Sunday, 29 May 2011

McGoohan in his own words: It was a place that is trying to destroy the individual by every means possible; trying to break his spirit, so that he accepts that he is No. 6 and will live there happily as No. 6 for ever after.

There are many websites willing to explain the origins of The Prisoner. This one of the more official and it speaks of one particular historical curiosity.
There was certainly a one-off play called "The Prisoner" starring Patrick McGoohan transmitted  in 1963, 
but it had nothing to do with the later TV series in any way.

Having dismissed this play as having no significance, the web-page does spend some time waffling about how Kenneth Griffith claimed to have been blocked from appearing in the TV play by Patrick McGoohan himself – a somewhat ridiculous-sounding statement, especially given that there is a far more interesting trivia about Griffith’s connection to this play. He actually appeared in the film version of 'The Prisoner' in 1955, as the Recorder. His credit reflects the fact that in this play/film the characters are not given names. Here he is alongside Jack Hawkins, who was playing the Interrogator: Checkmate.

Before it was ever a teleplay or a movie however, this play was in the theatre, in 1954. Anyone doing even a moments proper research on the play would have noted some thematic similarity with McGoohan’s 1967 TV project, and naturally the direct connection of it with McGoohan’s own personal portrayal of the Interrogator in 1963. 
1954 Theatre Publicity
1963 TV Publicity

Watching the 1955 film rings one bell after the other. To start with, the starkly metallic main titles have a slightly Albertus feel about them.

As the story begins we learn that the prisoner is to be broken by non-violent means. In fact, the interrogator tells the prisoner that the prisoner’s body is sacred to the interrogator, or as Leo McKerns No2 would put it: “I want him with a whole heart. Body and soul”. However the Interrogators’ superior is impatient with the process, just as Leo Mckern’s No1 would be impatient with his methods.

"A week? That's not long enough!"
Kenneth Griffith’s character – the secretary or recorder – is involved in keeping the prisoner under constant surveillance and recording his words onto tape and vinyl. He is being trained in immorality by the interrogator he works for.

The interrogator himself has to explain and justify himself constantly to his superior, just like McGoohan's No2's are constantly having to do.
"If he'll answer one single question the rest will follow." 
There are ideas of entrapment – the spider and the fly and questions like WHY? The interrogator in one crucial sequence takes his prisoner back to his childhood and indeed his school-days. The episode 'Once Upon A Time' is certainly a surrealistic and direct riff on this play, but McGoohan has a more optimistic resolutuion, with the prisoner overtly winning that time.

There are newspapers

and slogans on the walls

After the set-ups of the film, the story does indeed take quite a different course to McGoohan’s 1967 show but of course McGoohan was not copying someone-else’s tale. There is an interesting parallel to Ibsen’s Brand in that the Cardinal is finally broken in part by a revelation about his lack of love for his mother (Ibsen’s pastor allows his mother to die because she will not follow his teachings).  This prisoner breaks down and says all the things the authorities want to hear. Once they have won, they release him because he is no longer a threat to them, once he has confessed.

Like many theatre plays did back then, The Prisoner holds it’s biggest message until the very end. The Interrogator discovers to his horror that despite the fact that he won the battle of minds and persuaded the cardinal/prisoner to make a comprehensive (but false) confession, this prisoner has ultimately broken the interrogator. The consummate professional realises that he feels regret for what he has done and pity for the prisoner who is now believed by his friends to have been a traitor and collaborator. He realises he can longer trust himself because he feels sympathy and so despite the fact that he has succeeded and has proved himself to be the winner - he resigns. His boss is baffled.

He tries to explain but his boss, the General, cannot fathom what this experienced professional is talking about and clearly distrusting the interrogator now, warns him that he shall have to seek further advice and then sends him into an adjoining room, which has bars on the windows. The film ends with the suggestion that we now have a new prisoner of conscience. It's almost like the much babbled-about prequel ideas that many prisoner fans have regarding their No6 being somehow behind the creation of the village in the first place.

The interrogator becomes a prisoner too
"I was a good man. But if you get him, he will be better"

In the recent (2007) deep analysis of The Prisoner series, on page 12, this play is mentioned –once – in passing and the subject does not crop up again.

As long before as 1977, in conversation with Warner Troyer in Canada, Patrick McGoohan said,

this "Prisoner" thing ….. 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 completed shooting the first series of Danger Man in Portmeirion for at the end of 1960. At the beginning of 1963 he made his TV version of Bridget Boland’s play. It was two years later.

So why do the official histories of McGoohan’s 1967 show seem so dismissive of this old play, of the same title, saying,
“it had nothing to do with the later TV series in any way” ?

This is clearly absurd as I hope my blog reader will have noticed. The reason seems to be because their creation story requires George Markstein to be attributed as having come up the original ideas for the show. Anything that demonstrates how Patrick McGoohan’s own career and indeed his own life was riddled with reasons why he would have “thought it up” are necessarily diminished because these FACTS do not fit with their own neatly published and polished tracts.

W H Y  ?
Because you let them, that's why. Don't be a cabbage.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

McGoohan in his own words: I try never to allow myself to be engulfed by outside pressures, though I might sometimes be, by my own.

It’s Your Funeral is as complexly plotted an episode as The Schizoid Man is. Scanning a synopsis of both episodes can easily lead an inattentive viewer to all manner of misconceptions about what is going on within the episode. The plot of It's Your Funeral at first looks as if it will be a fairly obvious one. Number Six battling against an internal political conspiracy to assassinate an outgoing Number Two. Such conspiracy theory seems fairly routine nowadays, but of course in 1967, it was a relatively new past-time - four years on from the JFK tragedy. In 1964, news articles protested that there was unnecessary mystery.

For McGoohan to be selling a show telling a tale of the Village leader being assassinated by his own side must have seemed somewhat seditious perhaps, but the USA had a mature democracy and was no more likely to have been disturbed by that than it was by Living in Harmony, which episode was caused to fall from the schedules in part as a result of the 1967 assassination of JFK’s younger brother, Bobby, when the first showing of the series lost one week of it’s 17 and so was reduced to a 16 week slot.
as explained in this previous Blog of mine:

The complexity of It’s Your Funeral may even have affected the production of it. Derren Nesbitt is documented as having not understood what was going on, and said the episode’s director, Robert Asher concurred with him. This may be because the plot was so serpentine, let’s peel back the onion-skins and try to get some idea of what was going on: The episode opens with a young woman seemingly attempting to gain the help of Number Six in averting an assassination. However the viewer becomes privy to the fact that she is unknowingly being manipulated by the current Number Two to implicate Number six into a plot he otherwise would not know about. As so often is the case in the show, Number Six instinctively grasps all is not as it seems and shares the viewer’s suspicions. We see what he sees, but with more clarity than he ever can.

The episode then segues into a long sequence where a computer is deemed to be able to predict a man’s daily activities by the simple method of accumulating observations and deriving probabilities (much like internet marketing attempts nowadays). During this segment we meet Number 100 – a warder purporting to be a prisoner. He is the inside man. A Kosho match, serving only to give an opportunity to ensure Number Six eventually visits the village watchmaker, then follows these scenes. Thence Number Six meets the young woman again and is convinced that the assassination plot is a real one after all. The key to Number Six’s motivations for his further actions is then profiled;
Call it what you like, the important matter is that the entire village will be punished
Maybe that is what they need to wake them up.
To shake them out of this lethargy. To make them angry enough to fight!
That’s assuming they survive the punishment!
It’s simply his belief that innocent people might be hurt. Political assassinations were often followed by revenge killings. The CIA was implicated in a particularly famous one, in 1961, but in fact it was carried out by local political groupings. However McGoohan's generation would have been more conscious in those days of the vicious SS activities of WWII, when French villagers would be shot as reprisal for the 'assassination' of occupying Nazi forces. Number Six’s own aggressive willingness to kill is evidenced near the end of the episode when he is quite prepared to blow the chest out of the insidious blond Number Two. He is no pacifist prisoner, but he evidently accepts his own limitations as much as he does his power..

The motivations of the Number Two’s is perhaps the most confusing thing about the episode. Derren Nesbitt’s blond Number Two is evidently following instructions from above – although he is a willing participant in this intranecine murder and treachery. When the old Number Two appears, the viewers preconceptions are blown apart. Up until this point we, like Number Six, have been under the impression that the village has attempted to persuade Number Six of a non-existent plot, so that he will betray the plot and reveal himself to the rest of the village as a collaborator. Suddenly this plot becomes even more complicated as we realise that in fact there is no plot from the outside but in fact it is an plot being planned by Number One himself! A secondary reason for all the intrigue has also been to ensure Number Six’s warnings to the intended target will not be believed by the old Number Two. Even then the twists are not at an end. Number Six is wily enough to even break this trap but by then the targeted Number Two has simply given up, and prepares himself to die, despite the warning. As he remarks despairingly, if not exactly existentially,
Preventing is just postponing
No wonder poor old Derren Nesbitt was confused! Anyhow, it’s probably best to watch the show for yourself. `While you do that I’ll talk about some other interesting stuff – that way you don’t have to listen – unless you particularly want to.

One small element of this episode that I quite enjoy is the incorporation of Jammers. The suggestion of a group of villagers who set out to confuse and block the village operation is a direct feedback from a feature of the Cold war that was especially relevant in Berlin – the archetype of a cold war village that I featured a while back…

The jammers in this episode are associated with an “Escape Committee”. This illustrates an interesting example of the exercise of McGoohan’s editorial and proprietorial authority. Michael Cramoy was the credited writer of It’s Your Funeral but the inclusion of the notion of Number Six becoming embroiled with an Escape Committee is also found in an unused script written by Gerald Kelsey. This script was tentatively entitled Don’t get Yourself Killed. Furthermore, within that episode a sequence involves a Judo (as opposed to Kosho) set-piece, although in this unmade episode the judo involves Number Two rather than Number Six. Plainly neither writer would have plagiarised the other so there seems to have been an overriding editorial influence at work. A strong suggestion of where that editorial influence was coming from lies in another aspect of It’s Your Funeral. The blond Number Two utilises recordings of Number Six giving him a warning about the assassination plot to construct an impression of Number Six repeatedly making this warning to a number of other interim Number Two’s. This small, though crucial piece of plotting significantly mirrors a key element of All Night Long, a 1962 movie McGoohan had made, where his character re-edits a series of audio recordings to make an artifice that convinces a man of his wife’s adultery. There are other gadgets worthy of many an episode of McGoohan’s old Danger Man show that appear too.

Another old film role of McGoohan’s possibly informed a screen fight that seems to have terrified Mark Eden, who played Number 100. He is often quoted gleefully by prisoner fans, and most recently Mr. Eden’s very old memoir has even reached the pages of a 2011 ‘biography’ of Patrick McGoohan.
Eden’s experience of McGoohan’s violence was terrifying.
“There was a bit where he had to get on top of me and strangle me and I had to push him off… and he was really strangling me. I looked up and I could see these mad eyes looking down at me and I thought, ‘He’s gone, he’s gone…’ and his face was contorted with rage… and he’s a big man.”

It is fascinating to note that the TV viewer can judge this scariness for themselves!!

Perhaps Mr Eden had never come across McGoohan’s 'method' psychopath from Hell Drivers before, but it seems strange for a professional actor to have taken such on-set activity so seriously. Blame it on the pink jacket maybe, or maybe, like any actor should, this one enjoyed playing to the gallery; and when telling his tale to the prisoner fan gallery he had a very receptive audience! Judging from their most recent biographical project that audience remains just as receptive to their favourite tales today, as they were yesterday.

On the positive side however, whatever my misgivings about Mark Eden's memoir in terms of his ability to measure the mood of a man rather than a performance, his reminiscences do also recall that Patrick McGoohan would personally issue hand-written script amendments each morning prior to shooting, on the set of It's Your Funeral. It is of course one of the main purposes of my blog-roll to make the same point that is made by this experienced actor. That Patrick McGoohan was intimately involved with the detail of writing this show, as well as producing, directing and acting in it. Oddly, a small but influential group of fans of the show prefer to kick that particular fact into the long grass of their story. Fortunately it remains part of his story - no matter how the history is spun.

As Number Six remarked to the blond Number two at the conclusion of It's Your Funeral:
Be seeing you.
Won't I?

Monday, 2 May 2011

McGoohan in his own words: "The people in this village are supported by the government and given everything necessary except one thing – freedom."

In my two earlier blogs in this trilogy, of which this blog is the third and final: 
I illustrated how the layout, treatment and behaviour of the village and it's villagers resembled a traditional British Insane Asylum of those days. This also fitted with the village being a place of imprisonment but not a place of punishment. I also pointed out how the Asylum system was a ubiquitous feature of the British social society by the 1960's, with at least one in every county and each Asylum was always well-known in the locality it served - and yet at the same scarcely anyone knew what went on inside them, or who was inside. However, I would not want my reader to assume I am predicating that Patrick McGoohan was making a TV show allegorising the Insane Asylum system of Great Britain in 1966. Rather that he was necessarily aware of the Insane Asylums  and would naturally incline to use them as an allegory of society - it was a common dramatic device at the time (and throughout history as we shall see later), as my earlier blogs also served to illustrate.

The prevalence of elements of psychiatry in episodes of the show carry direct relevance from the Cold War / Secret Agent milieu that McGoohan set his fable within. As I have mentioned earlier, Soviet Russia had long banned the use of lobotomy (used in Change of Mind) and sought to highlight this fact to demonstrate how it’s enlightened socialism was more humanitarian than the capitalist democracies it constantly denounced (from behind it’s protective Iron Curtain). However, it was also becoming clear that the science of psychiatry was being fully embraced  for more subtly nefarious ends, by that same governance, which claimed to eschew psychiatry's more physically brutal aspects. This article stems from 1954.

The treatment of Nadia in Chimes of Big Ben were referred to as Pavlovian, as was the treatment of the Rook in Checkmate. As the 1960’s had progressed the references to the actual use by the authoritarian regimes behind the iron Curtain of Insane Asylums to detain and imprison dissident citizens became even more focussed. This article is from 1963

That story explained how Khruschev had eschewed the gulags of Stalin, but Khruschev had merely replaced them by the more subtle approach of declaring dissidents to be insane and in need of treatment and therefore isolation from society. Khruschev had learned there was more than one way to crack a nut. In fact, stories linking the use of Insane Asylums by the Soviet governance to control and silence it’s troublesome citizens were nothing new.

Many of these various stories often emanated from Europe and especially the UK. They were not part of some ‘Red Scare’ campaign waged from the USA, as is popularly imagined nowadays by revisionist history. These stories were routinely being reported and discussed by the media in Europe and frequently featured first in that continent's newspapers and magazines, and from an American perspective it was often the reports in British newspapers that would be syndicated, because of the common language: English.

By 1965, the gloves were off completely; and the picture was being drawn large and plain of what had been going on - with the fuller background that had by then emerged from defectors and elements of the same Cold War tales that were inspiring Danger Man stories themselves. As a TIME magazine of that year explained:
When Nikita Khrushchev opened the gates of Stalin's concentration camps and set free hordes of political prisoners, he proudly boasted that "only lunatics" could object to life in Russia. So it seemed only logical for Nikita to deal with the intellectual critics of his own regime by locking them up not in harsh prisons—but in lunatic asylums. As men in white coats largely replaced the policemen, hundreds of writers, artists and other outspoken objectors to Communism vanished from the Moscow scene, to reappear in psychiatric hospitals as "mental cases.",9171,901695,00.html#ixzz1LC0RH7bO

And daily newspapers were just uncomplicated in their clarity

All of this Cold War rhetoric and intrigue are endemic within the episodes of The Prisoner. Almost every episode contains elements of village medics attempting to use various psychological techniques to affect, influence and bend their prisoner to their will. McGoohan himself was driving this line of the narrative as is exemplified by the very first script he wrote (and almost certainly the very first script to be written). Free for All is replete and riddled with overtones of psychiatric breakdown and enforced treatments, especially notable in the red tunnel sequence, after No6 has been taken to explain himself before the Committee.

Whilst in 1965, the Cold War was producing the real-life evidence of the misuse of psychiatry in the Communist bloc, the real-life evidence of the errors of the British Mental Hospital system were also in the news at the same time, as my two earlier blogs dwell upon. Which side was worse? Was there in fact a side to be on any more? McGoohan’s own drama career had impinged directly into this background in 1963 when he played the Interrogator in a TV version of The Prisoner - a play by Brigid Boland that had become a 1955 film starring Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins. This play was clearly very influential upon McGoohan’s own creation:
In form, this is a psychological drama—a picture of the conflict of two minds, that of the cardinal and that of his interrogator, whom Mr. Hawkins plays. And it is in the marking of the slow deterioration of the cardinal's spirit and will under the relentless and calculated pressure of questions and physical distress that the cold, almost morbid fascination and tension of the drama reside……………... And when the interrogator rips his secret from him, with the skill of a psychoanalyst………… much is hinted about mental and spiritual things.

However, Patrick McGoohan was not just replicating some prior performance, any more than he was making a sequel to his popular Danger Man series. He was seeking to make something of his own, something original that he formed for himself and the Cold War intrigues were just one side of the story. He had lived through the ‘Angry Young Man’ theatrical period and just as that movement had raised many questions about traditional normalcy so another outsider was raising questions about the nature of insanity. One particular psychiatrist, RD Laing had become a media darling around 1963, just as the tales of Soviet duplicity were becoming publicised. I’ll leave any reader of this blog to investigate Laing for themselves but one of his key tenets was the view that people’s mental health was in big part the result of a tussle between their own individuality and the demands of their family members upon their behaviour. In this way he ran very counter to the traditional notion that mentally ill people were somehow faulty, but rather promoted the idea that they were unreconciled to their environment in some way. During a time of global Cold war his opinions had an especial resonance to many in western society. In 1969 (long after McGoohan's Prisoner show) Laing wrote a phrase that in many ways illustrates the parallel lines upon which those challenging minds were meeting, in those years of changing attitudes, of the mid-1960’s:
“As long as we cannot up-level our thinking beyond US and THEM, the goodies and the baddies. It will go on and on. The only possible end will be when all the goodies have killed all the baddies…… which does not seem so difficult……since to us…. WE are the goodies.”
I often like to imagine it was something like this that No6 was explaining to the policeman in the closing moments of Fall Out, much good that it did him, in the end.

One of the most intriguing cases of the misdeeds of the Soviets from any study of The Prisoner and the internal thinking of the man "who thought it up" however, might have been this one (mentioned in both a cutting above and TIME magazine):

 Ward 7 was entitled such by Tarsis, the author - a modern Russian writer, because he was paying literary tribute to the classiccal 19th century Russian writer, Anton Tchekhov. Tchekhov’s plays were a staple of 1950’s theatre in Britain and whilst  Patrick McGoohan confessed in interviews to never having read Kafka, he certainly knew his Tchekhov. Tchekhov was not just a playwright however, he was also a short story writer.

The story is a short one, but as is often the case, the best things come in small parcels:
But Ward No.6 is more than a setting for moral conversion, it is also a microcosm of Russian society. The porter monitors his inmates like a prison warden; ……………. It thus comes as no surprise to see the author challenging society's dehumanization of criminals and lunatics in Ward No. 6. In particular, he questions the abuses committed by officials whose authority is upheld by the state. However, Chekhov does not use his story to force a personal or political philosophy onto his readers. Ultimately, we are left to make up our own minds on the issue of state control and institutional corruption. Ward No.6 is a work that raises important issues regarding the relationships between citizens and state, and between people in positions of power and those whom they incapacitate.

It might of course be that I getting myself into sixes and sevens over just another coincidence of numbers. Perhaps I’m mad and should be given asylum. But as always in, my polemical state, I'm just trying to establish who are the writers and who are the authors. I am the blogger and you are the reader. Think for yourself and be free. Be seeing you.