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?


  1. First series of Danger Man has Drake being called something like the man with a crystal ball - can't remember the exact quote, but that would tie in with Fall Out and the hooded figure of Number1 holding a crystal ball that No6 shatters..

  2. I can't place that one I must admit.

    In 'Find & Return' you hear a croupier saying something about Numero Seis, as Drake makes his way past the gaming tables, which is cute...

  3. I'll go over them again this week and get back to you.. I'm sure its there in one of his introductions..

  4. Found it!

    Series 1: The Sisters - 2.40- 2.51

    Drake to Hardy

    "I'm very intuitive - my extra-sensory apparatus is highly developed and keenly sensitive to perceptions, that is why my jealous rivals call me the man with the built-in crystal ball. A clumsily phrased tribute but fully deserved."

  5. Cool! It is only to be expected to have been with Hardy. McGoohan and Wattis were superb together I always thought.

    I wonder who his *jealous* rivals were...... ;-)))

  6. Glad I found it and wasn't hallucinating :) makes the scene with unmasking No1 and smashing the crystal ball in Fall Out a little bit more interesting.

    I think Wattis was the only one in that first series who had the same effect as McG on the screen. It was a good pairing but Drake didn't seem much like a Lone Wolf with Hardy around..

  7. Yes.. Good point... it could have become too much like The Hardy Boys...... ;-)

    Less is sometimes moor... ;-))

  8. My favorite little cross over detail is in Fall Out where the judge-type figure drops John Drake's signature response "[we're] obliged"

    Love the site--have my own Prisoner web-comic over at if you're interested.

    Keep up the good work!

  9. Great blog. I did find it last year. Thanks for reminding me. Great artist too btw. Ciao.