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.

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.