Sunday, 8 August 2010

McGoohan - Where Am I? - "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"


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…….

This fits more and more with McGoohan’s mentioning to his American interviewers that there are actual places that resemble the village. We should remember that Patrick McGoohan deliberately utilised his fame and popularity as a TV secret agent in order to give his audience a firm base from whence to follow his own new show, so he obviously would have taken an interest in the real-life intrigue of the subject, as well as the fictional world of James Bond or The Man from Uncle – or his own Danger Man. Jack Lowin, a camera-man long associated with McGoohan once referred to him having an American book, which Lowin understood the idea of The Prisoner to have come from. There are various other stories of course about the inspiration of The Prisoner. Lowin’s specifying of an American book has a meaningful ring of truth about it.

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:  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. 

But in the mid-1960’s the generation who had in some ways invented “Spying” were still around. People like Leo Marks, Graham Greene, Paul Dehn (co-writer of “The Spy who came in from the Cold”) and Ian Fleming  gained inspiration from their wartime service in the British SOE. The American twin of SOE was the OSS and the two organisations actually self-fertilised one another at another place reminiscent of a secluded village. Modern day researchers have an excellent web-site about the establishment in the British Dominion (as it was then) of Canada.

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]

This extensive article appeared in the American press in the winter of 1965. Patrick McGoohan made a promotional visit to the US around December of 1965. Britain and its notorious D-Notices might have kept the British press quiet on matters of "national security" but in the USA there were no such muffles and McGoohan was very much a free man by 1965 and he could get the Information he wanted.

Notions of such places had been around since 1959 and feature in a movie, filmed in 1959 that was concurrent with the first series of Danger Man. The notion of a secret town is introduced in the movie Man on a String and a brief sighting of it features in the trailer here: 
An earlier blog of mine goes into this in a little more depth here:

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:

“Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved,
no man is free.” 

The location of this *village* also goes some way to explain the third country that McGoohan referred to.

Wir sehen Uns!


  1. A possible connection, which may mean anything or nothing is that Leo Marks wrote the story for The Webster Boy (1962) a feature film which Don Chaffey directed between working on the two Danger Man incarnations.
    Chaffey was obviously a close associate of McGoohan on Danger Man and The Prisoner.

    Of course, it's entirely possible that Chaffey never even met Marks, or knew of his wartime background, let alone introduced him to McGoohan, but given Marks' knowledge of the spying world they would certainly have had plenty to talk about. Marks would also surely have known about any Cooler or Village-like installations, at least any relating to SOE.

    I suppose one strike against this idea is that Marks never wrote for Danger Man or The Prisoner (at least not credited), when he might have been an obvious choice if McGoohan had known him.

    1. Apropos of nothing in particular but just some joining of the dots you may enjoy. Check out the scne in Chaffey's rendition of "Thomasina" fro Disney, starring McGoohan. The cat going to heaven on a staircase is a dead lift from the stairway to heaven in "A Matter of Life and Death" - with cat statues rather than people statues. It may of course just have been Disney ripping off Powell & Pressburger but I like to think Chaffey was a fan. Marks wrote Powell's career suicide movie, "Peeping Tom".