Saturday, 23 July 2011

McGoohan made his own plans: "Each episode will be self-contained but part of a continuing story-line"

My principal motivation in writing this Blog-roll was to make a place of reference for refuting the fan-created fallacy that The Prisoner was created and formed despite Patrick McGoohan, rather than because of him. Given the time, energy and creative devotion he applied to making this thought-provoking show happen at all, then develop and conclude it, this unfairly false history deserved to be debunked someplace. 

Sometimes the fan-fallacies are geared to misrepresenting historical fact, but often there are also 'apparent' facts that they derive from the fiction itself. One of the subjects they have liked most to expound upon is Episode Order, and their supposition is that the episodes were broadcast in either an arbitrary or mistaken order. The implied barb that Everyman somehow lost control of the series is part of their contention that McGoohan had lost control of himself. This fundamental question was raised from the very earliest, when the Canadian enthusiasts attending the “Troyer Interview” complained that too much about the series seemed accidental. Because Patrick McGoohan himself emphasised that he was apparently making the show up as he went along, they found it difficult to credit that such a course of action was possible and therefore suspected something about McGoohan’s story could not be right. 

This undercurrent of disbelief seems to have perpetuated itself in UK Prisoner fandom and led them to increasingly sideline McGoohan as an individual and search instead for some kind of ‘collectivist’ solution to this conundrum. This led to the notion that episodes were created in isolation, by distinct writers (mentored only by the Script editor) and the fact that there was any coherence at all was due to the inherent genius of these writers, and the genius of the other collaborators; genii which withstood even the erratic megalomania of McGoohan whose interference became signalled by his  allegedly incoherent, but inspired final episode. In the light of all this misunderstanding, many fans find they have a self-righteous craving to undo the errors and so ‘make sense’ of the series. In fact, had they paid more attention to Bernie Williams, the production manager and Len Harris, the camera operator, they might have realised that the Collective was led and directed, even though some of them failed themselves to realise just what was going on.

Bernie Williams
" wasn't developed. It was developing in Patrick's mind but we were already rolling the cameras, so we were trying to get a grasp of what the series was about and.... er, Patrick wrote the first script, Arrival, with David. Tomblin; and it was really a case of sorting out... what is this village,  what is this man, who are the people that's running it, what's their motives, what's his motives, where is this place supposed to be, should we let the audience know where it's supposed to be, are they the East, are they the West, all those issues were being discussed as we were shooting...... "

Len Harris
Patrick knew, it was all in his mind, how the stuff was going to be used – not too many people knew that. They knew there were some scripts about, not always complete, but you gleaned what you could from them. But pretty well all the arrangements were in his mind.

A news article from July in 1966 confirms the nature of McGoohan's grip on the visualisation of the the show he had yet to even begin. One of things that has puzzled me in the past has been why McGoohan ever elected to employ George Markstein, who had no real experience of script supervision. This article may perhaps explain a reason why. McGoohan's reference to *a book* that could be used as a reference point to view the series from is intriguing. Certainly Markstein was a competent journalistic writer and perhaps it was his failure to produce such a book that was one big reason for McGoohan's rapid change in attitude towards this erstwhile collaborator. Another thing about the making of this show that puzzles me is that it was commissioned on April 16th and yet it was not until July or August opf the same year that the first scripts seem to have appeared. It has struck me that one thing that was supposed to have been produced in this time was *the book*. This would have provided recruited script-writers with a clear reference-point to work from, whereas in fact all of the first batch of script-writers have attested that they were given very little clear guidance, and certainly nothing 'in writing'. 
The existence of a story arc and episode order lies at the heart of many entertaining fan debates. Some influential Prisoner fan clubbers will remark that, “George Markstein supplied a 13 episode story arc”. However, the same Prisoner experts will also wax lyrically about how as many as three episodes were originally intended to become Episode Two and indeed the principal fan club even persuaded A&E to release a dvd set with the episodes on the discs in their preferred ordering! It seems clear with all this debating that there was no story arc at the point of script commissioning. The fact that three of the first five episodes to enter production were geared to be Episode 2 (Free For All, Dance of the Dead and Chimes of Big Ben) no doubt added to the lack of confidence McGoohan increasingly had in his ineffective script editor, explaining why McGoohan evidently had side-lined him by Xmas of 1966.

Another key piece of evidence to demonstrate that episode order was decided post series completion rather than beforehand has been utterly overlooked by the fan studies over the years. In my earlier Blog I touched on the Canadian 13 episode series of 1967; . It was only in the last year or two that my North American co-researcher, known as The Sheriff, clarified this ordering, in a showing, which even predated the first run in the UK. The circumstances of how and why the Canadian network ran with a 13 episode season remains something of a mystery, but it seems most likely to have been commissioned direct by some ITC executive, perhaps without reference to Everyman. The use of a different cut of Chimes of Big Ben, as the final conclusion might be significant. Many years later, when that different cut surfaced, to be marketed by the Fan Clubs as “the alternative” episode, Patrick McGoohan expressed annoyance and described this version as an unfinished rough cut that should never have seen the light of day. His reaction even indicates that he was never aware of what went on in Canada all those years before.

You see, that so-called lost episode just happened to be an unfinished cut of  what eventually went out as ‘The Chimes of Big Ben’.

All the evidence points to the fact that the order of episodes was decided during post-production. Ian Rakoff’s memoir highlights the constant attention McGoohan was applying even to the editing and cutting processes and no doubt this allowed him to make the connections he wanted between the various stories and then assemble them into an Order that made a narrative. 
Many fans contend the order applied was decided largely upon the basis of scattering the Portmeirion location episodes evenly, and whilst there is some merit to this notion, it is clearly not the only factor that was at work in McGoohan’s mind. Other fans contend that the Order was totally decided by ITC but it sems illogical to imagine that after all the attention McGoohan had paid to the production that he would then not have ensured a suitable episode order was suggested. The bizarre Canadian ordering emphasises how random an ordering could otherwise become, and the fact that the USA showing in 1968 almost replicated the UK one that had concluded a few months before seems to confirm that a determination was made over and above the Networks; indeed it would be nonsensical to think that the Network would not have demanded an approved order anyway. They were paying for the production and would not expect to have do the scheduling work for themselves!!

One way to emphasise the detailed comprehension McGoohan possessed over his series is to consider the occurrences of the various actors who appeared on more than one occasion in the series. Earnest fans seeking to demonstrate that the UK/USA broadcast order was inherently wrong in terms of the consistency of the fiction, often quote the significance of the presence of Colin Gordon as Number Two in two different and distinct episodes. They generally claim that A,B&C must follow The General based on the state of mind of the same Number Two in each episode. Another opinion within the cult is that there is NO significance in recurring characters and that it was simply standard practice in ITC series of those days to have the same actor portraying completely different characters within a run of shows. However this second reductionist view seems to be as incorrect as the view it argues against.
There are around 25 actors who recur within the series, other than McGoohan himself. Obviously Angelo Muscat as the Butler and Peter Swanwick as the Supervisor remain overtly consistent characters, whilst Leo McKern is overtly recognised within the fiction as being a returning or resurrected Number Two. This leaves around 20 actors who show up not evidentially as the same personality. Of these, many are just stunt-men appearing as henchmen or thugs so could easily be the same personality so far as the fiction is concerned. One or two others intriguingly remain consistently the same person. For example the actor playing the shopkeeper selling the map to Number Six plays no other part but is seen in two episodes as the shopkeeper. Another plays a psychiatrist in both her appearances; another remains in character as an ex-Admiral, whilst Patsy Smart only changes from being a waitress to being a maid – a perfectly feasible change of job within the village fiction.

There are however three actors with multiple appearances that are more ambiguous and often discussed in prisoner fandom:
Christopher Benjamin as Labour Exchange manager/Assistant to Number Two in Arrival & Chimes of Big Ben and Score-keeper/Potter [in the childrens story scetion of The Girl who was Death]
Patrick Cargill as Thorpe in Many Happy Returns and Number Two in Hammer into Anvil
Colin Gordon as Number Two in A,B&C and The General

However there are four others who also recur but rarely get discussed in this manner. These are:
Alexis Kanner as The Kid or Number 8 in Living in Harmony, a photographer in the story ection of The Girl Who Was Death and Number 48 in Fall Out
Kenneth Griffith as Scnipps in the story visualisation of The Girl Who was Death and Number Two in the reality section of that episode; and The President in Fall Out
Georgina Cookson as Lady at party in A,B&C, Mrs. Butterworth/Number Two in Many Happy Returns
Larry Taylor as Gypsy Man in Many Happy Returns and Mexican Sam in Living in Harmony

It seems to me that whatever explanation one chooses to apply, it has to be the same explanation for all of these characters. Patrick McGoohan was exercising close control over the show and could not have failed to be conscious of the recurrences. Would he really have expected his audience not to notice any of these faces being the same? Why did he always make Peter Swanwick a supervisor ? Why did the shopkeeper not pop up in other roles? Once you accept that McGoohan must have been conscious of these duplications it is also necessary, and possible to consider why he allowed some of them, and perhaps take account of his point of view.. 

In my next Blog I will discuss exactly this and how it demonstrated that not only was each episode carefully made, but the same care was applied to the way these episodes were ordered when the time came for their broadcasting, and how the strange unexplained 1967 Canadian ordering seems to add credence to what McGoohan said in July 1966, before a single frame of film had been shot:

" star and producer and even writer of some of the scripts of "the prisoner" I'll have only myself to blame if it's a lousy show. And that's the way I like it."