Tuesday, 7 July 2009

McGoohan on my Mind: "They'd say which one do you want? That was the committee meeting. That's all we ever had."

"People who jump on those bandwagons have got to have a bandwagon to jump onto. If it's not 'Ban The Bomb' it'll be whatever...."

"Even a minor politician can be splashed all over TV for something he says. He may represent only about 2% of Parliament yet suddenly he's a celebrity"

"I am in command! Obey me and be free!"

Are politicians born or made? I have no idea., but politics seems now to be a career rather than a calling. Number Six was impolitic, and occasionally impolite but he managed consistently to avoid being a leader. The one time he really seemed to try to be a leader he suffered a Checkmate, as his number two betrayed him.

The village had endeavoured to persuade him to stand for formal office at a much earlier stage of his imprisonment, in 'Free For All' but his only idea of leadership was to tell everyone, "You are free to go!" Needless to say Number Six's policies were largely ignored by his potential electorate. Who wants to make decisions for oneself when the other candidates are promising an answer for everything? In 1967 Six represented nobody. He was not a politician, he was a person. In later years a formal political movement that claimed Number Six arose. In 1971 Libertarianism emerged and more than one treatise has been written on the subject of how Number Six's espousal of the Individual fits into the Libertarian philosophy. This question seems to be summated by the notion of a battle between the Individual and the Collective.

Episodes such as 'Change of Mind' saw the social pressures of what the British used to call 'sending someone to Coventry' (an apposite expression given that Patrick Mcgoohan spent a formative year working out of that eponymous city in 1952). An episode such as 'It's Your Funeral' seems to indicate an implacable opposition to political assassination as a philosophy whilst 'Free for All' seems predominantly to ridicule the efficacy of the democratic political system in really effecting change. The third of the quotes in black, at the top of this blog was of course made by Number Six in that episode. The preceeding two were things Patrick McGoohan was quoted as saying during the course of his many interviews. In 1958, a small fan-article from his time as a British film star with the Rank Organisation, listed one of his Leisure Pursuits as *Arguing*!! The fan fodder quoted him remarking,
"I believe that compromise is dangerous, whether in acting, politics or anything else."
A politician who will not compromise seems to be a contradiction without the possibility of resolution. In fact McGoohan went on to be quoted in the same article,
"The ideal is one man in control - one man who knows exactly what he wants."
This latter quote certainly seems to explain perhaps how he came to have such a mutual relationship with Lew Grade. Lew of course was utterly unlike Pat, being known as the Great Persuader, but for a while they seemed to have the perfect fit. In a 2006 interview McGoohan fondly recalled Grade showing him the ATV boardroom but assuring his impressed protege that whilst there were many seats and many opinions around that table, there was only one that really mattered: His own.

Committees in The Prisoner are a recurring theme and they are consistently viewed with distrust and disbelief by Number Six. He first comes across one in the second episode when the Art Committee compliment his work but are baffled as to where "Number Two is", in his work. Six is bewitched and bewildered by a committee when he allowed himself to be manipulated into standing for office, in 'Free for All' :

Allegorically I wonder if this ability of the committee to befuddle Six was intended to illustrate how, once he compromised, even with only a motivation to try change the village from within, he was doomed to be subject to the very mind contriols he sought to avoid by his refusal to compromise and just tell them WHY he resigned. Various forms of group-think affect Six constantly but by the time he has a 'Change of Mind' he is utterly and openly contemptuous of them. He is still a little wary of public rejection but so far as the formal committees are concerned - he has no fear of them whatsoever. He has learned their nature and knows they are impervious to persuasion and irrelevant anyhow to the will of the true holder of power.

If Number Six were to become a leader he would be a dictator, but as was revealed in 'Free for All' , when he is offered the chance to speak and lead, he realises that none of the the villagers nor any committee is ever going to listen. Finally in 'Fall-Out', he toys with the idea of speaking out again, but the mother of all committees soon reminds him what a waste of time it would be to even try. Six reverts to Plan A and decides to go direct to Number One and demand his personal freedom and the rest of them can go where they will.

Number Six was constantly being asked for information, particularly WHY? he resigned. Likewise he was often demanding information, particularly WHO? is Number One. These two questions are frequently discussed by fans of the programme but what seems rarely noticed is that much of The Prisoner is a paean against bureaucracy and bureaucrats. What is Number Two if not some visualisation of the ultimate bureaucrat? Six slams his letter of resignation onto the desk of an uncomprehending desk-jockey and storms out........ The man barely reacts....

The constantly-changing Number Two's, both between and within episodes demonstrates how it doesn't matter who is the face of the bureaucracy, the responses remain the same. Six constantly tries to break through the barriers, find out who is really in charge but of course he never finds out because there is no-one. Nobody will take responsibility. There is always somebody else to blame or ask, or refer the questioner to. It is perhaps a natural response of his own personality that Six imagines there is a Number One, a dictator, it is clear that Six suspects that there must be a dictator behind the village but he cannot find out who this is.

The use of Committees, whose members create an illusory form of democratic control but are in fact totally in thrall to their leader was an all too familiar phenomenon on both sides of the Sixties Iron Curtain. Whether the Communist Committees of Bolshevism or the Anti-Communist Committees of Un-American Activities, committees had similar effects. If any part of the competing political systems of the latter half of the 20th Century could truly be said to be the same on both sides, it was the system of committees. The use by Dictators of committees to create the illusion of democracy and the use of committees by Democtrats to allow them to dictate their will is part of the same process that leads to burgeoning bureaucracy, regardless of the political system. The same phenomenion is seen in international business circles, with CEO's setting up committees that are simply designed to impose the will of the CEO. This love of manipulating opinion by gathering compliant groups together is evidently a deep human urge, and of course it works as anyone in the Western World of the 21st Century knows so well.

McGoohan clearly admired the men who had the courage and conviction to admit to the fact that they were Number one - hence his admiration for Lew Grade. Number Six always said that once he was allowed to speak to the real power - the Number One, he would explain WHY he resigned. Once he knew WHO, he was willing to say WHY. But of course, in the end, as a free man, there was only one person he had to explain himself to, and that was Himself. As McGoohan himself remarked, "Who else could it be?"

The main title of this Blog is from an interview about how he 'managed' the making of The Prisoner, He described how Bernie Williams and David Tomblin would approach him with the options they had narrowed down and then it was one man's decision. His. Number One.

One thing is for sure. In the Village no system is to be blindly believed in.

No comments:

Post a Comment