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The Dangerous Brothers: That time Rik Mayall set fire to Ade Edmondson
01.25.2016
11:33 am

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Amusing
Heroes
Television

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Probably the most hazardous double act to appear on TV during the 1980s was the aptly named Dangerous Brothers—a frenetic pairing created and performed by Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson. Mayall was the pretentious but sycophantic Richie Dangerous and Ade was the gullible yet blase Sir Adrian Dangerous.

The act was an offshoot of their original pairing in 20th Century Coyote. The Dangerous Brothers carried on with the same kind over the top violent slapstick they made famous through Rik and Vyvyan in The Young Ones and later as Richard “Richie” Rich and Edward “Eddie” Elizabeth Hitler in Bottom.

Mayall and Edmondson first met at Manchester University where both were studying drama. According to Mayall their introduction was across a crowded classroom:

It was our first lecture and the professor swept in with his flowing hair and gown and I stood up because that’s what I’d been taught at school. No one else did. And this one bloke – with long hair and John Lennon glasses and a fag in his hand and his f-ing feet on the table – just laughed at me and said, “Tosser!” That was Ade.

Maybe I always wanted to be as cool as him. Maybe that’s why I took great satisfaction in him going bald. He was always so strong and quick and self-assured. I wanted him to be my friend. I got a 2:2 in the end, which Ade won’t f-ing shut up about because he got a 2:1.

The pair shared a similar taste in cartoon comedy (Roadrunner) with a large dash of Python and a twist of Tommy Cooper. They became involved with the improvisational theater group 20th Century Coyote which soon became just Rik and Ade. By the late 1970s, they were part of the new roster of stars appearing at London’s Comedy Store. Together with Alexei Sayle, Peter Richardson and Nigel Planer (The Outer Limits), Arnold Brown and French & Saunders, they set up The Comic Strip—the foundation stone of Britain’s Alternative Comedy, blah-de-bloody-blah…
 
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Anyhow…after conquering the known universe with The Young Ones in 1982, Mayall and Edmondson returned to the small screen with The Dangerous Brothers. They appeared on a UK version of Saturday Night LIve—imaginatively titled Saturday Live in 1985. Compered by comic in a shiny jacket Ben Elton, Saturday Live hosted “a veritable Who’s Who of Alternative Comedy.” Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Morwenna Banks, Harry Enfield, Craig Ferguson and even Emo Phillips all appeared, along with too many others to mention. However, one of the highlights, nay, the highlight of the series was Richie and Sir Adrian Dangerous.

While the bulk of the show was broadcast live Mayall and Edmondson’s insert sketch as The Dangerous Brothers was previously recorded. Thankfully as it would turn out. For in their opening skit Rik set fire to Ade with near fatal consequences—as Edmondson later recalled:

I did set myself very badly on fire in a Dangerous Brothers sketch. They put this special gel on my legs, which was only supposed to go up to my knees, but I must have been feeling particularly confident that day because I told them to go all the way to the groin. I said, “If the flames come too high, I’ll shout out the special emergency code word.” The trouble was I forgot the word, so they let me burn like kindling.

Mayall was supposed to set Edmondson alight for the sketch “The Towering Inferno”—the title gives a big clue. But as the flames took hold no one noticed “that Sir Adrian’s convincingly pained expression was because the flames had started burning through his protective clothing.” Just before Edmondson was engulfed in flames, the filming stopped and the fire extinguished. Yet like real pros, they kept the fire in the final edited package… Edmondson’s legs were badly burnt and his eyebrows singed. Don’t try this at home….
 

 
More manic mayhem from the Dangerous Brothers, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Tarantula Ghoul: the 1950s Vampira-esque rock n roll singing horror hostess
01.25.2016
08:53 am

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A girl's best friend is her guitar
Music
Television

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‘50s Portland horror hostess, Tarantula Ghoul
 
Everyone knows about Vampira, the 1950s TV horror movie hostess whose iconic character drew influence from the Morticia character of Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons, the Dragon Lady from the comic strip Terry and the Pirates and the evil Queen Grimhilde from Disney’s Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs. She is considered to be the first “television horror host.”

Vampira’s highly successful show was cancelled after only a year in 1955 when she refused to sell the rights to the character to ABC. The popularity of the Vampira character spawned imitators all over the country. It seems that at some point every major television market has had at least one ghoulish horror host or hostess. One of these was Portland, Oregon’s Tarantula Ghoul—known as “Taranch” to her fans.
 

From the March 29, 1958 issue of TV Guide.
 
Tarantula Ghoul was a vampy “monster of ceremonies” for KPTV’s House of Horror from 1957 to 1959. Played by Suzanne Waldron, the Vampira-like character bears a striking resemblance to Wynona Ryder’s Lydia Deetz character from Beetlejuice.

House of Horror followed the standard format of showing z-grade movies with comedy bumpers. The cast members included Milton, a grave-robber-turned-gardener, Baby the boa constrictor, and Sir Galahad the tarantula. Sadly, all episodes of House of Horror seem to be lost to the sands of time. No footage exists of the show or of Waldron in character. According to Patrick McGreery, general manager of Fox KPTV and KPDX, “The archives are gone. Nobody did a good enough job saving the clips.” 
 

TV Radio Mirror - July 1958
 
The show was cancelled in 1959 when Waldron became pregnant out of wedlock. This was unfortunately very frowned upon at the time, and Portland lost a classic campy horror hostess as a result.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
‘The Ronnie Horror Picture Show’: Amazing 1980 spoof with a Reagan impersonator as Frank N. Furter!
01.22.2016
10:37 am

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Amusing
Politics
Television

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The ‘80s actually started in November of 1980, when doddering, happy-talking lawbreaker Ronald Reagan rather brutally defeated Jimmy Carter’s bid for re-election. Culturally, that event was the final nail in the coffin of what remained of late ‘60s counterculture (they put a lot of those nails there themselves, to be fair), and politically it marked the dawn of the vulgarian/reactionary empowerment that still poses an existential threat to the country.

They were far from the only ones to see Reagan’s rise as doom for the left and the man himself as the fourth horseman of the twilight of the hippies, but ABC’s live late night sketch show Fridays did a spectacularly hilarious job of addressing it.

Fridays, it its day, was seen as a weak attempt at catching the lightning in a bottle that was Saturday Night Live—sort of an early ‘80s Mad TV, except Fridays was actually funny. In the rear-view it holds up pretty admirably, as it often went even edgier than classic SNL. In three seasons starting in the spring of 1980, Fridays kicked off the careers of Rich Hall, Larry David, and—you can’t win ‘em all—Michael Richards. And in the wake of the Reagan election, the show’s writers and cast pulled of an extraordinary stunt: an ambitious 20 minute sketch, performed live, parodying both the incoming Reagan administration AND The Rocky Horror Picture Show!

The sketch stars Richards as Brad, and Janet duties fell to the wonderful Melanie Chartoff, who’s best known now for voice acting in kid’s cartoons. It imports VP-elect George H.W. Bush into the Riff Raff role, played by Mark Blankfield, who was the show’s breakout star at the time. John Roarke handles Reagan/Frank N. Furter duties, and Larry David…well, if you don’t know, I’m not going to ruin that one for you, it’s pretty fucking great. Paralleling Dr. Furter’s creation of ultimate sexual boy-toy Rocky, Reagan here endeavors to create the perfect conservative, but it doesn’t go as planned. The sketch was well-written and pretty superbly executed for a 20-minute live extravaganza with musical numbers, and it nails all of its marks but one—it ends optimistically. But it does offer a prescient warning to posterity in this dialogue exchange between Richards and Chartoff:

Janet: Oh Brad! Don’t you see what these people are doing? These people are…

Brad: Janet, relax! This is a great chance to have an intelligent conversation with these right wingers!

Janet: Brad, please, let’s get out of here!

Janet was truly wise.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Doctor Who’s Tom Baker hilariously loses his shit during a voice-over recording session
01.22.2016
09:37 am

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Amusing
Television

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Tom Baker is an actor, writer, wit, bon viveur and raconteur. He is best known as the fourth Doctor Who—if not the best Doctor Who. Tom Baker has one of the most recognizable voices on the planet. His sonorous tones can be heard on innumerable voice-overs, adverts and hit TV shows like Little Britain.

Baker is adored by millions. And there are many who believe Tom Baker walks on water and turns it into wine. For them, Tom Baker is a god.

Thankfully, Mr. Baker doesn’t disabuse such people of this opinion. Why should he spoil their fun? But even gods have an off day especially when dealing with idiots. How do we know this? Well, take a listen to this delightfully amusing recording of Baker discussing the merits and demerits of a voice-over script for some advertising jingle and all will become apparent. I won’t spoil it by quoting some of his choice phrases, but suffice to say it becomes quickly known that Mr. Baker is right about everything. Which will be further proof of his godlike status—for only gods are ineffably right.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Sacrifice your daughter to GWAR on MTV’s ‘Idiot Box’
01.21.2016
08:49 am

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Amusing
Music
Television

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A fuzzy MTV clip making the rounds advertises the 1991 “SACRIFICE YOUR DAUGHTER TO GWAR!!!” contest, and it’s so good that it might give the very young a mistaken impression of what MTV’s programming used to be like. In fact, before that terrible Ugly Kid Joe song came out, the network showed almost nothing but the videos for “Janie’s Got a Gun,” “Silent Lucidity,” “More Than Words” and “Every Little Step.” In other words, it was a fat, sad sack of shit, and you would have been waiting a long time if you were waiting for Downtown Julie Brown to cue up live video of GWAR doing “Sick of You” in Antarctica. No, the GWAR contest was not part of MTV’s regular programming, but a sketch on the network’s best original show to date, The Idiot Box.
 

 
Even if he had never achieved fame as Bill S. Preston, Esq. in the Bill & Ted series (part three now in the works!)—even if he was not currently slated to write and direct the official documentary about the life and work of Frank Zappa—Alex Winter would still be deserving of two Kennedy Center awards, a statue in every town square and a place in every American heart, because he is the director of the Butthole Surfers’ immortal Bar-B-Que Movie, for which John Ford would have gladly schlupped out both his and John “Duke” Wayne’s prostate glands and let them splat upon the floor, proclaiming, as he prised out both organs with one fluid motion of two callused hands, that’s cash on the barrelhead, son. Nor do Winter’s contributions to our culture end there.
 

 
Bar-B-Que Movie surfaced in 1989 on the first (and only?) issue of Impact Video Magazine, directed by Winter and his frequent collaborator Tom Stern. (The pair met as film students at NYU, where they directed the short Squeal of Death.) I haven’t seen much of Impact, but the roster is unimpeachable; along with the Buttholes short, the video included interviews with Public Enemy and Robert Williams, comedy from Bill Hicks, and footage of Survival Research Labs. Armed with this small triumph and the success of the first Bill & Ted movie, Winter and Stern scored a sketch show on MTV: the six-episode run of The Idiot Box.

Though some of the show’s references are now ancient, it holds up quite well on its own. What is hard to communicate is how demented, sick and bad it seemed in the context of the time. Back then, some citizens complained that The Simpsons was obscene and harmful to children, and the vice president of the country inveighed against the corrupting influence of a sitcom for the elderly called Murphy Brown. It was in this inhospitable cultural environment that Eddie the Flying Gimp took wing. Who can say how much higher he might have soared in friendly skies? (This analogy falls apart because Eddie the Flying Gimp is from outer space, but I had a long day and I did my best.)
 

Hideous Mutant Freekz: Alex Winter and Tom Stern on the cover of the June 1993 issue of Film Threat
 
After The Idiot Box, Winter and Stern co-directed their gut-busting first feature, Hideous Mutant Freekz, released as Freaked in 1993. Twenty-three years on, I have yet to meet the person to whom I would not recommend this movie. Visit the Freekland channel on YouTube for more Winter and Stern video madness. (The first episode of The Idiot Box is here.) And even if you never got a chance to be baptized by Oderus’ body fluids in person like I did, you can still purify your soul with days of long-form GWAR videos.

Below, in the last episode of The Idiot Box, the GWAR contest appears at 1:43:

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
Essential vintage Velvet Underground doc
01.20.2016
01:38 pm

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Music
Television

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Here’s a wonderful blast of 1960s NYC cool, in the form of a 1986 episode of The South Bank Show dedicated to the Velvet Underground. It’s slightly jarring to hear host Melvyn Bragg in the opening credit VU as being a precursor to punk rock and a major influence on artists “as diverse as David Bowie, Talking Heads, and the young Jesus and Mary Chain.” (It’s difficult to imagine Bragg putting on Psychocandy as he reads the morning paper, isn’t it?)

The show features ample interviews with all of the members of the band, including Nico, as well as personages like Gerard Malanga, Victor Bockris, Henry Geldzahler, and Robert Christgau. Naturally Warhol pops up in the archive footage. There’s a bunch of so-called “underground” footage, including some clips filmed by Jonas Mekas of the band’s “first appearance” (according to a helpful title card) at the Delmonico Hotel in New York City on January 14, 1966.

There’s nothing truly earth-shaking here, but it’s still quite interesting to see the whole band willing to be interviewed, and at a moment when their reputation was not quite as towering as it has since become. (Today, the premise that they were one of the very most influential bands of the 1960s is a no-brainer. In 1986 they were still seen more as the forefathers of punk, with their back catalog only coming fully back into print in the US around that time.)
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
The time Jerry Rubin got totally shut down by a little old lady on TV
01.20.2016
09:13 am

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Amusing
Politics
Television

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A devotion to politics as theatrical spectacle and vice versa made Jerry Rubin, along with Abbie Hoffman, one of the most visible and notorious activists in the counterculture of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. A founder, again along with Hoffman and others, of the Youth International Party (a/k/a the Yippies), Rubin was known for media-engaging stunts like showing up for his HUAC testimony variously dressed as a Viet Cong guerrilla and as Santa Claus. His utterly gonzo approach to politics flipped in the mid ‘70s, when in a surprising ideological reversal, he became a capitalist businessman who ended the decade (and entered the Reagan years) as a yuppie millionaire, advocating for EST, “networking parties,” and diet fads instead of revolution. Credit where it’s due, though—among his capital ventures was an effort to marshall investment in solar panels.

Hindsight of that transformation/sellout might be a part of what makes the clip below feel kinda righteous. Though the Chicago Seven trial made Rubin a well-known public face of The Revolution™, there were times when he wasn’t one of its most articulate advocates. He appeared on Cleveland, OH television in 1970 (Rubin was Cincinnati born and raised, himself) to flog his screed DO IT! Scenarios of the Revolution, but he just came off like an inchoate stoner jackass. He had science on his side in his assertion that weed is less destructive than booze, but he was such a dumb dick about it, prolonging an unproductive back-and-forth on the matter, sounding more like a tedious sophomore ruining Thanksgiving than a nationally-known activist engaging with the public to bring awareness to his manifesto. He piled on tiresome levels of I’m-so-cool smarm to cover the deficiencies in his talking points until the fed-up interviewer—an improbably flame-haired 76-year-old lady named Dorothy—got sick of his bullshit and shut the interview down.
 

 
About that Dorothy: she wasn’t just any little old lady—she was a career ass-kicker. Dorothy Fuldheim was and remains a widely admired Cleveland legend, a broadcasting lifer and pioneer for women in newsrooms who’s acknowledged as the first female TV news anchor. Her utterly unbelievable highlight reel included one-on-one interviews with Adolf Hitler (Fuldheim was Jewish), Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, Winston Churchill, and Jimmy Hoffa, and she didn’t retire until age 91, when a stroke she suffered shortly after interviewing Ronald Reagan (make of that what you will) made it impossible for her to continue working. She died in 1989, and was recently the subject of a Drunk History segment that you should probably just go ahead and watch right now.

Fuldheim was unapologetically opinionated; she shut down her Rubin interview when his declaration of solidarity with the Black Panthers proved to be her last straw. But though she was very much an establishment figure, bristling at Rubin’s characterization of police as “pigs,” she was no conservative, and it’s tempting to wonder how her feelings about Cleveland’s finest may have changed had something like the Tamir Rice murder and the outcry in its aftermath happened in her lifetime. We actually don’t even have to wonder all that hard; within a month of the Rubin interview, she put her career at risk to TORPEDO then-Governor James Rhodes and the Ohio National Guard on the air in the wake of the Kent State shootings, forcefully decrying a system that killed its own children.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
There’s awesome, and then there’s MUPPET BLONDIE awesome
01.19.2016
09:17 am

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Amusing
Music
Punk
Television

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Now that most of the cryassing about how “IT’S NOT WHAT I’M UUUUUUSED TOOOOOO FROM WHEN I WAS A KIIIIIIIIIIIID” has abated, it’s nice to see that the rebooted Muppets is being generally well received. Updating The Muppet Show from the variety show format to a hodgepodge of tropes from Larry Sanders, The Office and 30 Rock was a smart contemporizing move that gave the show ample satirical fodder, and shifting the setting from Vaudeville theatre—charming as all hell though that was!—to late-nite talk allowed the preservation of the rotating guest star format that mirrors the original show and keeps it lively. It’s not as holy-shit great as its ‘70s predecessor, it’s true, but it’s sharp, it’s funny, it’s exploring different themes, and it’s got time and room to grow.

And I hope to hell that sooner than later it has moments as holy-shit great as its predecessor’s Episode 509, from February of 1981, guest starring Blondie singer Debbie Harry. It was an amazing episode for numerous reasons—Debbie Harry’s intrinsic awesomeness being one of them, naturally. But I find it interesting that The Muppet Show’s representation of punk took the form’s aesthetic merit as a given, keeping clichéd rainbow hair and safety-pin jokes to a minimum. It might be hard to explain how completely radical that was at the time. Punk representation in media was typically dumb and cartoonish, depicting musicians as simplistically violent oafs before 1980 (think WKRP’s insane 4th episode “Hoodlum Rock” in 1978), and after 1980, well, the preachy and unintentionally hilarious Quincy, M.E. punk episode’s depiction of hardcore kids so impossibly nihilistic they’re utterly indifferent to the death (by slam pit ice pick!) of one of their own friends pretty well sums it up. That kind of crap was FAR more typical than forthrightly showing punks as artists pursuing a music.
 

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Of course, by 1981, Blondie had become one of punk’s most mainstream expressions—it’s not like the family-hour Muppet Show was going to have Killing Joke on or anything—but that does nothing to diminish the wonderful segment showing Harry helping the young members of a scout troop get their punk merit badges by teaching them to pogo. The entire episode is on the Best Of The Muppet Show Vol. 9 (there’s no season 5 complete collection yet, for some reason), or you can watch it at this link.

And surprise surprise, where the episode really shines in is the musical numbers. Harry’s duet with Kermit the Frog on “Rainbow Connection” has been enduringly popular, but the episode’s two Blondie songs are pretty wonderful, too. “One Way or Another,” by then almost a three-year-old tune, had Harry backed up by a Muppet band that, rather than exemplifying the kind of goofy tropes that normals would recognize as “punk,” look credibly like an actual downtown NYC band of the era. I’m guessing they were modeled after Tuff Darts, but I could be wrong.
 

 
The episode ended with a Muppetization of Blondie’s year-old single “Call Me,” the theme song from a movie about a male prostitute framed for murdering a client whose husband hired him to “entertain” her. That may seem odd for family-hour until you consider that Blondie’s current single at the time was “Rapture,” a six-plus minute, half-cooed, half-rapped song that might contain a barely concealed reference to finger fucking (available printed lyrics read “finger popping” but we weren’t idiots) and definitely contains the line “he shoots you dead and he eats your head.” Which would have TOTALLY RULED performed by Muppets, but he upbeat “Call Me” was clearly the safer choice.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘WELL I AM NOW!’: The mystery of this 28-year-old AT&T commercial is finally solved
01.19.2016
08:46 am

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Advertising
Pop Culture
Television

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If you are of “a certain age” you’re going to remember this AT&T commercial which played incessantly on television in the late ‘80s.

It featured a stock broker or some other sort of entitled business-class asshole who was trying to call Phoenix, but mistakenly dialed Fiji instead.
 

 
A native answers his call:

“NockaMockaBeeSai”

or was it “Wanna-mocka-pee-si?”

or was it “Bolenockapeaceye?”

Anyway, the businessman ends up getting infuriated when he has to hold for a minute to get credited. He says “AT&T operators gave me instant credit.” The operator informs the man that he is “not dealing with AT&T,” to which he snaps back “WELL I AM NOW!”
 

“WELL I AM NOW!”
 
When we were kids we used to make fun of this dork incessantly, always imitating “WELL I AM NOW!” in the whiniest, most privileged voice imaginable at any opportune moment.

We’d also imitate the native Fijian’s phone greeting, sometimes answering our own phones in his voice, but no one could ever really agree on what he was saying…

“Bolamakapeesai?”

“OckaNockaBeeSai?”

“Onga laka pisai?”

This was one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Twentieth Century. Of course back then we didn’t have the Internet and Google—but as we now live in the magical futureworld where all questions are easily and instantly answered, we now know exactly what was being said. Here it is:

“Bula Vinaka, Beachside”

“Bula Vinaka,” is a Fijian expression for “hello, thanks.”

You should always go straight to the Internet with any lingering questions from your pre-Internet childhood.
 

 
“WELL I AM NOW!”

The only mystery that yet remains is how this doof managed to mistakenly dial Fiji instead of Phoenix without dialing the country code.
 

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
‘Six Into One’: Seldom seen doc on Patrick McGoohan’s cult TV classic ‘The Prisoner’
01.18.2016
03:24 pm

Topics:
Art
Belief
Television
Thinkers

Tags:

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The actor Patrick McGoohan had been kicking around ideas for a new television series when writer George Markstein told him about Inverlair Lodge in Scotland. The Lodge had been used by Special Operations Executive during the Second World War as “a detention or internment camp” for those individuals who refused to take part in covert operations “once they became aware of the full details.”

Some were unable to kill when the occasion was reduced to a one-on-one scenario, as opposed the anonymity of a battlefield exchange. With information being released on a Need to Know basis, their training meant that they were in possession of highly classified and secret information relating to pending missions, and could not be allowed to return to public life, where a careless remark could have compromised their secrecy.

As Markstein later explained the residents were:

...largely people who had been compromised. They had reached the point in their career where they knew too much to be let loose, but they hadn’t actually done anything wrong. They weren’t in any way traitors, they hadn’t betrayed anything, but in their own interest it was better if they were kept safely.

Inverlair Lodge was also known as “No. 6 Special Workshop School.” McGoohan was intrigued by the idea and began developing a series idea set in a similar internment camp, The Prisoner.
 
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Patrick McGoohan started his career as an actor in theater. He was spotted early on by Orson Welles who cast him his production of Moby Dick. Welles thought McGoohan had “unquestionable” acting ability and thought he would become one of cinema’s greatest actors.

McGoohan’s early success in theater led to a movie contract. Unfortunately, the film producers who snapped him up didn’t know what to do with this unique talent. McGoohan was cast in a few B-movies that offered limited scope for him to shine. At his earliest opportunity, McGoohan got out of his film contract and moved into television.

Learning from his ill-fated experience in movies, McGoohan stipulated that he had control over what he did on the small screen. McGoohan was a Roman Catholic and eschewed violence and refused to kiss on grounds that he considered it unnecessary and even possibly adulterous.

In 1960, he starred as John Drake in Danger Man. The series was moderately successful on its first run, but quickly took off after the release of the first James Bond feature Dr. No—a film that McGoohan had knocked back as he disliked its script’s promiscuous sex and violence.

By 1966, Danger Man was a hit across most of the world and McGoohan was TV’s highest paid actor. But McGoohan felt he had achieved all he could with the character and wanted to move on. Determined to keep him working for his TV company, legendary producer Lew Grade asked McGoohan if there was anything he wanted to make. McGoohan pitched him The Prisoner. Grade liked it and agreed to a produce it. The deal was sealed on a handshake.

A secret agent (McGoohan) resigns his commission to his handler—a cameo from the show’s co-creator George Markstein who is seen in the opening titles. Returning to his apartment, McGoohan is gassed. When he awakes he is a prisoner in the “Village” a kind of Psy-Ops theme park on a strange island. He no longer has a name but is identified only as “No. 6.” He is interrogated by No. 2 who demands “information.” In each episode No. 6 attempts to escape the Village while trying to unravel the mystery of who is No. 1.

The Prisoner became one of the most famous TV series of the 1960s. It was hailed as “television’s first masterpiece”—one of the most talked about and controversial shows ever made. Almost fifty years after it was first aired, its appeal continues—and The Prisoner was even remade in 2009 with Jim Caviezel as No. 6 and Ian McKellen as No. 2.

There are numerous theories as to the “meaning” of The Prisoner, but it difficult not to view the series without some small reference to McGoohan’s own religious beliefs. Here is an island where everyone is watched, recorded, and examined by an omnipotent and omniscient overlord; where No. 6 is repeatedly asked to give up information—or to confess his guilt; and where No. 1 is finally revealed to be No. 6—“The greatest enemy that we have” as McGoohan described No. 1 in an interview with Wayne Troyer:

No. 1 was depicted as an evil, governing force in this Village. So, who is this No. 1? We just see the No. 2’s, the sidekicks. Now this overriding, evil force is at its most powerful within ourselves and we have constantly to fight it, I think, and that is why I made No. 1 an image of No. 6. His other half, his alter ego.

McGoohan suggests that “The greatest evil that one has to fight constantly, every minute of the day until one dies, is the worst part of oneself”—which is something he could have lifted directly from the Catholic belief in “original sin.”

Like another Catholic, writer Anthony Burgess—who wrote about the freedom of an individual to do right or wrong in his cult novel A Clockwork OrangeMcGoohan stated that No. 6:

...shouldn’t have to answer to anyone. It’s entirely his prerogative, his God-given right as an individual, to proceed in any way he sees fit. That’s the whole point of it all.

The Prisoner was not just a Cold War series about individual freedom in the face of totalitarianism but the freedom of each individual to choose one’s own path and take responsibility for their own actions in a materialist society. McGoohan was against the materialist/capitalist world of the Village and when The Prisoner ended in 1968, he aligned himself with the rioting students in Paris. He hoped his series might inspire a revolution, a point he discussed in an interview as to why the French were so obsessed with his series:

...there comes a time when revolt is necessary: In the last episode…there was no room for niceness anymore. There were machine guns, and people died. It was time for the Revolution. The French know that: Allons z’ enfants…

 
Watch ‘One Into Six’ plus McGoohan’s lost ‘LA Tapes,’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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