Wednesday, 3 June 2009

McGoohan in my Mind - "Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past."

At their web-site THE PRISONER OFFICIAL APPRECIATION SOCIETY has a 12-page listing of publications they have traced on the subject. Prior to 1977 these comprise original marketing material put out by ITC, contemporary TV magazines in Britain and the two novels written in the two years following the original broadcasts. It is noticeable that between 1970 and 1977, there is nothing listed. It is natural that the fans would write many booklets of their own of course ...... there was no such thing as blogging thirty years ago..... One huge benefit of the internet today is the availability now, of original materials, that were unseen and unremembered in 1977, ten years after the real events. Four original magazines discussing the show at the time of its release can be seen here:

By 1985 fan-books began to shift from discussing the meanings and interpretations of the show's content, to how the show was made. Production guides were assembled. The fan societies had been hosting conventions, much as Star Trek fans had been, and the spoken memoirs of various cast and crew were developed into a narrative, as fans moved from interpreting the allegory of the subject matter into interpreting the reality of how such a TV show got produced. 1984, was a year in which the arcane internalisations of the society broke out into the mainstream media in Britain. A new TV Channel decided to re-broadcast the entire series and commisioned a documentary to run after the final episode. I particularly recall the documentary myself as it was the first time I fully accepted that Number One was Number Six, as the programme stop-motioned McGoohan's reveal of the man behind the masks and allowed the time for the slower viewer (such as myself) to be really sure it was McGoohan's face that emerged in the monkey shot. The arrival of the VHS (or betamax) video-tape around the same time led to a whole new level of fan appreciation, allowing viewers to not only watch the shows repeatedly, but in slow-mo and of course, one could play the episodes to oneself in any order that one wished!

It was the arrival of mass personal video that opened up a whole new chapter for The Prisoner as the first editions of VHS releases began. To tie in with these releases it was natural that books might be published. Warner and the USA were naturally the first to spot the business opportunity. The first Official Prisoner Companion book was published in 1988. It formed much of the basis for the release of The Prisoner: Video Companion in 1990. At the same time, in France another book was released Le Prisonnier, Chef-d'œuvre Télévisionnaire. Curiously, for the English-speaking world, Patrick McGoohan personally met and co-operated with the French authors, but disclaimed the English-language American books in 1991. His scathing comments about the Video Companion form the Header for my entire Blog.

We were talking about the seven episodes which form the true basis of The Prisoner. Well, they picked their seven, but they're not my seven. They claim they're mine, but they're not. Everything they claimed that I said, apart from two things, is inaccurate.

Perhaps unsurprisingly,given this tension, the French book was republished, in an English translation, in 1992: The Prisoner: A Televisionary Masterpiece.

But as George Orwell so succintly had written, "Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past." and it was the Warner book which had grasped the past first. Still today many web-sites and recently published books, perpetuate the errors and misinterpretations of that volume. The sentence George Orwell had also written, in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four - “To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed.” seems to fit this bizarre fan-mythology. It was this weirdly illogical but apparently accepted claim by the fan publications, that first led me to wonder about what else written about this show by those supposedly *in the know*, was in fact cult clap-trap. The claim I am referring to is the one that concerned the *cowboy* episode: Living in Harmony, and the alleged self-censorship by the American TV company, C.B.S. in not broadcasting it in 1968.

For any reader of this blog unfamiliar with the arcane lore of The Prisoner, the claim was made in the book, and repeated by the video, that CBS cancelled Living in Harmony because it contained scenes of the use of 'mind-altering drugs'. Having apparently made this fiction up (the books offer no reference to validate their statement) the authors then state that this reason does not stand scrutiny and postulate that the real reason the episode was censored was because it promoted pacifism and somehow this was anti-Vietnam War. To the nation who had made and lauded an Oscar to the movie 'High Noon', which so clearly inspired much of Living in Harmony itself, this is quite frankly insulting. The author's technique was was also uber-Orwellian....... Make up a fact that is not a fact, then claim the fact is a lie and substitute a conspiracy theory......... Any Number Two in McGoohan's village would have been proud to think that up! What is most bizarre however is that the prisoner fan members appear to have swallowed this story for the next twenty years and many still do, judging by the many web-sites/comments/blogs........ All of this was particularly emphasised by the many webituaries following the passing of Patrick McGoohan himself, in January this year.

The reason for this episode being missing from the 1968 and 1969 networking of The Prisoner in the USA is intriguing but the reasons given by the *official* books have never been backed by any facts. I like to call it The Big Lih.............. If Living in Harmony had been 'internally' censored by CBS, it would inevitably have been reported and have been news at the time. This news-clipping from 1969 indicates that not only did it not happen that way, but McGoohan was acknowledged as highly unlikely to give offence to anyone. Had one of his shows fallen foul of American sensitivities this would have been remarkable.

This article dates from 1969 and a search of American press from 1968 reveals that The Prisoner was scheduled to run 17 weeks and the fact that it did not, was caused by an event at the very beginning of it's summer season slot, as noted in this TV schedule promoting the fourth episode Free For All and making evident that even three weeks after the events of June 8, there had been no decisions made about the re-scheduling of the summer slot.

The event that caused one week of the 17 weeks of The Prisoner to be lost was the June 8, 1968 State funeral of Senator Robert Kennedy. The passage of the funeral train and the night-time Arlington interment was covered by the prime-time American networks on the very evening that 'Chimes of Big Ben' was due to be shown.

Not surprisingly the postponement of an episode of a new summer season TV show passed by entirely unremarked upon at the time. The loss of one week of the schedule did however mean that one episode had to be dropped, sooner or later. We are still left with the question why did CBS choose to drop the cowboy episode. Perhaps the reason was exactly because in the land of the cowboy this episode seemed most disposable, but that would be my speculation. What is demonstrable is that the dropping of an episode was actually not even noticed in the whirl of those historically tragic but then current events. If you take a closer look at the article scan I posted on my last blog, you will see that even after the 1968 broadcasts were completed the commentator is still referring to the 17 weeks of the series.

In the absence of Doctor Watson, I can only talk to myself......... so, to recap the case. The censorship of Living in Harmony has never been traced back to a single source of evidence by the authors of the *theory*. What I have demonstrated is the evidence that when The Prisoner and Patrick McGoohan were discussed in the American press, in 1968, with references to TV censorship, no mention is made of any controversy at CBS. CBS allocated 17 weeks to their 1968 showing of The Prisoner; that is clear from the listings. One week was postponed prior to Episode 4. At the end of the run, commentators knew there had been 17 weeks, but did not seem aware that any episode had been missed out at all - certainly not the sensational news that an episode had been pulled by the network at the last moment.

As a further aside - if the episode had been censored ahead of the summer season slot, which would have surely happened, because CBS would have thoroughly checked the shows, which had already been broadcast in the UK, the series would have only been given a 16 week slot and there would have had to have been another episode missed because we know that the schedule had already slipped by Episode 4.

The 1988 book simply made their story up.... Or did they? Where did the authors get their Information from, in the first place? They plainly did no research themselves. The only place they could have got such an arcane story from was the fan base that had been ruminating away for a decade by then. What they regurgitated was from the belly of the beast. To me it smells like the odour of rotting cabbage. What do you think?

What is most remarkable is that in 1977 here: the cowboy episode is discussed and not one single word is said about the episode being censored in America....... But then, of course, it never happened so what could they have said?

Moor next time, about the origins of Rover and how, in 1988 the fans refused to believe what Patrick McGoohan had told them, in 1977, in that same clip I have just referenced.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that it seems unlikely that LIH was dropped because it was anti-violence. Simply dropping an episode from a series, especially a bought in series, would have meant little to the execs. LIH is one of the the most "odd one out" of the series and contains no plot points which are necessary to understand the subsequent episodes.
    In any case, my impression is that even US-produced series of the time routinely had episodes where violence didn't pay and many were more Liberal in general than most US series now.
    As an example, most legal dramas seemed to have as their heroes defence lawyers - now it's mainly prosecutors. Detectives were usually more concerned about the rights of the suspect then (detectives now routinely bulldoze over even the rights of the completely innocent bystander) and detectives of the 60s and 70s often empathised to some extent with the villain - "There but for the grace of whoever..."