CAST & CREW INTERVIEWS
MICKEY O'TOOLE - PROPSMAN
Adapted from an interview conducted by Dave Jones and transcribed by Simon Coward, with their kind permission.
DAVE JONES: We're
very fortunate this year because not only have we got somebody who worked on
The Prisoner but we have someone who became more than just an employee working
with McGoohan because they also became personal friends. So much so that, if
you remember the documentary "Six Into One - The Prisoner File", McGoohan
described this man as "a great Irish-man with a wicked sense of humour".
Our guest this evening has a hundred and one different stories - some of them
are even repeatable. I'd like you to give a great big welcome, please, to Mickey
MICKEY O'TOOLE: Thank you very much, Dave, good evening everybody. I'm delighted to be asked here - I'm honoured, in fact to be asked to come along and talk about my experiences. First of all, let me tell you that I joined the film industry in 1950 - joined MGM Studios as a prop man. The first movie I ever worked on was called "Ivanhoe" and I spent three months on the backlot of MGM shooting specta-cular second unit shots. From that I went on to "The Knights Of The Round Table" for the same company. These movies were made in England for the simple reason that MGM had £27 million frozen in the country and the British Government weren't going to let them take it out in 1950, so they had to make movies and take it out on celluloid - that was the reason why there were a lot of big movies made.
I went on then to work on Quentin Durward. Most of these movies starred Robert Taylor and all the MGM personalities of the period, and from that I went on to work on a film in the West Indies called "Sea Wife" with Richard Burton and Joan Collins and from that to "Zarak" and a few other films. That took me up to 1960 where I worked on some of the "Danger Man" episodes. I didn't work on them all - I worked on quite a few of them with Pat McGoohan. That's where I met him and worked with him first.
Then I went on to work on a film called [Doctor] "Zhivago" in Spain and when I was finished on "Zhivago" I came back in 1965 and almost got ready to work with McGoohan on "The Prisoner" series which were coming up at that particular time. Anyway, I was employed by MGM all this time and then "The Prisoner" series started and I was automatically picked by Pat himself because having worked with him on the "Danger Man" series I struck up a kind of association with him as a drinking partner as well - he wanted me on the thing. We joked our way through the days' work and it was all a very happy family" effect. So "The Prisoner" started and it was like any other normal undertaking except we had an enormous amount of properties to come up here, in Portmeirion. In fact, two railway containers were filled with props of all descriptions and the Minimum of crew - there were four men only involved. Little did we know they'd break up into all sorts of units up here and start shooting as first units, second units and maybe a third camera chucked in here and there when they were getting behind. Consequently our forces were limited in so much as I was on my own half the time. There was one man who was on the beach pulling a balloon around and another man up in the bushes somewhere blowing them up. And he started off blowing up these balloons with a foot pump and you can imagine the delay was enormous. I don't think that accounted for going over budget in any way - because the balloon was chucked upon us at one minute's notice. And if I can go back a little bit and tell you that the reason the balloon was imposed upon us was because their secret weapon failed to work - which was Rover One.
DJ: Can I just stop you there and take you back a bit?
MO'T: How far do you want to go back?
DJ: I want to contradict you for a start. You just said that you met McGoohan working on "Danger Man" but you didn't, did you?
MO'T: I'll be honest. "Danger Man" is where we became acquainted and drinking partners. I did meet him earlier on [the movie] "Zarak". He was on a horse out in the middle of Spanish Morocco and it wasn't a friendship that struck up right away. All I'd done was put a sword in his scabbard and gave him a gun and that was it. We didn't associate too much straight away.
DJ: So when you first started talking to him it was on "Danger Man"?
MO'T: Danger Man was the first.
DJ: This was the half-hour series in '59?
DJ: You told us a great story about Danger Man in 1959. You were working in Beaumaris [in Anglesey] - can you recount that story?
MO'T: Oh yes. We were working
in Beaumaris and the prop involved was a rubber dinghy. Pat was in the dinghy
escaping from something or other and there was somebody firing shots at him.
Well, you know, you can take a rubber dinghy and turn it over on your head in
the water and you can survive underneath it because there's enough air for you
to stay treading water holding on to the guidelines - and everybody thinks you're
drowning. But on the bank stood beside me was one of the stagehands who became
very excited looking at this dinghy with nobody coming up. Michael Truman was
director on this and the next thing is the stagehand jumped fully clothed, hammers,
nails and everything else that's attached to him, into the water.
Pat came up on the other side of the boat as he's going down this side. Michael Truman said: "What was that for?" And somebody said: "He dived in to save him - he thought Pat was drowning." And he says: "Silly Boy!"
And Pat came up and he says: "I think that was a great thing to do - none of this other crowd would have done it." And I said: "I certainly wouldn't have gone in anyway, Pat!""
DJ: You mentioned before that you used to enjoy coming on location to places like this for a specific reason. How much were you earning then, Mickey?
MO'T: About £15-18 a week basic in those days.
DJ: Was that good money?
MO'T: It was very good money because we in the film business were up about £2 or £3 on similar jobs outside. If you could say there were similar jobs outside. But that was the going rate for us. Outsiders were probably only getting about £12 or £13.
DJ: You were saying that you used to enjoy coming on location for a very specific reason...
MO'T: Well, the money was better and you could write your own time sheets out. Whereas in the studio you were governed by a clock and you clocked in and clocked out and you got no more pay than was on the clock card. When you came on location you got your time sheet and you started filling it in. If you finished at seven o'clock, your hand might slip and make it eight o'clock. Or nine for that matter. And then there would be a stewards' enquiry wanting to know why you were working to eight o'clock or nine o'clock, for that matter. And they'd be trying to cross off hours here and there and what have you.
DJ: We'll zoom over to "The Prisoner". I remember you saying that Bernard Williams, the production manager on "The Prisoner", was very strict on these time sheets.
MO'T: He was, yes. He went through the sheets with a fine-tooth comb and tried to take off hours here and there. We were the only ones affected. Props were always the last because of the clearing up and collecting all the properties and putting them back in the right order for the next day. Also trying to avoid the people who were stealing the props, souvenir hunters and that. You'd lose half your props if you left them out all night.
DJ: You were telling me you had to write your name on the scripts at the time.
MO'T: You did, because some of the actors might take them. They would keep on losing their scripts. Some of these absent-minded actors would take your script and swear blind it was theirs. So you had to write your name on every page to make sure you had it every time you put it down.
DJ: You were talking about "Danger Man" earlier. Are there any particular memories you have of working with McGoohan on that?
MO'T: The memories I have of "Danger Man", it was a happier series to work on, much happier. The gimmicks on it - there were far more gimmicks on "Danger Man". It was very interesting. Every week there was something different that came up on every episode. There were all sorts of gadgets that were made outside. A lot of them didn't work as you were led to believe. The little match-boxes becoming cameras - you could put them underneath tables for bugging devices and all this - they were just props. Expensive little props as well.
DJ: You came up to North Wales quite a lot for location in "Danger Man"?
MO'T: We were based in Bangor, North Wales, for a couple of weeks or more. And we operated from Bangor and we came a radius of about 15 miles from that area to work on different shows.
DJ: Was that when you got to know McGoohan?
MO'T: Really got to know him then. With the drinking and all that. He was like myself, he would like a drink in the evening. He unloaded.
DJ: Unloaded? Or got loaded?
MO'T: And that ... But he never told you his problems or anything like that - it was always jokes. He was very good at telling jokes which I couldn't repeat here.
DJ: You'll have
to tell me later then - I'll knock the swearwords out.
MO'T: We can't bleep this, can we?
AUDIENCE: You said the props were made outside, not in-house?
MO'T: There was probably nobody in-house to make these particular things. There was a specialised company outside at Denham, and also the buyer on the production had contacts outside with this place from previous films that he was on, and he just went to those people to make them. You'll find that happens quite a lot. A lot of modern movies with a lot of gadgetry - there are companies outside that specialise in this electronic stuff.
DJ: We'll get on to "The Prisoner", shall we? I remember you telling me last night a very interesting story about Don Chaffey and McGoohan during the filming of "Arrival".
MO'T: I remember it very
well. We were on the streets down there in Portmeirion and we were doing shots
of all these Villagers walking about the place, all looking like zombies with
their umbrellas and hats, looking into space. Don was shooting all different
scenes for establishing the Village, establishing the people - and I'll never
forget what Pat McGoohan said to him. "Don," he said, "the shots
are too far away from the people. We're working on a small screen. I want to
see big heads. What we want to see when we sit down in the evening to watch
the television set is big heads. And what we're doing at the moment is for the
DJ: You used to watch the rushes on the big screen, didn't you?
MO'T: That's right. They looked all right then, but when you see them on a small screen, it's just like taking box camera photographs from about ten feet away - you only just see figures. And this is what Pat was trying to avoid.
DJ: Was there much friction on that?
MO'T: Don was a quite amiable sort of fellow. He didn't get excited or throw any tantrums like a lot of directors do and walk off the set - he just carried on and said: "OK, Pat, we'll go in closer." Which they did.
DJ: Was this a general fault of film directors, did you find? Don Chaffey was obviously used to shooting films for big screens. Did he have trouble adapting what he was doing for TV?
MO'T: In this case he did. Probably got away with it on other jobs. But Pat had his own ideas of what he wanted. Plus the fact that he was establishing people in a Village who were doomed to stay there for eternity, as it were, and he wanted to see their faces - the reactions of everybody that we were going to photograph. And this is what he wanted, he wanted close-ups of everything. Impact, as it were.
DJ: That sounds,
on the face of it, that Don Chaffey was the director, but McGoohan was behind
the directing. Did you find that was the case?
MO'T: It was always the case with McGoohan on the set. Although he didn't show it or let it be known, at least things could have happened behind doors in the evening - they could have ironed out a lot of things - but they never showed any resentment towards each other during filming.
DJ: Were they friends?
MO'T: Oh yes. I think McGoohan was big enough to have a drink with him in the evening.
DJ: Did McGoohan take over the direction of any of the shots in Portmeirion or did he leave it all to Chaffey?
MO'T: He more or less left it all to Don Chaffey. But at the same time there were a lot of scenes where he did direct himself - especially the second unit shots. When he left the first unit, he'd go down on the beach and do something on the beach and he'd more-or-less direct it.
DJ: You were saying about two container-loads of props. Are we talking about the containers that we think of nowadays?
MO'T: No, not the big ones. They were smaller containers then, they went on the back of British Railways trucks - if anybody out there can remember. They had smaller trucks in those days, not the great juggernauts we have today with great long containers. They were shorter. We had two containers which would match one of the long ones today, fixed up to the ceiling in props, absolutely right to the ceiling. This is what we arrived with here, and they gave us in Portmeirion accommodation to put all our props in a garage, and there was hardly room to swing a cat in this garage and we had to unpack two loads of props into it. I can tell you it was an achievement. It's all right unloading props, but you've still got to lay them out in some workable order where you can say: "We want that tomorrow, this tomorrow." You can't pile 'em all up like a dustcart and then start looking for something under-neath.
DJ: You had some sort of schedule, did you, of packing away, so you knew what was required?
MO'T: No, no - there was
no schedule. You just took the props off and laid them out - it was like your
own home, the way you lay things out in your own home. Everything is there that
you can see and say that's for so and so, this is for so and so, and they're
all marked. The only trouble then, when we came up here, we only had one of
everything - apart from the three Mini Mokes. We only had one of every other
thing, and when we had two units going sometimes, the unit on the beach wanted
something that we were using on the first unit.
They used to come to me and say: "We want to use your stuff on the beach." - "We'll use half and half each." - "Oh no, we can't work like that.". And they'd say: "We're using it at the moment" and then there'd be a compromise on that. Pat would say: ""We'll do something - let them do it because we want them to get on with something else".
DJ: The general atmosphere during shooting in Portmeirion - was it a relaxed atmosophere or was it just absolute bedlam from the beginning?
MO'T: It wasn't so much bedlam on the first day or the second day, but eventually it turned into something like that because we were getting in a state.
DJ: You were going over schedule even on location?
MO'T: We were going over schedule and we weren't completing a day's work. A day's work also involved too much work. They tried to get too many things done in one day.
DJ: Do you think that's what caused it?
MO'T: I would say there were too many things. I mean the call sheet - if you've seen some of the old call sheets, the scene numbers that appeared on the call sheets were enormous. The amount of things that they required on each day you couldn't possibly do with two cameras. Not in a village where you were going from A to B to C to D - all round the place. If you were on one set, doing all the scenes, fine. The lamps would be there, the cameras here and you're just turning over - but you were moving! Every time you moved, it was a half an hour before you got the next set up and got ready again. This was the big problem. Even to go on to the beach, that was an enormous task to move the unit down on to the beach and then move them back up to the Village or further down into the trees for something else. These were the problems.
DJ: One of the props you specifically mentioned to me wasn't trouble, but you had to be careful with it - the penny farthing, the actual penny farthing prop. At the time you already knew it was the symbol, didn't you?
MO'T: That was the symbol which was going to stand behind the No 2's chair, always in position there, and it was an antique and nobody was supposed to ride it.
DJ: In Portmeirion, are we talking about?
MO'T: Yes, in the Village.
DJ: So nobody actually did ride it?
MO'T: No - there was no one to ride it. I wouldn't allow anybody on it because it was dangerous to get on it if you couldn't control it. I know there's photographs of Don Chaffey - I think they were posed for, more than anything else, but it was a dangerous thing to get up on if you couldn't control it because you could fall off and break your neck. I tried it myself, one day in the prop room, with the help of a ladder - and I stood beside a ladder and sat on the saddle and in order to get off the bike I had to climb on to the ladder. If you fell off, it's like falling off a first-floor window. Very high.
DJ: One of the things you mentioned to me was the way you used to adapt the badges for No 2.
MO'T: Yes. The badges were a problem because we never seemed to have enough - although we had plenty of badges for particular numbers. We never knew from script to script what number you'd need for some actor or actress playing a part. So they would come up with some number like twenty-two and we'd go right through the whole lot and we couldn't find a twenty-two - and then we'd have to order some more. Invariably we got over it in lots of ways if we had the single numbers. We'd get around the back of the badge and rub out one of the numbers.
DJ: You used to do that with the No 2 badges at one stage?
MO'T: No 22 was a favourite one for rubbing out, or forty-two, and rub the four out and we were left with No 2, and we'd put a little white paint on the back just to disguise the scratching on it. They were little things we'd done ourselves.
DJ: They weren't very substantial, these badges, were they?
MO'T: They were flimsy. From the first day I said,: "For something that's got to go through a series for 12 months ..." They were just made of a round piece of plastic and a safety pin and a piece of double-sided tape holding the pin on to the back. We lost more badges because people walked off the set with them, then the souvenir hunters started taking them as well, so we were losing badges every day, and they used to say to me: "These badges are costing money," and I said: "The actors are costing more money, because they're stealing them."
AUDIENCE: Did you have any problems keeping things out of shot?
MO'T: Like what?
AUDIENCE: People who shouldn't be there.
MO'T: No, there was no problem with the people, because we couldn't upset the visitors coming in and out. That was one of the agreements Pat had with Clough Williams-Ellis - that there would be no disruption to his side of the business. So all these people came in - they were very kind, they would move out of the way if we were shooting up the hill and they enjoyed looking at the making of the film as well. And also, they were delighted to be able to say they'd paid to go in and saw a movie being made at the same time. So they were quite happy with the arrangements really. But as regards motor cars or anything like that....If there were cars left over-night by people living in some of the cottages or houses there - they might be in bed sleeping all day or they might have a girlfriend or somebody else's girlfriend in bed and couldn't disturb them. So we had to cover the cars up, hide the cars.
DJ: What did you use?
MO'T: They had screens made up....
DJ: Camouflage nets?
MO'T: Anything, anything at all to cover them. We put something in the way of them.
DJ: You were telling me that in half the scenes we see from the air, if you were to look closely, there are people hidden in bushes.
MO'T: If you could see through the bushes . . . We were all underneath bushes when they were shooting the helicopter scenes and when the helicopter was doing establishing shots round the Village, looking down on the Village. Everybody had to hide and if you didn't hide you had to have some of the dress of the Village. But that was easy - all you had to get was a straw boater on you. That was all you needed going round the place - and a pair of running shoes.
DJ: The helicopter wasn't there for very long, was it?
MO'T: No, the helicopter
was too expensive to be there too long, so they got the helicopter finished
as soon as possible and away.
DJ: Would that come into your province of props at all?
MO'T: No, that would come under production. Cars and things like that came into production, that was their budget.
DJ: The big stuff?
MO'T: The big stuff. They wouldn't bother us with that kind of thing.
DJ: We'll get on to the famous prop now, the Rover. Obviously, the balloon was the replacement prop. Have you any ideas about the origin of that - who came up with that balloon?
MO'T: I don't know who
came up with it. I'm sure they sat down one night, had a good drink, and said:
"Now, we're in bother here, we have a problem."
DJ: What was the problem?
MO'T: The problem was this thing that we humped all the way from London in the back of this truck, this container. It was a go-kart which was adapted to take a dome which was made at MGM studios - a great dome was put on top with a lovely frill all around the bottom as well, and a blue flashing light was mounted on top of it with a 12-volt battery strapped on your back to keep it going. I asked who was going to be the driver and they looked at me and said: "You!" And I said: "How am I supposed to operate the prop department and sit underneath this bloody thing like I'm sitting in a Saracen tank and wandering all round the Village?" And they said: "We'll work it out somehow, don't worry about it." I said: "That's all right." Anyway we got it out, I tried it out on the tarmac up here and it was fine. We went up and down and it was lovely, but your vision was very, very limited. There was just a small slit in the front of it - it was like a horse with blinkers on, you couldn't see anything at the side. Two guys had to put you in there because the dome required two men to lift on and lift off. It was adapted on the sides - they had side plates they could drop this dome on. If the battery exploded and you were underneath this thing and you'd be knocking for ever more trying to get out. Having run it up and down the tarmac for a while - and it was all right - then there were pavements to be mounted, and then they looked down and saw the beach where a lot of things were going to happen. This thing with solids was useless.
DJ: Solid tyres?
MO'T: Yes, and tiny solids
at that. So they said: "That's going to be of no use whatsoever. Put it
back in its stable and forget about it." And I said: "What's going
to take its place?" - "We'll think about something." And they
really did, they came up with a beauty. A few days later, [Productiion Manager]
Bernie Williams came to me with a box of balloons.
DJ: This was on the first day, wasn't it, that the Rover prop failed - didn't even make it to the afternoon?
MO'T: It didn't even make it past the road down here. They got rid of it.
DJ: That probably
explains why there were no photos of it.
MO'T: I have a funny feeling that McGoohan himself - even before he went out - knew it was useless because of the beach. Anybody in their right senses would know that that wouldn't run on the beach. You could spend half an hour trying to start it going.
DJ: Robert Monks mentioned that the motor made a hell of a row?
MO'T: It did. It wouldn't
be any good for sound. The balloons arrived and I was given these great enormous
balloons and I said: "What are we going to do with those?" and they
said: "We're going to blow them up and pull them with strings or nylon
or whatever." I said: "That's going to be very useful. Where are we
going to blow them up? I have enough work already without having this thrust
on me." Because I could have sent to London for another couple of men to
do this. "We're over budget, we can't afford any more men." - "Can
we get a local man?" - "No, you don't want a local man, you're better
doing it yourself." So I delegated one of my men who was on an easy job,
he was doing a little bit of dressing, dressing the shops round here, putting
little bits and pieces in the windows. He had a lovely job and then suddenly
he was switched from the shop dressing to balloon-blowing, much to his annoyance.
These balloons are filled with French chalk inside, this is for storage purposes
to stop them from sticking together. They sweat a lot, rubber balloons, and
they stick if you don't do this. So there's a fair amount of French chalk inside.
Well, this guy always wore navy suits and we found him a spot up in the bushes,
up at the back of Portmeirion, and we put sheets and blankets all round the
bushes so that they didn't puncture the balloons when he blew them up. He started
off with a foot pump and he said to me exhausted: "This is never going
to work, you know, Mick." I said: "What's the matter?" He said:
"Look at it - I've only got it that size and they want it ten times as
big." "Well," I said, "keep going."
McGoohan is getting frantic now, down on the set, and he's wanting to know where the balloons are. I said: "It's all happening, Pat! There's a man up there with a foot pump blowing away." And he said: "Christ! We'll have to get something better than that." "Well," I said, "let's try and get something."
Anyway, luckily enough, the painters had this small compressor they were using for spraying paint here and there - it was a nice little portable thing. So we got that and adapted it to blow the balloons up which was a boon to the man. He was delighted - he just tied the nozzle on, started this compressor and he sat down smoking and he said: "This is beautiful, you've done me a favour!" And I did - I'd done him a favour because he sat down there one day blowing the balloon up and he forgot all about it and the balloon became bigger and bigger and it was going into the trees and bushes. And eventually one of the twigs on the bushes went "pong" and the balloon didn't go bang, it just goes pfffff but sprays out an enormous amount of French chalk. So he is completely covered in French chalk and he said to me: "This is no good either, this is ridiculous, look at me."
And the more he kept on wiping this chalk off, his suit was getting shiny - he was like Fred Astaire with a white suit. So his suit is ruined and all he was con-cerned about was when he could claim compensation for his suit. I said: "Not on this production, George. You won't get nothing out of it - they'll probably give you one of the Village suits anyway." "Oh," he said. "Bugger that lot!" We did manage to perfect the job a little bit on the balloons, but Mr McGoohan had his own ideas. He wanted bigger balloons, smaller balloons and he wanted a supply of balloons already blown up. Well that was impossible in the open - in the space we had we couldn't do it. So all we could do was blow two balloons up at a time and they were transported on the back of the Mini Mokes half the time.
The Mini Mokes went to collect them and the guy in the Mini Moke would go down with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on the balloon and he's driving mad down the Village with everyone trying to get out of his way -the balloons waving all round the place - and just as he's getting close to the camera it catches a twig or something on the wall and it goes pop! Around again and back up, and poor old George would have a look and say: "Oh not another one gone, is it?" And here we go again. So McGoohan came to me one evening and he said to me: "Mickey, we've got to do something about the balloons." I said: "What are we going to do, Pat?" He said: "You're holding us up every time." I said: "I'm not holding you up, the balloons keep on breaking, that's the trouble. These were never designed for going round a village like this on the back of a Mini Moke for a start off. They were meant to go up there [points upwards] where there are no trees or bushes to interfere with them." He said: "I know - but can you think of any way we can get these balloons down?" I said: "All we can do, is do our best." So we did a little bit better - probably, we were more careful and we had people who handled them with a little bit more care so we got out of trouble.
DJ: One specific Rover shot that was very interesting was the small balloon on the fountain - the very first appearance of Rover.
MO'T: That was a little
thing they chucked at me again. They said: "Look, we want a tiny balloon
on top of the fountain." I said: "Do you?" All these jobs were
off the cuff. On a normal feature film, you would have about three months to
prepare this. There'd be discussions for ever more and you'd have four guys
out there for weeks trying out this thing, and they'd have it perfected - and
on the day nothing would happen. But to me, they were given to me and they'd
say: "Mickey - we're going to put a balloon on that." And I'd say:
"Where?" And they'd say: "On there." So I got a small balloon
that you buy in Woolworth's and I made it in such a way - I cut it in half and
then blew it up and tied it round like a haggis, as it were. And much to my
surprise, I put it on top of the fountain and it stayed there. And it's floating
away on top there and I said: "This is marvellous." "Now,"
they said, "you've got to shoot it off - blow it off." "Here
we go!" I said. And I said: "Look!" to Pat McGoohan. "Pat-are
you trying to turn me into a loony or some-thing? All these little jobs - they're
all coming up. I have enough to do." Anyway, I had a pellet gun and I shot
this off at least six times out of seven -and the idea of the shot was that
they were focused on the small one, and when it disappeared they went into another,
larger, Ro-ver up here. That was the shot. And having shot it off the fountain
six out of seven times, I missed it once. And he looked at me and said: "What's
the matter with you, Mickey?" I said: "The matter! I've done six out
of seven and you're saying what's the matter?" He said: "It must be
something wrong, you're going astray or something." I couldn't believe
DJ: There's the other shot, the helium Rover shot, that gave you trouble.
MO'T: Yes, it did. This
particular day the shot required Rover to start from point A and go right up
to the Dome and come down to point B. It had to go in quite a decent run from
the ground up and they would follow it. Let me remind you, half of these shots
never appeared in the series. I don't know why, 'cause I spent half the day
trying to get them ready. They were all Pat's idea or the director's idea and
they never probably made the episode, but anyway, we've done our best to get
them ready. So this particular shot required the balloon to go up and down.
So Pat just put it on me like that again. He said: "I've got another little
job for you, Mickey." I said: "Oh, another one of your little jobs?
What is it?" He said: "I want the balloon to go from A to B."
I said: "How long have we got?" He said: "About five minutes."
I said: "Wait a minute - I've got to work it out, I've got to fill the
balloon with helium to get it off the ground. We've got to string it up and
do the business." Anyway we did, and we got the shot to work and it was
a simple shot with two nylons on to the same balloon. One nylon held it here
and released it and the other one controlled it in its descent or ascent to
the Dome - and then I released it from my side and the other guy pulled it down
his side. It was a simple thing, but looked like an enormous task in the beginning
- but was so simple. A lot of these jobs are so simple it's not true, really.
If you sit down and just think about it for the moment. But it worked fine and
he was delighted at the finish and he said: "Well done! Now we're over
here now, Mickey, and we want so-and-so ..."
And that's forgotten about completely - and there you are trying to roll up the nylon, trying to stop it from tangling, and getting it all ready for the next shot. That was another thing - he said: "The nylon is costing a lot of money, isn't it?" Because you'd have to cut it when it got tangled up and get rid of it. "Do you want more nylon, really?" Because they were expensive in those days, reels of nylon.
AUDIENCE: In view
of the Welsh weather, did you find that obstructed your schedules?
MO'T: It was a hazard, but I think we were very lucky up here at that period. The weather was kind to us. We did have a few odd days, but they always had some little thing that they went inside on or shot where the weather didn't interfere too much with them.
DJ: How did you
find the local extras to work with?
MO'T: Very good, very good. They thought we were all mad. I spoke to a lot of the girls in that area filming after a few days and they said: "What's it all about?" I said: "Don't ask me, I only work here!" It was crazy - they were all going round this Village and it didn't make sense to anybody because they didn't see scripts or anything - they didn't know what the hell it was about. I remember they had two guys amongst the extras - they were two alcoholics, two old chaps - and they used to take their booze up and hide it in bushes and every place else, and every now and again, they'd make their way to a bush and pull out a bottle of "medicine" and drink away and then they'd come back.
DJ: OK, I'd like to talk a bit about Borehamwood and in the studios. Before you worked on "The Prisoner" you worked on "Doctor Zhivago" with a young director by the name of Roy Rosotti. Now, he didn't start off as a director, did he?
MO'T: No - Roy Rosotti started in the art department. He was an assistant art director, set dresser or whatever - that was his side of the business on the artistic side, designing and set dressing. But I worked with him in Spain. He was given a job in Spain by David Lean to shoot a graveyard scene, a funeral scene where Zhivago's mother was buried. I don't know if anybody saw the film - there was a young boy who played Zhivago who was actually Omar Shariff s son - seven years of age - who played him in the beginning, and he was walking through the cemetery behind his mother's coffin and he was looking at all the tombstones on the way. Well, that would be something for a second unit to do, so David Lean left that for Roy Rosotti to shoot. So Roy was given the job of shooting it and they said to me: "You go with him because you know exactly what props are involved." So I went with Roy, and Roy started off in great fashion and he had a lot of Spanish people there as well who couldn't understand a word he was say-ing - they couldn't speak English. He was getting a little temperamental, you know, like a lot of directors get, and his favourite phrase was "This is like amateur night in Dixie!" He kept on saying that and the Spanish are going "Que? Que?" - they didn't understand a word he was saying. Anyway, he shot that and became known as the second unit director on "Zhivago", which really wasn't a lot.
DJ: Did his stuff survive into the finished film?
MO'T: I doubt it very much - I think probably David Lean went back and shot most of the stuff himself anyway, because he never allowed anybody to shoot anything. He liked to shoot every-thing himself.
DJ: So you were surprised a couple of years later to find Roy Rosotti working on "The Prisoner"?
MO'T: I was sitting in
the studios one day minding my own business and reading the script, and next,
somebody said: "Do you know who is directing the next one?" I said:
"Who?" and they said: "Roy Rosotti." I said: "You must
be joking!" and they said: "He is!" I remember the Monday morning
he came in, Roy Rosotti, all full of beans, and he started off speaking to me
as if he were God Almighty in the place. He was telling me to do this and get
this done, that done. He was going over the head of the assistant director now
- he'd normally converse with me - but he [Rosotti] was giving me all this spiel
about this and that and the other thing, and then he went into all elaborate
shots that you would only find on a major production. The first
was to go upstairs on the gantry, and he started rigging up a platform where he was going to do an overhead shot looking down - which are always time-consuming shots.
DJ: This would be the episode "A Change Of Mind" - Roy Rosotti was the original director on the episode "A Change Of Mind".
MO'T: He got involved in this thing up the stairs and that, and McGoohan was down below, and he doesn't know what's going on - he's shaking his head. Well now, we're getting nothing in the can and the time is ticking by and we should have two or three minutes in the can by 11 o'clock - more perhaps. So all this is going on. Eventually it came to lunch time. We went to lunch and came back.
DJ: This was lunch on the first day?
MO'T: The first day, yes - and we came back after lunch and I looked and I couldn't see any sign of Rosotti and then McGoohan came along and he said: "Right, the first shot is over here" and I looked around and I said: "Where's Roy?" "Never mind Roy," he said, "we're shooting over here," and so and so. And I said: "I know - he's over at the Borehamwood Labour Exchange, isn't he?" "Yes," he said.
DJ: So he didn't
even last until the first lunch break?
MO'T: No - and probably none of his stuff survived.
DJ: There was a very interesting incident that happened while they were making the two-hander with Leo and McGoohan - Once Upon A Time - the penultimate episode just with the two of them. We were told that McGoohan brought you a script by Mr Archibald Schwarz.
MO'T: Oh yes. Let's see - I'll bet you have all seen the Leo McKern bit. Leo McKern had a nervous breakdown - he had to go off for a couple of weeks to recover - and I looked at the name on the script, Archibald Schwarz, and I said to Pat: "Who in the name of Christ is this Archibald Schwarz - is he a lunatic or something to write that?" He said: "Don't worry Mickey, it's all good stuff". And Leo McKern was in Shenley Mental Hospital for a week.
DJ: So you didn't realise at that stage that McGoohan had written it?
MO'T: No I didn't. I didn't realise he was writing under a pseudonym.
DJ: Did he seem amused?
MO'T: He was always amused at any-thing I said to him - he never took it offensively. I think he looked for things like that from me. He was always prepared for it.
DJ: You've just reminded me - you actually worked on the opening sequence at Park Lane underground car park. I wanted to mention this....
MO'T: Oh yes, in Hyde Park underground car park.
DJ: You built the thing in there, didn't you?
MO'T: Yes - we built the set inside underneath there, and put an office in there where he comes in.
DJ: It was at that stage, I think you were telling me, that you realised that the thing was going to be very well made.
MO'T: Yes, it started off terrific. The openings were great with this Lotus chasing along the streets and McGoohan handing in his resignation and then going back to his apartment and the gassing - then finding yourself looking at a village in the middle of nowhere. It was going to be great - but, again, you can't keep up good scripts all the time.
DJ: What's your overall impression of the series now? I know you've actually done a bit of homework, Mickey, before you came up [to Portmeirion] this time.
MO'T: Yes, I've had a look at some of the episodes.
DJ: Have you enjoyed them?
MO'T: I have enjoyed them - I've enjoyed them immensely and I think more of them now than I did then.
DJ: Can you detach yourself and watch them as entertainment, or are you watching them and saying "Oh yes, I remember that?"
MO'T: Well, actually, the trouble is, having worked on these things, you are all the time looking for faults or some-thing that's around the back. And I have a video so I can freeze-frame and all that - and I do that a lot now. I'm looking at something to know if it is or isn't.......So that's the problem, having worked on it - you skip over the acting, you're not listening to the actors. You are looking for faults.
AUDIENCE: What's the most embarrassing fault that you've spotted?
MO'T: Actually, I haven't spotted any fault - no, that's a fact.
DJ: You think it was pretty well made, then?
MO'T: I think it was pretty well made - pretty well made.
AUDIENCE: Was McGoohan any more distant at the end of the series?
MO'T: He became a little bit more reclusive, I would say. We didn't go drinking as much and it wasn't as happy because I think Pat had a lot of problems. He had a lot of problems with the hierarchy about how the product was going and how the money was being spent, so he didn't have much time for merriment and making happy like we used to before, when everything was going quite well. So he did become a little bit distant - he was bordering on insanity, I thought, at times.
DJ: Do you think the series was having an effect on him in that way?
MO'T: It was - it was definitely having an effect on him.
DJ: Loads of pressure on him all the time?
MO'T: It was. I think he had sleepless nights, or he wasn't going to bed at all. He was working too many hours and doing too many things. He was all sorts of things - director, producer, cameraman - you name it, he was involved with everything, and I think that was getting him down. I'm sure it would get anybody down if you were involved in the same process.
AUDIENCE: When was the last time you saw Patrick McGoohan?
MO'T: The last time I saw
him was around that period when I left the series in 1966/67 - around that time,
early '67 perhaps - and I haven't seen him since. I've often asked questions
and he's often asked about me, in fact, through [Producer] David Tomblin. I've
met David Tomblin once or twice and I've asked him how he's getting on and he's
told me that he is living in America and his daughter has got married and he
is quite happy, and he has often asked about you to know how you were getting
on. I'll tell you - if I could say one nice
little thing about him to show how friendly we were. I remember in the early part of the series that I was about to buy a house and I needed to get a mortgage. It was like leaving school, every time I left the studio with Pat. I had to tell him where I was going because he'd ask for me, you see, when I was out. "Where has he gone to?" and if I didn't tell him he'd say: "Why didn't you tell me you were going?" or something like that.
Anyway, I said: "I'm going to try and get a mortgage, Pat" and he said "Why are you going out to try and get a mortgage when I'll give it to you?" I said: "No - I'd never get away from you then! I'd be stuck for the rest of my life with a bloody mortgage and you!" He said: "No you wouldn't - you could pay me back weekly." I said: "You'd be knocking on my bloody door for the money every week" and he said he wouldn't. But as it happened, I got the mortgage and I didn't need to call on Pat - but that's how generous he was towards me, and that's how intimate we were at times. A great guy. I still say he's one of the greatest.
DJ: That's great - I think it's been a great interview. I'm sure you will agree Mickey has been very interesting this evening. I think he's been a fantastic guest. He's going to be around for the rest of this evening and on Sunday - I'm sure he won't mind chatting to anyone.
MO'T: I've no secrets!
DJ: It's well worthwhile buying this man a drink! I'd like to thank Esther, Mickey's wife - she has come up and put up with us for a weekend and I would like you all to put your hands together and give a great big "thank you" to Mickey O'Toole.
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