ANYONE FOR CRICKET?
By Rick Davy
One of my favourite sequences in The Prisoner series can be found at the start of the episode ‘The Girl Who was Death', a very different episode to most others, set outside of the confines of the village where the viewer doesn't find out why this is the case until the end of the episode.
I have always been fascinated by the behind-the-scenes production story of the series, and this scene has a lot of production facets to it, but also, it's just great fun! Pure entertainment!
The episode was written at the end of the run, when the production team were short of ideas for ‘Prisoner' episodes. Patrick McGoohan would write the series conclusion himself, Vincent Tilsley would write ‘Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling' to take into account McGoohan's absence to Hollywood to film the submarine epic ‘Ice Station Zebra' alongside Rock Hudson, and after asking the crew for ideas, the only one deemed suitable was assistant Editor Ian Rakoff's idea for a Western episode (‘Living in Harmony'). This still left one slot to fill, so David Tomblin decided to provide writer Terence Feely with an unused outline from ‘Danger Man'.
The early sequences of the episode centre around a cricket match, and these sequences form some of my favourite moments in the episode, and indeed the entire series. But what do we know about these sequences?
The first interesting thing to note is that if you look very closely, it seems that more than one cricket pitch seems to be used. One moment there's a windmill in the background, then some different houses, then nothing at all! This is because the sequences use no less than FOUR different fields, or pitches, for the action to take place in (not three as has been reported by ill-informed so-called experts in the past - and if you include the painting in the Village story book, of Tilford cricket green in Surrey, it is five!).
The first of these is Bearsted village Green, in Kent, which is used for some of the establishing shots. The second, which can be seen twice in the form of stock footage of the batsman running between the wickets, is at the Meopham Cricket Ground (also in Kent), which is noticeable for the windmill in the background, as well as The Cricketers Arms pub. The third, which features most prominently as this was the one the cast were taken to, is Eltisley Cricket Ground, near St Neots in Cambridgeshire. This location is ‘spottable' on screen for the beautiful little clubhouse building. The fourth location, which is easily identified by the rougher terrain of the pitch itself, is simply a field located at the backlot of the MGM studios (used for close-ups and so on).
The original script for the episode, as compared to the final television version, does not show too many differences (although it is interesting to not some of the language used, with the cricket scene described as ‘idyllic' and the Colonel like ‘a hero straight out of John Buchan').
The sequences were shot in late September 1967 and the local newspaper to Eltisley, the St Neots Advertiser, covered the arrival of the film crew with a series of articles. These included an interview with Patrick McGoohan's personal assistant, Jimmy Millar, who told reporters (who were yet to see the first episodes of the series as they had yet to be screened in the local Anglia ITV region) ‘Danger Man resigns and is abducted'. Millar would appear later on in the episode as one of Schnipps' Napoleonic soldiers.
It is notable that whilst some cast did attend the Eltisley filming, others did not, so the lovely pair of legs that we see at the match itself were doubled! Local beauty Carole Bell doubling for Justine Lord. Also present at filming was the local carnival queen Phyllis Bundy, and indeed the locals played a very important part in the Cambridgeshire filming, as it was local folk that made up the other members of the cricket team, organised by local man Tom Rose (who appeared himself as the umpire of the match).
The experience of witnessing and taking part in these sequences obviously stayed with the locals for many years. In 2004 David Lally organised a coach trip to the location for fans of ‘The Prisoner', and as we wandered round the cricket pitch a little old man came running from his house with the St Neots Advertiser clippings in a scrapbook asking if we were here because of ‘The Prisoner'!
Attending the filming was McGoohan himself, the aptly named actor John Drake as the bowler, George McGrath as Colonel Hawke-Englishe (who was not credited for his role), and Christopher Benjamin, making his third appearance in the series, as Potter.
Benjamin, backed up by casting director Rose Tobias-Shaw, always maintained that the Potter character in this episode was a totally different Potter character to the one seen in ‘Danger Man' (indeed, their mannerisms and approach are completely different, with the ‘Danger Man' version very much more of a ‘stiff upper lip' civil servant type character, rather than the ‘bumbler' we see in ‘Girl'). He recalled years later that he had travelled to the ground by bus; ‘ It was a charming place and I think we went in a bus and I sat next to John Drake, who is now dead, sadly, and we got on terribly well.'
John Drake revealed years later that he used to receive a lot of Patrick McGoohan fan mail, having shared his name with McGoohan's secret agent character. He recalled that he enjoyed filming the sequences in Eltisley; ‘ Looking back it was quite a pleasant day's filming. We were out in the open air playing cricket. Like many people I wasn't quite sure what the script was all about. I read it quickly the night before and thought I understood it. As far as I remember there was a bomb inside the ball. I did manage to find out that it wasn't a real bomb, which reassured me! We had about six takes. On the fifth take something happened to my leg. The sixth take was in the bag, thank God, because I don't think I could have gone on .'
Another aspect of ‘Girl' that I like, and this is again well illustrated by the cricket sequences, is the use of music. This was all chosen by music editor on the series Eric Mival. As no music was especially composed for this episode, it was up to Eric to choose from either the Chappell's Music Library for pieces of music, or pieces recorded for earlier episodes. I am delighted that he chose the former, using some French pieces by composers such as Roger Roger for the cricket sequences. He recalled in his memoirs Cutting Edge (Quoit Media Limited, 2017); ‘ I was told very early on that we were going to be using Chappell's Music Library, and there was a very good librarian there called John Parry, who was based at their offices in Bond Street, and introduced me to Chappell's new music. Chappell's new music included some very good French music… which I used throughout the series including Girl Who Was Death. '
Every scene and sequence in ‘The Prisoner' has a story behind it, and some fascinating facts about it, so I guess the cricket sequences in ‘Girl' are not so unusual, but they remain favourites of mine nevertheless.
*images and details regarding the locations mentioned in this article can be found at www.theunmutual.co.uk/locationsguide.htm