Wednesday, 16 February 2011

McGoohan in his own words: "You can't do a thing like that on your own"

Some years ago I became fascinated by a particular photograph I had come across in a 1960 book about TV. At that particular time I had been curious about Ralph Smart - whose name was so well-known and yet who seemed to be little-known otherwise. The confident looking guy, leaning on the camera being operated by Patrick McGoohan might be him I reasoned. I showed the photo to various *experts* at the time, but other than identifying Jack Lowin as the man with the moustache, nobody had any idea who the other man might be.

It was only a year or so ago, when I was browsing the cache of photographs of the 1967 Prisoner production at the AMC site, that I suddenly saw my man again. Once more - he was leaning nonchalantly on a camera. Who on earth could he be? Somebody important... somebody forgotten somehow by all the experts and all their burrowing research.

There were a number of key film-crew who worked with Patrick McGoohan on both his TV series, Danger Man and The Prisoner. Most of them had been interviewed unto death at the various prisoner conventions, but evidently not this guy. There really was only one candidate, who would had the clout to be casually standing about, leaning on cameras and generally getting in the face of both Patrick McGoohan and Don Chaffey.

Strangely enough, I had not so long before had a web conversation in which the very same man had cropped up, as described by Ignis Fatuus: Brendan Stafford was more significant to the production than individual directors. As director of photography he worked on every episode. ITC productions relied heavily on the use of 'stock footage' to establish location and atmosphere for (largely) studio-bound productions. He would be responsible for assembling this material, and matching it to specific productions so that it 'blended' with the overall visual style of the studio work. Ignis was talking about Brendan's involvement on Danger Man, but his opinion must be just as valid for the making The Prisoner.

Brendan Stafford, an Irishman from Belfast who has over 500 series' segments to his credit as well as many feature movies. Among the best-known series on which he has worked have been "The Adventures of William Tell", "The Invisible Man", "Danger Man" (both the original half-hour programmes and the one-hour productions seen in America as "Secret Agent"), "Rendezvous", "One Step Beyond", "Sir Francis Drake", "Man of the World", "Sentimental Agent", "The Prisoner", "The Man Who Never Was", and many of "The Saint" segments. As a member of the Irish Film Society, Brendan made 16mm films which he showed to producer Michael Powell, who suggested that he should go to London. So Brendan gave up the portrait studio he was running and plunged into feature films, directing documentaries and then photographing several productions. For a time, he concentrated on direction of such films as "Stranger At My Door", "Proud Canvas" and "Men Against the Sun", but then returned to camerawork and decided to keep to this. Feature film photography took him into television films for Douglas Fairbanks Jnr., and then one series after another. He occasionally returns to feature filming (latest, "Crossplot", starring Roger Moore), but cannot resist the infinite variety offered by series.

As McGoohan frequently commented, he did not - indeed could not - create The Prisoner on his own. The phrase that prefaced this particular Blog was something he commented in an interview in 1990, continuing:

I had fellows who came in it with me.

In another interview in the early 1990's he mentioned two others:
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 !

For The Prisoner, for example, I had a terrific artistic director.  When we discussed a design, I told him what I had in mind and he translated it onto paper.  In the process he added his own ideas, certainly.  His name was Jack Shampan.  A terrific guy.  Unfortunately, he's gone now.  We understood each other marvellously.  And that's the best way to work.   If there's enthusiasm and the team feels it's being directed by someone who knows what he wants, then all that enthusiasm goes into good work.  If you feel that the director or the producer is only doing it for the money, then nobody gives a damn. 

Whilst my Blogs are somewhat polemical about the over-arching influence of Patrick McGoohan himself, he was seemingly the first to acknowledge that he did not create in isolation. Indeed, in that 1967 TV Times, McGoohan co-operated with the journalist in making sure many of the key people in his operation were all identified by name.

All credit to where credit is due. Brendan J Stafford



  2. Thanks for a nice refutation of the view that PMG was some sort of monster of egomania who steadfastly refused to allot anyone else even a small amount of credit for the creation and development of the series. For reasons that escape me, it seems that bashing McGoohan has become a popular pastime amongst the nuttier elements of "fandom". I suppose that for these folks, fringe revisionism of the loonier sorts is somehow more interesting (or maybe just more satisfying to impoverished imaginations) than fact. Thanks, Moor-Larkin, for a blog that seems to have an honest interest in presenting the actualities about PMG and his unique creation as opposed to foolish "fan" yarn-spinning.

  3. The mention of Jack Shampan reminds me of a book called "Making "Legend of the Werewolf"" by Edward Buscombe. The author spent a lot of time talking to the principle artists and craftsmen involved, including Shampan, and it's a rare detailed insight into the making of a fairly modest British film of the period.

    Most "Making of" books concern major pictures or are overly populist, this one was published by the BFI and is a sober look at who did what on the film and their attitudes towards their jobs.

    It's worth pointing out that the making of ITC filmed series was technically exactly the same as low budget films. They were made in film studios with film crews and shot and completed on 35mm film.
    (This is very different to series which were made in TV studios using multi-camera video technology such as Callan, Adam Adamant or Honor Blackman era Avengers.)

  4. A Director of Photography would not normally be responsible for assembling stock footage, that would generally be the editor, with the approval of the director.