Saturday, 7 December 2013

Before I Start on The Prisoner

A word of explanation for the 'unorthodox' way I am going to write about The Prisoner. The Prisoner was my second love in the 1960s cult tv field, after The Avengers, & it's high time I watched through it again. The reason for this post is to lay out how I am going to do that, since the series is capable of being understood on so many levels. I'm going to try to look at it through the eyes of George Markstein, original script editor until his bust up with McGoohan, whose understanding of the show was quite different from what it turned into:
'According to author James Follett, a protege of Prisoner co-creator George Markstein, Markstein had mapped out an explanation for the Village. In George Markstein's mind, a young John Drake, the lead character in the television series Danger Man, had once submitted a proposal for how to deal with retired secret agents who posed a security risk. Drake's idea was to create a comfortable retirement centre where former agents could live out their final years, enduring firm but unintrusive surveillance.
'Years later, Drake discovered that his idea had been put into practice, and not as a benign means of retirement, but as an interrogation centre and a prison camp. Outraged, Drake staged his own resignation, knowing he would be brought to the Village. He hoped to learn everything he could of how his idea had been implemented, and find a way to destroy it. However, due to the range of nationalities and agents present in the Village, Drake realised he was not sure whose Village he was in - the one brought about by his own people, or by the other side. Drake's conception of the Village would have been the foundation of declaring him to be 'Number One.' However, Markstein's falling out with McGoohan resulted in Markstein's departure, and his story arc was discarded.' Source
I wouldn't want to imply that Markstein's understanding is the only right way, but since I have watched through the whole of Danger Man, I'm left with the conviction that No 6 can only be John Drake. For example, we English speakers don't routinely say goodbye to people with the words 'be seeing you', but I read somewhere that Drake does that *once* in Danger Man (he doesn't, he does it repeatedly). It's because I want to see whether the Drake/Prisoner identification will hold water than I want to watch through the series looking through that filter. I realise that McGoohan denied that identification afterwards, but that doesn't mean the identification of the two characters wasn't intended at the start. I'm expecting to find that the earlier episodes before the Markstein/McGoohan bust up will support the identification & those afterwards will not. McGoohan's denial of the identification may be partly explained by the acrimoniousness of the row, as shown in these extracts from an interview in the 1980s, which show Markstein's approach and atttitude to The Prisoner, slightly differently from the above summary:
'[After McGoohan quit Danger Man I wrote] about a secret agent - and after all Drake had been a secret agent - who suddenly quits without any apparent reason, as McGoohan had quit without any apparent reason, and who is put away!
'I had been doing some research into the Special Operations Executive and I had come across a curious establishment that existed in Scotland during the War into which they put recalcitrant agents - and who was more recalcitrant than McGoohan! - I thought it was an excellent idea to play around with. One of the things I didn't know was what to call it, so I ended up calling it THE PRISONER. Simple! The man was a prisoner - call it THE PRISONER. And McGoohan went for it. He was very curious about the historical or shall we say the factual side of it. For instance, could a secret agent disappear ... you know, how could someone disappear in our society and be put away somewhere? And so I waffled on about "D" notices, how the authorities can ask the news media not to reveal something, as indeed happens in our time. He was very interested, he'd never heard of "D" notices in his life and that convinced him that this fantasy horror story had - as it does in fact have - a certain foundation in fact.
'Well, 'Who is No.6?" is no mystery - he was a secret agent called Drake who quit. They asked who No.l might be, of course they asked who Number One might be - and I said Number One is the villain in charge, which is absolutely true.
'Well, I think this goes into the philosophy of THE PRISONER - which wasn't some crazed pantomime! ... but was a very serious philosophical point, although I don't want to raise THE PRISONER to any more than it was, just a bit of television entertainment, but if it has a deeper meaning it is the fact that we are all prisoners. You know, the thin man is a prisoner because he's thin, a fat man can't go and buy the thin man's clothes, a very famous person can't go to the pub and have a drink because everyone recognises them. The Queen can't go shopping in a department store whenever she wants to, she's a prisoner in that sense. People are prisoners of their health, their religion, their wealth, their poverty, and that's an interesting theme to explore. The Prisoner was going to leave the Village and he was going to have adventures in many parts of the world, but ultimately he would always be a prisoner. By that I don't mean he would always go back to the Village. He would always be a prisoner of his circumstances, his situation, his secret, his background ... and THEY would always be there to ensure that his captivity continues.
' I think you've said it - the non-conclusion. I think [the last episode] was an absurd pantomime ... you tell me what it means. I think it was a bit of gross self indulgence by someone who was fed up with the whole thing and wanted to get out of it and wanted to go out in a blaze of ... something or other.' Source

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