CAST & CREW INTERVIEWS
JOHN LAGEU - SET DRESSER
Adapted from 2 interviews conducted by Dave Jones and transcribed by Simon Coward, with their kind permission.
John Lageu. Photo: Dave Healey.
DJ: To start, John,
can we ask you what a set dresser does? What was your function on "The
JL: Well, I suppose the title itself tells you. For example, take a pub. You have four walls and that's it as far as the set is concerned. What I have to do is put in all the furniture, all the glassware, the lamps, any posters, to make it look like a real pub. The set dresser has to work with the art director to bring it all to life.
DJ: How did you actually get the job of set dresser on your three episodes?
JL: Well, I'd just finished work on "Captain Scarlet" for Gerry Anderson, and happened to ring a friend of mine and said: "I haven't got a job any more - where can I go?" And he said he'd had an interview with Jack Shampan and he needed someone desperately at MGM, and to give him a ring. So I did, and Jack said: "Come and see me" and I went up on a Friday and he said: "When can you start?" I said Monday and he replied: "No, I want you to start tomorrow!" which I did.
DJ: Did you work with Jack, or were you pretty much on your own?
JL: With "The Prisoner",
because it was really my first live action job, I worked very closely with Jack.
I came into it absolutely green and I learned a great deal from him. I hadn't
been in television long - beforehand I was a draughtsman until I started wth
Gerry Anderson on "Thunderbirds". I used to sit and watch it with
my son, who was a toddler then, and he used to nudge me and say "You could
make better 14" models than that-why don't you ask him for a job?"
Much to my surprise, he gave me one designing the various rockets in the series.
My previous job was with De Havillands (the aircraft makers) doing the drawings
for guided missiles.
DJ: Did Jack Shampan trust you to work on your own?
JL: No - Jack didn't trust anybody! He'd come along with a very thick 6B pencil when I'd done what I thought was a beautiful drawing for a set and he'd put a big X right across it. Jack was always after perfection.
DJ: Can we talk
about the first episode you worked on, "Living in Harmony"?
JL: Yes. I did quite a bit on that because Jack couldn't stand cowboys! He said: "Look, you get on with it, because I know nothing about guns or anything!" I used to walk round with one of the six-guns. I loved working on that one! I remember a lovely story about the stuntman, Frank Maher, on that episode. It was during the fight sequence in the bar room. Frank came up to me wanting a mattress to fall on in the scene where he goes through the window. I said: "Where do you want the mattress?" and he said: "I want it just there outside the window. When I'm hit on the jaw, I'm going through and I'll land straight on it." We set the fight up, and he's hit through the window, missing the mattress and landing on the studio floor. All stuntmen hate pain, and hurting themselves - and he made a real fuss! I remembergetting into real trouble with the transport people at MGM which was very union-conscious at the time. Jack suffered from flat feet and I used to ferry him to and from the Harmony backlot in one of the Mini-Mokes. They eventually stopped me from doing it!
DJ: The next episode you worked on was "The Girl Who Was Death". One of the sets was very much your work, wasn't it?
JL: Ah yes, the lighthouse
interior. It was supposed to be a rocket and I think that because I'd worked
for De Havillands and Gerry Anderson, Jack gave it to me to do. He said to me:
"I don't know anything about aircraft or spaceships - you do it."
That was the only set in that episode that was totally mine. It was interesting
because I had to make it look like a genuine lighthouse interior and rocket
interior at the same time.
DJ: One of the things that has puzzled us for a while now is the destruction of the lighthouse at the end of the episode. This was a model shot-one of very few such shots in "The Prisoner". Do you remember if it was put out to a special effects company, or was it done at MGM?
JL: I don't remember who actually did the shot - it may have been Les Bowie - but it was done at MGM in the tank there. The model was about four feet high and made of plaster. I actually went down to Beachy Head to take photographs of the lighthouse.
DJ: Can we move
on to the final episode, "Fall Out"? The cavern set must have been
one of the biggest sets you had worked on. Can you tell us anything about it?
JL: I don't think I've worked on anything that big since "The Prisoner" either! It wasn't only on one stage - it actually took up two sound stages with a huge sliding door between them which had to be opened to accommodate the entire set. To build the set, a lot of the major pieces were prefabricated in the workshops first, and then they were brought into the studio and set up in their positions. Beforehand, the drawing office did all the drawings for the set just like any architect. From these we produced a floor plan so that it would all fit in the studio. The set is then marked out on the studio floor and all the major pieces set into position, and then all the carpenters, painters etc. build the rest of the set around the major pieces actually in the studio. It probably took - apart from the prefabs - about two weeks to build in the studio.
DJ: How much of the set was actually designed by McGoohan?
JL: Not a lot, I think,
because Jack was a very competent art director and from stories that I've heard,
before I arrived on "The Prisoner", Jack designed a lot of it - presumably
in conference with Dave Tomblin and McGoohan -and the action was written around
the set! You could even say that a lot of the action resulted because of Jack's
sets, not the other way round.
DJ: Do you have any recollections of any other sets for the last episode?
remember we didn't have enough room for the juke box corridor, so we had to
build it in forced perspective. In other words, we built it to try and create
distance. To do this, you build the set, say, 10 feet across at the front and
as you go to the back the width and height is decreased, so that the set may
be only four or five feet wide by the time you reach the back. This has the
effect that, if you were to walk down it, you would be doubled over by the time
you reached the end, but when you actually see it, it looks like a full height
and width corridor all the way along. This means, however, that we can't make
the actor walk all the way down!
DJ: There has been a lot of speculation on the identity of the rocket which takes off at the end of "Fall Out". Can you shed any light?
JL: Well, it was a Blue
Streak rocket, and in a way it was down to me. Prior to working for Gerry Anderson,
I'd worked for De Havillands, as I've said, which eventually became Hawker Siddeley,
who ran the Blue Streak project, which I worked on. Consequently, when Jack
Shampan said that he needed some film of a rocket taking off, I said: "I
know the film unit at Hawker Siddeley-I'll ring them up!" I got a piece
of film from them of what, I think, was the one and only launch of Blue Streak,
and we used that.*
DJ: Do you have any other memories of "Fall Out"?
JL: On the last episode, we used to get the script pages half a dozen at a time. I don't think Pat knew how it was going to end! None of us really knew what we were doing until two or three days before the scene was due to be shot.
DJ: What were your impressions as you received these script pages?
I probably thought it was mad! But if a director says: "I want a row of
jukeboxes here", you just do it! You get some really strange orders some-times.
DJ: Your name actually appears on an estate agent's sign in "Fall Out". How did that come about?
JL: Normally, when you
do any sign for any show, you have to be very careful for copyright reasons
and Iibel laws -what have you. So, not knowing what to do, I asked Jack and
he said: "Use your own name", so I did!
We went to rushes after we'd shot it and I had to sit there and watch my name receive a full-screen credit! I could hear Pat McGoohan say to David Tomblin: "Who is this fellow anyway?" Pat came up to me afterwards and said: "You're not the one who's supposed to get a full-screen credit - I am!" That's the only full-screen credit I ever got!
DJ: What was the atmosphere like at the end?
JL: Very good, in my opinion. It was rather an end-of-term atmosphere. We had our budget problems. Jack was always being told that he'd overspent to which his reply was: "Well, if you want it, you've got to pay for it."
Dave Jones writes: We would like to thank John Lageu and his charming wife Barbara for their kindness, and to express our gratitude to John for sharing his experiences of working on "The Prisoner" so freely.
*For an in-depth article on Blue Streak and its appearance in "The Prisoner", check back soon.
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