KEN DAMPIER and JOHN BAYLEYof Ogilvy-Mather.

Adapted from an interview conducted by Dave Lally, with his kind permission.

At about 9.59 pm on Friday 26th June 1987, just before "News At Ten", the London-based ITV station London Weekend (LWT) transmitted the first-ever commercial using footage from "The Prisoner". The advertisement, promoting the capital's news and information radio station London Broadcasting Company (LBC), was repeated a further six times that weekend and throughout the following two months. The 60-second commercial was conceived by Ken Dampier and John Bayley of the advertisers Ogilvy Mather.

Following the TV campaign, which saw the "Prisoner" commercial being screened many times on both ITV and Channel 4, LBC continued the theme with a newspaper and poster blitz in September and October. A two-page advert appeared in the London Evening Standard and three different posters went up on huge hoardings at strategic points around the capital. Each featured huge black letters on a stark white background with the slogans "Where Am I?" "What do you want?" and "Whose side are you on?"

Finally, a new TV campaign, featuring freshly-shot news film intercut with the Prisoner footage, was also released.

Dave Lally, of the London Prisoner Group, met Ken and John for an informal interview to find out how and why the project came about.

DAVE LALLY- The first thing I'd like to know is how the idea came about. LBC's previous TV advertisements were based on the idea of "News at the speed of sound"...

KEN DAMPIER/JOHN BAYLEY: Yes. For a long time LBC was just a news station and, to a large number of people, I think "news radio" is a boring idea. In fact, it's quite an interesting station to listen to. For some time we had been saying that "news and information" are a lot more interesting than people think.

DL: So one of you heard the word "information" and thought: "Gosh, that sounds familiar!"?

KD/JB: To some extent that's true. We were in a cab on the way back from somewhere and we had decided that we wanted to present LBC as "The Information Station". London's quite an exciting place to live and information of all kinds is important. Whether the information was up-to-date news or trivia or a serious issue like "Spycatcher", we wanted to position LBC as the "reference station". We had to make the commercial exciting as well, because information per se is a bit dry. We are now trying to aim the station more at the late 20s/early 30s and, like us, they were probably tuned in to "The Prisoner" in the 60s. But then we thought: "There's no way we're going to get the right to use that!" Then we tried - and discovered that we actually could! We went through various ideas - should we re-shoot the material etc. But while a lot of Prisoner fans
would have recognised a re-shoot as being based on "The Prisoner", a lot of people wouldn't.

DL: But of course, getting the original footage is quite a coup.

KD/JB: That certainly is the strongest thing. In essence, the commercial works not on a rational basis as to what it's communicating from the screen, but rather on a level of saying: "Hey, LBC is hip enough and interesting enough to recognise that The Prisoner is that sort of programme." The commercial says all kinds of things about LBC other than just information. It says "We're aware, we appreciate good things, we're conscious of strong communication". We have been enthusiasts of "The Prisoner" for ages. We still think it's the best-ever TV programme. It's perfect TV. Most television programmes are a 10-minute idea stretched to half-an-hour, or a feature film crammed into one hour. I think "The Prisoner" works on a small screen in a way it wouldn't in a cinema.

DL: Did you choose your sequence? Or did you look at different bits to see how they would fit into the format?

KD/JB: No - we always knew it would have to be the title sequence, since it is the most familiar thing people would recognise. Also, the music is pretty exciting. It's rivetting when it comes on.

DL: Well, gosh, yes. You see the clouds and then that Lotus shooting down that track. I jumped, and thought the video was on by mistake! Then I saw the hooded figure throwing a firebomb at the Land Rover (obviously Northern Ireland) and I thought "What the heavens is this?" It was indeed rivetting and I wanted to see what happened next.....How did you set about making it?

KD/JB: When you make a commercial, you think of an idea, write a script and then go off and shoot it with a production company and film crew. Obviously, we didn't need to do that in this case. But we were going to make it more semi-impressionist than it is - in other words, more weird. We were going to throw all sorts of odd pictures in and jumble it about and use the words "Where am I?" with a funny echo etc. It was going to be more of a patchwork, more textured. But when we came to sell the idea to LBC we were worried that they might not remember "The Prisoner" so we did a rough version of the finished product. We got the Channel 5 video, chopped it up in the video edit machine and threw in some of the previous night's news footage. At the same time, we were clearing the rights with ITC, Patrick McGoohan and Ron Grainer's estate. So we showed the rough version to LBC and they thought it was great! They said: "Let's run it!", at which point we said we couldn't because of rights not having been cleared for both "The Prisoner" and the "News At Ten" footage we'd pinched. So then we proceeded to clear the news inserts for use.

DL: Some of the news inserts l recognised, but where did the generals come from?

KD/JB: They are Bulgarian or Polish - from a French TV broadcast. We had a sort of story in our minds as it slowly builds up and you could take it as something that PMcG is protesting about. And we're suggesting that the people who listen to LBC are not people who will have information just fed to them and they will swallow it. Instead, it's up to you, the listener, to make up your own mind. I think that's a very important part of why the commercial works. It's clear that No.6 is so much of an individual, asserting himself and making up his own mind.

DL: Hmmmm - that's what came to me. LBC gives you the stuff but it's up to you how you view it.

KD/JB: The commercial is certainly slightly enigmatic and it was deliberately so. Also, the tone of voice used suggests you are an independent person, that you have your own point of view and that you will use the information we provide to arrive at your own conclusions. When we were putting the news footage bits in we created this sort of story that there was some kind of crisis on the streets and this guy is throwing the bomb and people are protesting ... and then finally there's the rocket taking off.

DL: Oh yes - how significant! That's a straight parody of "Fall Out", you know.

KD/JB: Yes - well, it's homage to the last episode. People actually said: "Take that out - it's irrelevant" but we said: "No, people will like that". We are quite pleased at the way we managed to compress four minutes or so into a minute. In fact, the opening sequence of "The Prisoner" is three-and-a-half minutes long so obviously there's a whole lot missing - the gas and the undertaker and all that had to go. It's a shame because that was all about London and the idea of being in the Village, and that the Village is London, is obviously important.

DL: What about at the very end - did you superimpose images?

KD/JB: Yes. There was a need to make it clear we were talking about London when he says 'Where am I?" so we put in a shot of Waterloo Bridge (just outside our offices). And we didn't feel it was out of kilter with the rest, because the main shots were done in Victoria. While this rough cut was being done, delicate negotiations were going on with Mr McGoohan. Our producer Ros McClellan did all this. ITC gave us permission very quickly and the Grainer estate was quick also. In the past, it seems that everyone was scared to use "The Prisoner" because McGoohan was thought likely not to give his blessing. Ros phoned and phoned trying to get through to Patrick, left messages, wrote and so on. Finally, one day our switchboard said: "There's a Patricia McGuigan on the line calling you from Los Angeles" and we went: "Aaaaarrgh" But he was very charming - a nice person.

DL: Patrick McGoohan has given a number of interviews indicating that amongst his strongly-held views is a distaste for advertising and the people in that industry. How do you feel about the fact that his most famous production is now a commercial?

KD/JB: Yes - but it's a product that has some importance. I think that if we had been selling a can of beans or something, he would probably not have wanted to get involved. But we explained what we were doing and why we wanted to use it and that there was no way we were exploiting it or would change its concept. We were concerned to produce something that would not upset or annoy people who genuinely appreciate the programme.

DL: There have been things not using it directly but parodying it in the past and he's objected.....

KD/JB: Yes, but here is a really exciting commercial that tells you that LBC broadcasts information in an exciting way, and the fact that it is based on "The Prisoner" is a bonus and a luxury, if you like.

DL: Well, personally I'm very pleased for somebody to pick it out.

KD/JB: If you guys are pleased, that's all that matters!

Click here to return to the Unmutual Interviews Section

Click here to return to the Unmutual home page