The phrase at the head of my Blog has altered slightly from Part One. McGoohan was quoted during an interview taken whilst he was making The Moonshine War, a couple of years after he had completed all work on The Prisoner. He’d not dropped off the radar in his native Britain, where his shows were regularly being repeated, but he was now busy in the movies in America.
“The series wasn't entirely a figment of my imagination, you know," McGoohan said. "There really are such places, all very secret, of course, where exactly that sort of thing goes on. "I know of one in the British Isles, another in Germany and one here in the United States. They provided me with just the sort of dramatic gimmick I needed to say something that very much needs saying."
In Part One I remarked how diverse blogs could find their parallel lines sometime meeting. Imagine my amusement when a Blog about baseball came into my sphere of interest.
Pete Sivess would become the head of a secret operation in the Chesapeake Bay region called Ashford Farm. The facility would provide diplomatic asylum to defectors and political refugees. Sivess and his staff would debrief such people and instruct them in the fundamentals of American culture and ways of life, and help them to obtain employment and places to live. In some cases, the individuals would be relocated with new identities. Most of the visitors to Ashford Farm were foreign born, but occasionally they'd have an American guest. Ashford's most famed resident likely was pilot Francis Gary Powers, whose spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union, and is the basis of the famed "U-2 Incident". United States officials made attempts to cover the real spy story with fake statements about a weather plane crash. The cover didn't work, and upon Powers' return to the United States, following a prisoner exchange with the Soviets, the secret was out about Ashford Farm, and soon the covert operation was shut down. Sivess was then reassigned to a job in Washington DC, until his retirement.
Was the Gary Powers case part of McGoohan’s thought process? Who can see into the mind of a man? Not I, but I can read the same newspapers that perhaps he once read himself. It’s probably just coincidence that Gary Powers was released from his Russian imprisonment on February 10, the same date in The Prisoner that Number Six began his Schizoid Man experience. What of course is not coincidental is that despite the best efforts of the American authorities the free press there had blown apart the veil of secrecy over Ashford Farms way back in 1962, and there were hints of other places in this news article…….
George Markstein’s reported claims of stimulating the entire concept of The Prisoner (he never made them himself, publicly) seem to have been not true because the first suggestions of Inverlair only emerged from strict British secrecy rules after The Prisoner began production. but it seems safer to assume that Inverlair may well have been the place in Great Britain that Patrick McGoohan is referring to in in my header to this blog - if his Script Editor did in fact bring this coincidence of art and life to his employer's attention as the prisoner proceeded it's production path, although given that Markstein did not write his novel based on the place until 1974, I am not entirely convinced that he did. Certainly, when Markstein resigned from ITV himself in 1976 and published a long polemic about the state of British TV at the time, he made no mention of his now claimed contribution to the original concepts of the show. This earlier blog of mine looked at the issue in more detail: http://numbersixwasinnocent.blogspot.com/2009/08/mcgoohan-on-my-mind-ladies-and.html Once you look back at what people said nearest the time, rather than self-justifications of many years later, it is often much easier to make the correct conclusions about what they actually did at the time.
Real-life links between Ian Fleming and his fictional espionage go right back to 1950, before he even wrote his first book
Fans of James Bond will of course know that both SMERSH and SPECTRE boasted departments, bureaucracies and special camps where their villainous spies were trained, detained and liquidated. By 1965 the real-life training camps such as the half a square mile of Camp X had transmogrified in the news media to become self-contained and entire communities. One such was Graczyna [sic]
Whether or not these vast spy towns ever really existed or were just part of East/West mutual Propaganda is now moot. The CIA, in recently declassified documents seems not to have believed they really existed. However their existence in the news media is unquestionable. Oddly enough they crop up in the 1967 movie, Casino Royale that seems to have had some influence upon the style of The Girl who was Death. One news report that mentions such a place actually dates back to another very famous real-life Spying case, back in 1961. This case occurred in the UK and seemed of lifelong interest to Patrick McGoohan. His Danger Man was embroiled in the secrecy about submarines in two episodes of the 1960 series. In 1961 life imitated his art in what was possibly the biggest spy case in Britain.
Twenty years after he had made The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan played his one and only Broadway theatre role. Pack of Lies was a play all about the human relationships that lay behind the Kroger/Lonsdale spy case of 1961. Strangely enough, those events took place in the years that closed the 1950's and opened the 1960's, not far from the very US Air-Force base in Ruislip where George Markstein was employed, on the staff magazine, the UK Eagle. Strange that he never mentioned this to Prisoner cult fans in 1979, when he allowed them to [mis]understand that he was part of the British Intelligence Services himself ! I daresay he enjoyed a giggle in private about their gullibility.
So much for the Cold War and Secret Agents. These intrigues were all part of the Danger Man life, but The Prisoner seemed much more ambiguous about who were the goodies and who were the baddies… who were the prisoners and who were the warders? The Sixties are now famous for rebellion in the West against the simpler notions of Sides that prevailed in the 1950’s. One organisation had recently been launched that began to ask tough questions of all governments and societies.
When thinkers like Patrick McGoohan read about such numbers – 65,000 people – what did they think? Like every other man he must have wondered himself, “Who are they? Where did they live? Why are they Prisoners”. He began to ask questions. The answers are in some cases still being sought for, nearly half a century later.
Finally in Part Three, I’ll come to the ultimate village. The village that in the 1960’s had two faces. The village that was Schizoid. The luxurious village that you could find it very difficult to leave. The village that was demokratik but had meaningless elections. The village that gloried in Parades. The village that was at the very centre of the horribly balanced world. The village that prompted the words:
no man is free.”
Wir sehen Uns!