Wednesday, 20 October 2010

McGoohan was born free as Caesar: "I know what they’ve been saying behind my back………. But I haven’t lost a friend in the unit.”

In December, 1967 the TV Times ran a feature on The Prisoner, which was about halfway through it’s first UK broadcast run. By that time, the programme was pretty much in the can and McGoohan was evidently beginning to relax. His work was almost done. However, he commented within that article

The tensions that existed on the project seemed to reach some kind of nadir about halfway through the production schedule. Although eventually broadcast as the eleventh episode, It’s Your Funeral was actually the eighth episode to enter production. The current trivia section on wikipedia summarises part of that history:
According to the documentary Don't Knock Yourself Out, produced for the 2007 DVD reissue of The Prisoner in the UK, production of this episode was impacted by behind-the-scenes tension. Interviewed in the documentary, actors Annette Andre and Mark Eden both recall McGoohan and the director entering into a shouting match during filming (Andre strongly criticizes McGoohan for this behaviour). Eden recalls McGoohan losing control and nearly strangling him during a fight scene. Nesbitt, also interviewed for the programme, indicates that he was never given any information regarding what the yet-to-be-broadcast series was about, and thus played New Number Two in a state of confusion. Andre ends her comments by stating she did not enjoy her time on the program, while a crewmember expresses the belief that McGoohan, under creative pressure, experienced a nervous breakdown during filming of this episode.'s_Your_Funeral

As can be seen from the next snippet, from Time Out published in 1982, the story as told in most official sources has not changed in some ways since the fan club first broke out of their closed club and into the mainstream media.

Once Upon A Time was actually the sixth episode to enter production. One of the persistent tendencies of the closed fan-history seems to be to always seek to glorify the role of almost every collaborator in The Prisoner at the expense of any positive light upon Patrick McGoohan as the evident leading player in the entire project.

It is this bizarre tendency to diminish him that indeed led to the J'Accuse title of my entire blog-roll. The dvd documentary mentioned earlier was re-christened by one reviewer I read as "Let's All Kick Pat". The events  told may be true to a greater or lesser degree but why are they *spun* the way they are? The most negatively critical tales often hinge upon the episode It's Your Funeral and remarkably it is study of the context of those events that seem to expose one of the biggest falsities at the heart of *official* fandom.

Its Your Funeral was the first episode to go into production after the two-week break of Christmas, 1966. But the events after It’s Your Funeral lead to a conclusion very different to viewing those events in mere isolation as somehow typical of the whole project. The next several episodes made in the new year of 1967 seem to demonstrate a gradual lifting of the cloud of  funereal ire. Certainly McGoohan took over the direction of the very next episode in production, Change of Mind, but unlike the unfortunate Ms Andre, Angela Browne commented how nice Patrick McGoohan was to her while this episode was filmed. The next two episodes in production were the two made with Colin Gordon who commented how proud he was of the roles that took him out of his frequent acting niche of light comedy. At any rate he certainly enjoyed making A,B&C enough to want to stay on and make The General ! Next up was another comedic actor, Patrick Cargill, who like Colin Gordon, spoke later of relishing the opportunity to explore a more sinister character than he usually was offered in Hammer Into Anvil. Finally Many Happy Returns entered production, featuring a second appearance by Georgina Cookson, who had featured in A,B&C and  Patrick Cargill again. Like Leo McKern some people seem to have kept coming back for moor. It was now April 1967 and seemingly whatever had ailed the production mood back in early January was resolved. So why had the making of that episode back in January become so fraught and unpleasant in the memory of those actors who were there?

In 1968, Patrick McGoohan made a very interesting comment to a journalist from the British national newspaper, the Daily Mirror, after the project was completed,
“It was a great error to start with only five or six scripts………… I should have had all the scripts before we started”.

McGoohan’s recollection is objectively verified by archivist Andrew Pixley, who in his recent book says, on page 28,
It was the scripts that became the biggest concern for the production teams………..

then on page 31, also referring to the start of location filming in Portmeirion, Pixley notes,
Maher recalled that only two complete scripts were available along with location sequences of others , and during September some exterior sections of a fifth, The Chimes of Big Ben

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 McGoohan 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 ! In that 1982  published article I quoted earlier, there is this paraphrase of what presumably George Markstein had told the fans who had interviewed him in the fag-end years of the 1970’s.

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 because almost every script-writer is on record as declaring they received no complex brief - almost the diametric opposite in fact!
Vincent Tilsley was one of the first script-writers other than McGoohan himself. Mr. Tilsley wrote Chimes of Big Ben, the fifth episode to enter production, as mentioned earlier. Tilsey is quoted,
Yes, I gather that there was a writers guide to this series that I’ve heard about. I myself never saw it. I just had George telling me his concept of it……….. I didn’t at that time understand that it was going to be a different Number Two in each episode.

Another of the first writers was Anthony Skene, with Dance of the Dead. A fan-club interview recorded his statement,
The Prisoner was generally a bastard……. I saw not one piece of paper. The show was a cosmic void.

The writer of the seventh episode to enter production (McGoohan having written the sixth for himself) was Terence Feely, with The Schizoid Man. Andrew Pixley’s book records on page 154,
McGoohan sent Markstein around to visit Feely and while the script-editor could not furnish a writers guide he did explain about Portmeirion

Derren Nesbitt was the star of the eighth episode, It’s Your Funeral. Mr. Pixley’s book is once again damning of the nature of the script in it’s recitation of the simple facts recorded by his history,
Receiving the script of  It’s Your Funeral  Nesbitt was confused, and when discussing the episode with the director found that Asher was confused too……… "Pat asked me why I was acting so puzzled. I replied. Bob Asher doesn’t know what’s going on, I don’t know, nor do the others. Even you don’t understand what’s happening."

As can be seen from the wiki transcript earlier, fan interprettion of the situation on the set of Its Your Funeral is that Mr. Nesbitt was complaining of the whole series, but why should he have been interested? Mr. Nesbitt would only have been concerned with his episode and his SCRIPT.

Was it this scathing, but honest comment to McGoohan from his long-time associate actor the moment of change in McGoohan’s mind about his patience with the script production process ? Whilst nowadays the *official* versions of the prisoner story have George Markstein’s guiding hand applying to the first thirteen episodes to enter production, in 1982, the story was significantly different:

[NB. Markstein became a successful novelist in 1974]

It would make sense that as McGoohan grappled with his need to make an executive decision he became increasingly tense. He was probably not unaware of the very weaknesses Derren Nesbitt had highlighted, and increasingly embarrassed at being the head of what was becoming a failing organisation. The script editor had to go or at least be bypassed, because only then could McGoohan get his project back on track.This notion is corroborated by other interviews. Lewis Greifer, long known to McGoohan but a personal friend of Markstein stated that in his memory George’s contributions to the prisoner scripts pretty much ended around Christmas 1966. John S Smith joined the production team specifically to edit It’s Your Funeral and records that Markstein was largely absent from events during his time around the production environment.

Yet, in 2007 an *unofficial* book republished the same modern *official* none sense:
How little seems ever to change in the published tales from the fan-base. How much Information they unearth and how little attention they pay to it. The clues are all there, the statements made by those working on the project at the time all coincide, the pattern of behaviours make sense -- an inward spiral in January 1967 and then a rapid recovery thereafter. McGoohan had made a major recruitment error. In giving the inexperienced Mr. Markstein the crucial role of supervising the production of scripts Patrick McGoohan had made a woeful choice. He was the sort of man who probably did not like to admit when he was wrong, but he was also strong-minded and this was his project and by golly if the wheels were coming off, he accepted the responsibility of getting the thing back on track. George was side-lined and the increasingly happy production sequence of February, March and April bear testament to the wisdom of that decision. Arguably some of the most powerful episodes of the show in Change of Mind, A,B&C, The General and Hammer into Anvil came into being and most importantly the scripts began to become sharp once again, just as that initial burst of creative energy had made the first few (allowing for the fact that McGoohan had written 25% of those himself). There are of course also many suggestions within the histories that Markstein was actively obstructing McGoohan’s progress. His insistence about the character being John Drake possibly confused the recruited writers and his reported refusal to become involved with the script of Once Upon A Time (written by his employer!) are just two major points of issue. What he had made of the balloons when the production team returned from Portmeirion is sadly under-reported, but a gentle flavour of how things were is suggested via a 1991 interview with Patrick McGoohan,

We had a script supervisor, God bless him, God rest his soul, he's gone on now, who always thought, despite any amount of dissuasion that its got to be an extension because he'd worked on the tail end of one and into the other, and its the same guy that's doing it. But I said, "OK, it's an extension of reality, and the other one, Danger Man, was supposed to be related to reality in some way" But I said, "What's this big rubber balloon doing there?" I said, "Come on!" But he wouldn't be convinced!

George refused to be convinced and with his mind of his own he wrote his own war commando spin on some aspects of The Prisoner, seven years later (The Cooler). By that time Patrick McGoohan was resident in the USA and beginning his long association with friend and colleague Peter Falk; but the identity crisis of his putating prisoner fans was still a couple of years in the future. As Nelson Brenner might have quipped with a grin, Be Seeing You....................