The Prisoner: Interview: Nicholas Briggs (Part 2)

BA9A8620In this middle instalment of our major interview with Big Finish executive producer Nicholas Briggs about his revival of the classic 1967 series The Prisoner, Nick discusses with Paul Simpson how he worked with star Mark Elstob to create the version of number 6 in the audio series…



Mark’s performance is incredible – it shows sides to the Prisoner that we didn’t see as much in the original series.

A very good point.

There are times when it sounds very like McGoohan – was that a conscious note from you as director? And in your script, Your Beautiful Village, he’s much less like McGoohan…

He’s much more vulnerable, isn’t he…

This is how it went: there was no point during the recordings when I said, “This needs to sound more like McGoohan,” or “this needs to sound less like McGoohan”. As Mark will tell you, very early on, when we had our first meeting about this, he said, “What do you want? Do you want me to do a McGoohan voice, or something completely different?” I said “I don’t want you to do an impersonation”, and he said, “That’s good because I’m not a mimic but I can probably get something of that quality in it”. I said, “Let’s play around with that. The intentions of the character will be the same.”

I say this, and he doesn’t accept it, but Mark’s voice is not entirely dissimilar to Patrick McGoohan’s. If you put people in voice type brackets, they would be in the same broad bracket of attack, and although Mark is a brilliant actor who can do all sorts of accents and things – as I’m sure Patrick McGoohan could do as well – we’re talking about that sort of essential personality in his voice. So I said, “When you read it you’ll see it’s got that sort of attack to it, so I don’t want it to sound entirely dissimilar to Patrick McGoohan.”

I then had a little panicky moment when I sent over the scripts to him and said, “When I was writing it, I really was imagining Patrick McGoohan doing all the episodes so I don’t want you to be tempted to do something very very different from Patrick McGoohan.” Mark says that I said, “Maybe not a slavish impersonation but maybe more of the feel of McGoohan in it than perhaps you were thinking.”

BA9A8615So that’s what he did. He came to the studio prepared to a quite astonishing degree, that I have never witnessed before. He virtually knew it. He was pacing up and down outside saying it to himself without looking at the script. I said to myself, “He’s learned it.” He hadn’t quite learned it but his familiarity with the script was so strong that were the script to go out of focus for a moment he could carry on without referring to it. He really knew it well.

I think that’s it really. The moment I heard what he was doing – I go a lot on instinct, you see – I knew it was right. I knew it was the right balance. People seem to have slightly different views on his performance – I’ve had some reviewers say he seems much more aggressive than McGoohan, and others say he’s less aggressive. The thing is – and I go to a comment when Mark made when he rewatched the series, and he’d watched it many times before – McGoohan doesn’t give a fiddler’s bleep about what the audience thinks. He’s totally uncompromising.

McGoohan’s vocal performance, my opinion is there’s very little let up of the aggression, and you only got any tiny tiny grain of warmth that he had on offer, that he mostly kept covered, in his face. Every now and again his facial expression would give that humanity away, but vocally he was totally hard. I knew on audio we’ve only got vocal so I gave him those little grains of softer humanity in some of the lines that weren’t in the original.

I had to do that vocally, because it’s very different when someone’s on screen who is very determined and they’re very hard. You’re watching them and they become visually fascinating. On audio to have the same vocal tone the whole time would be a little wearing for many people. I wanted to bring that visual aspect of his performance into the audio version.

Inevitably, Your Beautiful Village is less like what McGoohan did because a) he’s doing things that he didn’t do in the series because it’s an entirely new episode and b) I brought him to the point of collapse far further than he’d ever been in the TV series.

Or that McGoohan would ever allow him to be?

Yes, maybe that. I have him kissing people and right from the word go, in an early scene when he meets Janet I have him kissing her, and I could almost hear hundreds of Prisoner fans going, “No you can’t, Patrick McGoohan never kissed anyone,” but that was Patrick McGoohan’s little thing. He didn’t ever want to kiss anyone on screen.

It’s Paul McGann and Daphne Ashbrook all over again…

pvi_2_image_largeIs that what it is? I just thought, ‘he’s a secret agent cut in the James Bond mode’. Some people have moaned about him threatening to break people’s arms all the time but I thought he’s a guy whose job that is. It’s that feel you get when Daniel Craig walks into the room as James Bond in any Bond film: you always feel sorry for the other guy because you know if they’re not on his side, he’s probably going to kill them quite brutally soon. I wanted some of that aspect in number 6. He’s a trained assassin.

I know that there’s debate within the Prisoner world whether he actually was a spy or not because it wasn’t categorically said, but that’s my assumption for this series. He was an agent and so when he’s in a situation like the Village where he doesn’t know what’s going on he wants to immediately force people to tell him what’s going on. When the cheery man walks past, and says, “Oh I don’t know”, then he grabs him and wants to hurt him in order to make him speak. Even with the taxi driver maybe – “How about if I break your arm?” She suggests that he’s dangerous and he just plays along with it – “Yes I’m a dangerous man, I’ll break your bloody arm, now tell me.”

We’re coming back to where we started – your own theories on The Prisoner. One of the things that I particularly liked about Departure and Arrival was that you established something of who this man was before we saw him out of context, but then also by altering the order and having The Chimes of Big Ben at the end, that set has a completeness to it that gave it a symmetry, in case you didn’t get to go again…

Yes, he allegedly goes back to London… No spoilers please! But if anyone has seen The Prisoner they’ll know.

Yes I suppose so. I wanted to round it off. There was a real possibility that there would only be one box set. A real possibility – it was only really a week or so ago that we made the decision because people bought the first one. We called it volume 1 in an act of faith.

You’re absolutely right – it rounded it off and also because that’s my absolute favourite episode of the original, I thought it would nice to round it off with that.

Your favourite because that was the first one you saw?

Exactly for that reason and also because Leo McKern is amazing as the ultimate number 2.

chimes2Yes – and although it’s a similar story, the audio version has a very different performance from Michael Cochrane.

Yes although I wrote it with Leo McKern in mind… I think I write all the number 2s as Leo McKern and it’s just up to the individual actor to do it like that or do it their own way.

What I really liked about Michael’s performance is he really did it the Leo McKern way but he didn’t know that’s what he was doing because he just followed everything I put in the script. That’s why I particularly like Michael – he’s one of those actors who reads every little bit of stage direction, every little bit where I say, “he chuckles”, or “he laughs outrageously, the laughter gets out of control and gets difficult to listen to.” He did all those sounding nothing like Leo McKern; it was just in the same bracket, those same intentions.

He was a bit more vicious, I thought, and also Michael got it into his head because he was very charming about Nadia that he was a bit of a perv as well. That was entirely Michael’s invention.

There’s certainly a bit of the “hello little girl…”

I didn’t write it like that at all but he does say, “my dear”, “she’s so attractive” and all that kind of thing. I didn’t write it with that intention but it adds an extra layer of euugh to it.

When they’re in the woods, it lends itself to that interpretation…

Oh I see. Yes because Leo McKern in the original, as that character’s written there, does seem slightly preoccupied with not interfering with them getting up to no good. I suppose I may have gone a bit further with that – I don’t know what came over me…

BA9A8812Are you going to bring back any of your first crop of number 2s – apart from the one who meets an unfortunate end… I love that scene: it reminds me of the scene in Dark Star, where the beachball just comes out and rolls over him….

I hadn’t thought of that. But it suddenly seemed [appropriate] – they never killed off a number 2. There’s the implication in A B and C where he keeps looking at the phone ominously thinking I’m for it now…

But early on, I always had the feeling – and you may well disagree – in that first batch of 13, there was a number 1. In the later ones there certainly isn’t…

That’s what they’re hinting at, aren’t there?

Even in yours, somebody gives the order to Operations Control to deal with the offending culprit…

Yes, but they get a call. Whatever number 1 may or may not be, one presumes he/she/it/they might have emissaries. But you’re absolutely right, he gets it in the neck because the order is given by some higher power. Although Ramon said, “Anything can happen in The Prisoner, I can probably come back”. But that’s what everyone says in Doctor Who as well! Perhaps with more justification…

In the final part of this interview, Nick explains the link between Charles Ryder and the Prisoner as well as the secrets of Your Beautiful Village…

Click here to read the first part of this interview

and here to read our review of the first box set


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