PATRICK McGOOHAN
interviewed by
Warner Troyer

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This interview was conducted by writer/TV host Warner Troyer in March 1977 on behalf of the Ontario Educational Communications Authority. It was broadcast on TVOntario, a public television network which had shown The Prisoner series along with commentaries from Troyer between October 1976 and February 1977.

The interview has been reproduced several times over the years, but it's inclusion here is for it's archival value. McGoohan dislikes interviews and an open and detailed discussion such as this is a rarity.

Troyer: I guess the first thing I should tell you is that your guest and mine is Patrick McGoohan. Mr. McGoohan, known familiarly to his friends as Number Six, was the creative force behind, the executive producer of, and in several cases the script writer of a series called "The Prisoner," which appeared on television a number of times, not least notably on this network. Mr. McGoohan has come here from Los Angeles to meet you and talk to you and to me. And to meet a group of Prisoner, ah, club groupies, some of them from Seneca College which has been operating a course based on the series, some of them from OECA, and some other people, and we're going to talk about "The Prisoner" and I suppose the obvious first question is: Where the hell did that idea come from? How'd you get started?

McGoohan: Boredom, was how it started.

Troyer: Just that? With T.V.? With society, or you?

McGoohan: With T.V. initially. I was doing a series that was called "Secret Agent." Was it called that here, or "Danger Man"? It had two titles.

Troyer: "Danger Man."

McGoohan: And I'd made 54 of those and I thought that was an adequate amount. So I went to the gentleman, Lew Grade, who was the financier, and said that I'd like to cease making "Secret Agent" and do something else. So he didn't like that idea. He'd prefer that I'd gone on forever doing it. But anyway, I said I was going to quit. So he said, "What's the idea?" This is on the telephone initially, so I met him on a Saturday morning at 7 o'clock. That was always the time we had our discussions, and he said "Alright, what's the idea?" and I had a whole format prepared of this "Prisoner" thing which 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 atmospherewise, and should be used for something and that was two years before the concept came to me. So I prepared it and went in to see Lew Grade. I had photographs of the Village or whatever and a format and he said, "I don't want to read the format," because he says he doesn't read formats, he says he can't read apart from accounts, and he sort of said, "Well, what's it about? Tell me." So I talked for ten minutes and he stopped me and said, "I don't understand one word you're talking about, but how much is it going to be?" So I had a budget with me, oddly enough, and I told him how much and he says, "When can you start?" I said Monday, on scripts. And he says, "The money'll be in your company's account on Monday morning." Which it was, and that's how we started. Behind it, of course, was a certain impatience with the numerology of society and the way we're being made into ciphers, so there was something else behind it.

Troyer: Was that a personal thing in terms of your reaction to society or was it more of an observation? Do you feel you're being...

McGoohan: I think we're progressing too fast. I think that we should pull back and consolidate the things that we've discovered.

Troyer: You didn't initially want to do 17 films?

McGoohan: No, seven, as a serial as opposed to a series. I thought the concept of the thing would sustain for only 7, but then Lew Grade wanted to make his sale to CBS, I believe (first ran it in the States) and he said he couldn't make a deal unless he had more, and he wanted 26, and I couldn't conceive of 26 stories, because it would be spreading it very thin, but we did manage, over a week-end, with my writers, to cook up ten more outlines, and eventually we did 17, but it should be 7.

Troyer: But you did ten in two days? Ten outlines?

McGoohan: Over a week-end, yes. Outlines, I mean a sort of...7 or 8 page format. (Troyer chuckles.)

Troyer: How would you have described or explained the concept of the series to those writers, the first time you sat down with them, what did you tell them?

Checkmate McGoohan: It was very difficult because they were also prisoners of conditioning, and they were used to writing for "The Saint" series of the "Secret Agent" series and it was very difficult to explain, and we lost a few by the wayside. I had sat down and I wrote a 40-page, sort of, history of the Village, the sort of telephones they used, the sewerage system, what they ate, the transport, the boundaries, a description of the Village, every aspect of it; and they were all given copies of this and then, naturally, we talked to them about it, sent them away and hoped they would come up with an idea that was feasible.

Troyer: What about the philosophy, the rationale of the Village? What did you tell them about that? Its raison-d'etre, not its mechanics...

McGoohan: (very deliberately) 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. And this is the one rebel that they can't break.

Troyer: To what end was that process of breaking down the individual will?

McGoohan: To what end?

Troyer: For the Village, what was the purpose, the goal?

McGoohan: I think it's going on every day all around us. I had to sign in to get into this joint! (Troyer: Uh-huh) Downstairs, yeah.

Troyer: Made you angry, too? (Chuckle.)

McGoohan: Slightly, yeah. Pass-keys and, you know, let's go down to the basement and all this. That's Prisonership as far as I'm concerned,and that makes me mad! And that makes me rebel! And that's what the Prisoner was doing, was rebelling against that type of thing!

Troyer: But can you, in everyday life, summon the will and the energy to rebel every time any indignity occurs?

McGoohan: You can't, otherwise you go crazy! You have to live with it. That's what makes us prisoners! You can't totally rebel, otherwise you have to go live on your own, on a desert island. It's as simple as that.

Troyer: How much psychic attrition is there, spiritual attrition in not rebelling? How much do you give away or lose? How high is the cost of not rebelling every time? Not complaining every time?

McGoohan: Ulcers, ulcers.

Troyer: Do you have ulcers?

McGoohan: I have a couple.

Troyer: Bad ones?

McGoohan: Not too bad. They're gettin' worse. (laughs)

Troyer: How many scripts did you write? Your name was on two.

McGoohan: Well, my name was on two and then I wrote under a couple of other names: Archibald Schwartz was one and Paddy Fitz was another.

Troyer: So how many all together?

McGoohan: I t'ink five.

Troyer: Which ones? The last one...

McGoohan: The first one I re-wrote. It came out...not the way I wanted, and then the last one, I wrote. The penultimate one, I wrote. Free For All - another one, and then there was another one, I can't remember the name of it offhand. It's a long time ago.

Troyer: What's your response to what could really only be adequately described as a "cult" which has grown up around the series, a kind of mystique about it, here and in Europe?

McGoohan: I'm very gratified because, when it came out originally, in England, there were a lot of haters of it. A love/hate relationship, whichever way you look at it. Already there was a small cult. Now there's a much bigger one over there. In fact, when the last episode came out in England, it had one of the largest viewing audiences, they tell me, ever over there, because everyone wanted to know who No. 1 was, because they thought it would be a "James Bond" type of No. 1. When they did finally see it, there was a near-riot and I was going to be lynched. And I had to go into hiding in the mountains for two weeks, until things calmed down. That's really true!

Troyer: They were angry?

McGoohan: Oh, yeah! Walking around the streets, it was dangerous!

Troyer: Why? Why were they angry?

McGoohan: Because they thought they'd been cheated. Because it wasn't, you know, a "James Bond" No. 1 guy.

Troyer: It was themselves.

McGoohan: Yes, well, we'll get into that later, I think. (Knowing laughter from Troyer) Come back to that one, that's a very important one.

Troyer: D'ya know what's really interesting, to me, is a number of my friends and colleagues who watched the entire series told me, after the last show, that they were angry because they hadn't found out who No. 1 was. That went by quickly and they refused to acknowledge it.

McGoohan: That was deliberate. I forgot how many frames; I think there were 52 frames, or something, of the shot when they pulled off the monkey mask. And No. 1's a monkey and then No.1's himself. It was deliberate. I mean, I could have held it there for a good two minutes and put a subtitle on it saying, "It's him," you know. (All laugh.) But I thought I wasn't going to pander to a mentality so low that it couldn't perceive what I was trying to say, so you had to be a little quick to pick it up. That's all.

Troyer: What is your response to all the analysis and all the philosophising and criticism of the series? People have tried to make *so* much of it and to find so many levels of meaning, to parse it in so many directions.

McGoohan: I'm astonished! For instance, the beautiful presentation, the thing that you prepared for our good friends here, puts profounder meaning into many of the stories than I ever thought of.

Troyer: (Chuckling) Or more pompous?

McGoohan: (Automatically) Yeah. (Troyer chuckles again.) No! Oh, no, not at all. No, no. I think it's marvelous; I'm most gratified.

Troyer: Some questions...over here...

Girl: How did you feel about the response to "The Prisoner" when it was first shown in Britain?

McGoohan: Delighted. I wanted to have controversy, argument, fights, discussions, people in anger waving first in my face saying, "How dare you? Why don't you do more 'Secret Agents' that we can understand?" I was delighted with that reaction. I think it's a very good one. That was the intention of the exercise.

Troyer: Did you get any special kind of response from politicians, from bureaucrats, people in the kind of corporations we all know and hate?

McGoohan: Not enough. I suppose they steered clear of it. But then, of course, they'd be the very ones that wouldn't understand it.

Troyer: Uh-huh. Was there any one that was more fun for you than the other? Was it fun playing a Western?...a western hero for a few scenes?

McGoohan: I don't know what concepts you good folks have put on that one, but the reason for that, I'll tell ya, is because I wanted to do a Western. I'd never done one. And they'd never made a Western in England, and we were short of a story. (All laugh.) So we cooked that one up, we wrote it in four days and shot it, ya know...

Troyer: It was harmless...

McGoohan: it was fun, yeah, it was fun. And takin' whatever you put into it, that's the reason for it. Then we sorta stuck the figures up and all that and put some other concepts in which have other levels, sociological levels, which you can take what you want out of them.

Troyer: Can you make a decent creative enterprise, build one, in any medium, without building it on several levels at once? However much of it is conscious or unconscious?

McGoohan: It's very, ah...a lot of it was conscious, in my case. Of course, other things happen. F'instance, a t'ing happened, the balloon thing, which has been made a great deal of...

Troyer: "Rover."

McGoohan: "Rover," yes. Now, the reason that happened, again, it's like the Western. This, ah...We had this marvelous piece of machinery that was being built which was gonna be "Rover" and this thing was like a hovercraft and it would go underwater, come up on the beach, climb walls; it could do anything. The was our original Rover.

By the first day of shooting, unfortunately, the engineers, mechanics and scientific genuises hadn't quite completed it to perfection. (Troyer chuckles.) And the first day of shooting, Rover was supposed to go down off the beach into the water, do a couple of signals and a couple of wheelspins and come back up. But it went down into the water and (laughter all around) stayed down, permanently.

And then we had to shoot. We had Rover in every scene that day. So we had no Rover and Rover didn't look as though he was going to be resurrected at all. So we're Free For Allstanding there. My production manager, Bernard Williams (wonderful fellow), standing beside me, and he says, "What're we gonna do?" And he went like that and he looked up and there was this balloon in the sky. And he says, "What's that?" And I said, "I dunno. What is it?" He says, "I think it's a meteorological balloon." And he looked at me. And I said, "How many can ya get within two hours?", ya see. So he says, "I'll see." And he went off and he called the meteorological station nearby. And I did some other shots to cover while he was away and he came back with a hundred of 'em. He took an ambulance so that he could get there and back fast because it was quite a ways to the nearest big town. And he came back with them and there were these funny balloons, all sizes, and that's how Rover came to be.

And sometimes we filled it with a little water, sometimes with oxygen, sometimes with helium, depending on what we wanted him to do. And in the end, we could make him do anything: lie down, beg, anything (Laughter)...Really. We used about six thousand of them...

Troyer: Did you really?

McGoohan: Oh, yes. They're very, very fragile. They break very easily.

Troyer: So you'd lose a lot of scenes, then, when you were shooting in a boat...

McGoohan: We always had another one standing by, back-ups, all the time, yes.

Boy: What interested me was the style in which it was done and the whimsy and the hundreds of little touches, but from what you've been saying so far, they all seem to have been accidents. You know, the white balloon was a accident and you happened upon the Village...

McGoohan: Oh, yeah...

Boy: And it's, you know, incredibly lucky.

McGoohan: Yeah, but you...no, no, no, no...There were these pages, don't forget, at the very beginning, which laid out the whole concept; these forty-odd pages laid out the whole concept. That was no accident.

Boy: No, but the little touches...

McGoohan: Those things come anyway.

Boy: But I haven't seen them come very often in any other series.

McGoohan: But they come because you're looking for them, you see. I was fortunate to have two or three creative people working with me, like my friend that I said saw the meteorological balloon. And wherever one could find these little touched, one put them in. But the design of the "Prisoner" thing, that was all clearly laid out from the outset.

Boy: And the style of the way...

McGoohan: And the style was also clearly laid out and the designs of the sets, those were all clearly laid out from the inception of it. There was no accident in that area, you know, the blazers, and the numbers and all that stuff, and the stupid little bicycles and all that.

Troyer: Was it a series, do you think, which had an appeal, a kind of narrow-gauge appeal, chiefly to people in the upper twenty percent of the intelligence quotient bracket or whatever?

McGoohan: Mostly intelligent people...such as we have here?

Troyer: Yeah, I meant that.

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