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