Sunday, 7 June 2009

McGoohan on my Mind: Clubs Cults Heroes and Villains

In 1982 Patrick McGoohan was persuaded to appear on a "Best Of" TV show. He happened to be in England at the time and his somewhat bohemian appearance is explained by the reason he was in the country at all. He was filming Jamaica Inn, a three-part TV film, with Jane Seymour. In order to play the wicked Uncle Joss he had grown long hair and sported stubble daily.

No doubt however, his ruffled appearance, in comparison to the debonair dress of John Drake or even Number Six, delighted fans by then becoming convinced that their idol did in fact have feet of clay. It is interesting to note that, whilst surrounded by his apparently adoring fans, McGoohan makes an opening statement that seems to be almost hyperdefensive:

"I suppose I did a fair amount of things. I was executive producer, I wrote a number of them, directed a number of them, thought it up."

The casual viewer, such as I, might have wondered, Did anyone doubt this? After all, this had been clear right from the beginning hadn't it? Going back to my second Blog-post, you can read the articles from 1967 and 1968 that make clear that the entire project was McGoohan's and he also welcomed full responsibility for it, whether the viewers had liked it, or not. By 1982, the fans had been studying the show for five or six years for themselves and in fact, the very people who feted him, were also by then, denying him. Beneath the Fan Dome, unbeknownst to the rest of us, living outside their arane meanderings, 'discoveries' were being made................

How do we know who to trust?

had been one of the questions the earliest Conventioneers had been asking themselves and they had decided by this time that Patrick McGoohan was not to be trusted. One prime example of this UnTrust concerned one of the most striking 'characters' of the series, Rover - the roaring, stifling guardian of the Village. Back in 1977, just as the fan clubs had been getting themselves off the ground, McGoohan had explained the mildly convoluted tale of the genesis of the inflated ego that was Rover, to his equally egotistical audience

We had this marvellous piece of machinery that was being built which was gonna be Rover and this thing was like a hovercraft and it would go underwater, come up on the beach, climb walls; it could do anything. That was our original Rover.

On that occasion it was clear at least one of the audience could not credit McGoohan's relaxed explanations,

What interested me was the style in which it was done and the whimsy and the hundreds of little touches, but from everything you've been saying so far, they all seem to have been accidents. You know, the white balloon was an accident and you happened upon the Village...
McGoohan: Oh, yeah...
And it's, you know, incredibly lucky.
McGoohan: Yeah, but, no, no, no...There were these pages, don't forget, at the very beginning, which laid out the whole concept; these forty-odd pages laid out the whole concept. That was no accident.
No, but the little touches...
McGoohan: Those things come anyway.
But I haven't seen them come very often in any other series.

The doubters were not to become any less doubting. In fact, for a number of years thereafter many fans wholly disbelieved McGoohan's story about the beginning and end of the 'original' Rover. They simply chose to disbelieve him. This disbelief in fact surfaces as late as 1988 in the Official Prisoner Companion. The book mentions the story McGoohan told, but then suggested that as no evidence had been found by fans to substantiate his tale, it was probably untrue. It was not until the 1990's, when archive photographs of McGoohan's fabled machine were located, that the fan clubs grudgingly accepted that the creator of the show had in fact been right all along. Like any good Number Two however, I've never come across any apology for their decade-long denial of what McGoohan had told them. Of course, in as diffuse an organisation as the Fan Dome, each individual can blame another and say that they personally had never doubted the story for a moment. In fact, in 1988 itself, another researcher, this one focussing on original scripts he had access to, had also backed up McGoohan's tale of a mechanical Rover in a non-Club fan magazine called Time Screen. However this magazine lay outside the organised Appreciation Society and no doubt because it fell outside their doctrine, seems to have been ignored because it was not until the photographs were unearthed that the Fan Dome finally capitulated and re-wrote this piece of their Official reportage. By then of course the doubts about Rover and especially McGoohan, were legion.

I have laboured this one example a little merely to demonstrate the way the Fan Dome insisted on interpreting the reality of the creation of this amazing series, just as they had liked to interpret the allegory and meanings of the fiction of the shows themselves. As always in this form of group-think, what was actually happening was that a very few individuals were doing the thinking and the majority were doing the voting. In a remarkable fascsimile of the themes of the shows themselves the Villagers and their Number Two's pursued a relentless campaign against the recalcitrant Patrick McGoohan, who generally refused to give them his reasons, but just as in the Village, when, on those rare occasions he did give in and try to explain his story - they refused to believe him !! I would say you couldn't make this stuff up, but of course Patrick McGoohan had made it up - in 1966-68 !!

In a remarkable piece of double-think the Fan Dome authors would reproduce original brochures, such as the one below, for members to collect, the brochure stating categorically whose show it was (read it below and weep tears of laughter or sorrow, as you see fit), but within their own Committees, they would formulate their own preferred versions of history and simultaneously would dismiss such archive documents as mere ITC propaganda.

It was a well-worn path, and one that ironically had probably influenced the mind of McGoohan himself, when he first began to formulate his ideas for The Prisoner. It involved calling for witnesses.

As can be seen from their records the Appreciation Society had a regular and full calendar of events. It is clear that without this fan society, subsequent interest in The Prisoner would never have perhaps become as intense as it did. I say perhaps because in 1984 The Prisoner was chosen as a 'big gun' in the first year's programming of the first new TV channel in Britain since 1967. The channel had begun a year or so before and as part of it's governmental pledge to appeal to viewers not catered for elsewhere, it had begun broadcasting old shows not available for years. An interesting blog about the circumstances surrounding the documentary made to accompany the series broadcasts, "Six Into One:The Prisoner File", was made here, after the death of Patrick McGoohan this year.

The resultant interviews that were held with the 'big guns' of the series itself have since become essential reading for fans, but these interviews derived from the documentary TV makers, rather than fan society interviews. However the fans had already interviewed many personnel involved in the series themselves, including Patrick McGoohan himself, as early as 1979 and George Markstein in 1980. These interviews had highlighted a major schism for the fan society to reflect upon. George Markstein apparently made it known to an assembly of fans at London's ICA to watch Chimes of Big Ben, that he in fact was the real creator of The Prisoner. I say 'apparently' because there has never been any release of this interview on tape or video, or any transcript published. The 1979 interview with McGoohan was widely disseminated on cassette tape and currently CD. As a result the differing tales to be told have never been compared outside of fan circles.

In 1984 the undercurrent to this controversy was revealed when Channel 4 broadcast the interview that they had held with George Markstein, and also the one they held with Patrick McGoohan. The interview with Markstein has been transcripted for many years here: and within that transcription, this comment has been added by the webmaster: Patrick McGoohan was also interviewed for the programme. His attitude was "If Markstein's in it, I'm out!" Again an indication that the two men had not parted friends. McGoohan was eventually persuaded to film his sequences and these were brought back to London and edited in, but he withdrew his permission just before the programme was ready to go on air. Chris Rodley, the producer, took a brave decision to go ahead and screen it anyway. The assumption by the webmaster of this now long-standing website is an interesting one, for he assumes that McGoohan's animosity stemmed from the time of The Prisoner. In fact, it seems much more likely that this animosity stemmed from the attentions of the fan society to Markstein's claims in the 1970's and 1980's, after Markstein successfully published his reworking of the prison without bars plot outline, as the novel, The Cooler, in 1974, and then first began to claim to be creator of The Prisoner, when prior to that, he had only been known as the Script Editor who had left the series, (along with several other personnel after the first tranche of 13 episodes). His public claim only amounted to a brief note on the flyleaf of his book and it is interesting to note the ambiguity of his interview referenced above, where he never actually claims to have been a creator of the idea, but does increasingly suggest that his ideas were what drove the narrative. Future blogs here will point out that this notion is nonsensical when regarded against the actual sequence of events as the series actually began production.

Later blogs will also take a look at who exactly George Markstein was professionally, prior to his association with Patrick McGoohan. Curiously, even those fans who claim to have known him personally and with whom he shared his anecdotes, seem to know nothing about his past achievements prior to his jobs with ITC. The makers of the Channel 4 documentary also spent some time with Markstein and their 'private' reminscences have also coloured Prisoner writings since. Very little of all this intrigue has ever become publicised by the fan societies. Instead a melange of hints and internet nudging and winking has infested the subject.

This small review was published in 1974, to tie in with his novel launch. In 1976 Markstein was to retire from television writing and wrote a long article about how disillusioned he was with the whole situation for writers in television at that time. It is interesting to note that other than his half-credit for 'Arrival' (alongside David Tomblin), Markstein wrote no episodes of The Prisoner. His only other writing credit prior to The Prisoner was one of several names on the movie 'Robbery', also made in 1967. Moor of all of this enigma at a later date. For now, I must return to 1984 and the controversy surrounding the programme, Six Into One:The Prisoner File and of course, the story of the reality of the production of the show itself and what that can tell us about the real story and the creation myth. By 1990 this controversy had led one author to write:

"........However Gold's information appears dependent upon later myths built up about the series built up by McGoohan in his presentations before the North American college students. Rodley's source of information appears more accurate (confirmed also with George Markstein in conversation) ............"

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