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


  1. "James Mason, who was neighbour to him in Switzerland for some years, always referred to him as Mr Moody."

  2. Frank Long was McGoohan's character's name in The Moonshine War, and I like that he lives in *Bond* Road...:-))))

    I love these spoofy letters. Great fun. But otherwise irrelevant.

  3. Are you finished Moor? Is this the last blog post?

  4. It could be a suitable number to stop at.

  5. Please don't stop writing, Moor. I am enjoying reading your posts!

  6. Thank you Jan. That was most gracious of you to say so. It makes it moor likely I will.. :)

  7. "again again again!"

    to quote the tellytubbies

    More, Moor!

  8. We've waited long enough. Time for a new post, Moor.

  9. Moor --

    Thought I had an addendum to make to this one, but I found where you said that McGoohan planned to start off with seven. Still, I have an interview with an early 80s fanzine to scan to send to you, on the off-chance that something useful might come from it. McGoohan sounds fatigued as ever when talking about the Prisoner, and perks up a little when talking about his then-current theatrical role in Pack of Lies.

    Could you please shoot me an email ( so I can pass this along to you?


  10. Oh. Perhaps the thing that might be useful is that McGoohan says blatantly that he and Tomblin went out and planned 17 episodes after being told the original 7 would not be enough.

  11. I liked the Prisoner, I really did and so did my other half.
    Get this Moor, McGoohan was a huge celeb in the 60's but one of his associates have claimed that his career dwindled after The Prisoner.
    so James Mason called him Mr Moody, well that is why I like McGoohan because he is a breath of fresh air to all the media whores out there

  12. You quoted that James Mason nonsense at the top of the comments anonymously and I pointed out then, that the letter was clearly a spoof. more fool *The Stage* for publishing it. Numpties - they're everywhere.