Written By: Ian Rakoff
Page Count: 192
Availability: Try Amazon
If you're a fan of The Prisoner, then buy this book. It's really that simple. The personal autobiography of the co-writer of Living In Harmony and Assistant Editor of The General and It's Your Funeral, it's an engrossing portrait of the madness surrounding the series. A gun carrying, comic collecting left-wing activist from South Africa, Rakoff's extraordinary story takes us from drug-fuelled parties to meetings with Christine Keeler, Malcolm McDowall and The Beatles. If there's a complaint with the book then it's that Rakoff's sentences are often short and bitty, disrupting the flow. However, it's a minor issue, and the wonderfully frank, gossipy tone soon makes you forget this. (It's also only fair to mention that pages 84 and 85 are transposed).
Rakoff's reminisces about the series itself include a stag-like pecking order amongst the Editors, where one is seen off by physical threats, and open dismissal of the episodes that Rakoff was Assistant Editor on. His capturing of the insane production is enticing, from a two-hour heated interrogation by McGoohan and the reason why Ice Station Zebra was taken up as a project mid series. Rakoff's descriptions of personnel are also fascinating. Amid much praise for McGoohan he tells us that he "lacked the something which could endear him to people", while General Director Peter Graham Scott is remembered as "he was chatty but had little to say [...] He was totally disinterested and it showed on the screen." Surprisingly, Rakoff is also scathing about the lighting used on the majority of the series, as well as Colin Gordon's performance as No.2. Rakoff also finds himself sympathising with George Markstein after finding himself too pushed out of the series, his residuals for Harmony taken away from him and reduced to a story credit, while recollections of David Tomblin are met with equal candour.
As the subtitle "Radical Television and Film in the 1960s" would attest, this isn't just a Prisoner book, and around half of the book also concerns his exploits with Lindsay Anderson, in particular working as Assistant Editor on If..... This is equally as good, with Anderson, if anything, painted as at least as eccentric a figure as McGoohan. To place the book in perspective, then if you're interested in all the ins and outs of production of The Prisoner, then you may feel slightly let down. Rakoff joined the production in the middle of turmoil, with Lew Grade threatening to pull out of the series, the writers running short on ideas and George Markstein due to leave. So an overall view is not what this represents, though Rakoff's joining just as the series was under threat of collapse does make it fascinating. His memories act as much of a capture of the era than of one specific work - though he regards The Prisoner in very high esteem - and it ends with the decline of the 60s and Rakoff leaving behind an uncompleted Nic Roeg film to work on Deliverance. Roeg himself writes a forward for the book, and there's an arguably superfluous twenty pages of Appendices at the rear. Finally, to keep Prisoner fans happy there's a ten page episode guide, as well as the obligatory index. Overall an engaging and rewarding work, and eye opening on more than several occasions.