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
http://www.butlinsmemories.com/bognor/maps/1967.htm
to the arcane - viz. isolated Scottish cottages
http://secretscotland.wordpress.com/2008/09/05/inverlair-lodge-for-sale
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: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,824789,00.html http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,872180,00.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

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