Thursday, 3 November 2011

McGoohan tells his story: My production manager, Bernard Williams... wonderful fellow…says… "What's that?" And I said, "I don’t know. What is it?" He says, "I think it's a meteorological balloon." And he looked at me. And I said, "How many can you get within two hours?"

There are times when I have come across something old about the background to the making of The Prisoner and I think to myself, How come I never knew that before?. I came to the conclusion some time ago that the principal reason for this was that most published writers did no real research of their own; rather they re-digested information that had been given to them by some scion of the various fan organisations that had done so much background research about the show in the preceding two decades. I had always been intrigued that such a young (25) and apparently inexperienced man as Bernard Williams became Production Manager on The Prisoner, and that he was also consulted with, and listened to, by Patrick McGoohan. However when another blogger posted a twenty year old fan article recently I was both baffled and educated, simultaneously.
 There seems little mention in publicly published sources about Bernie Williams being involved on the Danger Man project. This seemed so new to me that I even re-read one or two of those books to check I hadn’t missed something. I then even wondered if Bernie Williams had made the entire story up, as there seem some evident anomalies in the job titles he refers to, but there seemed no reason for him to do so, so I looked at it from a different perspective.   
There was something of an enigma here, because at no point does the name Bernie Williams appear on the credits of the Danger Man show. However, after a little research, I realised that Mr. Williams’s involvement was via his employment at the MGM Studios rather than via Ralph Smart’s Pimlico Films. Bernie Williams had originally obtained work at Borehamwood via his father’s influence. His dad was employed in the Security department at the London studios. Bernie recalled beginning his movie career in the Stills department at MGM, at around age 15. This was in the late 1950’s. He thence moved through a variety of roles in the subsequent years. He must have been deputed to work closely with the MGM filming days of Danger Man, seemingly as early as 1960, and certainly between 1964 and 1965. As I mentioned in my previous blog, Frank Maher (the Prisoner stunt-co-ordinator and double for McGoohan) had mentioned that Mr. Williams was the person who had originally introduced him to Patrick McGoohan, and Mr. Maher described Bernie Williams as being a production manager. Frank Maher became involved with Danger Man only for the 1964-66 hour-long episodes, seemingly confirming that Bernie knew Patrick (and David Tomblin) from the time of the first series back in 1960.
 ……. - remember Bernard Williams?
  The Prisoner production manager?
 Yes. He was a friend of mine and he said 
"I want you to come and meet somebody."
He took me along and it was Patrick. That was just before Danger Man.
 The book issued by Network with their dvd set of The Prisoner spots that Bernard Williams was of some more significance than generally noted, when it says on page 17, “Other crew members recalled that Patrick employed David Tomblin and Bernard Williams separately away from Danger Man to set is the new show” However despite the startling interview with Mr. Williams, directly contradicting the general thrust of the published explanations of the production history of The Prisoner is words are not only largely ignored in such published works, but much of his information seems actively to have been ‘struck from the record’.
The real problem with the distortions of the history does not just lie over who got what credit, but rather that in trying to make history fit an untrue version of events, the very history itself gets distorted, often beyond proper recognition. The sources who have created the settled and authorised story of the making of The Prisoner evidently spotted that Bernie Williams’s account would throw a spanner in their nicely spun tale and so they simply did not supply it to the various authors. If you read these books you will find them replete with references to arcane Fan-Club material, such as 'Alert-Issue3' or 'Number Six-Issue 5'. Anyone outside of this old Club archive can neither verify nor interpret what may or may not have been written in these old fan magazines. Sometimes the interview quote has clearly been interpreted to mean what the authors want it to mean, whilst with awkward cases, such as what Bernard Williams had to say, it seems the files are simply deleted. It is a delightful irony that fans of this particular show have behaved in such a prisoneresque manner, but has made for appalling Archive TV history.
Here is Bernie Williams’s account of the conception of the rubberised Rover, which happened not in a script conference, but on location, as filming was underway. It’s interesting to note that if you read the tag-line for this particular blog you will note that Patrick McGoohan gave Bernard Williams the credit for recognising the strange shape in the sky whereas Bernard Williams rather seems to want to give the credit to Mr. McGoohan. There’s a lesson about comrade-ship in that contradiction.
The long-told Club fables about how The Prisoner was intended to be a series of 13 episodes, followed by another 13 episodes is also directly contradicted by Bernie Williams – another reason to censor his memoir of the production history. He also explains why he did not take part in the final four episodes, which has oft-puzzled me as he was clearly so enthused about the project otherwise.
The official books could never explain or acknowledge the influence and movements of Bernie Williams without also contradicting the mythology they had previously created about how The Prisoner had begun and especially how it was developed. They also would have alienated the Club sources they evidently were reliant upon for their information. As a result Bernie Willams's words were simply ignored because he did not fit with their version of history, a method of making history also used in other connections, as I described in one of my early blogs.
Bernie Williams told an especially interesting story about his understanding of where and how the idea of The Prisoner originated, which totally contradicted the settled and authorised version you will often read in books.
My earlier blogs have provided proofs to show that The Prisoner project was underway even whilst the episodes of Danger Man were still being made, so at first reading this memoir seems to contradict those facts. However, once you understand that Bernie Williams at that time was employed at MGM Borehamwood, rather than directly by Ralph Smart’s Production Company, then suddenly his memoir makes sense. The hour-long series of Danger Man ceased being made at MGM in Borehamwood after 32 episodes, at which point a final 15 were made at Shepperton. With that in mind, the party Mr. Williams is referring to also seems to be mentioned in a September, 1965 profile article about Patrick McGoohan. 
This documents that a wrap party was held to acknowledge the ceasing of production at Borehamwood in April 1965. That some kind of farewell was likely to be prompted is emphasised by the fact that Jack Shampan declined to transfer to Shepperton, as did David Tomblin initially, and obviously Bernie Williams would have remained at MGM. Mr. Williams would also likely have been chasing after his first individual credit - for his work on The Quiller Memorandum; the making of which movie was well underway by the summer of 1966. His involvement on the Quiller movie also evidences the tightness of the schedules for his even taking part on the production of The Prisoner, and this in turn illustrates the close relationship that  pre-existed between himself and McGoohan, with McGoohan preferring to choose to employ him despite his constraints involving a major movie around the same time.        
Unlike Jack Shampan, Jack Lowin, the cameraman on Danger Man stayed with the Pimlico operation as it transferred to Shepperton and he is more often quoted by official prisoner sources. One of his memoirs also touches on the origins of The Prisoner. The Network book mentioned earlier, quotes him on page 26: 
“[McGoohan] had read this book, which I believe was an American book… he was obviously fascinated by it… he was talking of a sequel to Danger Man for a retired agent.”
Lowin speaks of McGoohan mentioning this book whilst they were still making Danger Man and his reference to a retired secret agent (rather than a resigned one) chimes exactly with the notions that Bernie Williams speaks of, where he implies that McGoohan was becoming intrigued with what would happen when a secret agent could no longer be a secret agent. What would be more natural for Patrick McGoohan to do, after someone at his Danger Man wrap-party had discussed this conundrum with him, than to then begin to read about the subject. In 1965, there was no shortage of books about the world of Cold War espionage, especially in America, which McGoohan visited for the first time (since being born there), with his wife, in 1965. Of course any fan of Danger Man would also know that this question about spies retiring had already been asked in the episode Say it with Flowers. Drake is posing as a taxi-driver and picks up a respectable-looking businessman – who is actually an intelligence chief. Drake opens the conversation as a normal cabbie:
Where to Sir?
You never met Hagen did you
Who’s Hagen?
Rather a dubious character
Should that concern me?
As a freelance agent he’ll work for any side, so long as the money is right 
Uh Huh
We never trusted him too much, although mind you, he’s been extremely useful to us in a number of instances
And now he’s not quite so useful?
We’ve lost contact. We don’t know what’s happening to him. Maybe he’s gone over 100% to the opposition, which would be uncomfortable. That’s for you to find out
Err.. perhaps he’s just decided to retire!
This episode was made in October, 1965. It was getting nearer and nearer to the last acts for John Drake.
But there is another man who was key to the success of the Prisoner project and who is also glimpsed but rarely and then only briefly, in most published Prisoner histories. He was another personal associate and personal friend of Patrick McGoohan and had a long working history with him, just like David Tomblin, Brendan Stafford, Jack Lowin and Bernard Williams. Most published histories will tell you glibly that he and McGoohan had a fall out, but the truth is far subtler than that because they remained firm friends. 
Moor information next time.

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