Monday, 20 March 2017
636 The Prisoner
First viewed : 19 September 1983
Part of Channel 4's early remit was to allow repeats of classic ITV series of yore such as Upstairs Downstairs, Out and The Avengers. Now it came round to The Prisoner . I had absolutely no memory of it from the first time round and knew little about it but I was still intrigued. Ellen Smiths Ltd had run coach trips from Littleborough to Portmeirion in the seventies and advertised them as the location for the series. I also noted a paperback displayed in the newsagents we used to visit in Hebden Bridge which had Patrick McGoohan with the tag line "I am not a number I am a free man !" and that also piqued my interest.
At the time the series was made in 1967 McGoohan was the highest paid actor thanks to his success as John Drake, a cerebral government agent in the series Danger Man. He had enough clout to pull the plug on Danger Man and get his new project made. As with all cult favourites the key facts have become contentious and the exact extent of McGoohan's creative contribution to The Prisoner is disputed but it's indisputable that it was his star power that got the series made at all. It's also hotly debated whether the series was in fact a continuation of Danger Man with Number Six and John Drake one and the same ; McGoohan gave different answers at different times to this
Whoever he was , Number 6 was gassed and abducted from his home in London shortly after resigning from an important government position. He wakes in a strange, isolated village full of polite. mostly disengaged people and is prevented from escaping by a sophisticated surveillance operation under the control of Number 2 ( played by a succession of different actors throughout the series including Leo McKern, George Baker and Peter Wyngarde ). Number 6 becomes locked in a battle of wits with Number 2 who wants to know the reasons behind his resignation while 6 has his own inevitable question who is number one ?
That's about the only question that does get answered in a series full of riddles and allegories. The overarching theme is the individual's resistance to being controlled by others which chimed in nicely with the era's anti-establishment ethos.
Despite the unavoidable trappings of sixties kitsch I was immediately hooked by the first episode but that presented me with a worry. After episode two, I would be in a hall of residence at university and there was no guarantee I would have access to a television to see the remainder of the series. As it turned out , I did get to see most of it although I was somewhat disappointed that not one of my 80+ house mates were consistently interested in watching it with me.
For the most part I enjoyed it although I didn't like the Alexis Kanner character and while the final episode did provide some closure it was horribly self-indulgent in the exposition. McGoohan was famously hounded by fans demanding more of an explanation.
It became his defining role . He relocated to the US not long afterwards and was rarely seen on British TV thereafter. His 1977 series, Rafferty is only remembered for being mentioned in a Teardrop Explodes song. He had a decent-ish film career with a late triumph as Edward I in Braveheart and died in 2009 after a short illness.