Wednesday, 23 September 2009

McGoohan on my Mind: Count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man's will

In one of my last Blogs I moaned a bit about the ineptitude of a very recent Prisoner book. That is of course a little unfair because when Prisoner fans restricted themselves to verifiable facts they can be very good. As the rhymes says, when they are good they are very good, but when they are bad they are wicked. In that spirit of bonhomie I should note that their various researchers have done a splendid job of unpicking the production history of the show. However one of the first coherent articles about the most arcane of arcane issues that I wish to address in this Blog came from outside the 6-of-1 Club publications. First published in 1988, the articles are reproduced webwise here:
and here:

Oddly enough, one of the first Cult-sponsored books appeared around the same time. In 1989 French 'Le Prisonnier' fans produced this one.

In truth it is just one of a long series since and wasn't the first. Note I use the term series, as distinct from a serial. Patrick McGoohan, in one interview, back in 1979, to a 6-of-1 co-ordinator, tried to clarify the difference. It’s almost as arcane as Prisoner lore, but I think the point McGoohan tried to make was that a serial is a pre-defined number of episodes of a story whereas a series is a number of episodes that, at any one point of time is undeclared. The first series of Danger Man was a block of 39 episodes, so in one way it could be defined as a serial (albeit an unusually long one) but it is generally referred to as a series because when broadcast nobody watching knew that only 39 had been made,and the broadcasts were spread over two or more years. It is not always 39 course, as can be seen at this excellent web-page:

A contemporary series with The Prisoner was Man in a Suitcase and 30 episodes of that were made. Another contemporary series was The Saint: “The black-and-white episodes of The Saint were made in two production runs, the first, of 39 episodes and the second, of 32 episodes. Series 5, the first to be produced in colour, consisted of a production run of 32 episodes. The second colour production run consisted of 15 episodes

Anyhow, one of the first published prisoner books was this French one and the authors were even able to obtain interview time with Patrick McGoohan, which is more than any of the English-language book ever managed to obtain. In 1977, Patrick McGoohan had made it very clear (in his TV interview with Warner Troyer) that he had intended to make and did make 17 episodes of his show. By 1989 however, the Prisoner fans had re-written this history to suit their own version of the past. This passage, from the 1989 French book is fairly typical of the cult-fan version of the events:

“A year after going into production only 13 episodes had been made (whereas Man in a Suitcase had completed 30 episodes in an equivalent period). Moreover rumours about McGoohan’s erratic attitude were beginning to circulate. Four more episodes were ordered in a desperate attempt to make the series saleable”

Quite how the authors came up with this *explanation* is only explicable because they were deeply informed by the version of events formulated by the cult consciousness over the previous decade. By 1989 of course, we are 22 years along from the actual events and 12 years on from the start of the cult.

Those in control of the present had also taken control of the past.
As with most prisoner books the authors were misleading their readers anyhow.

Researcher Andrew Pixley has confirmed by archival checks that:

Man in a Suitcase began it's primary shooting schedules in August 1966 and by the end of April 1967, there were 16 episodes ‘completed’.

The Prisoner began its shooting schedule work in September 1966 and by the end of April 1967, there were 13 episodes ‘completed’

A negligible difference, completely the opposite to the story related in most *authorised* books. The story of the two shows thereafter was very different, but this was by design, not by accident or circumstance. Man in a Suitcase production continued through the summer of 1967. The Prisoner production stopped after April and was not re-commenced until August 1967.

The main contention of prisoner fan books concerns the reasons for number of episodes being 17 and the quote from the French book is typical of them. They have derived a notion that because a block of 13 episodes formed the first part of the production process that there was an intention to have a further 13 and perhaps even another 13 after that. McGoohan, in 1977, had told them his truth, but as was typical of the cult fans, they simply did not believe him. They didn’t believe him about Rover's genesis and they didn’t believe he intended to make 17 epsiodes from a very early stage of production , maybe the very beginning, as he had recounted within his accounts of negotiating with Lew Grade.

In fact, despite all the fan-club rumour-mongering and their unattributable reports of off-stage whispering, there is clear and irrefutable evidence that the number of episodes had been confirmed at 17 within 1966. In February 1967 an American newspaper article quotes Mike Dann as having purchased at least 17 episodes of the new McGoohan show called The Prisoner. From the tenses implied within the quotes it is evident that Dann had first confirmed the deal before a single episode had been shot.

The Prisoner project had formally been on the boil since April 1966 of course, with the pre-production planning. There can be no doubting the pressure McGoohan would have been under. He had started his project wanting to make a seven-part serial. Under pressure from Lew Grade he increased that number by more than double. It seems that pressure continued and was even increased by additional pressure from CBS in America. In an article by Robert Musel from July, 1966 McGoohan had been quoted as saying that the series would be a minimum of 13 and a maximum of 30 and was plainly resisting what he perceived as urging to "scrape the bottom of the barrel". He wanted a limited serial, but his customers wanted MORE.....

This explains the making of the first 13 as a production block and why that block of 13 proceeded more or less the same way as did the sister series being produced by Sidney Cole. Any continued negotiation during that shooting season of 1966 did end however, and the deal for 17 was concluded. Before the August 1967 second shooting schedule ever began the number of 17 was reiterated as a certainty, with McGoohan’s clear statement that he would be making only four more episodes.

A year earlier than the Carraze book TV those Timescreen writers wrote some excellent articles about The Prisoner, but even they found themselves subscribing to the cult version of events, suggesting Mcgoohan's project was somehow whirling out of his control, so inculcated was this version of history impregnated in the whole echelon of TV history writers.
“The decision was taken to end the show prematurely in ITC's opinion and the star announced during the making of The Girl Who Was Death that the next episode would be the last, and he would write it.
These cross-currents emphasise the deep-seated disbelief of McGoohan’s own accounts of the events that fans have promulgated as they pursued their own agendas of *discovering the truth*.

Lew Grade mentions the project in his autobiography. He seemed to have little problem recalling the events:

I had lunch one day at CBS....... I told them I had a project called 'The Prsioner' with Patrick McGoohan, and showed them a portfolio of pictures of the village of Portmeirion, which was the location we intended to use. "At the moment though, Patrick McGoohan only wants to make 17 episodes," I said. "How much do you want?" they asked. I told them the terms and they said we had a deal.

The story is certainly not entirely a simple one. In fact, if you're not a student of this particular conundrum and have reached the end of this blog, then you may be feeling like you've just tried to speed-learn differential equations. What is clear from this unbiased and contemporary and documented history is that some of the more extreme accounts of the production history of the show, published in books since the 1980's are plainly fictional and often misleading.

I cannot finish this Blog without giving full credit to a fellow-researcher. We first met whilst mutually disassembling the big lih about Vietnam and the cowboy episode (see one of my first blogathons). Anyhow Sheriff Tomm and I became determined to *clean up the town* and much of the previously unknown American material I have referred to in my blogrolls has been located by this young American hero, and I would like to pay tribute to his discoveries right here and now...

Yeeha! Sheriff Tomm

I do not know what fate awaits me
I only know I must be brave
And I must face a man who hates me
Or lie a coward, a craven coward
Or lie a coward in my grave

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

McGoohan on my Mind: The time has come, the Larkin said, To talk of many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax. Of villages and things.

Colony Three was one of the first of the revived Danger Man shows. One of the last to be made was called The Paper Chase. Of especial significance perhaps is the fact that this episode was actually directed by Patrick McGoohan.

It has something of a 3-Act feel about it. The ‘third act’ takes place in a ‘safe house’. Everyone is a guest, but all are in hiding. The episode has a number of intriguing elements. A woman named Nandina runs the safe house. Played by Joan Greenwood, she could easily be seen as a putative Number Two in the village. She watches her ‘guests’ on a primitive CCTV system.

Spotting Drake infiltrating another ‘guest’s room on her monitor she is worried that Drake’s actions threaten to spoil her carefully constructed security

and so she knocks him out

and when he wakes, he has been taken to a new place, whilst unconscious. As he wakes, there is what could almost be an early try-out for the iconic prisoner opening speeches.

Where am I?
In the Via del Sella da Nici.. A small hotel – Giorgio, the proprietor is a friend of mine.
Where are my things?
Your suitcase is over there. …[some episode detail]…… You are very agile and extremely devious
My apologies
You have money?
If you’d like to stay here a day or two, it’ll be alright
What’s the catch?
None – What’s your name?
You have it
Your real name….
Harry…… verderci

Prior to this, when Nandina and Drake had fallen out over his behaviour. She castigated him:

I know everything that goes on in this house. It’s useless for you to sit there with your enigmatic face.
Are you the judge and jury then?
If you like…… and you have only one plea

So, separated by the two years of 1964 and 1965, two episodes of Danger Man, Colony Three and The Paper Chase evidently prefigure both plot elements and stylisations that Patrick McGoohan carried forward into his 1966/67 project. Like a giant standing on his own shoulders, he could see that little bit further than before.

It is a minor piece of amusing trivia to note that the conclusion of The Paper Chase has Drake escaping aboard a go-kart.... A Lotus 0.07 perhaps..... I have read one story from the prisoner cult archives that the Lotus 7 was personally chosen by McGoohan on a visit to the Lotus factory-works, ditching the previously scripted notion of Number Six driving a more glamorous Lotus Elise coupe. In the press of 1965 he is pictured fooling around on a go-cart.

It's not evidence of all that much, but it is interesting to imagine possibilities.

There are many small asides in many different episodes of Danger Man that reflect ideas or *gimmicks* within The Prisoner. Within the prisoner cult there has been a long and slightly foolish debate about whether or not Number Six was or wasn't John Drake. I debunked the silliest parts of their notions in one of my first Blogs. However, whilst they delved into their own *back-story* fantasies about what were completely fictitious characters anyhow, they completely missed the point that of course Patrick McGoohan's ideas were hugely influenced by his experiences of the scripts and themes that the Danger Man series had explored over several years. McGoohan was no passive performer in Danger Man however and he shared in the formulation of those ideas and themes, as well as their eventual exposition in the many episodes of Ralph Smart's creation. His lack of passivity is often remarked upon and indeed his increasing frustration at the limits laid upon his creativity probably led him to approaching Lew Grade with his proposal for his own original series. Sidney Cole possibly deserves a little credit in fact for The Prisoner project ever happening. In one interview the distinguished producer recalled his having something of a dispute with the star of his show. He recalled that when Patrick McGoohan complained to him (Sidney Cole) about why it was that he (Sidney Cole) always had the final word; Sidney Cole explained to his recalcitrant star that the reason he (Sidney Cole) had the final say was because he (Sidney Cole) was the producer. That was WHY.....

Patrick McGoohan evidently took the lesson to heart when he made himself Executive Producer of The Prisoner. This time he (Patrick McGoohan) would have the final say. He would be Number One.

Harry Verderci ..... I'll be Back.

Monday, 7 September 2009

McGoohan on my mind: Where Am I? In the Village.........

In my earlier Blogs I have touched on the cult fan fixation on the influences underlying The Prisoner – such influences as Kafka, Hesse, Panopticons and Carl Jung. In a similar way the fans have puzzled over the underlying influence of where the idea of ‘The Village’ came from. Ideas have varied from the mundane,
viz. the British Butlins Holiday Camp
to the arcane - viz. isolated Scottish cottages
It is actually a fairly obvious fact that The Village, like much else that influenced McGoohan, simply would have come from his own working life. Why the prisoner fans sought other *solutions* is I suppose partly due to their ignorance of the 1960's 'Danger Man' series at the time of the cult inception in 1977, and partly due to their subsequent determination to largely ignore the career of the series' creator in favour of pursuing their own agendas.

In 1964 Patrick McGoohan took on the mantle of the secret agent John Drake, once again. One of the earliest episodes remarkably links the origins of not only Danger Man, but also The Prisoner as well, in the most complete and elegant way. Colony Three was one of the first episodes of the new hour-long series of Danger Man. The briefest watching of this episode will make apparent the connections between it and the concept of a ‘Village for Spies’. McGoohan may have half-forgotten the influences himself, so much part of his own psyche must they have been by 1966; just as all the other films and plays I have mentioned, in my earlier Blogs. These experiences and his own contributions to them were inevitably part of what made him who he was, professionally, and what ideas he must have had. Indeed a correspondent once reflected to me that once a person knew the details of Patrick McGoohan’s career prior to 1966, the origins of The Prisoner became almost too obvious.. :-)).

The plot of Colony Three revolves around M9 (Drake's department) noting that many Britons have gone missing (apparently to the Eastern Bloc) and none of them have ever been heard of again. Drake is tasked to impersonate a man who has been detected as about to defect. After some adventures Drake arrives in deepest ‘Russia’, but in a strangely familiar-looking location – Hamden New Town.
I won’t dwell too long on the plot. It is familiar to many anyhow, but here are a number of lines of dialogue from the early scenes, after Drake’s arrival……..

What is this place?
Mr. Donovan will explain everything

Geography is a matter of physical illusion. Lines on a map. Words on a signpost.It’s this that gives a place it’s identity. After all, you are where you recognise yourself to be. Mr. Donovan says that all countries are countries of the mind.

Well – the layout of the village is quite simple. As you can see – we’re still building.

This village is one of our best-kept secrets

You think there are no spy-schools in England?
Of course there are.

In this village we transform our guests into Englishmen

You’re quite free to wander round the village. Just don’t go outside it.

You realise that none of the residents can leave the village – ever.

The mysteriously other-worldly place is supposed to be a home-from-home. Drake shares a room with another *defector*, but Drakes room-mate begins to revolt against the situation. It is not what he had been led to believe he was defecting for. He argues with Drake, who is pretending to co-operate whilst in fact taking photographs that will reveal the village to his superiors. The room-mate quarrels with Drake:
You wanna keep your nose clean don’t you. Look after Number One and to hell with everyone else!

Drake even suffers an *Interrogation*, proving that in Danger Man at least, "Heroes do sweat"..... You'll need to click on the photo to make it big enough to see the sweat of the hero... :-)

In another scene a young woman who has also been deceived into joining the village has a conversation about her unhappiness:

Have you settled in?
I don’t want to settle in!
Oh come now, we must all make the best of our circumstances

Later on Drake has a conversation about this tragic young woman, who unlike him, can have no hope of escape:

You’d have thought she would have realised by now
Ummm… What?
That once people enter Colony Three… they cease to exist…..

In The Prisoner series, much of the basic concept of the village comes from the ideas in this episode – especially the notion of calling the place a village, rather than a town, or a settlement, or even a colony ! The purpose of the village is of course inverted to become a prison for spies rather than a school for spies.

There is a film, made in 1960, that prefigures both Danger Man and this village. Man on a String is a moderately obscure American-made ‘exposing-Communist-Conspiracy’ Fifties-style B-movie. It contains much of the gadgetry that would inspire elements of the TV shows like Danger Man, and also the techniques of mixing stock location footage with studio-work. There were many cinema movies of this nature of course, but what makes this one stand out in the context of this particular Blog is that it involves a Colony Three style school for spies. Boris Morros’ book about his real-life espionage adventues inspired this movie.

Many elements of the movie have commonality with Ralph Smart’s Danger Man – part of the same zeitgeist. Did the screenwriter of Colony Three see this movie once? I have no idea, but the movie contains the key plot element of a top secret Soviet spy school where young Communists are converted into ‘typical’ young Americans, just as in Colony Three, young East Europeans are trained to become typical English men and women, and just as in Colony Three, the secret agent returns so that all these trained agents can be identified and apprehended later.

If you click on this picture you will see that The Prisoner may well have some arcane influence of Kafka, but possibly not the one everyone thinks of!! The final picture is of Ernest Borgnine, who plays the double-agent, speaking to the students of the Spy School, just outside Moscow. It would be nice to think that both Ernest and Patrick noted this collison of their career paths, when they met on the set of Ice Station Zebra in 1967, but I don't suppose either of them would have been aware of these cross-currents.

The Boris Morros story was a significant story in itself but merely one of many such espionage events in the 1950's and 1960's. Here are just two of them, the second would attract Patrick McGoohan's attention much later in his acting career:,9171,824789,00.html,9171,872180,00.html

The interlocking jigsaw of these films and TV shows reflects the statement Patrick McGoohan once made when he was complimented upon the brilliance of The Prisoner, “Just a grain of sand in the desert” he modestly demurred. He may not have consciously realised himself where his ideas had exactly come from, but there is clear evidence from his career that these ideas were all derived from the work he had been immersed in, for several years. His own personality doubtless then drew in the allegory, shading as they do all the plot-lines of his Prisoner entertainment.

It is always dangerous to draw too many conclusions from too little *evidence* but during Drake's mission to Colony Three he is assigned to the Citizens Advice Bureau in the village, where there are various instructional leaflets dotted about the walls. Perhaps my snapshot doesn't do them full justice:

But hopefully you will forgive me.

Whilst the origins of the notion of a village for spies must have some connections to McGoohan's memory of this episode, it should be borne in mind that Colony Three was one of the earliest mid-Sixties episodes, dating back to 1964. One of the final episodes of Danger Man/Secret Agent also carries very obvious nuances and influences that infiltrated The Prisoner, and demonstrate how McGoohan was able to shift so effortlessly from the first show into the next. He himself said that The Prisoner began out of boredom, but that comment should not be construed as meaning he had been idle. He was remarked as working 18hours a day on Danger Man. He would naturally hit the ground running, with renewed vigour - when Lew Grade agreed to support Patrick McGoohan's very own creation - in colour !

Moor of the next thing in my next Blog. I just have a little paper to chase first.

Be Blogging you