Sunday, 22 May 2011

McGoohan in his own words: I try never to allow myself to be engulfed by outside pressures, though I might sometimes be, by my own.

It’s Your Funeral is as complexly plotted an episode as The Schizoid Man is. Scanning a synopsis of both episodes can easily lead an inattentive viewer to all manner of misconceptions about what is going on within the episode. The plot of It's Your Funeral at first looks as if it will be a fairly obvious one. Number Six battling against an internal political conspiracy to assassinate an outgoing Number Two. Such conspiracy theory seems fairly routine nowadays, but of course in 1967, it was a relatively new past-time - four years on from the JFK tragedy. In 1964, news articles protested that there was unnecessary mystery.

For McGoohan to be selling a show telling a tale of the Village leader being assassinated by his own side must have seemed somewhat seditious perhaps, but the USA had a mature democracy and was no more likely to have been disturbed by that than it was by Living in Harmony, which episode was caused to fall from the schedules in part as a result of the 1967 assassination of JFK’s younger brother, Bobby, when the first showing of the series lost one week of it’s 17 and so was reduced to a 16 week slot.
as explained in this previous Blog of mine:

The complexity of It’s Your Funeral may even have affected the production of it. Derren Nesbitt is documented as having not understood what was going on, and said the episode’s director, Robert Asher concurred with him. This may be because the plot was so serpentine, let’s peel back the onion-skins and try to get some idea of what was going on: The episode opens with a young woman seemingly attempting to gain the help of Number Six in averting an assassination. However the viewer becomes privy to the fact that she is unknowingly being manipulated by the current Number Two to implicate Number six into a plot he otherwise would not know about. As so often is the case in the show, Number Six instinctively grasps all is not as it seems and shares the viewer’s suspicions. We see what he sees, but with more clarity than he ever can.

The episode then segues into a long sequence where a computer is deemed to be able to predict a man’s daily activities by the simple method of accumulating observations and deriving probabilities (much like internet marketing attempts nowadays). During this segment we meet Number 100 – a warder purporting to be a prisoner. He is the inside man. A Kosho match, serving only to give an opportunity to ensure Number Six eventually visits the village watchmaker, then follows these scenes. Thence Number Six meets the young woman again and is convinced that the assassination plot is a real one after all. The key to Number Six’s motivations for his further actions is then profiled;
Call it what you like, the important matter is that the entire village will be punished
Maybe that is what they need to wake them up.
To shake them out of this lethargy. To make them angry enough to fight!
That’s assuming they survive the punishment!
It’s simply his belief that innocent people might be hurt. Political assassinations were often followed by revenge killings. The CIA was implicated in a particularly famous one, in 1961, but in fact it was carried out by local political groupings. However McGoohan's generation would have been more conscious in those days of the vicious SS activities of WWII, when French villagers would be shot as reprisal for the 'assassination' of occupying Nazi forces. Number Six’s own aggressive willingness to kill is evidenced near the end of the episode when he is quite prepared to blow the chest out of the insidious blond Number Two. He is no pacifist prisoner, but he evidently accepts his own limitations as much as he does his power..

The motivations of the Number Two’s is perhaps the most confusing thing about the episode. Derren Nesbitt’s blond Number Two is evidently following instructions from above – although he is a willing participant in this intranecine murder and treachery. When the old Number Two appears, the viewers preconceptions are blown apart. Up until this point we, like Number Six, have been under the impression that the village has attempted to persuade Number Six of a non-existent plot, so that he will betray the plot and reveal himself to the rest of the village as a collaborator. Suddenly this plot becomes even more complicated as we realise that in fact there is no plot from the outside but in fact it is an plot being planned by Number One himself! A secondary reason for all the intrigue has also been to ensure Number Six’s warnings to the intended target will not be believed by the old Number Two. Even then the twists are not at an end. Number Six is wily enough to even break this trap but by then the targeted Number Two has simply given up, and prepares himself to die, despite the warning. As he remarks despairingly, if not exactly existentially,
Preventing is just postponing
No wonder poor old Derren Nesbitt was confused! Anyhow, it’s probably best to watch the show for yourself. `While you do that I’ll talk about some other interesting stuff – that way you don’t have to listen – unless you particularly want to.

One small element of this episode that I quite enjoy is the incorporation of Jammers. The suggestion of a group of villagers who set out to confuse and block the village operation is a direct feedback from a feature of the Cold war that was especially relevant in Berlin – the archetype of a cold war village that I featured a while back…

The jammers in this episode are associated with an “Escape Committee”. This illustrates an interesting example of the exercise of McGoohan’s editorial and proprietorial authority. Michael Cramoy was the credited writer of It’s Your Funeral but the inclusion of the notion of Number Six becoming embroiled with an Escape Committee is also found in an unused script written by Gerald Kelsey. This script was tentatively entitled Don’t get Yourself Killed. Furthermore, within that episode a sequence involves a Judo (as opposed to Kosho) set-piece, although in this unmade episode the judo involves Number Two rather than Number Six. Plainly neither writer would have plagiarised the other so there seems to have been an overriding editorial influence at work. A strong suggestion of where that editorial influence was coming from lies in another aspect of It’s Your Funeral. The blond Number Two utilises recordings of Number Six giving him a warning about the assassination plot to construct an impression of Number Six repeatedly making this warning to a number of other interim Number Two’s. This small, though crucial piece of plotting significantly mirrors a key element of All Night Long, a 1962 movie McGoohan had made, where his character re-edits a series of audio recordings to make an artifice that convinces a man of his wife’s adultery. There are other gadgets worthy of many an episode of McGoohan’s old Danger Man show that appear too.

Another old film role of McGoohan’s possibly informed a screen fight that seems to have terrified Mark Eden, who played Number 100. He is often quoted gleefully by prisoner fans, and most recently Mr. Eden’s very old memoir has even reached the pages of a 2011 ‘biography’ of Patrick McGoohan.
Eden’s experience of McGoohan’s violence was terrifying.
“There was a bit where he had to get on top of me and strangle me and I had to push him off… and he was really strangling me. I looked up and I could see these mad eyes looking down at me and I thought, ‘He’s gone, he’s gone…’ and his face was contorted with rage… and he’s a big man.”

It is fascinating to note that the TV viewer can judge this scariness for themselves!!

Perhaps Mr Eden had never come across McGoohan’s 'method' psychopath from Hell Drivers before, but it seems strange for a professional actor to have taken such on-set activity so seriously. Blame it on the pink jacket maybe, or maybe, like any actor should, this one enjoyed playing to the gallery; and when telling his tale to the prisoner fan gallery he had a very receptive audience! Judging from their most recent biographical project that audience remains just as receptive to their favourite tales today, as they were yesterday.

On the positive side however, whatever my misgivings about Mark Eden's memoir in terms of his ability to measure the mood of a man rather than a performance, his reminiscences do also recall that Patrick McGoohan would personally issue hand-written script amendments each morning prior to shooting, on the set of It's Your Funeral. It is of course one of the main purposes of my blog-roll to make the same point that is made by this experienced actor. That Patrick McGoohan was intimately involved with the detail of writing this show, as well as producing, directing and acting in it. Oddly, a small but influential group of fans of the show prefer to kick that particular fact into the long grass of their story. Fortunately it remains part of his story - no matter how the history is spun.

As Number Six remarked to the blond Number two at the conclusion of It's Your Funeral:
Be seeing you.
Won't I?

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