Monday, 17 August 2009

McGoohan on My Mind: "Ladies and gentleman, by way of introduction, this is a blog about trickery, fraud, about lies"..after Orson Welles - F For Fake

The fictional world of The Prisoner is often described as having an Orwellian vision. The factional world of the cult appreciation of The Prisoner has struck me as Orsonwellian, a new adjective I have made from the tenor of his movie, F for Fake. A reviewer on imdb described that movie as having the theme:

"The point seems to be that all of life is an illusion. The question becomes how much illusion can we buy and how much becomes offensive. We see what we want to see. We ignore the rest."

Orson Welles is also famous for inadvertently persuading many Americans that the Martians had landed in their country, back in 1938. Many historians now maintain that this famous event was in fact itself somewhat of a myth, promulgated by newspapers at the time wishing to improve their circulation. It is not surprising that Welles was still fascinated by the whole concept of the muddle between reality and reported facts as he approached his sixtieth year, back in 1973. I have wondered if Patrick McGoohan was ever similarly struck by the strange other-worldy belief system his erstwhile fan club created, when they began to examine his creation, from 1967.

If you consult any of the contemporary magazines of 1966-1968, such as those available here: you will find a very consistent approach to the production and direction of The Prisoner. It is perhaps best summarised by the comment Patrick McGoohan himself made to Robert Musel, the American interviewer, in 1966:

"We might have gone on with Secret Agent but the American network took so long to make up its mind we decided to close it down. I had a lot of help on that series but as star and producer and even writer of some of the scripts of The Prisoner I'll have only myself to blame if it's a lousy show."

That is not to say McGoohan was a complete egoist however. In 1977, during his interview for Canadian television, he also made the comment:

"I was fortunate to have two or three creative people working with me, like my friend that I said saw the meteorological balloon."

In another interview in 1979 he made a special point of mentioning that he had been *lucky* in having a very good crew to work with him on the show and in his final word on the subject in 1991, he remarked:

"You can't do a thing like that on your own.... I had fellows who came in on it with me. I had a script supervisor - you can't write them all yourself."

In 1989 Dave Rogers, an archive-TV author remarked upon some things in his Boxtree book, The Prisoner & Danger Man. Anyone outside the cultish Prisoner club probably found one or two things he wrote surprising (I know I did when I bought the book back in 1992). Rogers noted that a senior club co-ordinator stated that the mechanical Rover probably never existed; notwithstanding that McGoohan had spoken of it in 1977. Rogers also noted the cult contention that the entire concept of the series had been *lifted* by McGoohan from an idea of George Markstein. Mr. Rogers passed his own comment: "I find it doubtful that McGoohan had either the inclination or the necessity to lift someone elses idea". I can distinctly remember being shocked at the time, but largely ignored this arcane issue, as the author made plain it was nonsensical in his opinion too. Twenty years later, as I have increasingly taken a close interest in Patrick McGoohan's career, I have realised how deeply this issue has lain at the heart of Prisoner Appreciation and corrupted reality.

Every cult I suppose must have it's own Creation Myth but this particular one has been staggeringly amplified and refined and yet it is built upon outright non-truth. It appears to have begun around 1978/79, not long after the cult itself began. An unrecorded interview with George Markstein took place. Quite why the fan-club became so enamoured of George Markstein is unclear to me but perhaps it was the delicious discovery they made that the bureaucratic little man seen in the opening of most episodes was in fact none other than the Script Editor himself!

This is the sort of previously-unremarked detail that any cult would delight in discovering. The eddies and vicissitudes of fan interest take many a twist and turn but certainly by 1988 the books that began to appear were referring to George Markstein as a co-creator or even the originator of the whole idea! Other credits, both in published books and across the internet refer to the Script Editor as a Producer or even an Executive Producer! In one particularly appalling piece written in Zani magazine, shortly after Patrick McGoohan had died, the story was amplified to say that George Markstein ran the project until usurped by McGoohan. This tosh is written despite the fact that Everyman is known by every man and every woman to have been a production company owned by Patrick McGoohan and David Tomblin, whilst George Markstein was one of their employees !!

Mr. Markstein died sadly young, in 1987, so certainly these vainglorious titles cannot be laid at his door. His promoters have been busy on his behalf however. You, as an accidental tourist on my Blogroll may in fact have accepted these *facts* as *Gospel* up until now. I cannot blame you for that. When untruth become repeated and remain unchallenged they start to become accepted fact I guess. However, if you are curious enough, I would like to address some of the *official* facts about this whole matter and offer a few observations and facts to prompt you to compare those *official* version to your own logic as well as to physical history and circumstance. I pick on the most recent *official* book, but you may find much the same drivel in many of the earlier ones.

Page 472 commences confidently: "George Markstein was born in 1929.......
but it's own internal logic collapses almost immediately as this further statement is written:
"...... he was a useful asset to the US Forces magazine 'Stars & Stripes after the defeat of the Third Reich"
Anyone capable of arithmetic can work out that these *facts* make Mr. Markstein aged 15 in 1944, and patently a 15 year-old boy would neither be a journalist nor an asset to the Allied Armies bent on clearing up the after-effects of the Third Reich! He may have kept a diary as did Adrian Mole of course, but that has yet to be mentioned in prisoner lore.

Furthermore, Markstein never worked for the famous Stars & Stripes, a fact that their archivist was only too happy to confirm by e-mail to me recently. The archivist was able to inform me that she did know of George Markstein however, as he wrote a humorous London-based column for a different magazine called "The Overseas Weekly" in the 1950's as well as being known under another pen-name: George Mark. What is remarkable is that in the book from 1989 that I mentioned earlier, Dave Rogers noted that Markstein had worked for The Overseas Weekly. The *Official* books had already consigned known fact to the dustbin as they pursued their preferred version of history..

The supposed authoritative *official* text continues:
"Working with the various allied armies... in post war Europe... Markstein's fascination with espionage blossomed"

Have I said enough about this arrant nonsense? Perhaps not. Where has this information come from? Its has clearly not come from the magazine Star & Stripes because Mr. Markstein never wrote for it. The place it came from was the cult fans who began to laud the script editor around 1980, as the *official* book has the decency to make plain: "Eleven years after the first showing George... was invited by Six of One... to speak.... " Interestingly, prior to this, in 1976, George Markstein had announced his own resignation from TV drama; this was after his successful novel in 1974, which took the ideas that McGoohan had used, of a person being spirited to a velvet prison. Mr. Markstein employed them in the first of his reasonably popular novels entitled 'The Cooler'. Mr. Markstein is pictured looking fairly glum, and has an acid opinion of British TV drama, ten years after The Prisoner.

If you read the most recent *official* book it describes George Markstein as not only having come up with the original idea for what many regard as the most unpredictable series ever made , but also a man who had been rankling with rage over his failure to receive proper credit (and Royalties) for that landmark series. In what was a three page article, and effectively his *resignation letter* ...... Mr. Markstein never once mentions either The Prisoner, nor his own ire about his being *passed over* - not once, not even a hint.

Interestingly, in 1982 he dismissed the programme to some of the very fans who consider he *created* it: "I think it's very sad, it's a sad commentary on the state of television that we have to revive something like this." Mr. Markstein and his sour attitude about TV had plainly not altered much since 1976. If you read that web-logged interview btw, you will also notice that at no point does the Script Editor make any claim for his origination of the show, he suggests at one point that he acted more as a story editor than a script editor, but that is all he states in public.

Returning to the 2005 *Official* book there is this further gem of a fan-fantasy:
"Markstein...., as a military journalist who travelled in Europe extensively, may well have been a spy himself"

There is no evidence whatsoever that Markstein ever set foot in Europe in this way. The 'Overseas Weekly' was based in Frankfurt but George Markstein is noted as the rather grandly-titled 'London Bureau Chief'. One reference to him I have located in an obscure article mentions him as a pupil of Westminster School, a major private school in London. If you read the *official* account, Mr. Markstein, it is implied, narrowly escaped being caught up in the Nazi Holocaust and suffered *hardship* in his early life. Instead, he may well have been a pupil at one of the most privileged schools in England.

Once again it was fairly simple for me to find out that Markstein was basically a jobbing journalist, learning his trade throughout the 1950's. He worked in the 1950's writing for a staff magazine serving the US Third Airforce base, in Ruislip on the outskirts of London. Why would the fans have believed Markstein was a spy or worked in Europe with the Allies, dismantling the apparatus of the Third Reich? Mr. Markstein patently never did any of this. Did he tell them he had done these things? I have no idea but he had managed to write a book by the time he was 45, so he had learned to tell a good story I guess. If the gullible fans who have since created these legends about him had done the slightest research, they would quickly have realised their stories were nonsense. In the world of the cult however the orsonwellian truth is that: We see what we want to see. We ignore the rest .

The official book continues to pile up the cards into a veritable tower-block, never mind a house. ".. 1961. Four years later he got to put his wartime experience to good use on the WW2 series 'Court Martial'."
Wartime experience? Which war? The Korean War? Even the *official* historians don't seem to have this globe-trotting writer/spy/journalist in the Far East. The inept and stupid *official* facts don't even require you to believe the Moor Larkin version of history. The *official* account is inane. Markstein put his experiences of wartime to good use? The Blitz in London would have been the only war he saw and he was barely twenty years of age in 1950. By 1961, George Markstein, was working for The Marylebone Record, a local newspaper in London. Within a couple of years he would begin to get his articles printed in the prestigious TV Times, a pattern that would lead him, by 1965, into the sphere of one of the most celebrated TV actors in the world at the time.

While Mr. Markstein was penning erudite articles for the Marylebone Record, Patrick McGoohan had an appointment to address the Television Writing School, in London, to lecture writers about *actors requirements* from them.

Moor bloggering about next time.......... Unofficially................ Be Seeing You.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

McGoohan on My Mind: Misanthropy, Mind-Altering Substances, Panopticons, Magic and Masks,

Anthony Asquith was a distinguished British film director, dating right back to the days of Silent Movies. Asquith had worked with many of the biggest names, such as Olivier, and was known for his adaptations of original theatre drama to the big screen. The chance to work for such a director must have been an attractive idea for Patrick McGoohan and after 'Danger Man' was completed in late 1960, he embarked on a project for the famed film-man. The fact that the film was based on a story by a Swede and set in Scandinavia may have also appealed to the actor who has so recently enjoyed such acclaim in an Ibsen play. The movie was low budget but had a respectable cast, including Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, who would soon achieve world-wide fame in 'Born Free'. At the core of the movie was a man who doubted himself, and much of the plot dealt with his unravelling because of this doubt. Set in a tight-knit fishing town, McGoohan's portrayal of the isolated and increasingly reviled Post-Office clerk in 'Two Living One Dead' is in complete contrast to his year of playing the confident and debonair John Drake. The ideas of isolation and how an individual relates to his community need little emphasising as yet another step in the psyche of the evolution of a future Number Six, albeit the number was not even a twinkle in his creator's minds-eye at that time.

Whilst Erik Berger was a shy and unambitious family man, the next part McGoohan played was an equally isolated, but entirely opposite characterisation. The loud, brash, bullying and conniving drummer that was Johnny Cousin in 'All Night Long' harked back almost as an alternate John Drake. However, where the debonair exterior of John Drake held a caring adventurer, the debonair exterior of Johnny Cousin masked a drug-pushing misanthrope; never more starkly exposed than in this final scene of the film:

In a manner that can be seen as becoming characteristic by this time, Patrick McGoohan's next movie character was a complete contrast to both of the two preceeding roles. He played a straight-up-and-down medical doctor in Life For Ruth. As Doctor James Brown he exhibited no self-doubt or self-loathing; he was a simple man of science and compassion - and perhaps Soul..... The film was less than straightforward and was made on location in an isolated Durham village, by the then-pioneering production team of Michael Relph and Basil Dearden who had recently explored themes of Racism and Homosexuality in 'Sapphire' and 'Victim'. Around this time Patrick McGoohan also tackled an intricate and slightly bewildering character on TV. This man leads a small band of three into an isolated village. At the conclusion he threatens to slaughter the entire village in some unhinged revenge threat, against their advocacy of war. 'Serjeant Musgrave' was a less than famed theatre play by John Arden but later in the Sixties the play was seen as allegorical to the Vietnam War, but McGoohan played the eponymous serjeant for TV in 1961 before the post-Kennedy dissillusion of faraway war had set in.

In 1963 Patrick McGoohan took on the role of the Interrogator in 'The Prisoner', as discussed in one of my earlier Blogs, also for TV. Around the same time he played a more straightforward prison warden in the subtle anti-hanging movie version of the theatre play, 'The Quare Fellow'. The film was remarked upon for it's claustophobic atmosphere as the prisoners and wardens interacted against the backdrop of a never-seen condemned man - all the more striking for never being seen - a lesson in dramatic tension that McGoohan no doubt noted along with the study of men in long-term incarceration.

In 1963 the actor was spotted by Disney and employed for two adventure films the American company made in Britain. The increasing popularity of 'Danger Man' was likewise increasing the popularity of Patrick McGoohan. Many of the 39 half-hour shows were only being seen for the first time in 1962 and John Drake was becoming a huge hit with the TV public in both Britain and America, as the show was also being repeated in 1963. It would be easy to dismiss the Disney movies as kiddie-fodder, but McGoohan seemed always to have an eye for something a little more special. Thomasina had some very adult themes about the nature of death and the tussle between science and human intuition, not to mention being set in a very small isolated village in Scotland. It wouldn't be the last time Scotland and the origins of Number Six's village would be mentioned in the same sentences that are frequently referenced around the internet nowadays, in arcane fan discussions about "where The Prisoner came from"..... just as the words sublime and ridiculous often accompany each other.

Dr. Syn was very fondly remembered by Patrick McGoohan, so much so that in 2006 he was featured on the special Disney Treasure dvd release in what was to become his last issued filmed interview. In the interview he discussed a wide range of subjects although Disney only used a tiny portion of the interview, unfortunately. One key theme of Dr. Syn was the two sides of one man: A handsome vicar by day and a vicious Scarecrow Smuggler by night. Who exactly was the man behind the mask? An idea Patrick McGoohan no doubt absorbed into his busy mind, without too much self-consciousness.

So, here we have a potted history of the films and TV work Patrick McGoohan made between 1961 and 1964. Where did The Prisoner come from? was a question McGoohan was famously asked. He replied with a shrug, that it came from boredom. What it also came from of course was years of hard work allied to talent and a fertile mind that sought the obscure and the different constantly. There are many fans of the eventual TV show, who decry McGoohan's competence to have come up with as intriguing a conundrum as the show they love so much. McGoohan sometimes referred to himself as arrogant, but felt that so long as he subsumed this characteristic with a little humility, he was a tolerable man. The Prisoner cult, sustained by their mutual approval of one another abandoned all humility as they sought the *secrets* of their show. They were too arrogant to study the past of the man they claimed to admire and increasingly side-lined him in their fervour to make their show the ultimate issue of a Committee of Talents.

It is of course a truism that The Prisoner was made by a talented bunch of technicians and creative people, but there was only one man that mattered. McGoohan was their driving force and, as almost all of those interviewed by the cult conventions cheerfully recall, McGoohan was the only one who really seemed to understand what was going on half of the time. Patrick McGoohan took no *secrets* to his afterlife, in my view. His past is littered with his so-called *secrets*. All that is required is eyes to look and enough humility to pay him full respect. Why should any man explain his creation? The creator's job is to create. Let others explain and interrogate one another.

And so 1964 had come, James Bond was a huge movie success. The TV fan magazines were beginning to ask "Why do all the girls go for Danger Man?' Secret Agents were suddenly the new Cowboys - heroes for a new generation. Ralph Smart was asked by Lew Grade if he would like to bring Drake back. Smart was semi-retired but he wanted to do it. Patrick McGoohan had never once returned to something after he had finished with it.... But now he did.

He did what he had never done before and would never do again. He once remarked that he rather liked 'John Drake'. The world was about to fall in love with 'John Drake' and Patrick McGoohan was about to become what he had always decried being: a Superstar. It was 1965 and just as in 1961, the combination of Ralph Smart, Patrick McGoohan and hard work was to spawn TV Greatness. Sequels usually flop, remakes are rarely as startlingly good as the original. Danger Man/Secret Agent was to defy convention just as McGoohan defied his own acting conventions as he spent the next two years once again.... as...........

Drake, John Drake.

Moor *secrets* next time...............