan have been interested in the whole “Angry Young Man” phenomenon of 1956? I am absolutely certain he would have been. Did Patrick McGoohan read the newspapers? How would I know? But maybe I can be sure he would have done.

Joan McGoohan enjoyed a laugh at the notion that, in a sense, No. 6 never left 'the village.' 'He would get up at the crack of dawn, get the New York Times, and get some coffee at Mort's or Starbucks,' she said.

My point is not whether Patrick McGoohan was directly and consciously influenced by the New Existensialism promulgated by Colin Wilson, but rather to reflect on the zeitgeist of 1956. Colin Wilson was 25 in that year. Patrick McGoohan was 28. Patrick McGoohan was also on the cusp of having little to physically do – his Rank years are notorious in his own memoirs for being too undemanding on his time. It may therefore have been a time when his own thought processes consolidated with a prevailing mood of that time.

I should mention that I am no Wilson disciple, I have never even read this book myself and quite honestly I don't plan to either..... Colin Wilson is a very prolific writer. One writer who has studied his philosophising has remarked:"Meaning, according to Wilson, can only be perceived when consciousness is activated by an intentional assertion of will. Defeatist and nihilistic philosophy destroys man's sense of purpose in life, leaving him in a stagnant position. Man, without purpose, sinks to the level of Samuel Beckett's characters, incapable of action because nothing is worth doing."

Or, to put it another way:

".......... if people form a group it should be to celebrate the individual. The Prisoner follows the individuals struggle with the bureaucratic tensions and restrictions of society, an individual who says " I am myself and you have no right to know my intimate thoughts, you are trying to learn my intimate thoughts and I will do everything that is possible so that you do not reach them ! " Ha! Ha! ......... People are not all the same they live by different rules, so if this helps them be happy... bliss, the trick is to have the power to make a choice. "

There were only seventeen episodes of The Prisoner.

This my 18th piece of blog paper.
There's moor to this than meets the I.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

McGoohan on my Mind: Count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man's will

In one of my last Blogs I moaned a bit about the ineptitude of a very recent Prisoner book. That is of course a little unfair because when Prisoner fans restricted themselves to verifiable facts they can be very good. As the rhymes says, when they are good they are very good, but when they are bad they are wicked. In that spirit of bonhomie I should note that their various researchers have done a splendid job of unpicking the production history of the show. However one of the first coherent articles about the most arcane of arcane issues that I wish to address in this Blog came from outside the 6-of-1 Club publications. First published in 1988, the articles are reproduced webwise here:
and here:

Oddly enough, one of the first Cult-sponsored books appeared around the same time. In 1989 French 'Le Prisonnier' fans produced this one.

In truth it is just one of a long series since and wasn't the first. Note I use the term series, as distinct from a serial. Patrick McGoohan, in one interview, back in 1979, to a 6-of-1 co-ordinator, tried to clarify the difference. It’s almost as arcane as Prisoner lore, but I think the point McGoohan tried to make was that a serial is a pre-defined number of episodes of a story whereas a series is a number of episodes that, at any one point of time is undeclared. The first series of Danger Man was a block of 39 episodes, so in one way it could be defined as a serial (albeit an unusually long one) but it is generally referred to as a series because when broadcast nobody watching knew that only 39 had been made,and the broadcasts were spread over two or more years. It is not always 39 course, as can be seen at this excellent web-page:

A contemporary series with The Prisoner was Man in a Suitcase and 30 episodes of that were made. Another contemporary series was The Saint: “The black-and-white episodes of The Saint were made in two production runs, the first, of 39 episodes and the second, of 32 episodes. Series 5, the first to be produced in colour, consisted of a production run of 32 episodes. The second colour production run consisted of 15 episodes

Anyhow, one of the first published prisoner books was this French one and the authors were even able to obtain interview time with Patrick McGoohan, which is more than any of the English-language book ever managed to obtain. In 1977, Patrick McGoohan had made it very clear (in his TV interview with Warner Troyer) that he had intended to make and did make 17 episodes of his show. By 1989 however, the Prisoner fans had re-written this history to suit their own version of the past. This passage, from the 1989 French book is fairly typical of the cult-fan version of the events:

“A year after going into production only 13 episodes had been made (whereas Man in a Suitcase had completed 30 episodes in an equivalent period). Moreover rumours about McGoohan’s erratic attitude were beginning to circulate. Four more episodes were ordered in a desperate attempt to make the series saleable”

Quite how the authors came up with this *explanation* is only explicable because they were deeply informed by the version of events formulated by the cult consciousness over the previous decade. By 1989 of course, we are 22 years along from the actual events and 12 years on from the start of the cult.

Those in control of the present had also taken control of the past.
As with most prisoner books the authors were misleading their readers anyhow.

Researcher Andrew Pixley has confirmed by archival checks that:

Man in a Suitcase began it's primary shooting schedules in August 1966 and by the end of April 1967, there were 16 episodes ‘completed’.

The Prisoner began its shooting schedule work in September 1966 and by the end of April 1967, there were 13 episodes ‘completed’

A negligible difference, completely the opposite to the story related in most *authorised* books. The story of the two shows thereafter was very different, but this was by design, not by accident or circumstance. Man in a Suitcase production continued through the summer of 1967. The Prisoner production stopped after April and was not re-commenced until August 1967.

The main contention of prisoner fan books concerns the reasons for number of episodes being 17 and the quote from the French book is typical of them. They have derived a notion that because a block of 13 episodes formed the first part of the production process that there was an intention to have a further 13 and perhaps even another 13 after that. McGoohan, in 1977, had told them his truth, but as was typical of the cult fans, they simply did not believe him. They didn’t believe him about Rover's genesis and they didn’t believe he intended to make 17 epsiodes from a very early stage of production , maybe the very beginning, as he had recounted within his accounts of negotiating with Lew Grade.

In fact, despite all the fan-club rumour-mongering and their unattributable reports of off-stage whispering, there is clear and irrefutable evidence that the number of episodes had been confirmed at 17 within 1966. In February 1967 an American newspaper article quotes Mike Dann as having purchased at least 17 episodes of the new McGoohan show called The Prisoner. From the tenses implied within the quotes it is evident that Dann had first confirmed the deal before a single episode had been shot.

The Prisoner project had formally been on the boil since April 1966 of course, with the pre-production planning. There can be no doubting the pressure McGoohan would have been under. He had started his project wanting to make a seven-part serial. Under pressure from Lew Grade he increased that number by more than double. It seems that pressure continued and was even increased by additional pressure from CBS in America. In an article by Robert Musel from July, 1966 McGoohan had been quoted as saying that the series would be a minimum of 13 and a maximum of 30 and was plainly resisting what he perceived as urging to "scrape the bottom of the barrel". He wanted a limited serial, but his customers wanted MORE.....

This explains the making of the first 13 as a production block and why that block of 13 proceeded more or less the same way as did the sister series being produced by Sidney Cole. Any continued negotiation during that shooting season of 1966 did end however, and the deal for 17 was concluded. Before the August 1967 second shooting schedule ever began the number of 17 was reiterated as a certainty, with McGoohan’s clear statement that he would be making only four more episodes.

A year earlier than the Carraze book TV those Timescreen writers wrote some excellent articles about The Prisoner, but even they found themselves subscribing to the cult version of events, suggesting Mcgoohan's project was somehow whirling out of his control, so inculcated was this version of history impregnated in the whole echelon of TV history writers.
“The decision was taken to end the show prematurely in ITC's opinion and the star announced during the making of The Girl Who Was Death that the next episode would be the last, and he would write it.
These cross-currents emphasise the deep-seated disbelief of McGoohan’s own accounts of the events that fans have promulgated as they pursued their own agendas of *discovering the truth*.

Lew Grade mentions the project in his autobiography. He seemed to have little problem recalling the events:

I had lunch one day at CBS....... I told them I had a project called 'The Prsioner' with Patrick McGoohan, and showed them a portfolio of pictures of the village of Portmeirion, which was the location we intended to use. "At the moment though, Patrick McGoohan only wants to make 17 episodes," I said. "How much do you want?" they asked. I told them the terms and they said we had a deal.

The story is certainly not entirely a simple one. In fact, if you're not a student of this particular conundrum and have reached the end of this blog, then you may be feeling like you've just tried to speed-learn differential equations. What is clear from this unbiased and contemporary and documented history is that some of the more extreme accounts of the production history of the show, published in books since the 1980's are plainly fictional and often misleading.

I cannot finish this Blog without giving full credit to a fellow-researcher. We first met whilst mutually disassembling the big lih about Vietnam and the cowboy episode (see one of my first blogathons). Anyhow Sheriff Tomm and I became determined to *clean up the town* and much of the previously unknown American material I have referred to in my blogrolls has been located by this young American hero, and I would like to pay tribute to his discoveries right here and now...

Yeeha! Sheriff Tomm

I do not know what fate awaits me
I only know I must be brave
And I must face a man who hates me
Or lie a coward, a craven coward
Or lie a coward in my grave

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

McGoohan on my Mind: The time has come, the Larkin said, To talk of many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax. Of villages and things.

Colony Three was one of the first of the revived Danger Man shows. One of the last to be made was called The Paper Chase. Of especial significance perhaps is the fact that this episode was actually directed by Patrick McGoohan.

It has something of a 3-Act feel about it. The ‘third act’ takes place in a ‘safe house’. Everyone is a guest, but all are in hiding. The episode has a number of intriguing elements. A woman named Nandina runs the safe house. Played by Joan Greenwood, she could easily be seen as a putative Number Two in the village. She watches her ‘guests’ on a primitive CCTV system.

Spotting Drake infiltrating another ‘guest’s room on her monitor she is worried that Drake’s actions threaten to spoil her carefully constructed security

and so she knocks him out

and when he wakes, he has been taken to a new place, whilst unconscious. As he wakes, there is what could almost be an early try-out for the iconic prisoner opening speeches.

Where am I?
In the Via del Sella da Nici.. A small hotel – Giorgio, the proprietor is a friend of mine.
Where are my things?
Your suitcase is over there. …[some episode detail]…… You are very agile and extremely devious
My apologies
You have money?
If you’d like to stay here a day or two, it’ll be alright
What’s the catch?
None – What’s your name?
You have it
Your real name….
Harry…… verderci

Prior to this, when Nandina and Drake had fallen out over his behaviour. She castigated him:

I know everything that goes on in this house. It’s useless for you to sit there with your enigmatic face.
Are you the judge and jury then?
If you like…… and you have only one plea

So, separated by the two years of 1964 and 1965, two episodes of Danger Man, Colony Three and The Paper Chase evidently prefigure both plot elements and stylisations that Patrick McGoohan carried forward into his 1966/67 project. Like a giant standing on his own shoulders, he could see that little bit further than before.

It is a minor piece of amusing trivia to note that the conclusion of The Paper Chase has Drake escaping aboard a go-kart.... A Lotus 0.07 perhaps..... I have read one story from the prisoner cult archives that the Lotus 7 was personally chosen by McGoohan on a visit to the Lotus factory-works, ditching the previously scripted notion of Number Six driving a more glamorous Lotus Elise coupe. In the press of 1965 he is pictured fooling around on a go-cart.

It's not evidence of all that much, but it is interesting to imagine possibilities.

There are many small asides in many different episodes of Danger Man that reflect ideas or *gimmicks* within The Prisoner. Within the prisoner cult there has been a long and slightly foolish debate about whether or not Number Six was or wasn't John Drake. I debunked the silliest parts of their notions in one of my first Blogs. However, whilst they delved into their own *back-story* fantasies about what were completely fictitious characters anyhow, they completely missed the point that of course Patrick McGoohan's ideas were hugely influenced by his experiences of the scripts and themes that the Danger Man series had explored over several years. McGoohan was no passive performer in Danger Man however and he shared in the formulation of those ideas and themes, as well as their eventual exposition in the many episodes of Ralph Smart's creation. His lack of passivity is often remarked upon and indeed his increasing frustration at the limits laid upon his creativity probably led him to approaching Lew Grade with his proposal for his own original series. Sidney Cole possibly deserves a little credit in fact for The Prisoner project ever happening. In one interview the distinguished producer recalled his having something of a dispute with the star of his show. He recalled that when Patrick McGoohan complained to him (Sidney Cole) about why it was that he (Sidney Cole) always had the final word; Sidney Cole explained to his recalcitrant star that the reason he (Sidney Cole) had the final say was because he (Sidney Cole) was the producer. That was WHY.....

Patrick McGoohan evidently took the lesson to heart when he made himself Executive Producer of The Prisoner. This time he (Patrick McGoohan) would have the final say. He would be Number One.

Harry Verderci ..... I'll be Back.

Monday, 7 September 2009

McGoohan on my mind: Where Am I? In the Village.........

In my earlier Blogs I have touched on the cult fan fixation on the influences underlying The Prisoner – such influences as Kafka, Hesse, Panopticons and Carl Jung. In a similar way the fans have puzzled over the underlying influence of where the idea of ‘The Village’ came from. Ideas have varied from the mundane,
viz. the British Butlins Holiday Camp
to the arcane - viz. isolated Scottish cottages
It is actually a fairly obvious fact that The Village, like much else that influenced McGoohan, simply would have come from his own working life. Why the prisoner fans sought other *solutions* is I suppose partly due to their ignorance of the 1960's 'Danger Man' series at the time of the cult inception in 1977, and partly due to their subsequent determination to largely ignore the career of the series' creator in favour of pursuing their own agendas.

In 1964 Patrick McGoohan took on the mantle of the secret agent John Drake, once again. One of the earliest episodes remarkably links the origins of not only Danger Man, but also The Prisoner as well, in the most complete and elegant way. Colony Three was one of the first episodes of the new hour-long series of Danger Man. The briefest watching of this episode will make apparent the connections between it and the concept of a ‘Village for Spies’. McGoohan may have half-forgotten the influences himself, so much part of his own psyche must they have been by 1966; just as all the other films and plays I have mentioned, in my earlier Blogs. These experiences and his own contributions to them were inevitably part of what made him who he was, professionally, and what ideas he must have had. Indeed a correspondent once reflected to me that once a person knew the details of Patrick McGoohan’s career prior to 1966, the origins of The Prisoner became almost too obvious.. :-)).

The plot of Colony Three revolves around M9 (Drake's department) noting that many Britons have gone missing (apparently to the Eastern Bloc) and none of them have ever been heard of again. Drake is tasked to impersonate a man who has been detected as about to defect. After some adventures Drake arrives in deepest ‘Russia’, but in a strangely familiar-looking location – Hamden New Town.
I won’t dwell too long on the plot. It is familiar to many anyhow, but here are a number of lines of dialogue from the early scenes, after Drake’s arrival……..

What is this place?
Mr. Donovan will explain everything

Geography is a matter of physical illusion. Lines on a map. Words on a signpost.It’s this that gives a place it’s identity. After all, you are where you recognise yourself to be. Mr. Donovan says that all countries are countries of the mind.

Well – the layout of the village is quite simple. As you can see – we’re still building.

This village is one of our best-kept secrets

You think there are no spy-schools in England?
Of course there are.

In this village we transform our guests into Englishmen

You’re quite free to wander round the village. Just don’t go outside it.

You realise that none of the residents can leave the village – ever.

The mysteriously other-worldly place is supposed to be a home-from-home. Drake shares a room with another *defector*, but Drakes room-mate begins to revolt against the situation. It is not what he had been led to believe he was defecting for. He argues with Drake, who is pretending to co-operate whilst in fact taking photographs that will reveal the village to his superiors. The room-mate quarrels with Drake:
You wanna keep your nose clean don’t you. Look after Number One and to hell with everyone else!

Drake even suffers an *Interrogation*, proving that in Danger Man at least, "Heroes do sweat"..... You'll need to click on the photo to make it big enough to see the sweat of the hero... :-)

In another scene a young woman who has also been deceived into joining the village has a conversation about her unhappiness:

Have you settled in?
I don’t want to settle in!
Oh come now, we must all make the best of our circumstances

Later on Drake has a conversation about this tragic young woman, who unlike him, can have no hope of escape:

You’d have thought she would have realised by now
Ummm… What?
That once people enter Colony Three… they cease to exist…..

In The Prisoner series, much of the basic concept of the village comes from the ideas in this episode – especially the notion of calling the place a village, rather than a town, or a settlement, or even a colony ! The purpose of the village is of course inverted to become a prison for spies rather than a school for spies.

There is a film, made in 1960, that prefigures both Danger Man and this village. Man on a String is a moderately obscure American-made ‘exposing-Communist-Conspiracy’ Fifties-style B-movie. It contains much of the gadgetry that would inspire elements of the TV shows like Danger Man, and also the techniques of mixing stock location footage with studio-work. There were many cinema movies of this nature of course, but what makes this one stand out in the context of this particular Blog is that it involves a Colony Three style school for spies. Boris Morros’ book about his real-life espionage adventues inspired this movie.

Many elements of the movie have commonality with Ralph Smart’s Danger Man – part of the same zeitgeist. Did the screenwriter of Colony Three see this movie once? I have no idea, but the movie contains the key plot element of a top secret Soviet spy school where young Communists are converted into ‘typical’ young Americans, just as in Colony Three, young East Europeans are trained to become typical English men and women, and just as in Colony Three, the secret agent returns so that all these trained agents can be identified and apprehended later.

If you click on this picture you will see that The Prisoner may well have some arcane influence of Kafka, but possibly not the one everyone thinks of!! The final picture is of Ernest Borgnine, who plays the double-agent, speaking to the students of the Spy School, just outside Moscow. It would be nice to think that both Ernest and Patrick noted this collison of their career paths, when they met on the set of Ice Station Zebra in 1967, but I don't suppose either of them would have been aware of these cross-currents.

The Boris Morros story was a significant story in itself but merely one of many such espionage events in the 1950's and 1960's. Here are just two of them, the second would attract Patrick McGoohan's attention much later in his acting career:,9171,824789,00.html,9171,872180,00.html

The interlocking jigsaw of these films and TV shows reflects the statement Patrick McGoohan once made when he was complimented upon the brilliance of The Prisoner, “Just a grain of sand in the desert” he modestly demurred. He may not have consciously realised himself where his ideas had exactly come from, but there is clear evidence from his career that these ideas were all derived from the work he had been immersed in, for several years. His own personality doubtless then drew in the allegory, shading as they do all the plot-lines of his Prisoner entertainment.

It is always dangerous to draw too many conclusions from too little *evidence* but during Drake's mission to Colony Three he is assigned to the Citizens Advice Bureau in the village, where there are various instructional leaflets dotted about the walls. Perhaps my snapshot doesn't do them full justice:

But hopefully you will forgive me.

Whilst the origins of the notion of a village for spies must have some connections to McGoohan's memory of this episode, it should be borne in mind that Colony Three was one of the earliest mid-Sixties episodes, dating back to 1964. One of the final episodes of Danger Man/Secret Agent also carries very obvious nuances and influences that infiltrated The Prisoner, and demonstrate how McGoohan was able to shift so effortlessly from the first show into the next. He himself said that The Prisoner began out of boredom, but that comment should not be construed as meaning he had been idle. He was remarked as working 18hours a day on Danger Man. He would naturally hit the ground running, with renewed vigour - when Lew Grade agreed to support Patrick McGoohan's very own creation - in colour !

Moor of the next thing in my next Blog. I just have a little paper to chase first.

Be Blogging you

Monday, 17 August 2009

McGoohan on My Mind: "Ladies and gentleman, by way of introduction, this is a blog about trickery, fraud, about lies"..after Orson Welles - F For Fake

The fictional world of The Prisoner is often described as having an Orwellian vision. The factional world of the cult appreciation of The Prisoner has struck me as Orsonwellian, a new adjective I have made from the tenor of his movie, F for Fake. A reviewer on imdb described that movie as having the theme:

"The point seems to be that all of life is an illusion. The question becomes how much illusion can we buy and how much becomes offensive. We see what we want to see. We ignore the rest."

Orson Welles is also famous for inadvertently persuading many Americans that the Martians had landed in their country, back in 1938. Many historians now maintain that this famous event was in fact itself somewhat of a myth, promulgated by newspapers at the time wishing to improve their circulation. It is not surprising that Welles was still fascinated by the whole concept of the muddle between reality and reported facts as he approached his sixtieth year, back in 1973. I have wondered if Patrick McGoohan was ever similarly struck by the strange other-worldy belief system his erstwhile fan club created, when they began to examine his creation, from 1967.

If you consult any of the contemporary magazines of 1966-1968, such as those available here: you will find a very consistent approach to the production and direction of The Prisoner. It is perhaps best summarised by the comment Patrick McGoohan himself made to Robert Musel, the American interviewer, in 1966:

"We might have gone on with Secret Agent but the American network took so long to make up its mind we decided to close it down. I had a lot of help on that series but as star and producer and even writer of some of the scripts of The Prisoner I'll have only myself to blame if it's a lousy show."

That is not to say McGoohan was a complete egoist however. In 1977, during his interview for Canadian television, he also made the comment:

"I was fortunate to have two or three creative people working with me, like my friend that I said saw the meteorological balloon."

In another interview in 1979 he made a special point of mentioning that he had been *lucky* in having a very good crew to work with him on the show and in his final word on the subject in 1991, he remarked:

"You can't do a thing like that on your own.... I had fellows who came in on it with me. I had a script supervisor - you can't write them all yourself."

In 1989 Dave Rogers, an archive-TV author remarked upon some things in his Boxtree book, The Prisoner & Danger Man. Anyone outside the cultish Prisoner club probably found one or two things he wrote surprising (I know I did when I bought the book back in 1992). Rogers noted that a senior club co-ordinator stated that the mechanical Rover probably never existed; notwithstanding that McGoohan had spoken of it in 1977. Rogers also noted the cult contention that the entire concept of the series had been *lifted* by McGoohan from an idea of George Markstein. Mr. Rogers passed his own comment: "I find it doubtful that McGoohan had either the inclination or the necessity to lift someone elses idea". I can distinctly remember being shocked at the time, but largely ignored this arcane issue, as the author made plain it was nonsensical in his opinion too. Twenty years later, as I have increasingly taken a close interest in Patrick McGoohan's career, I have realised how deeply this issue has lain at the heart of Prisoner Appreciation and corrupted reality.

Every cult I suppose must have it's own Creation Myth but this particular one has been staggeringly amplified and refined and yet it is built upon outright non-truth. It appears to have begun around 1978/79, not long after the cult itself began. An unrecorded interview with George Markstein took place. Quite why the fan-club became so enamoured of George Markstein is unclear to me but perhaps it was the delicious discovery they made that the bureaucratic little man seen in the opening of most episodes was in fact none other than the Script Editor himself!

This is the sort of previously-unremarked detail that any cult would delight in discovering. The eddies and vicissitudes of fan interest take many a twist and turn but certainly by 1988 the books that began to appear were referring to George Markstein as a co-creator or even the originator of the whole idea! Other credits, both in published books and across the internet refer to the Script Editor as a Producer or even an Executive Producer! In one particularly appalling piece written in Zani magazine, shortly after Patrick McGoohan had died, the story was amplified to say that George Markstein ran the project until usurped by McGoohan. This tosh is written despite the fact that Everyman is known by every man and every woman to have been a production company owned by Patrick McGoohan and David Tomblin, whilst George Markstein was one of their employees !!

Mr. Markstein died sadly young, in 1987, so certainly these vainglorious titles cannot be laid at his door. His promoters have been busy on his behalf however. You, as an accidental tourist on my Blogroll may in fact have accepted these *facts* as *Gospel* up until now. I cannot blame you for that. When untruth become repeated and remain unchallenged they start to become accepted fact I guess. However, if you are curious enough, I would like to address some of the *official* facts about this whole matter and offer a few observations and facts to prompt you to compare those *official* version to your own logic as well as to physical history and circumstance. I pick on the most recent *official* book, but you may find much the same drivel in many of the earlier ones.

Page 472 commences confidently: "George Markstein was born in 1929.......
but it's own internal logic collapses almost immediately as this further statement is written:
"...... he was a useful asset to the US Forces magazine 'Stars & Stripes after the defeat of the Third Reich"
Anyone capable of arithmetic can work out that these *facts* make Mr. Markstein aged 15 in 1944, and patently a 15 year-old boy would neither be a journalist nor an asset to the Allied Armies bent on clearing up the after-effects of the Third Reich! He may have kept a diary as did Adrian Mole of course, but that has yet to be mentioned in prisoner lore.

Furthermore, Markstein never worked for the famous Stars & Stripes, a fact that their archivist was only too happy to confirm by e-mail to me recently. The archivist was able to inform me that she did know of George Markstein however, as he wrote a humorous London-based column for a different magazine called "The Overseas Weekly" in the 1950's as well as being known under another pen-name: George Mark. What is remarkable is that in the book from 1989 that I mentioned earlier, Dave Rogers noted that Markstein had worked for The Overseas Weekly. The *Official* books had already consigned known fact to the dustbin as they pursued their preferred version of history..

The supposed authoritative *official* text continues:
"Working with the various allied armies... in post war Europe... Markstein's fascination with espionage blossomed"

Have I said enough about this arrant nonsense? Perhaps not. Where has this information come from? Its has clearly not come from the magazine Star & Stripes because Mr. Markstein never wrote for it. The place it came from was the cult fans who began to laud the script editor around 1980, as the *official* book has the decency to make plain: "Eleven years after the first showing George... was invited by Six of One... to speak.... " Interestingly, prior to this, in 1976, George Markstein had announced his own resignation from TV drama; this was after his successful novel in 1974, which took the ideas that McGoohan had used, of a person being spirited to a velvet prison. Mr. Markstein employed them in the first of his reasonably popular novels entitled 'The Cooler'. Mr. Markstein is pictured looking fairly glum, and has an acid opinion of British TV drama, ten years after The Prisoner.

If you read the most recent *official* book it describes George Markstein as not only having come up with the original idea for what many regard as the most unpredictable series ever made , but also a man who had been rankling with rage over his failure to receive proper credit (and Royalties) for that landmark series. In what was a three page article, and effectively his *resignation letter* ...... Mr. Markstein never once mentions either The Prisoner, nor his own ire about his being *passed over* - not once, not even a hint.

Interestingly, in 1982 he dismissed the programme to some of the very fans who consider he *created* it: "I think it's very sad, it's a sad commentary on the state of television that we have to revive something like this." Mr. Markstein and his sour attitude about TV had plainly not altered much since 1976. If you read that web-logged interview btw, you will also notice that at no point does the Script Editor make any claim for his origination of the show, he suggests at one point that he acted more as a story editor than a script editor, but that is all he states in public.

Returning to the 2005 *Official* book there is this further gem of a fan-fantasy:
"Markstein...., as a military journalist who travelled in Europe extensively, may well have been a spy himself"

There is no evidence whatsoever that Markstein ever set foot in Europe in this way. The 'Overseas Weekly' was based in Frankfurt but George Markstein is noted as the rather grandly-titled 'London Bureau Chief'. One reference to him I have located in an obscure article mentions him as a pupil of Westminster School, a major private school in London. If you read the *official* account, Mr. Markstein, it is implied, narrowly escaped being caught up in the Nazi Holocaust and suffered *hardship* in his early life. Instead, he may well have been a pupil at one of the most privileged schools in England.

Once again it was fairly simple for me to find out that Markstein was basically a jobbing journalist, learning his trade throughout the 1950's. He worked in the 1950's writing for a staff magazine serving the US Third Airforce base, in Ruislip on the outskirts of London. Why would the fans have believed Markstein was a spy or worked in Europe with the Allies, dismantling the apparatus of the Third Reich? Mr. Markstein patently never did any of this. Did he tell them he had done these things? I have no idea but he had managed to write a book by the time he was 45, so he had learned to tell a good story I guess. If the gullible fans who have since created these legends about him had done the slightest research, they would quickly have realised their stories were nonsense. In the world of the cult however the orsonwellian truth is that: We see what we want to see. We ignore the rest .

The official book continues to pile up the cards into a veritable tower-block, never mind a house. ".. 1961. Four years later he got to put his wartime experience to good use on the WW2 series 'Court Martial'."
Wartime experience? Which war? The Korean War? Even the *official* historians don't seem to have this globe-trotting writer/spy/journalist in the Far East. The inept and stupid *official* facts don't even require you to believe the Moor Larkin version of history. The *official* account is inane. Markstein put his experiences of wartime to good use? The Blitz in London would have been the only war he saw and he was barely twenty years of age in 1950. By 1961, George Markstein, was working for The Marylebone Record, a local newspaper in London. Within a couple of years he would begin to get his articles printed in the prestigious TV Times, a pattern that would lead him, by 1965, into the sphere of one of the most celebrated TV actors in the world at the time.

While Mr. Markstein was penning erudite articles for the Marylebone Record, Patrick McGoohan had an appointment to address the Television Writing School, in London, to lecture writers about *actors requirements* from them.

Moor bloggering about next time.......... Unofficially................ Be Seeing You.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

McGoohan on My Mind: Misanthropy, Mind-Altering Substances, Panopticons, Magic and Masks,

Anthony Asquith was a distinguished British film director, dating right back to the days of Silent Movies. Asquith had worked with many of the biggest names, such as Olivier, and was known for his adaptations of original theatre drama to the big screen. The chance to work for such a director must have been an attractive idea for Patrick McGoohan and after 'Danger Man' was completed in late 1960, he embarked on a project for the famed film-man. The fact that the film was based on a story by a Swede and set in Scandinavia may have also appealed to the actor who has so recently enjoyed such acclaim in an Ibsen play. The movie was low budget but had a respectable cast, including Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, who would soon achieve world-wide fame in 'Born Free'. At the core of the movie was a man who doubted himself, and much of the plot dealt with his unravelling because of this doubt. Set in a tight-knit fishing town, McGoohan's portrayal of the isolated and increasingly reviled Post-Office clerk in 'Two Living One Dead' is in complete contrast to his year of playing the confident and debonair John Drake. The ideas of isolation and how an individual relates to his community need little emphasising as yet another step in the psyche of the evolution of a future Number Six, albeit the number was not even a twinkle in his creator's minds-eye at that time.

Whilst Erik Berger was a shy and unambitious family man, the next part McGoohan played was an equally isolated, but entirely opposite characterisation. The loud, brash, bullying and conniving drummer that was Johnny Cousin in 'All Night Long' harked back almost as an alternate John Drake. However, where the debonair exterior of John Drake held a caring adventurer, the debonair exterior of Johnny Cousin masked a drug-pushing misanthrope; never more starkly exposed than in this final scene of the film:

In a manner that can be seen as becoming characteristic by this time, Patrick McGoohan's next movie character was a complete contrast to both of the two preceeding roles. He played a straight-up-and-down medical doctor in Life For Ruth. As Doctor James Brown he exhibited no self-doubt or self-loathing; he was a simple man of science and compassion - and perhaps Soul..... The film was less than straightforward and was made on location in an isolated Durham village, by the then-pioneering production team of Michael Relph and Basil Dearden who had recently explored themes of Racism and Homosexuality in 'Sapphire' and 'Victim'. Around this time Patrick McGoohan also tackled an intricate and slightly bewildering character on TV. This man leads a small band of three into an isolated village. At the conclusion he threatens to slaughter the entire village in some unhinged revenge threat, against their advocacy of war. 'Serjeant Musgrave' was a less than famed theatre play by John Arden but later in the Sixties the play was seen as allegorical to the Vietnam War, but McGoohan played the eponymous serjeant for TV in 1961 before the post-Kennedy dissillusion of faraway war had set in.

In 1963 Patrick McGoohan took on the role of the Interrogator in 'The Prisoner', as discussed in one of my earlier Blogs, also for TV. Around the same time he played a more straightforward prison warden in the subtle anti-hanging movie version of the theatre play, 'The Quare Fellow'. The film was remarked upon for it's claustophobic atmosphere as the prisoners and wardens interacted against the backdrop of a never-seen condemned man - all the more striking for never being seen - a lesson in dramatic tension that McGoohan no doubt noted along with the study of men in long-term incarceration.

In 1963 the actor was spotted by Disney and employed for two adventure films the American company made in Britain. The increasing popularity of 'Danger Man' was likewise increasing the popularity of Patrick McGoohan. Many of the 39 half-hour shows were only being seen for the first time in 1962 and John Drake was becoming a huge hit with the TV public in both Britain and America, as the show was also being repeated in 1963. It would be easy to dismiss the Disney movies as kiddie-fodder, but McGoohan seemed always to have an eye for something a little more special. Thomasina had some very adult themes about the nature of death and the tussle between science and human intuition, not to mention being set in a very small isolated village in Scotland. It wouldn't be the last time Scotland and the origins of Number Six's village would be mentioned in the same sentences that are frequently referenced around the internet nowadays, in arcane fan discussions about "where The Prisoner came from"..... just as the words sublime and ridiculous often accompany each other.

Dr. Syn was very fondly remembered by Patrick McGoohan, so much so that in 2006 he was featured on the special Disney Treasure dvd release in what was to become his last issued filmed interview. In the interview he discussed a wide range of subjects although Disney only used a tiny portion of the interview, unfortunately. One key theme of Dr. Syn was the two sides of one man: A handsome vicar by day and a vicious Scarecrow Smuggler by night. Who exactly was the man behind the mask? An idea Patrick McGoohan no doubt absorbed into his busy mind, without too much self-consciousness.

So, here we have a potted history of the films and TV work Patrick McGoohan made between 1961 and 1964. Where did The Prisoner come from? was a question McGoohan was famously asked. He replied with a shrug, that it came from boredom. What it also came from of course was years of hard work allied to talent and a fertile mind that sought the obscure and the different constantly. There are many fans of the eventual TV show, who decry McGoohan's competence to have come up with as intriguing a conundrum as the show they love so much. McGoohan sometimes referred to himself as arrogant, but felt that so long as he subsumed this characteristic with a little humility, he was a tolerable man. The Prisoner cult, sustained by their mutual approval of one another abandoned all humility as they sought the *secrets* of their show. They were too arrogant to study the past of the man they claimed to admire and increasingly side-lined him in their fervour to make their show the ultimate issue of a Committee of Talents.

It is of course a truism that The Prisoner was made by a talented bunch of technicians and creative people, but there was only one man that mattered. McGoohan was their driving force and, as almost all of those interviewed by the cult conventions cheerfully recall, McGoohan was the only one who really seemed to understand what was going on half of the time. Patrick McGoohan took no *secrets* to his afterlife, in my view. His past is littered with his so-called *secrets*. All that is required is eyes to look and enough humility to pay him full respect. Why should any man explain his creation? The creator's job is to create. Let others explain and interrogate one another.

And so 1964 had come, James Bond was a huge movie success. The TV fan magazines were beginning to ask "Why do all the girls go for Danger Man?' Secret Agents were suddenly the new Cowboys - heroes for a new generation. Ralph Smart was asked by Lew Grade if he would like to bring Drake back. Smart was semi-retired but he wanted to do it. Patrick McGoohan had never once returned to something after he had finished with it.... But now he did.

He did what he had never done before and would never do again. He once remarked that he rather liked 'John Drake'. The world was about to fall in love with 'John Drake' and Patrick McGoohan was about to become what he had always decried being: a Superstar. It was 1965 and just as in 1961, the combination of Ralph Smart, Patrick McGoohan and hard work was to spawn TV Greatness. Sequels usually flop, remakes are rarely as startlingly good as the original. Danger Man/Secret Agent was to defy convention just as McGoohan defied his own acting conventions as he spent the next two years once again.... as...........

Drake, John Drake.

Moor *secrets* next time...............

Sunday, 26 July 2009

McGoohan on My Mind: “Men die every second of the day but when a secret agent dies it becomes a matter for official speculation” – John Drake

Many prisoner fans these days seem to have as much interest in Portmeirion as they do the The Prisoner itself. Much of my last two blogs have featured comment on how the use of this location in The Prisoner was no mere chance or coincidence. Patrick McGoohan's experiences of both his location shooting there and his further experience of the location being recreated in the studio, for Danger Man was a crucial factor. ‘Official’ books have gone so far as to even accept that McGoohan took his family on a holiday to Portmeirion sometime on the mid-Sixties, however those same books seem to read no special significance into this later personal interest, notwithstanding that McGoohan mentioned this holiday in more than one of his accounts about why he chose to use Portmeirion.

However, as I have pointed out, with the dialogue quotes from one or two episodes already, there were other things within the episodes of Danger Man informing the mind of the eventual Executive Producer of The Prisoner. The heading for this particular blog comes from the opening narration of a 1960 Danger Man episode and illustrates that the whole notion of how a secret agent is a prisoner of his job was rearing it’s head even as the genre was being created by Ralph Smart. Patrick McGoohan used the question of how a secret agent ceases to be a secret agent (without being dead) as a vehicle for his own contemplation of the human condition, but even in the more adventure/entertainment-oriented ‘Danger Man’, there were contemplative moments within the scripting of secret agent derring-do. The balance of ensuring he was entertaining people seemed to have been of importance to Patrick McGoohan and he frequently talking of his acting being a job, not an art. In 1960 he had taken on a fresh challenge and the making of nineteen and a half hours of television entertainment was to occupy him for about nine months.

Other episodes of the 1960 series of Danger Man include touches that offer a mirror to elements within The Prisoner and it is almost wilful not to see their influence, however subtle, upon the mind of the shows prime-mover. Even if a viewer is unwilling to accept any direct causal connection it is certainly makes it easier to see how McGoohan could have coped with the demands he placed upon himself by taking such close control of the 1967 show. I have already mentioned the five appearances of Portmeirion, one of which episodes, ‘The Journey Ends Halfway’ also contains dialogue prefiguring the style of the Prisoner village. Another episode, 'The Relaxed Informer’ concerns secrets being extracted from a woman (Ruth Mitchell) under mind-control. She is hypnotised within the confines of an isolated commune located on an island somewhere. However this odd coincidence is by far surpassed by a conversation Drake has with the woman before he figures out how her mind is being emptied under hypnosis. In an effort to establish the truth of her story Drake requires her to recount her story over and over again, whilst he types her statements, intending to compare them afterwards to see if any contradictions emerge. (one can almost imagine McGoohan's real-life typing technique)

JD: You know I am not going to give up until I get the truth Miss Mitchell
RM: I have told you the truth and I am not going to answer any more of your questions
JD: You cannot get rid of me as easily as that you know. The only way you can escape is by telling me everything.

A slightly more tenuous connection comes from the episode ‘The Trap’. In this episode a woman in a confidential position goes on holiday suddenly and John Drake is despatched to locate her. Aside from the repetition of the idea of holidays and *authorities seeking explanations* there is a sequence near the end of the episode that is quite curious. Everyone remembers the fact that Number Six is initially removed from his house in Buckingham Place by fake undertakers. Well, we all assume that - although none of us ever saw it. In ‘The Trap’, the young woman is removed from a house, drugged within a coffin, before being sped off in the hearse across the iron Curtain.

It wouldn’t be the last time suspicious undertakers are seen in Danger Man but that will have to wait for later Blogs.

The illustrative premise of the plot of A, B & C where Six attends (in his mind-eye) a party to meet the three people Number Two thinks are important is a mirror of part of the plot of a Danger Man episode once again featuring Bert Kwouk! Unlike ‘The Journey Ends Halfway’ where Bert’s role was crucial to some expository dialogue; in the episode ‘The Actor’ Bert only survives long enough to be shot dead in the opening prologue! Later in the episode however Drake attends a party where one of three people must be the traitorous agent and just as in A, B & C, McGoohan’s character has to have a conversation with each of the three in an effort to establish the identity of the culprit.

I go to the party. I talk to them a lot. I concentrate on each of them, one at a time. I say things that should alarm the guilty party and then I wait for one of them to make a move.

Within this episode there is also a quite remarkable conversation between Drake and the traitor called Al. This guy turns out to be an amenably self-centred sort with a very trendy linguistic style, but in order to first establish contact Drake sets up a situation where the undercover agent appears to prevent Al’s wallet from being stolen. This leads to the following exchange between the two men:

Al: Thanks man
JD: Worth a drink?
Al: You haven’t been here very long have you
JD: Long enough to work up a thirst
Al: Then, here’s something you ought to know. It’s strictly Number Ones-ville. Never help anyone in this town.

I mentioned in my earlier Blogs about the fact that by the time Patrick McGoohan made The Prisoner he had been a Fifties British movie-star. One of his best-known films of 1957 was called ‘Hell Drivers’. I’m sure most McGoohan fans will be aware that the entire plot premise of the film is geared around a group of itinerant lorry drivers all seeking to be the top driver on the firm and drive Truck Number One.

It would be stretching the connections perhaps to view any of this as directing the consciousness of Patrick Joseph McGoohan in 1965/66 but all of these ideas would be swirling around the head of the creative driving-force behind The Prisoner and whilst he had never heard much about Kafka, Hesse, McCluhan and all those other influences that Prisoner fans loved to chat about – by the same token none of those prisoner fans seemed to know much about the actual pertinent past influences upon the mind of the man who facilitated the creation of their televisionary masterpiece. As McGoohan put it,

When it got very close to the last episode and I hadn't written it yet. And I had to sit down this terrible day and write the last episode and I knew it wasn't going to be something out of James Bond, and in the back of my mind there was some parallel with the character Six and the No. 1

The 1960 series of Danger Man was hugely influential in many ways. In a 2006 commentary Roger Moore once remarked that after Danger Man, nothing was ever the same again. In 1961 however Patrick McGoohan left it behind him. He’d done the 39 episodes and now he wanted to make some more movies. The first one would be about a man in an isolated village who falls foul of his community and becomes an outsider.

Moor prisoner resonance’s next time. The final word to Patrick McGoohan from a 1979 interview, where he tries to explain to an uncomprehending prisoner fan about how he came up with his concept:

“The idea had been germinating in my mind for years…………..”

Friday, 17 July 2009

McGoohan on My Mind: Villas, Vacations and Verisimilitude

The presence of Portmeirion in various episodes of the 1960 series of Danger Man is nothing new to prisoner fans of course, or vintage TV fans in general. What does seem surprising is the lack of recognition about the relevance of this to the choice of Portmeirion by Patrick McGoohan for the setting of his 1967 show. It was already set in his mind as a place that could be anywhere because that was precisely what his first experience of it had been - a place that was Italy one day, the Middle East the next and the Far East another day! Truly a global impression.

The other key point that prisoner fans seem to have completely neglected is that David Tomblin, McGoohan's co-producer was as familiar with the potential of this location as was cinematographer Brendan Stafford. Both men had been intimately involved with the 1960 series of Danger Man. This prior knowledge and group memory would allow the production team to hit the ground running when they arrived in Portmeirion again, just six years later. I am reminded of the first public interview Patrick McGoohan gave in 1977 when he explained how Rover was devised *on the hoof* and the audience members expressed amazement that all these 'little touches' came by seeming chance. Patrick McGoohan interjected reminding the commentators that,

And the style was also clearly laid out and the designs of the sets, those were all clearly laid out from the inception of it. There was no accident in that area,

Both of the producers and the principal cinematographer were able to envision 'The Village' with such clarity because they knew the place intimately already and had already filmed there. McGoohan would already have known the owner and so access and knowledge of filming positions would have been in the key crew members vision even before they set foot in Wales to begin to film the locations they wanted for The Prisoner. Everything was perfectly poised - there was indeed no accident in that area.

In the same way, there are technical elements of the The Prisoner series that are prefigured in Danger Man from six years earlier. One episode of the show that often attracts admiration for its technical achievement is The Schizoid Man. One very good reason why the special effect of McGoohan portraying both Number 12 and Number 6 in the same frame was so splendidly achieved is because Tomblin and Stafford already knew exactly how to do it and Patrick McGoohan had seen another actor follow the process of playing dual roles in look-a-like TV. What is especially intriguing is that the technicians and actor gained this experience whilst making an episode of Danger Man called..... The Prisoner !!

It is amazing to me that whilst I have read many essays wittering poetically about how John Drake must be Number Six, the same fans seem completely ignorant of these simpler and far more important and meaningful links between the past of McGoohan in 1960 and his contemporary presence of 1966. Whilst the Danger Man plot episode named The Prisoner bears little relevance to any part of the plot of the series The Prisoner, it is demonstrative of the fan's cultishly uninformed nature that they failed to either learn or note important real-life inter-relationships between the two shows, whilst insisting that the fictions of John Drake and Number Six were implicit, even though the actor who played both said categorically they were not, back in 1966, long before he could even guess at the arcane interest, which would develop later:

Pat hates publicity and he tells me that he is not yet letting anyone in the british or overseas TV press know the secrets of the new character he is creating "except that it is far removed from John Drake." It is a new kind of adventure programme tentatively titled The Prisoner and he says, promises to be very exciting.

In a 1958 interview Patrick McGoohan remarked that one ambition of his was to achieve actor/manager status in the theatre. "The ideal is one man in control - one man who knows exactly what he wants." His interest in being more than just the actor was evidenced in 1960, when he was allowed to direct one episode of that Danger Man series. This was The Vacation. This was an excellent episode, with John Drake becoming enmeshed in an assassination plot. Two things stand out in the zeitgeist however, when considering the possibilities of how ideas linger in the consciousness of men. First, at the beginning of the episode John Drake is about to take his first holiday in four years. Thereby hangs more than one tale:

Then, later on, Drake recognises a man he is sitting next to on the aeroplane taking him to his holiday location. Drake recognises him as he dozes and the imagery is televised as in a dream. This imagined sequence is visualised by a steel filing cabinet drawer opening, and an identity card arising out of it, with a picture of the man upon it:

One day a card would drop into a somewhat similar receptacle, with a picture of a man upon it. In both cases the metal filing drawer seemed to operate itself.

There are many things in life and art that seem connected. Some seem moor connected than others. If Giants could travel through time, perhaps the giant would occasionally find himself standing upon his or her own shoulders! Moor of this sort of common sense next time. For now it's time for a drake or did I say break?