Wednesday, 28 December 2011

McGoohan in his own words: “George Markstein was brought in as Script Supervisor and George also brought to us something that none of us had the right experience to garner – he brought writers of with a particular bent of mind. They weren’t Danger Man writers… and I’m very grateful to him”

It only takes a casual perusal of internet information to notice there is a lot of niche interest about the creative Hows&Whys of the 1960’s TV show, The Prisoner. Here’s one webpage that is replete with several of the errors and factual misconceptions that I have discussed in many of my previous blogs.
http://www.televisionheaven.co.uk/prisoner.htm
Recourse to published books only emphasises the disparity that has arisen between authored information and the factual evidence to support them. The notion that the Script Editor on The Prisoner provided the story theme and the initial original driving energy for the show is promoted in every book on the subject. The extract below comes from one of the most recent official books, published in 2007. The creationist theories always reach back to the groundless and well-denied assumption that The Prisoner was somehow a direct sequel to Danger Man, that then became ‘psychedelic’. This notion was largely preset into the fan community by memoirs initially obtained from George Markstein, many of them "off the record" and so, these offstage whispers embroidered a legend that now often accepted at face value, even though every piece of hard evidence contradicts the concocted story.

Patrick McGoohan's interviews bewteen 1965 and 1969, in many magazines, made clear where the ideas had come from and how they were developed. In 1977, when academic interest about the show took shape in North America, he made attempts to explain it again, in an interview with Canadian TV. Viewing the footage nowadays he seems visibly less than comfortable about revisiting his past but he did it anyway – he seems to have been a courteous man. A couple of years later he repeated the exercise for an audiotaped interview, on behalf of the growing British fan club. However it still wasn’t enough. Fans can never have enough information, and always want fresh information. They interviewed whoever was prepared to talk to them and gradually a divergence of opinion developed about where the show had come from and how it had begun production. The divergence was given solid form by 1982 when Time Out published an article, which laid the schism open to the outside world:
The article seemed to unequivocally make the claim that McGoohan both plagiarised and defrauded the Script Editor and stole his idea. It might be expected that a ‘fan club’ would have been the first to protest, but reading the article reveals that it was in fact the fan club who were involved in all this revisionism in the first place! I guess any journalist is entitled to write a polemical article, but in fact, most authorised writing since has adopted much the same story. The only conclusion to draw is that the journalist was used by the fan organisations to deflect any criticism that might otherwise be generated from Patrick McGoohan, who by now was their fan club ‘Honorary President’. It seems likely that McGoohan, living a long way away in America, had no idea what was being written about him in Britain because a couple of years later he agreed to take part in a TV documentary for the new British TV channel, Channel 4. Produced by some of the same personnel responsible for the Time Out piece, it seems that as McGoohan involved himself in that production, he became aware of what was being said about him, because after his filming was completed, he then withdrew all his previous agreements to take part. The programme broadcast went ahead anyway, but has never appeared on any dvd extras. The quote at the head of this blog is from the interview McGoohan gave for that production. His generosity makes a startling contrast to what others seemed to be saying about him. The surprising thing is that when you look at all the relevant memoirs and contemporary facts about the Production, they invariably seem to directly contradict this fan-babbled story that first emerged in 1982, and yet has been sustained ever since by the many writers and varied authors. Like speedlearn students they seem to know everything and yet understand almost none of it.

All of this ancient controversy about the relationships between the script editor and the producer of the show does highlight a puzzle over exactly how the scripts were obtained for The Prisoner, and then how they were refined, over the course of the whole project. Patrick McGoohan seemed fairly clear about the role of his script editor, and what he had expected from him:
George Markstein was brought in as Script Supervisor and George also brought to us something that none of us had the right experience to garner – he brought writers with a particular bent of mind. They weren’t Danger Man writers…. None of them were. They needed this stylistic, futuristic thing, and he knew a number of them and brought them in, and I’m very grateful to him.
Perusing the available and various memoirs of actors and crew involved in The Prisoner gives the impression that actually very few of them seem to have had any contact with George Markstein at the time, although more than one of them seem to have had dealings with him in subsequent years, when he became established with TV companies in an executive position. Derren Nesbitt was exceptional in that he was quoted as saying he had ‘been brought up with’ Markstein, an unexpected memoir that has never been detailed further, so far as I know. Notwithstanding this, when Mr.Nesbitt is quoted about his inability to grasp what on earth the episode, It’s Your Funeral was meant to be about, he speaks of asking Robert Asher the director for information, and challenging McGoohan himself, but Mr.Nesbitt makes no suggestion he asked George Markstein for clarification. This old blog of mine gives some background to all the mild controversies surrounding the episode Mr. Nesbitt starred in, It’s Your Funeral.
http://numbersixwasinnocent.blogspot.com/2010/10/mcgoohan-in-his-own-mind-i-know-what.html
The frequent absence of much comment in the memoirs of others about the man whom the cult fans claim ‘created’ the series seems increasingly odd. However, as might be expected, he is mentioned a lot by the various scriptwriters. This combination of contrasting facts seems to confirm that the writers and the filmmakers seem to have been kept quite separate, and the only conduit between all these creative personnel was via the channels of Patrick McGoohan and David Tomblin. Several of the writers are referred as receiving briefings or having meetings with Mr.Tomblin, and certainly he recalled having meetings with writers. He said,
Writing was a bit of a strange area for me because I'd never written before. Patrick came in one day and said "I've seen Lew Grade, we've got the money, we've got the series - so write the first story." So I got hold of George Markstein and we sat in a room for some time and eventually came up with Arrival. I did find that when we interviewed a writer, no matter how many details you gave them, they came back with an entirely different story - although this was only because the series was so different. So in the end, detailed storylines was the way to approach it to keep it all the same sort of style.
[Were many re-writes necessary?]
Quite a lot, yes... because people maybe got hold of the general idea, but because they hadn't seen any film at that time they were going off at tangents which didn't work to our conception.
George Markstein [was] a fount of information. He knew all the writers, so he'd bring them in and we'd talk... sort of suggest a theme to them. We did approach some very big writers but they said the money wasn't good enough, and why should they work that hard for that little money when they could sit at home in a warm study and write a book for fifty times that amount!

The changes wrought upon the physicality of Rover, made entirely without reference to the script editor, serves to emphasise the point I made in my previous blog about how Mr.McGoohan utilised his assembled creative personnel to serve his own stream of consciousness, using them – rather than negotiating with them. It also seems that many ideas and tropes of the series were only developed after that initial filming schedule was carried out.
 
One of the principal and most in-depth memoirs that emerged over the years was actually written by someone who came late to the production. Ian Rakoff then left over twenty years between the events and writing his book, Inside the Prisoner.

His reminiscence made a good attempt to balance his own subjectivity with accurate recall. It appears he only joined the project around April 1967, after the bulk of filming was complete. He is one of the few to mention the presence of George Markstein around the production offices at that time, but he seems to confirm Mr.Markstein was at least still present (whereas that 1982 Time Out article states George Markstein left after the sixth episode had been made). Ian Rakoff says, “…we were introduced in passing, to George Markstein, the script editor. He was flustered, moving fast and didn’t look at all happy… He looked like a man with a jolly disposition under normal circumstances…” Mr. Rakoff seemed not to get to know him much at that particular time, but, like other crew and actors, he recalled meeting him again over subsequent years and liking him. Ian Rakoff was unique however as the only one of the filmmakers (other than David Tomblin and Patrick McGoohan) to have some direct hand in scripting, himself. He was the acknowledged instigator of the episode Living in Harmony. By then however George Markstein certainly had left the project.
 
Another of the last couple of episodes made, The Girl Who was Death was scripted by Terence Feely, who had earlier written Schizoid Man. Mr.Feely was to become quite close to Everyman for some time because he spoke in one memoir about how he had hoped to be involved with Everyman in some future projects, after The Prisoner was completed. One of these projects involved the possibility of making a filmed version of Brand in Norway, a project we can know was at the planning stage as long after, as 1969, since Patrick McGoohan gave an interview in Oslo, in that year, to Jeannie Sakol, of Cosmopolitan. Mr. Feely evidently had become close to the producers by the time of The Girl Who was Death but it is also notable that in a memoir about the much earlier writing of Schizoid Man Mr.Feely only talks about how he negotiated with Patrick McGoohan over aspects of the script, with no mention of any other script editing input from anyone else. This may of course simply illustrate how friendly he and Mr. McGoohan had evidently become.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RG4bS247fDA&feature=related

The writer who supplied the most scripts (other than McGoohan himself) to The Prisoner was Anthony Skene. He is credited for three. Two of them ended up with some sense of continuity between them. Dance of the Dead seems to contain suggestions that the mysterious pilot from Many Happy Returns has turned up as the dead body washed up on the beach, and later indicated as being in No2’s mortuary filing cabinet. As I also mentioned in another blog, there is also the intriguing presence of a black cat, which is in only those two episodes as well. The eventual ordering of these two episodes, in that order, seems to show that the producers viewed them as having continuity too. However, whilst Dance of the Dead was one of the first scripts ready for filming, Many Happy Returns was the last of the initial thirteen scripts to enter production. Memoirs from Mr. Skene however say he was specifically asked to write Many Happy Returns by David Tomblin, so any storyline connection between the scripts must not have been his own origination. Mr.Skene also commented in a memoir about his first contribution (Dance of the Dead) that  he was given no guidance at all, “the show was a cosmic void” he is quoted as saying. That was at a stage where his only input seems to have been via George Markstein. His third supplied script was A,B&C, an episode certainly unrelated to either of the other two, and eventually broadcast as number three; and completely unrelated to The General, although fans of course try to make connections between the two nowadays due to the presence of Colin Gordon as No2 in both episodes. The unmasking of No2 at the end of A,B&C seems to prefigure the unmasking of No1 as exploited by Patrick McGoohan in his own final episode.
 
Lewis Greifer (under his aka of Joshua Adam) was the writer for The General. He had long been a friend of Patrick McGoohan and he once described the two of them as being ‘boozing buddies’. Mr.Greifer also said he was a previous associate of George Markstein, and that these two had actually been introduced to one another by him, after Patrick McGoohan had enquired whether Mr.Greifer himself would be willing to be the Script Editor for his projected new show. Given that George Markstein joined the crew of Danger Man in 1965 as a ‘consultant’ these stories seem to be a little challenging in their entanglements.
         
  Mr.Greifer was a very active member of the Writers Guild. This Trades Union was especially virile in the years of the 1960’s, expanding from being a small union for screenwriters, increasingly to include professional writers of other persuasions, such as novelists. It was embroiled in 1965 in industrial unrest and Lew Grade, on behalf of ITC, was notable in leading the employers to agreeing new deals for writers over such matters as Royalties and Residuals –payments due to writers over and above their fee for providing creative works. It has been claimed by fans since that Greifer said that he and George Markstein were discussing The Prisoner long before the series was ever begun, but this slightly baffling notion has never really been explained, although of course one explanation for this could lie in the fact that presumably McGoohan must have intimated to Greifer what he was asking him to be script editor for, and so, consequent to this Greifer would have explained some of it to Markstein, when he was suggesting Markstein to McGoohan as an alternative.
   
Going back to The General, it is an irony that Mr.Greifer himself reminsiced that his script was instantly liked by McGoohan, but not so much by Markstein! Once again though, this script seems to been instigated not by George Markstein but by David Tomblin who requested that the episode be written to utilise a lot of footage already filmed. This was also a stipulation for It’s Your Funeral. It seems to be requirements such as these laid upon the scriptwriters that demonstrates how the Producers communicated between the filming process and the writing of scripts, and emphasises perhaps another reason why David Tomblin said, “… so in the end, detailed storylines was the way to approach it…”
  
Given McGoohan’s statement that introduces this blog, it seems that when George Markstein was suggested to him by Greifer as Script Editor for The Prisoner. McGoohan thought that Mr.Markstein would do as well as anyone. Patrick McGoohan obviously was aware that George Markstein been appointed Script Editor for Danger Man, by Sidney Cole, and he was a member of the Writers Guild. So for McGoohan, George Markstein seemed to tick all the boxes; he would naturally have assumed that Markstein would be able to access other members of that Union, to write for the series. Reviewing the writers who eventually did take part in writing for this show however, it seems that Roger Woddis was really the only one obtained who was not routinely a TV scriptwriter. He supplied the script for Hammer into Anvil.
  
Michael Cramoy certainly never wrote for Danger Man, but he had written for Ralph Smart’s The Invisible Man, supplying the key pilot script for that show. He had also written for the world-famous American show, Dragnet. He wrote It’s Your Funeral, which ironically is often labelled as incoherent, by Prisoner fans. As mentioned, it would seem that this script was as much commissioned by David Tomblin as anyone else because the writer was asked to create scenes that could utilise already-shot footage.
   
Gerald Kelsey was a founder member of the Writers Guild and contributed two scripts, but only one was filmed. Checkmate contained the archetypical human chess match scenes. His script was one of the only five to be ready by the time filming began in Portmeirion. As Anthony Skene similarly remarked, Gerald Kelsey reminisced that he was given no real guide when he thought up Checkmate, but rather was asked to imagine, “… the craziest things you could think of…”. Contrary to many fan claims made over the years about The Prisoner beginning life as a mere sequel to Danger Man, it is instructive to note that neither Mr.Kelsey nor Mr.Skene intimated they were asked to write the further adventures of John Drake – a character they would have been quite familiar with and a project that would hardly require them to think of the craziest things you could think of.
 
The other single-episode writer was Roger Parkes. He recalled being introduced to the project via Moris Farhi – indicating that McGoohan’s hopes about how the networking of writers would operate was at least slightly effective. Ironically, Mr.Farhi’s proffered script never made it as far as the series. It is instructive to note how disorganised the scripting process was however when he was asked for his contribution by George Markstein. In a memoir, Mr.Farhi recounted the events, “… George said it was a good idea… ‘Go away and work on it’… Then I was called by George…” Mr.Farhi then explains how he had to submit his synopsis on a Friday. On the Monday following he was then told he had to submit the completed script by the Friday of that subsequent week! When he protested this left him not enough time, George Markstein advised him to write one act per day! Fahri did manage to do this, then he had to make revisions on the Saturday, and then ‘clean it up’ on the Sunday. Despite this monumental effort his script was not used. The script-commissioning process seems to have been quite chaotic, and it would appear that this was only sometime around October, 1966. The project was six months old and scripts had evidently not even been commissioned in good enough time, never mind written.
  
Roger Parkes did have his script accepted however, writing Change of Mind. As this episode was only the ninth script to enter the filming process, it makes the apparent panic over Moris Fahri’s script even more curious. In previous blogs I have mentioned that it seemed surprising that barely five scripts had been ready prior to location filming commencing in September 1966, considering the project went *live* on 16th April.  Roger Parkes recalls being advanced £200 for his script and ultimately being paid a total fee of £1,000 (equivalent to £12,000 nowadays).
          
Mr.Parkes recalled Change of Mind as being his first big script commission, so it might be guessed that senior writers such as Gerald Kelsey would have received fees  commensurate with their own expertise, and even where scripts were not used, advances were properly paid for the work that was done. Roger Parkes is another professional who maintained contact with George Markstein over the ensuing years and even joined him in some minor litigation against ATV over Royalties, presumably those they considered due from worldwide showings of the show, which became a staple in America especially on their many syndicated television stations. The Prisoner was repeated in Britain in 1968/69 but then not shown again on UK television until 1976. However in those countries with a more diverse broadcasting network it became a worldwide hit and was regularly being used. This is also contrary to the claims in the official histories (such as the one pictured earlier) about The Prisoner being a commercial failure - another complete myth that fanbabble maintains in the teeth of it being verifiably a claim without foundation.
‘ [it]… was considered an expensive, commercial failure at the time of its original transmission’
Such is the nature of cultism I suppose.  In fact, as Mr.Parkes makes clear, the opposite seems to have been the case
  ...the topic that we always discussed ad nauseum, was why we weren’t getting any royalties for The Prisoner…it was well over five years, with the show, by then, shown to multi billion audiences worldwide before our legal threats to ATV finally produced a trickle of royalties."    

One well-known contemporary writer who did not write for The Prisoner was Robert Banks-Stewart and I was amused to read an interview he gave about another old series and how his remarks seem to emphasise the frequent furore amongst the scriptwriting fraternity about who did what. It coincidentally includes a reference to the writer who supplied two scripts for The Prisoner
I wrote the first few scripts of Doctor Finlay’s Casebook, but the story editor, Vincent Tilsley, then wrote an episode, which was, naturally, to become the first on air, thus gaining for himself both the initial good reviews and apparent credit as the creator.

In 1966, Vincent Tilsley was arguably the most experienced scriptwriter to contribute to The Prisoner and he wrote one of the very first scripts that were ready in time for the location filming at Portmeirion. His first script ended up broadcast as Episode Two. Like Anthony Skene he acknowledged being given very little idea what to write about. In fact Vincent Tilsley's description of the whole process indicates the same feeling that something was going wrong in the script commissioning process right from the beginning, with hints of the same sort of last-minute chaotic appraoch that was recounted by Moris Farhi:
     George Markstein, who I knew personally, phoned me up, came round to see me the same morning – he was along in half an hour, it was that quick. He brought a script with him of Arrival …He told me that Patrick McGoohan was star of the show…That was about it. Markstein asked me if I could think of a story. As far as I remember… I don’t think there was a second visit, I thought of one there and then. I don’t always think of things that quickly, but as it happened I thought up Chimes of Big Ben.
 

Mr.Tilsley was also behind the script that became Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling. This script is frequently described in fan books as having been commissioned during some desperate scramble for ideas as the episodes began to run out in 1967, but in fact, in his own reminiscence, Mr. Tilsley recalled being asked for a second script 'almost immediately' after the acceptance of Chimes of Big Ben. This means his second script was likely to have been commissioned around October 1966. Once again, the story being told fails to match any facts at all. It becomes tiresome to recount, when every example seems the same. I have touched on all of this in my blog referenced earlier, when I wrote about the evident difficulties that the Prisoner was experiencing by the Autumn of 1966:
This set me to wondering what on earth was going on? McGoohan’s show had been green-lit by Lew Grade on 16th April 1966 and it was not until September 1966 that the production team went to Portmeirion. Four months and only two complete scripts? Presumably one of these was Arrival, and the other Free for All – written by McGoohan himself. I have mentioned in several of my earlier blogs that George Markstein had (at the time of his appointment by McGoohan's Everyman) almost no experience of television script writing. This huge weakness at the core of McGoohan’s Everyman operation was costing the producer dearly as four months on, barely two scripts were ready and McGoohan had written one of those single-handed. Incredibly, Markstein has since been lauded over the years by fan faction as some kind of guru behind this seminal series. The truth could barely be any more of a polar opposite. The answer actually becomes obvious by studying the very accounts of the production history of the show that these same fans have collected ! Like many things that the official fans came to believe and have faithfully disseminated since, these claims seem to have been proven false by the very same history their various convention interviews have laid bare

Collect the facts, ignore them and then make up a story they like better instead seems to be the nature of cultism. This reached a pitch for Vincent Tilsley, when he appeared to post his own retraction on an internet message board. It's not something you're ever likely to read in a book:
 "About a week before Christmas '66 George Markstein and I were sharing a minicab back to London having had a long script conference at Borehamwood. I can't remember much about the conference but can remember a lot about George's uncertain mood. Needless to say, the conversation on the way home continued to be entirely about the series, with George still in touchy vein, full of angst, critical of almost everyone and everything. When I tried to change the subject by asking him what he'd be doing for Christmas, he neatly sidestepped his way back into obsessiveness by saying, "Well, funny you should ask that – I'm not sure. I had this dream last night. I was at home Christmas morning with the family, when it suddenly occurred to me that Patrick hadn't actually said I could have the day off…"
And so to the rest of the story as now printed [in the official book]. 
"Nothing true about the tale, therefore, other than the fact of George Markstein's telling of it. I didn't believe he'd had any such dream, of course, nor did I ever think I was supposed to. He'd just made it up, as his way of saying "And to make things even worse, Patrick seems to think he's God Almighty…" but at the same time trying to warp his ire up in an amusing story form rather than have it sound diminishingly whinging.”
You will find this *story* in more than one book about The Prisoner, but it always presented as if the events between the people *actually* happened, whereas in fact, the entire tale was merely an entertaining fiction. That seems to have been what sparked Mr. Tilsley to make the realised, when he realised how his tale was being misrepresented.
   
This is certainly my final blog of 2011, and this seems a good time to make it my final blog on this particular Roll. As is apparent, I am getting to the stage of referencing myself, and that is always a dangerous thing to find. I did once plan to stop this Roll at 17 after all. My main intent was to declare that Number Six was Innocent and perhaps I have done all that can be done in that regard.
      
Be seeing you, and I’m obliged.
Rover and Out

Anyone happening upon this final page is however cordially invited to peruse the previous 52 articles as well. One a week for any year you like. I will still be an active blogger on other rolls, and so please leave any comments on these ageing pages, if you wish, secure in the knowledge that they will be read by at least me, and I will make replies, if I feel that I have something worthwhile to add...... and I usually like nothing more than............ One Moor Thing...... ;-)

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

McGoohan in his own words: “I was writing as well, and I was directing, and supervising, and editing the incoming scripts, and editing in the cutting room. So it didn’t leave much time”

One of the things that becomes apparent from looking into the production background of The Prisoner show is that in many ways the show had to become almost as a flow of consciousness – both of McGoohan’s own, but also by his adapting to his collaborators. However, other than with a few individuals, little of this seemed to be two-way. He appears to have liked to make use of creative serendipity but avoided analysis, inspection or too much consultation.

The team that Patrick McGoohan built around himself is often portrayed as mostly his previous co-workers from the Danger Man project. That most of the crew had worked with McGoohan at some point in the past is certainly true, but then McGoohan had been on the British TV and film scene for over a decade by then, and in the UK this world was not so large. Earl Cameron commented, “it was very seldom I would go to a studio and not meet two or three actors I had worked with before” The last 13 to 15 episodes of Danger Man were made at Shepperton, after over 30 others had been made at Borehamwood. As I mentioned in my previous blog, Jack Shampan had dropped out of the Danger Man project when that transfer to a new studio occurred, the same went for Gino Marotta. Riffling quickly through the main crew that worked on the final 13 episode season of Danger Man reveals that only six of the regular crew on the Shepperton episodes ever did work on The Prisoner. All of these in-demand professionals were well used to the vicissitudes of their profession and when the fan clubs quoted George Markstein’s comment: What a lot of the people in the studio wanted was to keep their jobs! http://www.the-prisoner-6.freeserve.co.uk/markstein.html His misrepresentation and their gullibility has confused much about the production background to The Prisoner.

When Patrick McGoohan and David Tomblin came to create a production crew. there is nothing more natural than that they would first ask those technicians they knew already, that is obvious, but it is equally obvious that there were many who they either did not ask, or who not interested. On the other hand, as my previous blog demonstrated, there were one or two people that Everyman was very keen to have: Bernie Williams, who was busy working at that time on The Quiller Memorandum, and Jack Shampan, who was even busier, making three feature films in 1965/66: Modesty Blaise, Finders Keepers and Cuckoo Patrol

Having the technicians in place was one thing, but what of the directors and actors? To some degree, solving one problem could help resolve the other. Patrick McGoohan certainly pursued Don Chaffey to be his Film Director.. A big question might be why? McGoohan already had a very capable director in David Tomblin and had his own experience of directing episodes of Danger Man. In an interview for the UK Channel 4 documentary Six Into One, Don Chaffey described what happened:
I was about to do another feature over in Ireland and Pat suddenly came along and said he had this idea and I said, Great! Good! Do what you like with it, and he said No, I’d like you to direct the first episodes to set a style…And I just refused point-blank ….http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJD7GEru6h0
However, McGoohan did not want to take No for an answer; and so he didn’t. As Don Chaffey relates the continuing story, Patrick McGoohan took advantage of the fact that pair of them were not just colleagues but their families were friends too,  and so McGoohan asked Don Chaffey’s daughter to intercede and she ultimately persuaded her father to read over the scripts that were available at that time. Perhaps her enthusiasm fired his own. Either way, his answer changed to Yes. 
so I read them and Pat came over to Ireland… and I agreed to do it
Why was Patrick McGoohan so determined to have his occasional collaborator involved? They had made The Three Lives of Thomasina together and Don Chaffey had directed 13 Danger Man episodes, most of them consecutive to each other. This meant the two men had spent much of 1964-65 working closely together. Indeed, in 1965, Don Chaffey noted their relationship in a periodical of that time:
 Of course if you read the official stories, you will get a very different impression; when Don Chaffey is mentioned in Prisoner histories he is often only mentioned in passing, and ascribed little significance,
but he was undoubtedly very important to Patrick McGoohan, and far from leaving the show after some deterioration in relationships, it is apparent from Chaffey’s own words that he had agreed to direct the first episodes and not to be the director of the whole series. In relation to McGoohan’s enthusiasm to have him involved, it might also be significant that Chaffey had directed two of the episodes of Danger Man that bear most comparison with aspects of The Prisoner: These were Colony 3, and The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove.

However, I suspect the principal reason why Patrick McGoohan (with his Producer’s hat on) wanted the involvement of Don Chaffey was because Chaffey was such a professionally respected director. Everyman was an unknown company, Patrick McGoohan was a very respected actor but he had never produced a show before; David Tomblin was very capable but only proven as an Assistant or Unit Director. Everyman had a crew of technicians how were they going to also attract the amazing cast of actors that was found? Actors of the stature of British veterans like Eric Portman and Mary Morris; Peter Wyngarde, Patrick Cargill and Donald Sinden  and many others who played relatively small parts, but who carried considerable cachet, Virgina Maskell in the first episode was said to have been directly cast by Don Chaffey, as was Norma West. Adding Don Chaffey to such luminaries as Brendan Stafford gave the Everyman project an impressive professional credibility.

I think also McGoohan would have been only too well aware of the huge task he had set himself. As he said himself, “You cannot do a thing like that by yourself” He would know only too well the potential chaos of a location shoot and the logistical difficulties of organising one; he knew the value of an experienced professional who had his own strong will and ability to get things done. To illustrate this there is an amusing anecdote told by Raquel Welch about her breakthrough role in One Million Years BC. In her biography she recalled that she felt she had some ideas about her role and so approached the director, who was Don Chaffey. She told him she'd been reading the script and had been thinking…
“But he cut me short. "You were thinking?" he said, and there was no attempt to conceal the amazement in his voice. "Well, don't." 'And just in case I hadn't got the message, he spelt out exactly what he expected of me. '"You see that rock over there? That's rock A. When I call action, you start running over to rock B, which is over there. When you get halfway between the two, pretend you see a giant turtle coming at you, and you scream. Then we break for lunch. Got it?"
It’s not difficult to imagine that a man with that sort of iron discipline and the will to get the job done was exactly the sort of man Patrick McGoohan needed and wanted on his side. Norma West recalled how hard McGoohan was working at the time of the location shooting at Portmeirion where she spent two weeks.
The production was on location at Portmeirion for the best part of a month, working all the hours that were needed to get the job done. Don Chaffey was evidently very conscious of the philosophy behind the Rover and offered his own version of what the blob was all about in one tale, referring to faceless blobs of bureaucracy. He would perforce have become involved with McGoohan, Williams and Tomblin sorting out exactly how to use the balloon version of Rover that they had invented on that location shoot, to take over from the original motorised version.

As an aside, this whole situation illustrates the way history by memoir was so relied on by Prisoner fans, and has so muddled the real history. When Dave Rogers came to author his excellent Prisoner/Danger Man book for Channel 4 in 1989, he naturally relied on the accounts he was given by the fans; his book was endorsed by the principal fan club. On page 133 he touches on the controversy back then about the evolution of Rover,
“When summing up the ‘facts’, one must take into account the following: there is certainly no meteorological station near Portmeirion, no photographs of the [motorised] version of Rover exist, and no extras ever saw it! In fact many people, including noted Prisoner authorities…. believe that it never actually existed, or if it did, was rejected at the planning stages”
This was the interpretation of the experts after ten years of study. Yet, two years before their ‘study’ even commenced Patrick McGoohan had described the Rover machine – but his clear and concise account was discounted because no ‘extras’ recalled the machine...? It’s all quite laughable in hindsight, but illustrative of the way the cultism developed and why McGoohan said he was glad people enjoyed his work but felt that cults had their own agendas.

Norma West told of how she worked with Don Chaffey as her director and he also helped the Everyman team locate further technical personnel too. Tony Sloman (film librarian back at MGM) recalls himself being hired by Bernie Williams upon Don Chaffey’s recommendation, after the location shoot was over. As well as having influences over how the evolved version of  Rover was presented and used, Don Chaffey also inevitably exercised influence upon the key presentations of Arrival. He was not just the director in Portmeirion – it is easily overlooked that back at the MGM studios he continued to craft the five episodes that he had undertaken to direct, to set the style. He said he was integral to the creation of the opening montage and he certainly must have been. 

The elements of film that go to make up that archetypal sequence were in fact all shot before the crew ever went to Portmeirion. So the compressed opening three minute long resignation scene that was further truncated to form the introduction to most episodes could fashionably be termed an opening minisode and be attributable to the production team feeding back into the scripts, where that sequence is laboriously repeated at the head of every episode's shooting script. I began this blog by saying that in some ways The Prisoner developed as a flow of consciousness, but clearly there was enough scripted to capture the imagination of Don Chaffey and draw him into the project, but it is also true that subsequent scripts were being sculpted with close regard to what had been caught on film already. Bernie Williams in a recent commentary described the way the team ‘used’ the ballon form of Rover back at MGM studios. He recalled them using backlot shots of the Rover, to infill for Portmeirion because whilst at Portmeirion, “we hadn’t figured out who he [Rover] was….”. As they built the character of the balloon, so they were inflating the ideas and tropes of the series. 

However, there is a problem understanding how the film crew could influence the writing because so far as is apparent, the twain rarely met. There is almost no mention in production crew memoirs of them having contact with George Markstein, and there seems good reason to believe he had little to do with the show, once they had returned from Portmeirion. Lewis Greifer, his friend, stated that George had no input after Christmas 1966. But it is equally clear that scripts must have been commissioned before then, so in that way, there was no reason he should have much more input. But how could the scriptwriters have been advised? How could they know “what’s it all about?”. In my next blog I will take a look at those writers and how Patrick McGoohan interfaced with them.  
 Moor words next time, but just before I go, the quote that heads up this particular Blog came from a three-part biographical feature authored by Barbara Pruett for the US magazine, Classic Images in about 1986. You will find that in many *authorised* Prisoner books, Patrick McGoohan will be referred to as personally reclusive and refusing to co-opearte with any attempt at biography. Well, as Ms.Pruett's fine feature proves, he was neither reclusive nor secretive, just selective about who he talked to - and perhaps who he *authorised*. My blog is of course entirely unauthorised and completey unofficial. Be seeing you.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

McGoohan tells his story: My production manager, Bernard Williams... wonderful fellow…says… "What's that?" And I said, "I don’t know. What is it?" He says, "I think it's a meteorological balloon." And he looked at me. And I said, "How many can you get within two hours?"

There are times when I have come across something old about the background to the making of The Prisoner and I think to myself, How come I never knew that before?. I came to the conclusion some time ago that the principal reason for this was that most published writers did no real research of their own; rather they re-digested information that had been given to them by some scion of the various fan organisations that had done so much background research about the show in the preceding two decades. I had always been intrigued that such a young (25) and apparently inexperienced man as Bernard Williams became Production Manager on The Prisoner, and that he was also consulted with, and listened to, by Patrick McGoohan. However when another blogger posted a twenty year old fan article recently I was both baffled and educated, simultaneously.
 There seems little mention in publicly published sources about Bernie Williams being involved on the Danger Man project. This seemed so new to me that I even re-read one or two of those books to check I hadn’t missed something. I then even wondered if Bernie Williams had made the entire story up, as there seem some evident anomalies in the job titles he refers to, but there seemed no reason for him to do so, so I looked at it from a different perspective.   
There was something of an enigma here, because at no point does the name Bernie Williams appear on the credits of the Danger Man show. However, after a little research, I realised that Mr. Williams’s involvement was via his employment at the MGM Studios rather than via Ralph Smart’s Pimlico Films. Bernie Williams had originally obtained work at Borehamwood via his father’s influence. His dad was employed in the Security department at the London studios. Bernie recalled beginning his movie career in the Stills department at MGM, at around age 15. This was in the late 1950’s. He thence moved through a variety of roles in the subsequent years. He must have been deputed to work closely with the MGM filming days of Danger Man, seemingly as early as 1960, and certainly between 1964 and 1965. As I mentioned in my previous blog, Frank Maher (the Prisoner stunt-co-ordinator and double for McGoohan) had mentioned that Mr. Williams was the person who had originally introduced him to Patrick McGoohan, and Mr. Maher described Bernie Williams as being a production manager. Frank Maher became involved with Danger Man only for the 1964-66 hour-long episodes, seemingly confirming that Bernie knew Patrick (and David Tomblin) from the time of the first series back in 1960.
 ……. - remember Bernard Williams?
  The Prisoner production manager?
 Yes. He was a friend of mine and he said 
"I want you to come and meet somebody."
He took me along and it was Patrick. That was just before Danger Man.
 The book issued by Network with their dvd set of The Prisoner spots that Bernard Williams was of some more significance than generally noted, when it says on page 17, “Other crew members recalled that Patrick employed David Tomblin and Bernard Williams separately away from Danger Man to set is the new show” However despite the startling interview with Mr. Williams, directly contradicting the general thrust of the published explanations of the production history of The Prisoner is words are not only largely ignored in such published works, but much of his information seems actively to have been ‘struck from the record’.
The real problem with the distortions of the history does not just lie over who got what credit, but rather that in trying to make history fit an untrue version of events, the very history itself gets distorted, often beyond proper recognition. The sources who have created the settled and authorised story of the making of The Prisoner evidently spotted that Bernie Williams’s account would throw a spanner in their nicely spun tale and so they simply did not supply it to the various authors. If you read these books you will find them replete with references to arcane Fan-Club material, such as 'Alert-Issue3' or 'Number Six-Issue 5'. Anyone outside of this old Club archive can neither verify nor interpret what may or may not have been written in these old fan magazines. Sometimes the interview quote has clearly been interpreted to mean what the authors want it to mean, whilst with awkward cases, such as what Bernard Williams had to say, it seems the files are simply deleted. It is a delightful irony that fans of this particular show have behaved in such a prisoneresque manner, but has made for appalling Archive TV history.
   
Here is Bernie Williams’s account of the conception of the rubberised Rover, which happened not in a script conference, but on location, as filming was underway. It’s interesting to note that if you read the tag-line for this particular blog you will note that Patrick McGoohan gave Bernard Williams the credit for recognising the strange shape in the sky whereas Bernard Williams rather seems to want to give the credit to Mr. McGoohan. There’s a lesson about comrade-ship in that contradiction.
The long-told Club fables about how The Prisoner was intended to be a series of 13 episodes, followed by another 13 episodes is also directly contradicted by Bernie Williams – another reason to censor his memoir of the production history. He also explains why he did not take part in the final four episodes, which has oft-puzzled me as he was clearly so enthused about the project otherwise.
The official books could never explain or acknowledge the influence and movements of Bernie Williams without also contradicting the mythology they had previously created about how The Prisoner had begun and especially how it was developed. They also would have alienated the Club sources they evidently were reliant upon for their information. As a result Bernie Willams's words were simply ignored because he did not fit with their version of history, a method of making history also used in other connections, as I described in one of my early blogs. http://numbersixwasinnocent.blogspot.com/2009/08/mcgoohan-on-my-mind-ladies-and.html
  
Bernie Williams told an especially interesting story about his understanding of where and how the idea of The Prisoner originated, which totally contradicted the settled and authorised version you will often read in books.
My earlier blogs have provided proofs to show that The Prisoner project was underway even whilst the episodes of Danger Man were still being made, so at first reading this memoir seems to contradict those facts. However, once you understand that Bernie Williams at that time was employed at MGM Borehamwood, rather than directly by Ralph Smart’s Production Company, then suddenly his memoir makes sense. The hour-long series of Danger Man ceased being made at MGM in Borehamwood after 32 episodes, at which point a final 15 were made at Shepperton. With that in mind, the party Mr. Williams is referring to also seems to be mentioned in a September, 1965 profile article about Patrick McGoohan. 
This documents that a wrap party was held to acknowledge the ceasing of production at Borehamwood in April 1965. That some kind of farewell was likely to be prompted is emphasised by the fact that Jack Shampan declined to transfer to Shepperton, as did David Tomblin initially, and obviously Bernie Williams would have remained at MGM. Mr. Williams would also likely have been chasing after his first individual credit - for his work on The Quiller Memorandum; the making of which movie was well underway by the summer of 1966. His involvement on the Quiller movie also evidences the tightness of the schedules for his even taking part on the production of The Prisoner, and this in turn illustrates the close relationship that  pre-existed between himself and McGoohan, with McGoohan preferring to choose to employ him despite his constraints involving a major movie around the same time.        
  
Unlike Jack Shampan, Jack Lowin, the cameraman on Danger Man stayed with the Pimlico operation as it transferred to Shepperton and he is more often quoted by official prisoner sources. One of his memoirs also touches on the origins of The Prisoner. The Network book mentioned earlier, quotes him on page 26: 
“[McGoohan] had read this book, which I believe was an American book… he was obviously fascinated by it… he was talking of a sequel to Danger Man for a retired agent.”
Lowin speaks of McGoohan mentioning this book whilst they were still making Danger Man and his reference to a retired secret agent (rather than a resigned one) chimes exactly with the notions that Bernie Williams speaks of, where he implies that McGoohan was becoming intrigued with what would happen when a secret agent could no longer be a secret agent. What would be more natural for Patrick McGoohan to do, after someone at his Danger Man wrap-party had discussed this conundrum with him, than to then begin to read about the subject. In 1965, there was no shortage of books about the world of Cold War espionage, especially in America, which McGoohan visited for the first time (since being born there), with his wife, in 1965. Of course any fan of Danger Man would also know that this question about spies retiring had already been asked in the episode Say it with Flowers. Drake is posing as a taxi-driver and picks up a respectable-looking businessman – who is actually an intelligence chief. Drake opens the conversation as a normal cabbie:
Where to Sir?
Switzerland
Why?
You never met Hagen did you
Who’s Hagen?
Rather a dubious character
Should that concern me?
As a freelance agent he’ll work for any side, so long as the money is right 
Uh Huh
We never trusted him too much, although mind you, he’s been extremely useful to us in a number of instances
And now he’s not quite so useful?
We’ve lost contact. We don’t know what’s happening to him. Maybe he’s gone over 100% to the opposition, which would be uncomfortable. That’s for you to find out
Err.. perhaps he’s just decided to retire!
Retire??!!
This episode was made in October, 1965. It was getting nearer and nearer to the last acts for John Drake.
  
But there is another man who was key to the success of the Prisoner project and who is also glimpsed but rarely and then only briefly, in most published Prisoner histories. He was another personal associate and personal friend of Patrick McGoohan and had a long working history with him, just like David Tomblin, Brendan Stafford, Jack Lowin and Bernard Williams. Most published histories will tell you glibly that he and McGoohan had a fall out, but the truth is far subtler than that because they remained firm friends. 
    
Moor information next time.

Monday, 24 October 2011

McGoohan pay his compliments:"when I was making The prisoner I found it necessary several times to leave him in total charge" and "His work on The Prisoner was superb and his contribution to the show far beyond his nominal status. He’s the tops"

In my previous Blog I mulled over the possibility that the first half of Arrival was thematically and structurally influenced by a now long-forgotten American propaganda movie called Red Nightmare. Of the three writers of Arrival I felt it was David Tomblin, with his film-making background, who was most likely to be aware of this old plot format. I was interested to note therefore, that in a 1988 exploration of the series, it was remarked that he was responsible for the first half of Arrival:  
The Arrival appears to be a fusing of two separate stories, one by Tomblin showing the arrival of McGoohan's character in a Village where he is given the Number of 6, and Markstein's more conventional thriller plot where Number 6 enlists the aid of a woman to help him flee the Village, not knowing she is a mere pawn of the Village controller, Number 2.  
http://www.the-mausoleum-club.org.uk/timescreen/Trial%2011/ts11.htm

However it would appear the influence of David Tomblin’s experience goes even deeper. David Tomblin had long been associated with Ralph Smart and was Assistant Director on a progenitor of Danger Man in 1958. This was The Invisible Man. Several plots of this series were revamped to fit with the later exploits of secret agent John Drake, as played by Patrick McGoohan. One plot that was left behind was one called Picnic with Death. However, a little taste of it remarkably, seems to have been carried by David Tomblin into The Prisoner  
This early episode in the series opens up with Peter Brady, the invisible man, being driven by a security operative to a destination. Brady is annoyed that his government is controlling him because he wants to be busy trying to find the cure for his condition, whereas they keep using him to perform otherwise impossible missions – utilising his invisibility! With this background, the following conversation is occurring between a sour-tempered Brady and his minder. Brady is complaining that they are late and he is not allowed to drive. 
If I could drive my own car, you wouldn’t have to put up with me
No dice! You’re not allowed to drive! Chief’s Orders! You’re an official secret.
Chief’s Orders?! Security?! You people forget that I’m a human being.
I’m surprised that I haven’t been Government-stamped and filed away in a top secret file!
I’m sure that anyone familiar with The Prisoner will pick up the resonance implicit in that line of dialogue, and if you are not familiar enough to spot it, I cannot imagine why you are reading this blog at all! But, you are very welcome. Remarkably, in the further phases of the plot the existence of an invisible man is revealed to some members of the public, after a minor car accident. In order to maintain secrecy the governement 'disappears' sixteen witnessess, including two news reporters. A newspaper magnate confronts a government official who has ‘disappeared’ the sixteen witnesses, protesting:
I, the owner of two newspapers am here to ask what is it all about?!
I’m sorry Lord Brooksley; it’s Top Sceret
But fourteen men know about it already! It can’t stay top secret for long!
That’s why we’re worried. We’ve got to stop wild rumours from spreading.
This intriguing storyline is soon dropped however and knowledge of the invisible man does become public and more reporters seeking the story besiege his house (just as the reporters in the Prisoner besiege Number Six, once he has become a candidate for election in Free For All) Another scene harks to Arrival with Brady’s sister (he lives with his sister) pulling back curtains to reveal a very familiar style of window, but rather than focussing on her looking out – the camera emphasises those looking in.
 
Anyone who has watched this show will also have noticed that occasionally Mr. Invisible makes an exit, saying “Be Seeing You” - a singular irony from a man who could anything but be seen! David Tomblin was not by nature an academically creative author and it seems reasonable to assume he sought his ideas from his own experience, and indeed his other writing credits on The Prisoner are all noted as being due to his modifying stories, rather than originating them from his own imagination. He seems to have been a craftsman in more than one way. Patrick McGoohan certainly was his number one fan, saying this about his former partner when the pair of them were re-united on the set of Braveheart, on which movie David Tomblin was an Assistant Director.
we are very close friends, I remember him on the first television series I was in: ' Danger Man '. David was the assistant director on the hour long episodes. We have grown to be very good friends> When I was making The Prisoner I found it necessary several times to leave him in total charge because I was working all day as an actor and often as writer and director. I found it necessary to have someone to trust, that was David, since then he has done a lot of work as assistant director.
If there is a problem he is the best in the world !
Patrick McGoohan plainly admitted in interviews that his show derived from such modern classics of the time as Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. However it would be easy for the casual researcher to also conclude that those sources were of literary influence. In the case of Nineteen Eighty-Four it seems just as likely that that influence was televisual. 1954 Britain had been transfixed by a BBC production of the novel. It incorporated televisual screens that watched the watcher, slogans that defied reason, the numbering of citizens, illicit drinking dens and even a crystal ball made a short appearance (but that was for lovers to stare into and dream).
In some ways The Prisoner was an emotional antithesis to this TV play that had transfixed a nation of TV watchers over a decade before. Whereas the tale of Winston Smith was a tale of the attempt of Love to triumph over Totalitarianism by hiding from it, the tale McGoohan was to craft involved a man avoiding all emotion except that of anger and who used a single-minded determination to power his attempts to smash the Totalitarianism of the village and escape it. The opening scenes of Nineteen Eighty-Four have the narrator remarking that what we are about to see is the vision of one man. A later line refers to the fact that, “Nobody ever sees Big brother”. This is the conundrum Number Six was to grapple with all of his series – meeting Number One – or not. Much of the second half of the 1954 TV film has Winston Smith being toyed with, by O’Brien, a veritable Number Two. Another significance is the fact that O’Brien is served by a butler. The butler is short and small in build, and whilst he is spoken to, this butler himself never speaks at all.  Remind you of anyone?
The broadcast of this play in 1954 sparked a reaction not unlike McGoohan was to achieve 13 years later, which is an odd congruence, if less of significance. 
What seems less coincidental is the effect of another TV show that has recently become re-remembered. Many archive TV enthusiasts have been comparing The Strange World of Gurney Slade to The Prisoner. This review is as good as many:
By this point if you’re thinking “The Prisoner!” you’re doing no more than I did. The unreliable central narrator is taken to massive lengths in that show’s “The Girl Who Was Death”, and large tracts of episodes four and six play out like “Once Upon A Time” and “Fall Out”. I’d be willing to bet that at least one person on the production team for The Prisoner saw this at some point. I’m not claiming for one minute that Patrick McGoohan nicked any of this – just that the idea may have percolated unconsciously in someone’s head.
http://ladydontfallbackwards.wordpress.com/2011/08/13/review-the-strange-world-of-gurney-slade/

Whilst this reviewer makes the point that I’m not claiming for one minute that Patrick McGoohan nicked any of this – just that the idea may have percolated unconsciously in someone’s head most do not seem to have taken account of the fact that a major influence of Anthony Newley permeates The Prisoner from the opening episode. His pop record of 1961 was evidently as popular with Patrick McGoohan as ‘All You Need is Love’ was to become in 1967. Just on the off chance that any non-fan is still reading this, I would just explain that the the tune to "Pop Goes the weasel" percolates The Prisoner as incidental music throughout many episodes.
All of these things do not mean that I imagine any of the writers of Arrival were fitting together a jigsaw of deliberate ideas – entirely the opposite. One of the things that seems to have constantly baffled fans of this show is where it all came from – how it began. This puzzle has led them, in many cases, to the idea that it began as a sequel to Danger Man: that Patrick McGoohan stopped playing John Drake so that he could once again play John Drake, an absurdity sadly encouraged and exacerbated by the attention they paid to tales George Markstein told them about the inspiration behind his novel, The Cooler, that he wrote in 1974.
 
One thing that is quite noticeable is that George Markstein is smugly glib about the origins of the show.
Well, the first episode's called 'Arrival' and that's all it is - his arrival in the Village. It shows the prisoner - the secret agent - resigning. He hands his resignation to me which is very apt in a way as I'm the evil genius of the whole thing ... and then it shows him being kidnapped and waking up in the Village with its way of life ... every Rover ... everything we've grown to love or hate as the case may be.
http://www.the-prisoner-6.freeserve.co.uk/markstein.htm

Both David Tomblin and Patrick McGoohan were always quite vague, if not deliberately so - with Tomblin professing to have no idea what series McGoohan even intended to make when he first got the financial backing from Lew Grade. Markstein's very glibness when he was interviewed actually gives away that he is back-fitting events, because as is well-known now (but was not at the time) the amorphous Rover that he clearly is referencing did not exist as a concept when the Arrival was written. Rover was originally designed as a queer looking wheeled vehicle, like an automaton police car - complete with blue flashing light on the top.
     
There is a fourth man man however who is curiously absent from most official accounts of the making of this intriguing show. He had experience to bring to the series that would fit directly into the style of The Prisoner. He had been the Unit Manager of a film called The Quiller Memorandum. The style of the dialogue in The Prisoner is sometimes referred to as Pinteresque. Harold Pinter wrote the screenplay for The Quiller Memorandum and there is much about that movie that could be described as prisoneresque – if such an adjective were to exist. It’s set in perhaps the archetype of a real enclosed village: West Berlin itself. You can get a small flavour of the movie here, but it needs to be watched in the whole to appreciate it's existential style being squeezed into the format of a secret agent story, just as McGoohan was doing.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbTKJVyv3zs

This fourth man, and a man strangely absent from most official prisoner history books, is the man credited by Patrick McGoohan himself, of having been the inspiration for the Rover that we came to know and love in the series. His name can be seen in the opening credits of both the Quiller film and the Prisoner show. I have sometimes wondered if the Production Manager is normally accorded such a large credit on a TV show – the whole screen to himself.
Mr. Williams had some forthright things to say about the making of the series, but curiously you will find little mention of him in any official prisoner history. He crops up of course, but nobody mentions his experience of the Pinteresque movie he came fresh to the prisoner from, but most remarkable of all is the fact that no official sources seem to dwell upon the fact that he was a  ‘2nd assistant director’ on Danger Man, (his position did not merit inclusion on that show’s onscreen credits). His ability to influence McGoohan was due to this association; he was a professional friend of Mcgooohan just as david Tomblin was. Mr. Williams was the person who had originally introduced stuntman Frank Maher to McGoohan, another crew member who had some level of frindship with the prisoner creator. Whilst Mr. Maher is frequently and lengthily quoted in official prisoner histories, there is scarcely ever any mention of Bernard Williams, about whom Patrick McGoohan once remarked, 
“His work on The Prisoner was superb and his contribution to the show was far beyond his nominal status. He’s the tops.”

In my next Blog you will find out why the authors who have controlled the information about this show for so many years have chosen to make Mr. Bernard Williams largely an Invisible Man in archive TV history. You will be seeing him more clearly next time.

Oh... Just one more thing. As this blog has in part been pointing out how Patrick McGoohan freely gave unstinting praise to those contributors to his Prisoner project, it would be remiss of me in my small blogging project not to mention once again my friend and collaborator: the Sheriff of Harmony, without whom much of my information would perhaps have remained in the limbo of the lost past. I'm Obliged.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

McGoohan in his own words: They're making bigger and better bombs, faster planes,.. I hate to say it, there's never been a weapon created yet on the face of the Earth that hasn't been used.

Reviews of The Prisoner often refer to the paranoid nature of the Village and its inhabitants, and the paranoiac behaviour of Number Six. His constant search to discover what side people were on and his refusal to trust anyone can seem positively weird nowadays. However, in the Cold War era such a notion was self-explanatory. Everyone knew which side of the Iron Curtain they were on. The fear of the NATO states about the USSR, China and Communism generally tends nowadays to be dismissed as having been merely some kind of ‘Red Scare’ stirred up by democratic politicians. The dreadfulness of the Vietnam War was challenging opinion about who exactly were the ‘good guys’ and who were the ‘bad guys’ in the world and indeed whether the price of this form of ‘fighting for democracy’ was worth paying. The apparent clarity of the Second World War and the naïve innocence of the 1950’s began to be overwhelmed by the increasing scepticism of many citizens about whom in the world they could trust. Hence the question Number Six was asking, “Whose side are you on?” takes on a whole new possibility of meaning. In 1962 though, there were those who retained complete faith in the side they were on. One of those men was Jack L. Warner.
In 1962 he commissioned a new movie that is so much a throwback to the simplicities of the 1950’s that some sources today will tell you it was produced in that decade. The inclusion of the Dragnet TV star Jack Webb as narrator possibly contributes to this erroneous notion. The film was made in black and white but the documentary-style ending sequences were in colour.
The movie ran for just under an hour. It was designed to be exhibited to American Service Personnel at US military bases all around the world – the intention being to entertain, inform, motivate and congratulate them about their military service and fulfilment of their citizenship duties. It was entitled Freedom and You.

A shortened version, of 29 minutes, was later released to schools and shown on TV, and this short-form of the movie carried a different title. With much less context because of the trimmed-out 20 minutes, the film was cut to resemble an episode of a popular half-hour TV Thriller. It was also given a snappier title: RED NIGHTMARE. You can watch it here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuvHBgHyHh0   

Such context as this illustrates how the world of Number Six allegorised the political world of the 1960’s. As I discussed in my previous blog to this one, The Prisoner was commissioned on April 16th 1966, but it seems the exact scripting of the show remained quite fluid even four months later, when Everyman began location filming in Portmeirion (on September 5th 1966). The script of Arrival necessarily had to have been more firmly designed however, as it was being utilised to act as the functional introduction to the rules and default settings that would apply to the Village. David Tomblin and George Markstein were the credited writers, but Tomblin was quick to memorialise that Patrick McGoohan was significantly involved in the writing too. The first half of that episode seems to have used the events in Freedom and You/Red Nightmare as a structural template.


If you watch Red Nightmare you will find that the film begins with an opening long shot of  “Mid Town, USA”. It quite resembles a village, with a tall spire at its focus. Is it in Kansas? It is not!
Jack Webb narrates that we are apparently in a facsimile American town, which lies behind the Iron Curtain! It is a training camp for spies and saboteurs! In Danger Man, an episode featured a facsimile British town behind the Iron Curtain called Hamden, the title of the episode is Colony Three. It was made just a couple of years after the release of Freedom and You. Rumours of spy training towns were often featuring in the press of those years. Whereas Red Nightmare is quite clear that Mid Town (as it is ambiguously named) is a purely communist plot, Colony Three reveals a degree of uncertainty about whether only one side knows about Hamden.

Red Nightmare gets its title from the dream sequence that begins about ten minutes into the film. The protagonist, who is an American Everyman called Jerry, dreams that his own actual town is now in a Communist America! A true red nightmare! There are some very close echoes of Red Nightmare evident in the first half of Arrival. The harmonies begin with one of the first things that Jerry does in his dream: this is to try to phone his wife on a public telephone. He is not permitted to make the call – the Operator is not especially helpful.

Your Permit Number please.
Permit Number? I’m afraid I don’t have a permit. I just want to call my house and talk to my wife.
No personal calls allowed without a permit from the Commissar. Now get off the line please.

Compare and contrast Jerry’s conversation with one of the first things Number Six does, once he finds himself in his unfamiliar village:
 
Number please.
What exchange is this?
Number please.
I want to make a call ...
Local calls only! What is your number, sir?
Haven’t got a number.
No number, no call.
In Red Nightmare it makes perfect sense for a public phone to be found at the drugstore, but why does the Village include the existence of a public phone in Arrival? Why would there even be a public phone in such a closed community? Nonetheless, as a dramatic building block in the plot of Arrival, this idea is just as effective as it is in Red Nightmare, and this is just the first structural similarity. Jerry is already inside a shop when he tries to makes his call, whereas Number Six makes his call out of doors and then finds his way inside a shop. Both baffled men eventually leave these shops in order to explore their strange new hometown. Jerry doesn't need a map.
In Red Nightmare, Jerry sees a small jeep appearing carrying a military man, who makes a speech to an assembling populace. In Arrival, something similar could be said to be happening as Number Six finds his way into a central plaza, where Number Two is barking platitudes through a hand-held megaphone, as mini-mokes tootle about aimlesly.
Both Jerry and Number Six mingle with the townspeople/villagers, expresing bafflement with the behaviour of the citizens they are surrounded by. Both protagonists seem equally unnerved and unsure what to say, or what to do, or indeed, whom they can trust.
As the action continues, a resort to violence eventually occurs. In Red Nightmare, a museum claiming that a Russian invented the telephone (rather than an American) enrages Jerry. In The Prisoner, Number Six only becomes enraged when he is asked about his Politics.
In both cases minor destruction ensues.

For Jerry, things rapidly go from bad to worse. His wife and children are cold to him because they are more interested in the welfare of the Party than the welfare of their husband/parent. Jerry’s workmates despair of his inability to meet his quotas. The townsfolk turn against him because he complains about the way things are being run, and after his vandalism in the museum Jerry is arrested, tried by a court where his only defence can be to confess, and very soon his nightmare ends with his execution.
The overall tenets of Red Nightmare are in some ways what Number Six is faced with as the episodes of The Prisoner unfold. The Prisoner is of course a fable based around the audience of 1966 and it’s preconceptions of Totalitarian Communism. For Number Six matters will proceed much more slowly and less terminally than they do for Jerry but at around the halfway point of Arrival, just like Jerry, Number Six is violently detained (after his initial escape attempt). In the case of Red Nightmare the protagonist finds his world has returned to normal as he wakes up in his own bed. Number Six wakes up in a hospital bed, only to find his nightmare continuing with a new Number Two. As both wake up, they look eerily similar.
In the closing sequences of Freedom and You, Jack Webb recites a stirring speech aimed at the watching servicemen (and women) of 1962/63 that his film was commissioned for:
Freedom!
No single word in all mankind has come to mean so much.
To prevent Communism from consuming the entire free world there stands but one man.
That man Is You.
The Individual.

George Markstein, was a London correspondent for the USAF staff newspaper published at the 3rd American air force base in the UK, at Ruislip, London. This would be exactly the sort of establishment that Freedom and You would have been screened at. However, Markstein, in his reminiscences in the 1980’s only seemed to recall The Prisoner as a sequel to Danger Man. The fact that he simultaneously seemed unaware of Colony Three makes his passion for Drake seem surprisingly uninformed. There is a little more about Markstein and the process of script creation for The Prisoner here: http://numbersixwasinnocent.blogspot.com/2009/12/mcgoohan-on-peoples-minds-not-so-great.html

As a professional film-man there seems no reason why David Tomblin might not have come across this Warner Bros film at some time too, between 1962 and 1966. He certainly had direct exposure to the Danger Man episode Colony Three, which was based on the same Cold War legends of Spy Training Towns that are mentioned in Red Nightmare.
 
Patrick McGoohan spoke more than once about how his show had been an allegory. In many ways he was allegorising the Cold War itself - the world of hiding and finding secret information. The original film that Red Nightmare is extracted from - Freedom and You - concludes with an almost orgiastic display of American military hardware: shells are fired, bullets are shot and bombs are dropped. They all explode in glorious colour with no suggestion of the reasons for all this fall out. Patrick McGoohan was certainly utilising the same Cold War political attitudes that exist in Red Nightmare, but he used his village setting to re-address those political issues and posit whether there was really any difference between the two sides and allegorically reflect upon to what degree these political forces were simply mirroring personal choices that every individual person has to make every single day of their life. Whilst many films of the era may bear philosophical comparison with The Prisoner the structural similarities between Red Nightmare and Arrival suggest a somewhat more direct relationship between the two. Perhaps there is even a faint suggestion of Free for All in this brief frame from Red Nightmare.
Watching the Warner Bros film for the first time, a correspondent of mine also pointed out to me that when Jerry is talking to his wife and small children at home, a military recruiting officer (enlisting the older daughter) suddenly enters the house, without knocking or breaking down the door. There is no indication that the door needs to be unlocked – it just opens and people walk in. Just as Number Six seems to have no control over his own front door, neither does Jerry, in his red nightmare!
 
In 1977, when Patrick McGoohan was first interviewed specifically about The Prisoner, he remarked at one point:
“I had a whole format prepared of this ‘Prisoner’ thing which initially came to me on one of the locations on ‘Secret Agent’ when we went to this place called Portmeirion, where a great deal of it was shot, and I thought it was an extraordinary place, architecturally and atmosphere wise, and should be used for something, and that was two years before the concept came to me.”
http://www.cultv.co.uk/mcgoohan.htm

McGoohan was filming in Portmeirion in 1960 with David Tomblin, and that was two years before Freedom and You/Red Nightmare was produced.

In 1966 Patrick McGoohan went to Lew Grade with an idea that Lew thought so crazy it just might work, and afterwards David Tomblin recalled his friend and partner telling him that Lew had guaranteed the money they needed to make the show that he reminded Tomblin was, 'what we’ve talked about all these years’.
 
One other remarkable coincident similarity to The Prisoner that you will not see in Red Nightmare because it forms part of the extraneous material that was cut from the original hour-long Freedom and You, is the scene where there is a racing car at an airfield … and we see it approaching – from the far distance … 
If you would like to know moor about Colony Three, and its pertinence to the format of The Prisoner, some previous information is here:
http://numbersixwasinnocent.blogspot.com/2009/09/mcgoohan-on-my-mind-where-am-i-in.html

For moor on Red Nightmare, Conelrad is unbeatable: