Wednesday, 28 December 2011

McGoohan in his own words: “George Markstein was brought in as Script Supervisor and George also brought to us something that none of us had the right experience to garner – he brought writers of with a particular bent of mind. They weren’t Danger Man writers… and I’m very grateful to him”

It only takes a casual perusal of internet information to notice there is a lot of niche interest about the creative Hows&Whys of the 1960’s TV show, The Prisoner. Here’s one webpage that is replete with several of the errors and factual misconceptions that I have discussed in many of my previous blogs.
Recourse to published books only emphasises the disparity that has arisen between authored information and the factual evidence to support them. The notion that the Script Editor on The Prisoner provided the story theme and the initial original driving energy for the show is promoted in every book on the subject. The extract below comes from one of the most recent official books, published in 2007. The creationist theories always reach back to the groundless and well-denied assumption that The Prisoner was somehow a direct sequel to Danger Man, that then became ‘psychedelic’. This notion was largely preset into the fan community by memoirs initially obtained from George Markstein, many of them "off the record" and so, these offstage whispers embroidered a legend that now often accepted at face value, even though every piece of hard evidence contradicts the concocted story.

Patrick McGoohan's interviews bewteen 1965 and 1969, in many magazines, made clear where the ideas had come from and how they were developed. In 1977, when academic interest about the show took shape in North America, he made attempts to explain it again, in an interview with Canadian TV. Viewing the footage nowadays he seems visibly less than comfortable about revisiting his past but he did it anyway – he seems to have been a courteous man. A couple of years later he repeated the exercise for an audiotaped interview, on behalf of the growing British fan club. However it still wasn’t enough. Fans can never have enough information, and always want fresh information. They interviewed whoever was prepared to talk to them and gradually a divergence of opinion developed about where the show had come from and how it had begun production. The divergence was given solid form by 1982 when Time Out published an article, which laid the schism open to the outside world:
The article seemed to unequivocally make the claim that McGoohan both plagiarised and defrauded the Script Editor and stole his idea. It might be expected that a ‘fan club’ would have been the first to protest, but reading the article reveals that it was in fact the fan club who were involved in all this revisionism in the first place! I guess any journalist is entitled to write a polemical article, but in fact, most authorised writing since has adopted much the same story. The only conclusion to draw is that the journalist was used by the fan organisations to deflect any criticism that might otherwise be generated from Patrick McGoohan, who by now was their fan club ‘Honorary President’. It seems likely that McGoohan, living a long way away in America, had no idea what was being written about him in Britain because a couple of years later he agreed to take part in a TV documentary for the new British TV channel, Channel 4. Produced by some of the same personnel responsible for the Time Out piece, it seems that as McGoohan involved himself in that production, he became aware of what was being said about him, because after his filming was completed, he then withdrew all his previous agreements to take part. The programme broadcast went ahead anyway, but has never appeared on any dvd extras. The quote at the head of this blog is from the interview McGoohan gave for that production. His generosity makes a startling contrast to what others seemed to be saying about him. The surprising thing is that when you look at all the relevant memoirs and contemporary facts about the Production, they invariably seem to directly contradict this fan-babbled story that first emerged in 1982, and yet has been sustained ever since by the many writers and varied authors. Like speedlearn students they seem to know everything and yet understand almost none of it.

All of this ancient controversy about the relationships between the script editor and the producer of the show does highlight a puzzle over exactly how the scripts were obtained for The Prisoner, and then how they were refined, over the course of the whole project. Patrick McGoohan seemed fairly clear about the role of his script editor, and what he had expected from him:
George Markstein was brought in as Script Supervisor and George also brought to us something that none of us had the right experience to garner – he brought writers with a particular bent of mind. They weren’t Danger Man writers…. None of them were. They needed this stylistic, futuristic thing, and he knew a number of them and brought them in, and I’m very grateful to him.
Perusing the available and various memoirs of actors and crew involved in The Prisoner gives the impression that actually very few of them seem to have had any contact with George Markstein at the time, although more than one of them seem to have had dealings with him in subsequent years, when he became established with TV companies in an executive position. Derren Nesbitt was exceptional in that he was quoted as saying he had ‘been brought up with’ Markstein, an unexpected memoir that has never been detailed further, so far as I know. Notwithstanding this, when Mr.Nesbitt is quoted about his inability to grasp what on earth the episode, It’s Your Funeral was meant to be about, he speaks of asking Robert Asher the director for information, and challenging McGoohan himself, but Mr.Nesbitt makes no suggestion he asked George Markstein for clarification. This old blog of mine gives some background to all the mild controversies surrounding the episode Mr. Nesbitt starred in, It’s Your Funeral.
The frequent absence of much comment in the memoirs of others about the man whom the cult fans claim ‘created’ the series seems increasingly odd. However, as might be expected, he is mentioned a lot by the various scriptwriters. This combination of contrasting facts seems to confirm that the writers and the filmmakers seem to have been kept quite separate, and the only conduit between all these creative personnel was via the channels of Patrick McGoohan and David Tomblin. Several of the writers are referred as receiving briefings or having meetings with Mr.Tomblin, and certainly he recalled having meetings with writers. He said,
Writing was a bit of a strange area for me because I'd never written before. Patrick came in one day and said "I've seen Lew Grade, we've got the money, we've got the series - so write the first story." So I got hold of George Markstein and we sat in a room for some time and eventually came up with Arrival. I did find that when we interviewed a writer, no matter how many details you gave them, they came back with an entirely different story - although this was only because the series was so different. So in the end, detailed storylines was the way to approach it to keep it all the same sort of style.
[Were many re-writes necessary?]
Quite a lot, yes... because people maybe got hold of the general idea, but because they hadn't seen any film at that time they were going off at tangents which didn't work to our conception.
George Markstein [was] a fount of information. He knew all the writers, so he'd bring them in and we'd talk... sort of suggest a theme to them. We did approach some very big writers but they said the money wasn't good enough, and why should they work that hard for that little money when they could sit at home in a warm study and write a book for fifty times that amount!

The changes wrought upon the physicality of Rover, made entirely without reference to the script editor, serves to emphasise the point I made in my previous blog about how Mr.McGoohan utilised his assembled creative personnel to serve his own stream of consciousness, using them – rather than negotiating with them. It also seems that many ideas and tropes of the series were only developed after that initial filming schedule was carried out.
One of the principal and most in-depth memoirs that emerged over the years was actually written by someone who came late to the production. Ian Rakoff then left over twenty years between the events and writing his book, Inside the Prisoner.

His reminiscence made a good attempt to balance his own subjectivity with accurate recall. It appears he only joined the project around April 1967, after the bulk of filming was complete. He is one of the few to mention the presence of George Markstein around the production offices at that time, but he seems to confirm Mr.Markstein was at least still present (whereas that 1982 Time Out article states George Markstein left after the sixth episode had been made). Ian Rakoff says, “…we were introduced in passing, to George Markstein, the script editor. He was flustered, moving fast and didn’t look at all happy… He looked like a man with a jolly disposition under normal circumstances…” Mr. Rakoff seemed not to get to know him much at that particular time, but, like other crew and actors, he recalled meeting him again over subsequent years and liking him. Ian Rakoff was unique however as the only one of the filmmakers (other than David Tomblin and Patrick McGoohan) to have some direct hand in scripting, himself. He was the acknowledged instigator of the episode Living in Harmony. By then however George Markstein certainly had left the project.
Another of the last couple of episodes made, The Girl Who was Death was scripted by Terence Feely, who had earlier written Schizoid Man. Mr.Feely was to become quite close to Everyman for some time because he spoke in one memoir about how he had hoped to be involved with Everyman in some future projects, after The Prisoner was completed. One of these projects involved the possibility of making a filmed version of Brand in Norway, a project we can know was at the planning stage as long after, as 1969, since Patrick McGoohan gave an interview in Oslo, in that year, to Jeannie Sakol, of Cosmopolitan. Mr. Feely evidently had become close to the producers by the time of The Girl Who was Death but it is also notable that in a memoir about the much earlier writing of Schizoid Man Mr.Feely only talks about how he negotiated with Patrick McGoohan over aspects of the script, with no mention of any other script editing input from anyone else. This may of course simply illustrate how friendly he and Mr. McGoohan had evidently become.

The writer who supplied the most scripts (other than McGoohan himself) to The Prisoner was Anthony Skene. He is credited for three. Two of them ended up with some sense of continuity between them. Dance of the Dead seems to contain suggestions that the mysterious pilot from Many Happy Returns has turned up as the dead body washed up on the beach, and later indicated as being in No2’s mortuary filing cabinet. As I also mentioned in another blog, there is also the intriguing presence of a black cat, which is in only those two episodes as well. The eventual ordering of these two episodes, in that order, seems to show that the producers viewed them as having continuity too. However, whilst Dance of the Dead was one of the first scripts ready for filming, Many Happy Returns was the last of the initial thirteen scripts to enter production. Memoirs from Mr. Skene however say he was specifically asked to write Many Happy Returns by David Tomblin, so any storyline connection between the scripts must not have been his own origination. Mr.Skene also commented in a memoir about his first contribution (Dance of the Dead) that  he was given no guidance at all, “the show was a cosmic void” he is quoted as saying. That was at a stage where his only input seems to have been via George Markstein. His third supplied script was A,B&C, an episode certainly unrelated to either of the other two, and eventually broadcast as number three; and completely unrelated to The General, although fans of course try to make connections between the two nowadays due to the presence of Colin Gordon as No2 in both episodes. The unmasking of No2 at the end of A,B&C seems to prefigure the unmasking of No1 as exploited by Patrick McGoohan in his own final episode.
Lewis Greifer (under his aka of Joshua Adam) was the writer for The General. He had long been a friend of Patrick McGoohan and he once described the two of them as being ‘boozing buddies’. Mr.Greifer also said he was a previous associate of George Markstein, and that these two had actually been introduced to one another by him, after Patrick McGoohan had enquired whether Mr.Greifer himself would be willing to be the Script Editor for his projected new show. Given that George Markstein joined the crew of Danger Man in 1965 as a ‘consultant’ these stories seem to be a little challenging in their entanglements.
  Mr.Greifer was a very active member of the Writers Guild. This Trades Union was especially virile in the years of the 1960’s, expanding from being a small union for screenwriters, increasingly to include professional writers of other persuasions, such as novelists. It was embroiled in 1965 in industrial unrest and Lew Grade, on behalf of ITC, was notable in leading the employers to agreeing new deals for writers over such matters as Royalties and Residuals –payments due to writers over and above their fee for providing creative works. It has been claimed by fans since that Greifer said that he and George Markstein were discussing The Prisoner long before the series was ever begun, but this slightly baffling notion has never really been explained, although of course one explanation for this could lie in the fact that presumably McGoohan must have intimated to Greifer what he was asking him to be script editor for, and so, consequent to this Greifer would have explained some of it to Markstein, when he was suggesting Markstein to McGoohan as an alternative.
Going back to The General, it is an irony that Mr.Greifer himself reminsiced that his script was instantly liked by McGoohan, but not so much by Markstein! Once again though, this script seems to been instigated not by George Markstein but by David Tomblin who requested that the episode be written to utilise a lot of footage already filmed. This was also a stipulation for It’s Your Funeral. It seems to be requirements such as these laid upon the scriptwriters that demonstrates how the Producers communicated between the filming process and the writing of scripts, and emphasises perhaps another reason why David Tomblin said, “… so in the end, detailed storylines was the way to approach it…”
Given McGoohan’s statement that introduces this blog, it seems that when George Markstein was suggested to him by Greifer as Script Editor for The Prisoner. McGoohan thought that Mr.Markstein would do as well as anyone. Patrick McGoohan obviously was aware that George Markstein been appointed Script Editor for Danger Man, by Sidney Cole, and he was a member of the Writers Guild. So for McGoohan, George Markstein seemed to tick all the boxes; he would naturally have assumed that Markstein would be able to access other members of that Union, to write for the series. Reviewing the writers who eventually did take part in writing for this show however, it seems that Roger Woddis was really the only one obtained who was not routinely a TV scriptwriter. He supplied the script for Hammer into Anvil.
Michael Cramoy certainly never wrote for Danger Man, but he had written for Ralph Smart’s The Invisible Man, supplying the key pilot script for that show. He had also written for the world-famous American show, Dragnet. He wrote It’s Your Funeral, which ironically is often labelled as incoherent, by Prisoner fans. As mentioned, it would seem that this script was as much commissioned by David Tomblin as anyone else because the writer was asked to create scenes that could utilise already-shot footage.
Gerald Kelsey was a founder member of the Writers Guild and contributed two scripts, but only one was filmed. Checkmate contained the archetypical human chess match scenes. His script was one of the only five to be ready by the time filming began in Portmeirion. As Anthony Skene similarly remarked, Gerald Kelsey reminisced that he was given no real guide when he thought up Checkmate, but rather was asked to imagine, “… the craziest things you could think of…”. Contrary to many fan claims made over the years about The Prisoner beginning life as a mere sequel to Danger Man, it is instructive to note that neither Mr.Kelsey nor Mr.Skene intimated they were asked to write the further adventures of John Drake – a character they would have been quite familiar with and a project that would hardly require them to think of the craziest things you could think of.
The other single-episode writer was Roger Parkes. He recalled being introduced to the project via Moris Farhi – indicating that McGoohan’s hopes about how the networking of writers would operate was at least slightly effective. Ironically, Mr.Farhi’s proffered script never made it as far as the series. It is instructive to note how disorganised the scripting process was however when he was asked for his contribution by George Markstein. In a memoir, Mr.Farhi recounted the events, “… George said it was a good idea… ‘Go away and work on it’… Then I was called by George…” Mr.Farhi then explains how he had to submit his synopsis on a Friday. On the Monday following he was then told he had to submit the completed script by the Friday of that subsequent week! When he protested this left him not enough time, George Markstein advised him to write one act per day! Fahri did manage to do this, then he had to make revisions on the Saturday, and then ‘clean it up’ on the Sunday. Despite this monumental effort his script was not used. The script-commissioning process seems to have been quite chaotic, and it would appear that this was only sometime around October, 1966. The project was six months old and scripts had evidently not even been commissioned in good enough time, never mind written.
Roger Parkes did have his script accepted however, writing Change of Mind. As this episode was only the ninth script to enter the filming process, it makes the apparent panic over Moris Fahri’s script even more curious. In previous blogs I have mentioned that it seemed surprising that barely five scripts had been ready prior to location filming commencing in September 1966, considering the project went *live* on 16th April.  Roger Parkes recalls being advanced £200 for his script and ultimately being paid a total fee of £1,000 (equivalent to £12,000 nowadays).
Mr.Parkes recalled Change of Mind as being his first big script commission, so it might be guessed that senior writers such as Gerald Kelsey would have received fees  commensurate with their own expertise, and even where scripts were not used, advances were properly paid for the work that was done. Roger Parkes is another professional who maintained contact with George Markstein over the ensuing years and even joined him in some minor litigation against ATV over Royalties, presumably those they considered due from worldwide showings of the show, which became a staple in America especially on their many syndicated television stations. The Prisoner was repeated in Britain in 1968/69 but then not shown again on UK television until 1976. However in those countries with a more diverse broadcasting network it became a worldwide hit and was regularly being used. This is also contrary to the claims in the official histories (such as the one pictured earlier) about The Prisoner being a commercial failure - another complete myth that fanbabble maintains in the teeth of it being verifiably a claim without foundation.
‘ [it]… was considered an expensive, commercial failure at the time of its original transmission’
Such is the nature of cultism I suppose.  In fact, as Mr.Parkes makes clear, the opposite seems to have been the case
  ...the topic that we always discussed ad nauseum, was why we weren’t getting any royalties for The Prisoner…it was well over five years, with the show, by then, shown to multi billion audiences worldwide before our legal threats to ATV finally produced a trickle of royalties."    

One well-known contemporary writer who did not write for The Prisoner was Robert Banks-Stewart and I was amused to read an interview he gave about another old series and how his remarks seem to emphasise the frequent furore amongst the scriptwriting fraternity about who did what. It coincidentally includes a reference to the writer who supplied two scripts for The Prisoner
I wrote the first few scripts of Doctor Finlay’s Casebook, but the story editor, Vincent Tilsley, then wrote an episode, which was, naturally, to become the first on air, thus gaining for himself both the initial good reviews and apparent credit as the creator.

In 1966, Vincent Tilsley was arguably the most experienced scriptwriter to contribute to The Prisoner and he wrote one of the very first scripts that were ready in time for the location filming at Portmeirion. His first script ended up broadcast as Episode Two. Like Anthony Skene he acknowledged being given very little idea what to write about. In fact Vincent Tilsley's description of the whole process indicates the same feeling that something was going wrong in the script commissioning process right from the beginning, with hints of the same sort of last-minute chaotic appraoch that was recounted by Moris Farhi:
     George Markstein, who I knew personally, phoned me up, came round to see me the same morning – he was along in half an hour, it was that quick. He brought a script with him of Arrival …He told me that Patrick McGoohan was star of the show…That was about it. Markstein asked me if I could think of a story. As far as I remember… I don’t think there was a second visit, I thought of one there and then. I don’t always think of things that quickly, but as it happened I thought up Chimes of Big Ben.

Mr.Tilsley was also behind the script that became Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling. This script is frequently described in fan books as having been commissioned during some desperate scramble for ideas as the episodes began to run out in 1967, but in fact, in his own reminiscence, Mr. Tilsley recalled being asked for a second script 'almost immediately' after the acceptance of Chimes of Big Ben. This means his second script was likely to have been commissioned around October 1966. Once again, the story being told fails to match any facts at all. It becomes tiresome to recount, when every example seems the same. I have touched on all of this in my blog referenced earlier, when I wrote about the evident difficulties that the Prisoner was experiencing by the Autumn of 1966:
This set me to wondering what on earth was going on? McGoohan’s show had been green-lit by Lew Grade on 16th April 1966 and it was not until September 1966 that the production team went to Portmeirion. Four months and only two complete scripts? Presumably one of these was Arrival, and the other Free for All – written by McGoohan himself. I have mentioned in several of my earlier blogs that George Markstein had (at the time of his appointment by McGoohan's Everyman) almost no experience of television script writing. This huge weakness at the core of McGoohan’s Everyman operation was costing the producer dearly as four months on, barely two scripts were ready and McGoohan had written one of those single-handed. Incredibly, Markstein has since been lauded over the years by fan faction as some kind of guru behind this seminal series. The truth could barely be any more of a polar opposite. The answer actually becomes obvious by studying the very accounts of the production history of the show that these same fans have collected ! Like many things that the official fans came to believe and have faithfully disseminated since, these claims seem to have been proven false by the very same history their various convention interviews have laid bare

Collect the facts, ignore them and then make up a story they like better instead seems to be the nature of cultism. This reached a pitch for Vincent Tilsley, when he appeared to post his own retraction on an internet message board. It's not something you're ever likely to read in a book:
 "About a week before Christmas '66 George Markstein and I were sharing a minicab back to London having had a long script conference at Borehamwood. I can't remember much about the conference but can remember a lot about George's uncertain mood. Needless to say, the conversation on the way home continued to be entirely about the series, with George still in touchy vein, full of angst, critical of almost everyone and everything. When I tried to change the subject by asking him what he'd be doing for Christmas, he neatly sidestepped his way back into obsessiveness by saying, "Well, funny you should ask that – I'm not sure. I had this dream last night. I was at home Christmas morning with the family, when it suddenly occurred to me that Patrick hadn't actually said I could have the day off…"
And so to the rest of the story as now printed [in the official book]. 
"Nothing true about the tale, therefore, other than the fact of George Markstein's telling of it. I didn't believe he'd had any such dream, of course, nor did I ever think I was supposed to. He'd just made it up, as his way of saying "And to make things even worse, Patrick seems to think he's God Almighty…" but at the same time trying to warp his ire up in an amusing story form rather than have it sound diminishingly whinging.”
You will find this *story* in more than one book about The Prisoner, but it always presented as if the events between the people *actually* happened, whereas in fact, the entire tale was merely an entertaining fiction. That seems to have been what sparked Mr. Tilsley to make the realised, when he realised how his tale was being misrepresented.
This is certainly my final blog of 2011, and this seems a good time to make it my final blog on this particular Roll. As is apparent, I am getting to the stage of referencing myself, and that is always a dangerous thing to find. I did once plan to stop this Roll at 17 after all. My main intent was to declare that Number Six was Innocent and perhaps I have done all that can be done in that regard.
Be seeing you, and I’m obliged.
Rover and Out

Anyone happening upon this final page is however cordially invited to peruse the previous 52 articles as well. One a week for any year you like. I will still be an active blogger on other rolls, and so please leave any comments on these ageing pages, if you wish, secure in the knowledge that they will be read by at least me, and I will make replies, if I feel that I have something worthwhile to add...... and I usually like nothing more than............ One Moor Thing...... ;-)