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.

1 comment:

  1. A show that remains very close to my heart, with "Hammer into Anvil" being my fave episode - the band in which I spent most of my 20s was basically built on the love my co-songwriter and I had of this show, as well as the Chameleons (who, like us, co-opted some of the themes for lyrics). Somewhat pretentiously, I did wear a #6 badge on my bass strap - somewhat amusing when you consider the character himself threw his own to the ground.

    I was somewhat annoyed during a trip to Portmeirion to take pictures of the band that you couldn't buy a #6 style jacket in the shop.