CAST & CREW INTERVIEWS
KENNETH GRIFFITH - NUMBER TWO/SCHNIPPS ("THE GIRL WHO WAS DEATH"), THE PRESIDENT ("FALL OUT")
Adapted from an interview conducted by Dave Jones and transcribed by Dave Healey, with their kind permission.
DAVE JONES: Ken, you worked on two episodes, and had some fairly major parts. How did you get to grips with "The Prisoner"? Was it a work of art, or just an entertainment TV series?.
KENNETH GRIFFITH: Well I don't know about a work of art, but it was an extraordinary experience, and I can only concur, basically because of Patrick McGoohan. What he achieved in it was closely married to George Markstein, you know the idea of this strange place. I think it had its deepest roots in Central Europe from George Markstein, a Jewish consciousness of what was going on in Europe. Patrick embraced this... and he was the man I dealt with, though I knew George Markstein and liked him very much. The whole thing was really generated finally by this extraordinary man, Patrick McGoohan - a great loss to the British film industry and to British television. But he always in a strange way underrated himself. I think he could have made a great contribution to keeping us more vitally alive here in Britain.
DJ: Ken, in The Girl Who Was Death, you played Napoleon. Were you originally to play Napoleon?
KG: Originally it was Adolf Hitler. (laughs) And I think Patrick in his quixotic way said: "Oh, I think we'll make him Napoleon, don't you?"
DJ: You played Napoleon before in something didn't you?
KG: Oh yes, I was once nominated for an American Emmy by playing Napoleon, in War And Peace, for Granada. I also played Napoleon as a comic with Tommy Steele! (laughs)
DJ: Did you play them in the same way all along!?
KG: I certainly did not! (laughs) On the subject of "How did I get the job?" It is a very curious story. I've kept quiet about it up to now. Sometime before I did the last of the DangerMen, I'd been cast by the BBC to play Cardinal Nintzenti in "The Prisoner", a play by Bridget Boland. They made a film of it with Alec Guinness playing the Cardinal and Jack Hawkins playing the Interrogator. Well I was asked to play the Cardinal in the television production and I readily accepted this role and I went to the costumier and was measured for my clothes as the Cardinal. And then I was informed that I was not going to play it. I had already signed the contract, which is a very unusual and strange situation to be in. We hadn't started rehearsal, so it wasn't thought that I was inadequate for the role. In fact, I would have given Guinness a run for his money if I had done it! And it turned out that after I was cast, they asked Patrick McGoohan to play the Interrogator and Patrick McGoohan, presuming that he was the first to be cast said: "And who are you thinking of playing the Cardinal?" And they said: "Kenneth Griffith." Not informing him that I was already under contract. Typically cowardly BBC senior employers. And he said: "You can't let him play the Cardinal, he plays all these comic parts. When he comes through the door, as the Cardinal, people are going to fall about." (laughs) And so both of those two men, certainly the producer, now a very distinguished film man, decided that I was expendable. I remember demanding that he came to my agents office. And he came in... and he was very crest-fallen and said: "I've wanted for many, many years..." I'll come to Patrick McGoohan and "Danger Man" in a minute... "...to be associated with you." I said: "This is simply a matter of what is right and what is wrong, and I am right and you are wrong. Piss offl" (laughs) And he left the office.
My agent was present, so there is a witness to this exchange! That's all I wanted to say. Of course I was well compensated, because I was paid in full; which in those days, frankly, was what mattered most of all! Well, Patrick McGoohan then went into the costumiers to be measured for his clothes and no one would speak to him then, as he later told me. He asked what was going on and they said: "If you insist, it's because you prevented Kenneth Griffith from playing the Cardinal." And that was the first that Patrick ever knew. I went into an actor's club, which is known to all actors present - The Buckstone, one evening and Patrick was in there. And he said: "Mr Griffith." I didn't hold anything against him, it wasn't his doing, and I said: "Yes." He said: "Do you think that I would have said that to them if l had known that you were already cast. I cannot tell you how badly I feel about it." The next thing I knew, was that I was asked to play in, I think, the last of the Danger Men, which I had never seen until two weeks ago. Someone showed it to me. It was very interesting, it was about Japan. I appear to be in Japan, but I have no recollection whatsoever! (laughs) I thought I was pretty good in it! The only thing you worry about, is if you're alright. You know, if you have done your job well. I've looked at myself at the age of seventeen on the screen, which is pre-war... and it's always been alright. There are one or two that haven't cropped up on television yet which I know I shouldn't see! That's how I think I got the job. (Applause)
DJ: We've heard from various crew members that script pages for "Fall Out" were arriving daily, so people never really knew what they were doing? Did you find that?
KG: Yes, except that he always asked me to write the new pages myself. (laughs) On "Fall Out" about a week before, or perhaps less, before we started filming it - and this gives you some idea of the pressure we were all under - he said: "You know the President has got to make a big speech which must be explanatory, you know, about what it's all about." (laughs) He said: "I'm not going to have the time. No one else. You write it." Now this is absolutely true. So I wrote that long speech, and one or two other things too and gave it to him. "Yes," he said, "that's alright." That's the truth. It demonstrates, I think, the enormous pressure that everyone was under; because what he was attempting to do is something that I'm very much involved with these days. And that is trying to be ambitious, trying to stretch oneself with small resources for what you're aiming at. So, what he was aiming at was something bigger than the resources; and you know he pulled it off. So, when you wonder how "Fall Out" was shot in a couple of weeks, it really is that drive to be better than the finances should allow. He leads, and actors are very, very hard workers, very glad to be working. And, of course he'd got a top class crew who were willing to do that too.
DJ: I've just noticed Mickey there, Mickey O'Toole.
MO: I'd like to ask Ken this question. I know that Leo McKern suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of one of his parts. I wonder did you suffer a similar experience after yours?
KG: No, I'm still waiting for mine. (laughs) I tell you Mr O'Toole, a rather curious thing was in "The Girl Who Was Death", when I was Napoleon inspecting the soldiers, the Napoleonic soldiers I said: "Shoulders back O'Toole. " And Patrick said: "Kenneth, don't think we ought to have any private jokes, do you?" (laughs) Now the truth is, I was thinking of Peter O'Toole, but whether he was thinking I was referring to you, I'm not sure. It occurred to me just now.
AUDIENCE: Why was Ken dressed as a high court judge?
KG: I just did what I was told. I don't know. Except that the whole thing was so surrealist wasn't it? The government all behind painted masks weren't they and this was an image of authority. Yes, an image of authority, that's the first time I've ever thought that.
AUDIENCE: Ken, what was your brief from McGoohan, for your speech?
KG: None whatsoever. He knew that I wasn't stupid and had seen and been in, at least that one previous... He would say: "He's got to make a statement, I haven't got time to write it, you write it." He glanced over it, made no comment and said: "That's alright."
AUDIENCE: Which suggests to me that you knew more than you had a right to.
KG: I think it is a possibility that I do know more than anybody else. (laughs) I mean I'm seventy-one now and it's beginning to dawn on me that I'm quite bright. (applause and laughter)
AUDIENCE: Ken, you said you were quite bright. There has been a lot of talk about confusion in "Fall Out". Were you particularly confused watching that episode after it had been finished or did you think that Patrick ended it as it should have been?
KG: Well personally I am always hesitant to criticise anybody else's work. (silence)
DJ: Is there a "but"?
KG: I got the gist of it and I think it is the same gist that all of you have. Even the nursery rhymes... it was an impressionistic idea, "The Prisoner", and it is exactly what you have suspected it to be. I think they make it clear enough. It's about independence, about not being a subject in a totalitarian state, which comes from George Markstein. Here in Britain, I have had three films suppressed, so it even happens here - completed films not allowed to be shown, particularly if they touch on Ireland. The nursery rhymes, I'm so opinionated I even have an opinion about that. Nursery rhymes are very early, simple, basic statements for children. I think that no one, neither George Markstein nor Patrick McGoohan nor any of the writers really thought too deeply about it, but as you know they fit very well into "The Prisoner", because they are about very simple instructions to children.
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