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.

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.

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.

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.

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:   

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:
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:

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.”

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:

For moor on Red Nightmare, Conelrad is unbeatable: