Sunday, 14 June 2009

McGoohan on my mind: Religion Sex & Politics

It won't take anyone long to find references to Patrick McGoohan and religion. (omg! I have just increased the number myself!) After all, a man who said that up to the age of 15 he planned to become a Catholic priest, who made his London theatre debut playing a vicar (Serious Charge) and had his 1959 West End Sensation playing a Pastor (Brand) was always likely to be thought of as having religious persuasions. Then, when playing his TV hero 'John Drake' he was quoted as saying that "Every hero since Jesus Christ has been moral". Having lined himself up for religion he then conflated matters by bringing up sex, a subject inextricably wrapped into any Christian philosophy. His rejection of the part of James Bond in 1961 would further make his moral stance most easily explained by his pre-supposed religious principles. In the 1960's these attitudes were seen as relatively normal and cetainly to be approved of by Joe Everyman. By the late 1970's the sexual and social revolution in Britain made these old comments seem quite unusual, at least in the world of Showbiz and fan culture.

When prisoner fans began to try to unravel the show's 'secrets' they always sought to attribute what they found in the show into the character of their auteur. This crops up in the very first public outing, in Canada, in 1977 in those TV interviews I highlighted in my earlier blogs. Here is one part of the transcription:

I understand, in reading a little about you, that you're a very religious man, and my question pertains to "Fall Out." I have interpreted a lot of the acts as being...having this content. I'm thinking specifically of the crucifixion of the two rebels, of when their arms are drawn apart, the temptation of No. 6 by the President of the Village, of the temptation of Christ...
McGoohan: They give him the throne.
"Drybones," all of that. First of all, would you agree with my idea that that is intentional? That it is...
McGoohan: No, I had never any religious inspiration for that whatsoever. I was just trying to make it dramatically feasible. Certainly the temptation with the guy putting me up on the throne and all this stuff,'s Lucifer time. But I never thought that, at that moment. Maybe somewhere in the back of my mind it was there..... "And the hip bone's connected to the thigh bone" thing....... I just thought it was a very good song for the situation and also was applicable to the young man because, as you know, it's easy for us to go astray in youth and he was astray and he's trying to get everything together again.

He couldn't have made himself clearer and yet many years later (2005) a prisoner fan writes of what seem to be still-maintained ideas:
it was also central to McGoohan's life. As "The Prisoner" progressed it became more and more a reflection of McGoohan's will and McGoohan's angst and less and less the adventure series intended by Markstein. McGoohan's own personal agenda spilled into "The Prisoner" both in script and on screen. His view of women, politics, education, personal freedom, the cold war, youth rebellion increasingly came to the fore and, at the very end, out in front of the cameras, came that which he held most dear yet perhaps questioned most - his faith.

Apart from Fall-Out, the other episode that seems to loom large in religious vision is Chimes of Big Ben, when Number Six's art-work engenders christian visions.

Watching the programme myself I have to say that Number Six's cynicism about the merits of modern art seemed far more on somebody's mind than religious iconography. I have noticed a few opinions that showed an intriguing flexibility. The vague references to churches in the above scene were long held to demonstrate McGoohan's beliefs. Later, when script research showed that religious references were deleted, this was also taken to demonstrate his beliefs, on the premise that, as a *believer* himself he wanted religion to not be involved in the programme. As any good Number Two would have said, "Heads, fans win. Tails, McGoohan loses". It is obviously my intention to polemicise. But why do fans of this series so maintain their fictions about Patrick McGoohan I wonder. Anyhow, this next McGoohan interview outtake was published in 1995, a whole decade before, in an interview at the time of *Braveheart*, McGoohan was talking about about his 1974 project on the movie 'Catch My Soul'. He was referring to the later editing of the film by the Producer :

I lived in New Mexico at that time and the producer did too. He'd heard I was available and that's how, after the hiatus that followed The Prisoner, I came back to the profession. Unhappily, in the process of making the film, he got religion. Catholicism. He became a convert; he took the film and re-cut it. The editor warned me, I asked that my name be taken off it, and, unhappily, that was not done. The result is a disaster. What's more, he added 18 minutes of religious stuff. Ridiculous.

How could any fan still contend in 2005 that McGoohan had some strong loyalty to any organised religion, even his own boyhood one, after reading that comment made in 1995 about his feelings of an event as long ago as 1974 ? In case you think my polemicising is leading me to labour some randomly obscure comments I found on the internet, you will find that the most recent *Official* prisoner books on retail sale include pontification about McGoohan's (fan-supposed) religious beliefs and their consequent influences on the series as produced.... the same books of course that now say The Prisoner was a commercial failure in 1967/68, which statement I have pointed out in an earlier Blog, is a nonsensical statement.

As an aside - what does *Official* mean I wonder? It certainly seems to have nothing to do with Patrick McGoohan. *As authorised by the current holders of the film copyright* presumably, which copyright has been bought and sold more than once and whose approval is fairly meaningless. You will also find reference to McGoohan's 'strong religious beliefs' in the unauthorised (by anyone) 2008 bibliography, ludicrously entitled 'Danger Man or Prisoner'. I use the word ludicrous because it's main attraction, of cataloguing the length, breadth and diversity of McGoohan's acting career, only emphasises the paucity of reducing him to a caricature of some Jungian *cult memory* in the title, and to be honest, the bulk of the book's pages.

Mr. McGoohan of course put it best himself when referring to his cult fans in an interview with a senior member of the fan appreciation society - and yet an interview which is never quoted by those same fans and seems almost wilfully unknown to most:

It's a step into cultism. In the end it's got nothing to do with the subject - it's become a sort of entity in itself. There's a word that I can't find at the moment... it may come to me.

McGoohan made that comment in 1991. The interview was long and wide-ranging and he discussed the prisoner show in considerable depth. It vanished into a small circulation enthusiasts magazine, rather than the *official* or *authorised* fan archives, for endless republishing. Needless to say, quotes from this interview have never been featured on the regular reissues of The Prisoner dvd's, especially as within it, McGoohan complains about the so-called *missing* episodes: the Alternate Episodes, as the marketing men call them.

But... lets get back to religion...... or maybe I'm done with religion....

Moor sex perhaps? Next time. bCnU.


  1. I love and adore McGoohan and I will rather follow a real celebrity who is his own man any day of the week.
    I feel sad he never made the A-list because he needed to be in that group.
    I wish Rafferty is out on DVD soon, and his wife was a very karmically lucky lady.
    Great Blog Moor, well done.

  2. Apparantly McGoohan was promised to God by his own mother, this was a culture within Irish families at the time. Anyway, I am glad he went to Acting for he must of been a priest in a previous life instead.

  3. I read the bio, and I was actaully surprised that McGoohan allowed it for I know the man was very private.
    I liked the way he slammed the door in a journos face in the 1960's when she asked if more kids were on the way.
    Actually a priesthood would of been a waste of life for McGoohan and I too watched the Canada interview. Still had the same voice he had in The Prisoner but he aged dramatic. Still a great looker though.

  4. In that Six into One: The Prisoner File documentary, when they're talking to McGoohan on the beach and ask where the germ of the Prisoner idea came from, he says "...the individual against so many laws that were all confining; the church, for instance, it was almost impossible to do anything that was not some form of sin...."

  5. Any Catholic boy of a certain age would know exactly where McGoohan was coming from Anon..... ;-))

    The key thing here is that McGoohan clearly was not a dochtrinal Catholic; he was making gently negative comments about the way his boyhood religion operated, in an open-minded and perfectly reasonable layman's way, to the restrictive way most religions historically operated (one or two still do it seems).

    His comments do not seem to fit the cliche of his being a Catechist anyhow.

  6. Bloody tablet devices! While trying to scroll down a finger touched the 'pathetic' option. Apologies, that wasn't intended and I'm enjoying reading the blog.

  7. Moses descended from the mountain clutching his tablets, so a good mistake to make on a Religion, Sex & Politics discourse... :-D

  8. Moor, I think you would appreciate the first few chapters - especially - of Barry Salt's "Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis" (don't be put off by the title).
    It demolishes the current fashionable film theories, then goes on to forensically examine how the actual making of films developed as opposed to the ignorant fantasies of the theorists.