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! 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 ….
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.


  1. Merry Christmas, Moor, and best wishes for a wonderful New Year!

    (Eagerly awaiting your next entry...)

  2. This discussion of George Markstein is riddled with wild inacuracies of fact, based on my own personal acquaintance with him.
    My name is Sidney Allinson, and I was a friend of George Markstein when we both worked on the editorial staff of the "Southport Guardian" newspaper, in Southport, England, during 1947-1948.
    First contradiction is that giving George a birth-date of 1929. That surely is not correct. When I worked with GM in 1947, he was aged in his mid to late Twenties.
    Next puzzlement is the oft-told tale that George "was born in Germany and escaped with his family to Britain to escape the Nazis" and was educated in British schools.
    When I knew George, he was known as an American citizen, and certainly had an authentic-sounding strong American accent. Also, I recall him strongly hinting that he had been in the US Office of Strategic Services (precursor of the CIA.) Lakeable as he was, George's co-workers took that with a pinch of salt.
    (Incidentally, the 1947 photograph of George and his wife that is now displayed on James Follett's web site was supplied by me to Follet several years ago, though it is not credited to me.)
    I am puzzled by these and several other puzzling and contradictory "facts" now being bandied about regarding George Markstein's purported origins and background.
    I would be interested to hear from anyone who wishes to further discuss George Markstein with me.
    -- Sidney Allinson.

  3. Perhaps yours is a different George Markstein Sidney.

    So far as the *facts* go about the Prisoner guy, some of the *facts* are on his wiki page; but like you, I have my doubts over the factual nature of some of it, but I can only work with what I have. I have just noticed that his birth year has now been pushed back to 1926 on the wikipedia.

    I'm guessing that you yourself must be in your mid-Eighties by now sir - a genuinely silver surfer! Congratulations and welcome.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. No, Moor, the George Markstein I knew in 1947 when we worked together as reporters at the Southport Guardian newspaper in England as the same man who wrote "The Prisoner" and several thrillers.
    Good to learn that his birth year has been corrected on Wikipedia, as the previous date of 1929 was clearly erroneous. That would have made him only 18 when I knew him in 1947, when he was then in his mid-twenties.
    Thank you for congratulating me as a "silver surfer", but being aged a mere 81, I am by no means in my dotage. I continue to write books and magazine articles. A few samples here:

  5. I'm pleased to see Mr. Follett has now given you full photo credit for that picture of George and his wife.

    Perhaps he reads my blog too...... :-D

    1. Perhaps ... But I happpened to correspond with James last week, which prompted his memory to offer his retroactive apology for not crediting my photo of George Markstein.(not that I had particularly expected JF to do so.)

    2. He still does not agree with you about George's age however, and I notice wiki has reverted the birthdate back to 1929 now. It appears someone has cited a published book, containing a potted biography of Mr.Markstein. That book is mentioned in another earlier blog of mine, which you may also find of interest.

      Perhaps if you could supply some more information, some of this confusion might be cleared up once and for all. One thing that has puzzled me is why you kept that picture of George and.... whatever his wife's name was ? ..... all these years.

  6. Short of any further response, I must confess Sidney that this man you claim to recall working with cannot be the same guy. I went back into the various clippings I have accumulated and found an interview with George Markstein from 1973. In it he is described as, "..a bald, 45 year-old man with discreet eyes framed in steel, he looks rather like a junior Lew Grade withut the stress and he smokes much smaller cigars...." That would make his age tally with being born in 1929, just as his own Agency states:

    The 1973 interview seems to refer to his living *in a room* with no suggestion of a wife (or child). When asked what he will do with money he expects to accrue from his first book, "The Cooler", he says vaguely that he hasn't the slightest idea, but might browse in bookshops and, "buy a bit more freely". No mention of holdays with wifey.

    I fear you may need to tell Mr.Follett that you have sent him a picture that is a remarkable coincidence, rather than a remarkable find. These things happen I guess.

    Be seeing you?

  7. Moor, your response to me is both unprofessional and discourteous.
    Particularly offensive is your sneering disbelief of my statement I was personally acquainted with the author George Markstein.
    Rather than dismissing the truth of my acquaintance of George Markstein out of hand, and igorantly asserting he was not married, you would be better employed by yourself writing direct to his friend and colleague James Follet, asking him to confirm that the photograph I supplied to him is in fact that of George Markstein and his then-fiancee.

  8. Mr.Follett has a site that clearly harmonises with many other accounts of the origins of the George Markstein who wrote "The Cooler". To quote it today:

    George Markstein (August 1929 - January 15, 1987) was a German-born British journalist and subsequently writer of thrillers and teleplays.

    I have just quoted a news article that harmonises with this. I guess a man could pass himself as younger than he really is, but your claim that he was also an American seems especially odd in the sense that you seem to concur his family was German and that they emigrated when he was a child. If he was born in 1922 (as your story suggests) then he would have been 14 by the time Hitler became a real thorn for Humanity (in 1936). You then have his family emigrate to the USA where George has time to develop an American accent, only to return to live in England when that country looked highly likely to become part of the Reich.

    Your memoir makes no sense.

    I have read accounts that Mr.Markstein did have a son and you may have a photograph of him with a fiancee for all I know; but much else need a far more reasonable explanation. I have also worked out that you must have been 17 when you worked with him at Southport. I'm a bit confused about that too because your wiki-entry claims you served "served overseas with Britain's Royal Air Force before emigrating to Canada in 1951"

    I guess life moved at quite a pace back then and I'm still wondering what was so special about that photograph that made you keep it all those years.

    I cannot know every answer but I think there is a perfectly reasonable question or two here that might require answers.

    Moor Larkin

  9. Well, Sidney. I have now confirmed after following your clues, that George was born in 1926. I have no idea why his Agency should have recorded it as 1929 all these years. This would make him 21 when you knew him. It has crossed my mind that he may have affected an American accent in order to make himself sound less German, but that would be merely idle speculation on my part, but it is certainly interesting that by the 1950's he was working for the staff news-magazine based at the 3rd US Airforce base in Rusilip.

    Best Regards and sorry if I offended you, but as I think George Bernard Shaw once remarked, "You can never truly know a man until you have contradicted him"

    Not sure if I will see you again in here, but the motivation you have given me to find out the real truth about this odd quirk in the historical record has been mavellous and I thank you for it.


  10. While it's well known that actors commonly shave years off their age, many people behind the camera do the same. No one wants to be thought of as past it and out of touch.
    Directors, producers and writers especially might also drop early credits off their CVs in order to suggest that they are younger and began later in the industry than they actually did.

    Even the hugely distinguished Emeric Pressburger, with a list of credits most writers would kill for (The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Matter of Life and Death, etc.) felt the need to start writing under a pseudonym in the 1960s, saying that he could get work now he was a new young writer!

    It wouldn't surprise me if Markstein knocked off a few years - although how successful that would be, given that his early-receding hairline would make him look older than his actual age anyway.