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.


  1. Wonderful shoeleather journalism. I always assumed that the "co" in McGoohan's co-creator status was a bit of an understatement.

    Marketein's inflated biography reminds me of Ian Fleming's reputation as having been a "real spy" - really a wartime intellegence desk job - being conflated with his character's exploits.

  2. At least Fleming was the right age.... ;-))

  3. As an aside Ted, my evidence seems to have persuaded imdb too.They have long listed Markstein as *co-creator* and assigned him writing credits that were unevidenced. As part of my Blog Campaign, and as an established contributor, I recently made submissions to them that these entries were erroneous, and today I noted they have all been removed by the webmasters.

  4. Fascinating post. And thank you very much for the photo. What a treasure.

  5. What I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall of that lecture.. no notes or minutes taken or stored away?

  6. Excellent research on the 15-year-old Markstein! The Allies really were lucky he won the war for them…

  7. You need to read the new book on The Prisoner by Roger Goodman to get a more balanced view on this topic.:
    "Very impressive - an essential purchase for Prisoner fans" - Steven Paul Davies, author of 'The Prisoner Handbook'.
    "It's impressively researched and very informative. I'm sure the man himself would be chuckling at the tantalisingly enigmatic portrait that we're left with" - Robert Fairclough, author of 'The Prisoner: The Official Companion to the Classic TV Series'.
    "Thoroughly enjoyed. Fascinating especially to have some more light shed on the mysterious Markstein. Beautifully presented too, really high quality. Lovely item to have in my collection. Kudos to you!" - Rupert Booth, author of Patrick McGoohan's recent biography.
    "I learnt so much from your splendid Prisoner book and feel that the work really fills a gap in the literature on the series. I was particularly impressed at how you use evidence from different sources when considering the "for" and "against" perspectives on the various arguments. In a phrase: "informative, well balanced and nicely judged". It's also beautifully illustrated! My knowledge of 'The Prisoner' today would be significantly poorer without it." - Andrew K Shenton, author of 'Unique But Similar: The Prisoner Compared'.
    "What an excellent piece of work. Extremely accomplished. The content is informative, original, gripping. It's an excellent read. As a work of reference it brings fresh information and it is an affectionate and insightful portrait of the man." - David Barrie, founder Six of One, The Prisoner Appreciation Society.

    1. I wouldn't trust Goodman any further than I could throw his book.

      In regard to the Booth "biography" it's trite and so poorly researched that he cannot even get the subject's Irish home county correct. He even had the nerve to credit "Moor Larkin", which made me laugh. Presumably he felt guilty at cribbing my "theatrical sites". I lost patience as I noticed all the errors he'd made just trying to do that. It's good to know he at least has some conscience of his own though.

      I leafed through the "Prisoner Handbook" once and it was full of the sort of misinformation that Six-of-One had been putting out since Goodman initiated it.

      Fairclough's nonsense about Markstein is thoroughly debunked in this Blog if you read it, instead of making the same inane comment over and over again.

      The only original research is done by me, with the help of an American friend, and it mostly contradicts the authors you commend. I'm not sure why it's only me that decided to do this. I guess other folks just have to "belong" to a club or something. The "facebook society" prefigured I suppose.

      Be seeing you.

    2. Priceless! How can you say, David, that the only original research has been done by you and your bezzie American friend?
      Goodman has spoken at length to both McGoohan and Markstein. How original and from the horse's mouth is that research?!

    3. You seem to be confusing glad-handing a celebrity, either A-List or Z-list, with researching and checking the facts, in order to match them with the stories told.

      This Blogpost applies:

      The fables about George seem to have first emerged in 1982 as referenced in this Blog, and seem to derive from the editor of this new tome. Has he corrected his old stories at last?

      It's apparent that Six-of-One leaders were responsible for all of this misinformation, which has poisoned the well ever since. They have spent the rest of the decades bitching at one another in the Six-of-One Wars.

      This Blogpost references the historian who truly established the background of George.

      When my American friend pointed this out on a forum to Goodman he was ridiculed by the sages. Perhaps you can confirm if the background has now been sorted out. Generally I find people are very unwilling to give up the ghost of their own mythologies, so I won't be in the least surprised to hear this true history has been completely ignored in favour of the same old nonsense Prisoner fans have been believing in for decades.

    4. Just noticed that the first Link I added was a mistake and unnecessary, since my point related to this very Post that we are commenting under.

  8. "Just noticed that the first Link I added was a mistake and unnecessary, since my point related to this very Post that we are commenting under."

    Seems to a reasonable man that most of what you write is a mistake and unnecessary.

    1. It would have been so easy for me to delete and then rewrite my original comment, but then you wouldn't have been provided with the opportunity for your cheap shot would you. It's good to be able to help those in need.