The Prisoner: episode 10 – Hammer into Anvil – synopsis

Thunder crashes.
Number Two appears, looking determined, in the Chair, but does not speak the responses.
We open with a shot of a Village street, then cut to the Hospital. Inside, Number Seventy Three, an attractive young woman with bandaged wrists, is lying in bed, being questioned by a sympathetic but somewhat creepy voice that we soon learn belongs to Number Two. He is a strong-faced but somehow weak man, his hair thinning on top and worn longer and brushed luxuriantly above his ears.
He questions Number Seventy-Three about the whereabouts of her husband, but she denies any knowing knowledge. The questioning disturbs her, even before Number Two suggests her husband is being unfaithful to her. She denies that violently, but he coldly produces a photo, showing her husband with a woman named Maryka. Though we do not see it ourselves, it is clearly compromising. Number Seventy Three shrinks away, screwing her eyes up against seeing it.
Suddenly, he rounds on her, shouting brutally about her wasting his time. She begins to scream.
Number Six, out walking, hears the scream. He runs towards the Hospital, races upstairs and, despite the attempts of two orderlies to stop him, forces his way into the room. Number Seventy-Three is still shrinking away, screaming, with Number Two bending over her. Number Six’s appearance distracts him, and the woman takes the opportunity to jump out of bed, cross the room and throw herself through the open window. When Number Six looks down, she is sprawled full-length, dead.
Coldly, Number Two tells Number Six that he should not have interfered, and he will pay for this. No, replies Number Six with cold anger, you will.
Number Six is pacing backwards and forwards at home when Number Two telephones, summoning him. Number Six replies that he has nothing to say to the man, puts the phone down and goes out for a walk.
He is on a country lane when a jeep, driven by Number Two’s assistant, Number Fourteen, catches him up. Three Guardians are dropped off, and although Number Six gives a good account of himself, he is overpowered, dragged into the jeep and taken to Number Two’s office.
Number Two is angry at the disregard of his orders. He intends to break Number Six, and is contemptuous of his predecessors’ failure to do so. They were amateurs: he is a professional. Number Six is quietly mocking. In response, Number Two shrugs the end from his shooting stick, revealing a sword blade. Number Six sits unconcerned as Number Two holds the blade close to his eyes, and then presses it against his forehead. He states that he feels disgust, looking at Number two.
Number Two resheathes his shooting stick, saying “Du musst Amboss oder Hammer sein”. Number Six recognises this as a quote from Goethe, “You must anvil or hammer be”. Number Two sees him as the anvil, to be hammered.
Suddenly, the big red phone rings. Number Two’s manner changes. He is tense in his exchanges with Number One, assuring him everything is under control, that he does not need assistance. Number Six notes this with a small smile.
After the call finishes, Number Two orders him out. As he leaves, Number Two roars at him that he will break him. He then orders special surveillance on Number Six.
Number Six’s first act is to go to the store. There is a sign in the window extolling music, and confirming new records are in. He buys a ‘Tally Ho’, showing the new Number Two in determined pose on the front, and asks to listen to Bizet’s L’Arlessienne Suite: there are six copies and he asks for all of them. The shopkeeper watches curiously as he plays a few seconds of the Farandole, checking his watch, before changing the disc. At the third copy, he lets the disc run longer and makes notes on a piece of paper. He then returns all the discs to the shopkeeper, giving his opinion that it is not a satisfactory recording. He leaves behind his ‘Tally Ho’, having circled the word security, and added a question mark.
The shopkeeper immediately takes all the discs and the paper to Number Two, with Number Six watching from around the corner in satisfaction.
No difference can be found between any of the discs or their sleeves. Number Two is puzzled.
Back at his cottage, Number Six writes a note, pockets it and leaves. He does not go far, watching as Number Fourteen enters his cottage. He takes the next sheet from the pad, Number Six having deliberately pressed hard enough to leave an impression. He delivers this to Number Two, and is surprised to be sent away before the note is deciphered. It reads, “To X.O.4 ref your query via Bizet record. No. 2’s instability confirmed. Detailed Report follows. D.6”. Number Two looks aghast: is Number Six a plant?
In the evening, he and Number Fourteen follow the Prisoner down to the stone boat, where he leaves an envelope. They retrieve this but it only contains three blank sheets of paper. When tested, they are nothing more. Number Two’s frustration leads him to suggest the technician is keeping things from him, that he is working with Number Six.
The Prisoner intensifies his campaign the following day. Firstly he places a personal ad in the ‘Tally Ho’, a Cervantes quote, from Don Quixote: “Hay mas aml en el aldea que se suena.” He then telephones the Head of Psychiatry, enquiring about progress on the report on Number Two. The Head is utterly baffled, which Number Six pretends to take as caution. Almost immediately, the Head is summonsed to Number Two’s office, where the latter is growing steadily enraged. He sarcastically assumes the Head knows nothing, is mystified. He is plainly disbelieving and showing signs of paranoia and loss of control. When the Head advises him to stay calm, Number Two rounds on him, demanding to know if the Head wants to sit in this (i.e. Number Two’s) Chair?
Next, Number Six pauses at the bandstand, making a request to the Bandmaster. As the band strike up the Farandole, he walks away. Naturally, the bandmaster is the next to be summoned to Number Two’s office and questioned about his suspicious behaviour and his part in this conspiracy.
Meanwhile, Number Six has gone to the Cemetery. Lilies have been placed on Number Seventy Three’s grave, her stone marked only by her Number. As he leaves, he notes the number of a nearby grave, 113. He writes a request card which, later on, is read by the Control Room Supervisor, DJ fashion, prior to resuming music broadcasts. It is a greeting to Number Six on his birthday from his friend Number 113. Number Two, reacting in fury, hastily consults two folders, before storming into the Control Room and confronting the shocked and fearful Supervisor. It is NOT Number Six’s birthday, and there is no 113. He accuses the Supervisor of working with Number Six, and dismisses him. As Number Fourteen leads the Supervisor away, Number Two promotes his assistant He warns the man, and the whole room, to avoid Number Six. Then, unable to control his temper, he bursts out shouting “I’ll break this conspiracy!”
Back in his Office, Number Fourteen shows him the ad in the ‘Tally Ho’, translating it as “There is more harm in the Village than is dreamt of.”
Number Fourteen is growing concerned for his boss. He wants to eliminate Number Six, end this campaign. Number Two demurs: the man has been sent by their masters. However, he is further provoked when Number Six turns up, pretending to have been summoned by phone by Number Two himself. Blandly, Number Six suggests Number Two is being impersonated. As Number Two leaves, he tells Number Fourteen he doesn’t need him, with a sidelong glance at Number Six.
The two men size each other up. Number Fourteen is free in his hatred for Number Six and his desire to take him down a peg or two. Number Six suggests kosho. This is an unusual combat game, involving two trampolines bracketing a waterbath, with a three-sided angled walkway. The two men have a short fight, in which it is clear both are eager to attack the other, but the game is interrupted by the next combatants before anything can happen.
On his way back, Number Six observes some pigeons. At the shop, he buys a small notebook and a cuckoo clock. He uses the box from the clock to construct a makeshift pigeon trap, using a half-eaten sandwich, which duly catches a bird. meanwhile, he delivers the clock itself to Number Two’s door. The latter panics, assuming it is a bomb. The Bomb Squad gingerly retrieve and dismantle it: it is a cuckoo clock. They too are looking askance at Number Two.
Meanwhile, Number Six gently carries the bird up into the woods. He tapes a message to its leg and releases it. The Control Room, on edge, tracks the bird and prepares to shoot it down, but Number Two intervenes to have the bird intercepted. The message it carries reads, “Vital message tomorrow 06.00 hours by visual signal.”
The next morning, the Prisoner gets up early and goes out on the beach. He uses a handmirror to flash a message in Morse. Much to the consternation of Number Two, the Control Room cannot detect a receiver: no-one in the hills, at sea, in the air – not even any submarines. The operator who records the message is reluctant to read it out: it is the nursery rhyme, “Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, bakers man”.
Number Two sends the message to the cypher experts. It translates as Pat-a-Cake.
Returning via the café, Number Six sees Number Fourteen having coffee. He approaches the assistant, starts whispering to him about how badly he has been sleeping. Number Fourteen is mystified. Then Number Six tells him the waiter is watching them, and, speaking out loud, says how glad he is that Number Fourteen agrees. He walks away.
By the time Number Fourteen reaches Number Two’s office, the latter knows of the meeting. Number Fourteen professes his innocence, but Number Two’s paranoia has reached his height. He strikes Number Fourteen, accuses him of betrayal, dismisses him. In his ranting, he also accuses the silent Butler of being in on it and dismisses him too.
At this cottage, Number Six is listening to L’Arlessienne in full. Number Fourteen enters and starts a fight. The two have a dragged out fight that overturns everything but the record player, ending with Number Six throwing Number Fourteen through the window, just as Number Seventy Three ended her own life.
Sensing this is the time to apply the coup de gr?ce, Number Six goes to Number Two’s office. He finds him alone, cowering behind the Penny Farthing, but still initially defiant. He claims to know who Number Six is, to have seen through him since the start. Humouring him, Number Six accepts the premise that he is D.6, sent to test Village security. If that were so, what should a loyal agent have done. Number Two sees the final element of the trap he has dug for himself. Who are you working for? demands the Prisoner.
Number Two begins to whimper, claiming Number Six has destroyed him. But he has destroyed himself, through his fear of his superiors. Number Two pleads with Number Six not to report him. Number Six will not do so. Instead, Number Two will report himself.
Pulling himself together into a semblance of calm, Number Two picks up the big red phone. He reports a breakdown in command, Number Two needing to be replaced. Yes, he admits, this is Number Two.
Number Six leaves quietly as the broken man subsides into weeping.


The Lovers! 2

In October last year, I wrote a piece celebrating my discovery that the film version of the late Jack Rosenthal’s Granada sitcom, The Lovers, had been uploaded to YouTube, taken from a video of the film when broadcast on the TV.

I had this to say about the film itself:

So much of it is still familiar after all this time, familiar gags, familiar cringes, familiar faces. It’s extensively shot on location in Manchester, and it’s a picture of Manchester forty years ago, when I was in my late teens, of Manchester gone, especially in the film’s pre-credit scene, which is shot outside the long-vanished George Best Boutique. That scene depicts Geoffrey and Beryl’s first meeting, as the leftovers when, one Friday lunchtime, three bank clerks pair off with three secretaries (Geoffrey: “I’m Geoffrey, and I don’t happen to be attached.” Beryl: “I’m Beryl, and I don’t happen to be surprised.”)

Rosenthal structures the film around the idea of it being about the lovers’ relationship from beginning to end. There are the old familiar lines, and several new ones, and the film structure allows the field of vision to be widened: Beryl’s mate Sandra and Geoffrey’s mate Neville (the film’s equivalent of Roland: the Roland in the film is another character entirely, though still a bank clerk) also meeting outside the boutique and their relationship – first date, lashings of sex, pregnancy, engagement, marriage and going away outfit – for hospital, not honeymoon) is the parallel to Beryl and Geoffrey’s dysfunctional course. There’s also room for several scenes with Geoffrey’s parents (the great John Comer, and Stella Moray) who are convinced that Geoffrey is actually having the life he can only dream of.

Two things are plain over the meandering course of the film: that Geoffrey and Beryl have absolutely nothing in common except the fear of being without someone, and that their genuine relaxation at the thought of having split up will never last in the face of their fear of being without someone. ‘Not really the End’ is the final caption, but it’s easy to recognise that, one day, the pair will end up marrying because they’ve nothing better to do. The gift of Rosenthal’s script, and the naturalness of Wilcox and Beckinsale’s playing is that you can see the two of them eventually being ok with it, once Percy Filth arrives for both, and N-O finally stops meaning No.

I’m also disposed in the film’s favour because I recognise that awkwardness, that uncertainty, the unbridgeable gap between what you want and how to get there, the lack of experience to know that failure now is not final for your whole life. And I don’t just recognise emotions, I recognise me: I will never forget watching on TV in Nottingham in 1978, the scene when Geoffrey takes Beryl home after their first date, and sitting there cringing in redfaced embarrassment and wondering how long they’d been watching me – a hideousness made all the worst by the fact that, as Beryl, Paula Wilcox looked so much like my first ‘girlfriend’, even to the slightly ungainly legs under the white box-pleat miniskirt…

The download is off the TV, and is no better than VHS standard, but it’s still a reasonable image and it’s been well kept between recording and uploading. I’d rather have a DVD, not just for the improved picture quality, and size aspect ratio, but if they’re not going to release it, I’ll take what I can get.

Well, it’s available on DVD now, and I’ve got my copy today and watched in, in full-screen mode and in infinitely better clarity (for 1973’s film stock) than the transferred from video YouTube effort. Enough so at any rate for the soles of my feet to tingle throughout the entire scene on the roof of the Hotel Piccadilly, during which Beckinsale and Wilcox spend entirely too much time casually leaning against parapets overlooking Manchester-as-was for the good of my incipient vertigo!

It’s still a joy, and I still love Paula Wilcox as Beryl (both Paula and Beryl), and I’m even more in awe of the subtlety of their performances and the sheer delight of Rosentha’s scripts than I was last time, now I can see it even better.

I’m also better able to appreciate the playing of Susan Littler as Sandra: a fine actress, who went on to play the lead part in Rosenthal’s famous teleplay, Spend, Spend, Spend, about the pools winner Viv Nicholson, and who had a superb reputation building when she died of cancer, only ten years after this film.

With reference to The Likely Lads, on which I’ve recently written, I recall Clement and Las Fresnais once saying that they’d have liked to have returned to Bob and Terry down the years, new series every five years or so, see what was happening in their lives and their relationship, a course rendered impossible by James Bolam’s refusal to ever work with Rodney Bewes again.

The only other sitcom that I thought could live up to that kind of continuity, to a return to the developing fortunes of its leading lights was indeed The Lovers, but that too was never to be, because of the equally tragic and premature death of Richard Beckinsale in 1979. And, of course, only Jack Rosenthal could have told such a story.

But I watch the film again, and I find myself wanting to see how this silly, naive, misunderstood and misunderstanding pair handled the rest of a life in which, however awkwardly, they were going to be together. I’d like to prove my instinct that they really would, against all likelihood, have made it. Not that I’ll ever know now.

Goodbye To All That

If I watched it those long years ago, I’ve forgotten it completely, for there wasn’t a moment of recognition, not a single line. And I didn’t remember it in 1973, when I’d only seven years in which memory could deteriorate, when its writers took situation comedy to a new and higher level by the simple expediemt of picking up the threads of this episode and seeing where they led.

Goodbye To All That (which took its title from the Robert Graves’ classic) was the last of twenty episodes, arranged in two series of six and one of eight, of the successful Sixties sitcom, The Likely Lads, created and written by the team of Dick Clement and Ian La Fresnais, then just starting out on their illutrious career as comedy scripters.

I used to watch The Likely Lads in the Sixties, and I remember it on the radio too (like many TV sitcoms, it was re-recorded for radio by the original cast, the scripts on that occasion being adapted by co-star James Bolam himself), though I don’t remember much of it. But I was one among the millions who welcomed it back, in colour, in 1973, as Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, a sitcom that turned away from the silly situations and joke-telling of the British sitcom to that point, into character and situation play with a darker and more realistic underbelly, where the humour came from naturalistic, real dialogue, and the clash of people’s expectations and wishes.

The Likely Lads had been ground-breaking in its time too. It was part of the wave of working class sitcoms, of which Steptoe and Son was the first and greatest. It broke ground by getting almost as far away from London as was possible, up to the North-East, to not-quite Newcastle itself (not until the sequel at any rate), and mining its humour from the lives and interests of two young working class lads whose main interests were beer, football and sex, and who contrasted between the ever-confident, brash Terry, fully immersed in his life, and the quieter, more insecure Bob, who wanted to better himself, to move up.

What makes The Likely Lads exceptional is that it is, so far as I am aware, the only Sixties sitcom, indeed, one of a very small proportion of sitcoms, to end, with Goodbye To All That presenting a conclusion that broke up the situation.

It’s a simple enough but decidedly contemporary story. With one of their old mates home on leave after joining the Army (Catering Corps), Bob starts to take very seriously the idea of enlisting. It’s a way out for him, a way upwards, an avenue of escape from a dead-end town with nothing to do. An opportunity. Terry mocks him throughout, secure in his belief that Bob is all talk: and anyway, it’s only because Thelma Chambers has given him the push again. He’s astonished that Bob goes through with it, and clearly deeply affected by losing his best mate for three years, though completely incapable of admitting it.

So, when Bob’s absence has had time to sink in, Terry does the only obvious thing, and signs up himself. Arriving on the train with the rest of his intake, he is at first delighted to see Bob also at the station. Then aghast, because Bob is being discharged with flat feet. It isn’t Bob who’ll be away for three years, it’s Terry!

Thus ended The Likely Lads. Six years later, Clement and La Fresnais proposed a series to the BBC picking up the Likely Lads and looking at where and who they were now, what changes had been made in them by time, by the turn of the Sixties into the Seventies, by the massive changes redevelopmemt had wrought to Newcastle itself. The BBC liked it, Bolam and Bewes agreed to do it, Sheila Fearns was happy to recreate her role as Terry’s elder sister Audrey, and Brigit Forsyth, who appeared in only one episode though her character had been mentioned in art least two others, was available to turn Thelma Chambers into a full starring role.

The rest, as they say, was history, history I’ve watched many times over. I do regret though that I can’t now watch the opening episode of Whatever Happened to… for the first time with the understanding of just how much it, and the remaining episodes of that first series, drew with such sweet and loving continuity from what had gone before.

On Writing: Rule No. 1

Let’s go back to the Semi-Autobiographical First Novel. We left it with me staring aghast at Steve’s wilfulness in proposing to fall in love before he was supposed to, and how thrown I was by that. Eventually, I decided to go with Steve’s instincts, but before I reached that point, I turned back to what I had already written and started to revise it.
Cardinal Rule No. 1 – DO NOT DO THIS!
If I have one unbreakable rule when writing, it is this one, and I urge it on you. Once you have started your First Draft, stick to it. You may break off for shorter or longer periods (though I don’t advise this, not before your fourth book, at least) but whatever else you do, do not go back. Don’t revise, rewrite, reconsider, re-anything with what you have written so far. Save that sort of thing for the Second Draft. It’s what it’s for.
The First Draft is to get it all out of you. Get it down on paper, or on screen, whatever your chosen format. Draw it forth, lay it down, get it outside of your head, do everything you possibly can to give it a shape, give it parameters, give it borders, but do not reverse yourself and start picking at it until there is something to pick at. Until everything you’ve thought of that has to go into this story has been turned into pencil, ink or pixels.
Sometimes, your First Draft is going to be a bit rough. There may be inconsistencies, some bits don’t work, others work too well, there are all sorts of things you are going to have to do to it to make it remotely into what you want to have presenting your name on a bookshelf somewhere.
But that’s what the Second Draft is for.
That’s where you start to revisit and revise, to polish and plane and tighten and expand. To cut down and to build. To slightly alter that conversation in Chapter Two to subtly foreshadow that thing in Chapter Sixteen that you didn’t know was going to happen. To eliminate that blind alley that you originally thought was going to be important.
The Second Draft may well be where you suddenly realise that you overlooked a glaring implication, and that to account for that failure to see what the reader is bound to see, you have to re-write about half the book, expanding it by about 20,000 words along the way.
But don’t do this whilst you’re writing your First Draft. Because the Second Draft is where you revise, and you can’t revise the Second Draft without a First Draft, and you’ll never have one of those until you finish that First Draft, and you’ll never do that if you’re fretting about that sequence in Chapter Three where you don’t know if you really captured the nuance you were after BUT DON’T BE SO BLOODY PRECIOUS ABOUT IT! Get that First Draft finished, spill it all out, and then you can tinker with nuance to your heart’s delight.
Cardinal Rule No. 1 – write it all out. Then you can piss around with it.

The Prisoner: Unproduced Scripts 2 – Don’t Get Yourself Killed

The second completed but unproduced Prisoner script, Don’t Get Yourself Killed, was, coincidentally, written by Gerald Kelsey, the writer of Checkmate. Like The Outsider, it is an early commission, on the Escape theme, and still refers to Number Two’s home as the Georgian House of the early intention.
Don’t Get Yourself Killed is, however, a much poorer script, and would have been an out-of-character disaster for the series if it had been allowed to go ahead. Though apparently, the verbal reason given for its rejection was that the action was spread around too many characters.
The script suffers from a basic inability to reconcile the two contrasting strands that go to make it up, strands that are, to be honest, too far apart to ever be properly resolved in a single story.
At first, the story seems prepared to offer a serious social comment of the kind designed to appeal to McGoohan: announcements are made as to a forthcoming lecture, to which all inhabitants of the Village are expected to listen, using a 1967 pre-vision of Walkmen and iPods! Number Six, naturally, refuses to participate, but we cannot but help hearing snippets of the lecture, which is a heavily weighted insistence upon conformity, unanimity and the evil and destructiveness of individuality.
So far, so The General (indeed, it is possible that this theme may have been extracted and suggested as a subject for the later, more successful script). Naturally, Number Six becomes an object of fixation for the studious, quasi-fanatical Head of Faculty, to the point where he’s prepared to operate outside Number Two’s standing instructions.
But really, that’s about as far as the educational theme goes, as it is destined to be fatally subsumed by the second and more problematical element of the script.
This aspect is quickly introduced when Number Six, avoiding the lecture, heads off to the cliff-tops, as in The Outsider. Note, in passing, that these cliff-tops only appear in the two rejected scripts. And I refuse to treat this new element as a credible plot.
Because this is where Number Six meets his fellow would-be escapers, and learns that there is an Escape Committee, which he is expected to join, so that escape attempts can be co-ordinated to prevent them interfering with one another. Needless to say, he won’t play. And given the deliberately eccentric, foolish and highly improbable nature of the bunch of cranks set up as escapers, neither would you if you had a moment’s sense.
One throws bottles into the sea with messages in them (they wash up on shore a mile and a half down the coast). One catches migratory birds and ties messages to their legs (Number Two has a hunting falcon). One has built a da Vinci-style pedalcopter (it crashes, the moment he tries to fly it).
In short, they’re all idiots: obsessive, impossible-to-take-seriously, pathetic cranks who should never be allowed within sight of a drama series. Of course, the Escape Committee is known to Number Two, and tolerated as a means of channelling the energy of these misfits into a harmless pursuit. That’s definitely a Village perspective, and it would have been of benefit to the series to have explored the concept of resistance and desire to escape on the part of a small number of other citizens.
But this is a joke, and a demeaning one at that.
There’s one other member of the Committee, known in the script as The Miner, who doesn’t get introduced until later. As you’ve probably guessed, he plans to escape by digging a tunnel.
At least, that’s his cover story: the big secret is that he has discovered gold and is mining that, building up enough of a fortune to bribe his (and Number Six’s) way out of the Village, and live in luxury ever after.
This is where the two strands merge, as it is the Head of Faculty who is to be bribed. Unfortunately, the Miner has been bitten by the ‘gold bug’. He keeps wanting to delay escape to dig up more, is suspicious that his ‘partners’ are trying to steal from him, kills the Head of Faculty and blows the escape.
And the twist in the tail is that it isn’t gold, but iron pyrites.
It’s true that there are weak scripts amongst those actually filmed. The three ‘filler’ episodes hastily assembled when the series was unexpectedly extended are evidence of that fact, but they have a damned good excuse for it, as we’ll see when we get that far.
But even the least of these, with the least connection to the theme of the series, is far superior to  this half-assed effort, and it’s executed with rather more brio and intelligence than Don’t Get Yourself Killed has to offer.

The Prisoner: episode 9 – Checkmate – discursion

A game of Chess

Checkmate was the ninth broadcast episode of The Prisoner and the third to go into production. It was written by Gerald Kelsey and was credited as directed by Don Chaffey, although filming at Borehamwood was under the control of McGoohan. It’s original, working title was The Queen’s Pawn. This episode makes the widest and most extensive use of location footing in the whole series, with McGoohan and his guest stars continually criss-crossing the Village, as well as bringing the beach into prominent display.
The one guest star who missed out on this was Peter Wyngarde, playing Number Two, whose scenes were all shot on set, not that you’d realise this, especially in the scene where he intercepts Number Six in a mini-moke outside his cottage: Wyngarde’s reaction shots, in the studio, are very skilfully matched to McGoohan’s in Portmeirion.
Wyngarde would shortly become famous in his own right, for playing the flamboyant novelist Jason King, first in Department S and then in his own spin-off series. At one point, I recall reading an interview with Wyngarde, who was good friends with McGoohan, in which he claimed that the original idea was for him to be a permanent Number Two, appearing in every episode, but that his schedule didn’t permit it.
It’s a claim I’ve never heard from any other source, though that doesn’t mean I’m going to dispute it. It does, however, sit at odds with the series’ theme of the individual against a crushing corporate rule, and we know now that the series was all the better for the portrayal of a changing, multi-faceted, yet ultimately monolithic authority.
Besides, if Wyngarde had taken up a starring role in The Prisoner, would he have been free to appear in Department S? Would the world have been deprived of Jason King?
In any event, he’s excellent in the role, in an understated, internally calm but commanding manner. Wyngarde is unfazed at everything, in command of all situations, his seeming indolence underpinned by a quiet intensity. Though the scene comes out of nowhere, it’s no surprise, on his performance, to find him sat cross-legged in judo robes, intently focussed on a block of wood. For the only time, his voice is heavy, when he responds to the phone by pointing out he gave orders he was not to be disturbed, and his response to news that an escape attempt is being made is a few seconds intense calm, before a sudden karate chop that smashes the wood in two.
Checkmate is the last Escape episode of the series. It’s also the last episode as broadcast to feature the new Number Two speaking his own responses to the catechism: all other episodes will feature voice-over regular Robert Rietty’s answers as used in Many Happy Returns.
It’s also another episode that regularly gets placed early in the running order game, mostly on the strength of the assertions that Number Six is new here, and his learning how to detect the difference between Master and Slave. Indeed, the episode was among the first block of four filmed,  in late 1966, in the main location shooting at Portmeirion.
As far as it’s position in the psychological development of the series is concerned, unfortunately, like Dance of the Dead before it (in both senses), Checkmate introduces ideas that are simply not applied to the rest of the story. Of course, from here to the end as broadcast, Number Six makes no further attempt to escape (he does get out of the Village and back to London again, in Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darling, but as we will see, it’s hardly of his own volition), so he no longer needs to test anyone for trustworthiness.
On the other hand, in the near future It’s Your Funeral, he does trust another Villager, without negative consequence but without any concern for applying his test.
Again, this is just something we have to accept as being a product of the times in which the series was made, as I have said with regard to running order issues before. Each episode of The Prisoner is a discrete, single story, with no more than the basic, ground-level continuity from one to the other. A satisfactory running order of episodes is impossible to determine because none such was ever planned or even considered. By the same token, the application of ideas from one episode to another was not in the minds of those making the series, as will be amply demonstrated over the next two episodes.
If the show was being made now, in the Twenty-First century, for an audience trained to expect and demand such subtle inter-episode progression, these things would be a primary consideration. On the other hand, as the utterly disastrous re-make demonstrated, the conditions that enabled the show to be what it is, only existed at the time of its making, in that particular part of the Sixties. There is a continuum of ideas, out of which art is created, whether by reference to or in opposition to what is there at any given moment. What made The Prisoner was the world in which it existed, and we have to accept that.
This episode is also unusual for the number of guest stars it uses. Aside from Wyngarde (who, unusually for a Number Two, is relegated to third guest), these include (in credit order) Ronald Radd, Patricia Jessel, Rosalie Crutchley and George Colouris.
Radd is the Rook, and fully deserving of his top billing. He was a short, slightly dumpy man, who appeared in numerous British and American TV shows before dying in 1976 at the early age of 47. He gets the chance to show off his range here, as the would-be resistant but cowed and fearful little man, caught between opposing forces greater than him, and the agony Radd shows when the Rook realises he has betrayed someone who was trustworthy is palpable.
Crutchley plays the Queen as a bright, cheerful, overgrown schoolgirl. She was a Shakespearian actress in her early forties, yet another example of the series reaching out to established actors outside the usual television thriller pool. The part was originally written as a young, attractive woman, whereas Crutchley was older than McGoohan. No doubt as a consequence of his strict beliefs on immorality, even when the Queen turns up, late at night in McGoohan’s cottage in her dressing gown, Crutchley exudes sexlessness (she is, after all, only making him hot chocolate, to help him sleep).
It’s an entertaining and curiously effective performance, certainly far more effective than a standard sexually-forward approach would have been. Number Six is recognisably embarrassed by the Queen’s loyalty to him, and to some extent sympathetic to her as the victim she is, which could not have been achieved if the earthier level had been used.
The Queen is the true victim in this episode, manipulated into positive, loving feelings only to be frustrated and betrayed by both sides. Number Six is ultimately callous, taking her very precious locket with no intention of returning it, and indeed the episode abandons the Queen at this point, leaving her story very much untold.
I’m surprised to see Colouris elevated to the level of guest star, given that his role is so limited. He plays the Man with the Stick, and whilst he’s vital to the story getting under way, after his post-game discussion with Number Six, alerting him on how to detect allies, he vanishes from the story. Not totally: he is part of Number Six’s team, but his age and infirmity prevents him from actually doing – or saying – anything.
Jessel, for me, is the anomaly among the guest stars. She plays the psychiatrist, and whilst her part is of significance to the story, her portrayal of the character is dry, cool, efficient, straightforward but essentially characterless. It’s a functional role, to which she brings nothing more than functionality, and why this merited second billing among the guests, I can’t begin to understand.
Overall, Checkmate is an excellent episode. And, though it was never intended as such, having been commissioned as part of a thirteen episode series, it is the hinge-point for what The Prisoner became. It’s the midway point of the run. From here it’s the downhill side. And whilst there are still excellent – classic – episodes to come, there is a sense of downhill after this.

However, this is one of the few episodes that does not leave a sense of closure in respect of its guest characters. As I said, the Queen is left abandoned, in love but deprived, her story cut off. It’s clear from how she is manipulated that she, like Number Six, is a prisoner. We can only hope she is de-programmed. But it is the Rook who concerns me most: based on the pain of his self-betrayal, I fear a suicide.
In later years, McGoohan would say that he originally saw The Prisoner as a mini-series of seven episodes, and that there were only seven episodes of those made that he could really stand behind, including Checkmate. Only two more of that ‘super-series’ of seven remain to be considered.

Little Ironies 1

The Likely Lads, circa 1964

Though it may spoil my reputation as a connoisseur of only the finest entertainment, I do have a soft spot for the BBC’s long-running but not very well regarded comedy drama series New Tricks. For those unfamiliar with the programme, it’s a crime series featuring Amanda Redman as DCI Sandra Pullman, in charge of UCOS (Unsolved Crimes and Open Cases Squad). The unit is staffed by three retired Detectives, each with decades of experience, investigating unsolved cases in which some form of new evidence has come up, combining experience with the new technology now available.

The show is in its tenth series and is in the process of being deserted by 75% of its long-serving cast. James Bolam (Jack Halford) left the programme at the beginning of series 9 and this week saw the final appearance of Alun Armstrong (Brian Lane), with Redman herself due to depart the squad in next week’s episode, thus leaving only Dennis Waterman (Gerry Standing) of the original cast.

With Armstrong goes veteran actress Susan Jameson, who has played throughout the character of Esther Lane, long-suffering wife of Brian. There’s always been something of an irony to Jameson playing Armstrong’s wife, given that she’s the wife of James Bolam.

What’s brought this post on is that I’ve finally got round to watching the Likely Lads DVD boxset, which includes the only surviving episodes of the original B&W mid-Sixties series (8 out of 20), in addition to the complete run of the ground-breaking sequel, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? James Bolam first came to prominence in this series, as Terry Collier, alongside his mate, Bob Ferris, played by Rodney Bewes.

The second of these preserved episodes, Double Date, is a funny and clever episode which deals with the lads picking up two attractive, unattached girls in a coffee shop and taking them out for a drink and a chinese. What’s especially clever is that creators and writers Dick Clement and Ian La Fresnais chose to play both sides of the story: the thread keeps flipping backwards and forwards from Terry and Bob, their expectations, anticipations and nervousness, to the two girls, Dierdre and Pat, and what they hope, expect and anticipate.

The two couples save themselves a bit of trouble (and a few comedy cliches) when it turns out they have the same ideas over who they prefer, with Terry copping off with the blonde Dierdre, played by Coral Atkins, and Bob taking up with the dark-haired Pat, even though it’s the fact that Terry knows Pat through her friendship with his sister, Audrey, that gets them the introduction in the first place.

But what amused me into writing this little post, given that she spent all those years in New Tricks playing someone else’s wife, was that Pat was played by Susan Jameson, and she ended up with Rodney Bewes’ character instead of Bolam’s.

Given that Bolam and Jameson also appeared together in the popular Seventies series, When the Boat Comes In, in which they were briefly engaged in the early episodes only for Bolam’s character to get someone else up the spout and have to marry her instead, they seem to have spent their career not getting together on screen!


The Prisoner: episode 9 – Checkmate – synopsis

vlcsnap-2013-08-24-12h32m45s192Thunder crashes.
The camera flies above the centre of the Village, swooping down. It is an average day, the Villagers about their business as usual. The sound of ‘Rover’ is heard, approaching rapidly, and the balloon appears at the top of the street. The Villagers all freeze, simultaneously, not moving as Rover bounces down the long street, before turning and retreating up the street.
All but one man, an elderly gentleman limping heavily and supported by a stick. He completely ignores Rover, crossing its path and descending towards the Square, as if it doesn’t exist.
Intrigued, Number Six follows the Man with a Stick down to the Square. A chessboard of white squares has been laid upon the grass and there are people milling about. The Man with a Stick meets and talks with a dark-haired woman who seems quite animated. Then he walks back to Number Six and asks if he plays chess. Still in the dark, Number Six admits he does, whereupon the Man with a Stick invites him to play. He can be the Queen’s Pawn.
The Prisoner – kitted out with a multi-coloured sash and a staff to which the symbol of a pawn is affixed – takes his place. The Queen is the dark-haired woman. She is cheerful and chatty, and he asks her what is going on.
The Man with a Stick is the Champion. He seats himself on a high chair, overlooking the board, as does his opponent, a white-haired man. They call out moves via megaphones.
The Queen relates that the champion is believed to be an ex-Count, whose ancestors originated the idea of a chess game with human pieces, retainers who were beheaded when they were ‘taken’. That doesn’t happen here. Number Six plies her with questions, until she starts to avoid the more blatant of these. When he is ordered to move, he ignores the instruction, until it is repeated several times and broadcast over the loudspeaker system. The move places him in danger of being taken, but his opponent assures him he is in no danger: he’s protected by the Queen.
A few moments later, she is moved next to Number Six again, and they resume their conversation.
Moves fly backwards and forwards with dizzying speed. The camera focuses on the face of a small man, with a receding hairline, the Rook for the other side. He is growing tense and agitated until, suddenly, he pushes another piece out of the way, marches down the board to the final rank and firmly declares, “Check!”
The game stops in confusion. Attendants come to take him from the board. An ambulance is summoned, and a substitute. The Queen denounces the Rook’s action as that of an individualist
The game ends in Checkmate for the Man with the Stick. As the players start to disperse, he approaches Number Six, congratulates him on a fine game, and invites him to walk with him. The pair slowly cross the Village, stopping at various points to talk.
number six asks about the game, and the Man with a Stick frankly admits that it is a psychological thing, the chance to exercise power, in the only manner allowed in this place where so many have become enemies of themselves by giving in. He intuits that Number Six is new here, by his air of resistance. It is not hard to tell the difference between Guardians and Prisoners. Number Six realises what he means. To give himself time to thin about it, he heads for his cottage.
A woman in following him, at a short distance. It is the Queen, and she is making little effort to stay concealed. Number Six confronts her over what she wants.
Her answer is that she likes him, and assumes he wants to escape. If his plan is a good one, she’ll escape with him! She is oblivious to Number six’s sarcasm about how all the plans she’s helped with have failed, but when he asks why should he trust her, she is open about how he can’t.
The next morning, Number Six emerges from his cottage to find the new Number Two waiting for him in a Mini-Moke. Number Two is a tall, slim man, with an easy smile and an understated intensity. He asks after yesterday’s chess match and Number Six takes the opportunity to raise how the Rook was treated. Number Two assures him the Rook is well, getting the best treatment at the Hospital. He is on his way there now, and will take Number Six.
In the observation room, they witness a sedated Rook, in a wheelchair, being revived in a room where there are four water-dispensers, each a different colour. The Psychiatrist explains that the Rook has been dehydrated and will wake with an insatiable thirst, but he will be conditioned to obey orders. Number Six compares the exercise to Pavlov, who at least used dogs.
The Rook awakes and, desperate for water, ignores commands to stay in his seat. Three water dispensers give nothing: the blue dispenses an electric shock. He is then ordered back to that dispenser. Wary of another shock, he eventually complies, and is rewarded by water.
Number Six, disgusted at the display, leaves. The Psychiatrist wonders what his breaking point might be, and he suggests it could be her life’s work.
After he leaves, the Queen is wheeled in to the room. She is sat in a wheelchair and is in a trance. The psychiatrist shows her film of Number Six, praising him for how handsome and manly he is. She gives the Queen a locket to wear, that has supposedly been given her by Number Six. It is a sophisticated reaction sensor, which will broadcast her pulse etc. IN this way, she becomes a living surveillance/alarm for Number Six, someone who will betray him to save him from himself.
Back in the Village, Number Six starts observing other Villagers. One, from the chess game, looks back resentfully, but the Rook is nervous, and gets up to leave. Number Six pursues and corners him, challenging him over his running, a desire to escape. The Rook believes him to be a Guardian until Number Six reveals that he too is a Prisoner: it is a way of determining who can be trusted. Guardians will reveal their underlying arrogance in their replies, Prisoners their underlying compliance. using this method, the pair pick out a small number of trustworthy conspirators.
The Rook admits to having been brought here because he designed an electronic defence system that he believed the whole world should have, to protect everybody from each other. The irony was that the plans were lost by a bumbling bureaucrat.
Number Six and the Rook start collecting electrical equipment, taking a Mini-Moke for transport around the Village. The Queen, anxious to follow Number Six, takes another Mini-Moke and chases them, but Number Six loses her, temporarily. By the time she catches them, they have most of what they want. The Rook takes these away to hide whilst Number Six confronts the Queen. He is sceptical (and embarrassed) at her sudden feelings for them, preferring to believe they are a put-on, and he sends her away. Nevertheless, at curfew, she turns up in his kitchen, playfully making him hot chocolate, grateful to him for simply allowing her to be with him.
The next day, the Rook and Number Six rendezvous in a beach tent. The beach is busy, it being a sunny day, but the Rook is constructing a radio-transmitter. He needs more transistors, but when Number Six goes in search of these, he is intercepted by the Queen, in beach robe and swimsuit. She is again in playful mood, rising above his rebuffs. If he doesn’t love her, then why did he give her this locket? When Number Six examines it, he discovers the transmitter inside. On the pretext of providing the Queen with a better photo, he takes the locket to the Rook, who confirms its nature, and takes the electronics. He will be ready tonight.
That night, Number Six and the Rook use the transmitter to send a fake distress call on the emergency frequency. When the MS Polotska responds, Number Six claims to be a passenger plane with a damaged engine, having to ditch in the sea. With the Polotska on its way, the Rook paddles out into the bay, on an inflatable lilo, to continue broadcasting the distress signal, whilst Number Six and the others run interference.
The Control Room detects the signal and tries to plot it, but Number Six and the Painter knock out the guards on the Tower station and switch off the detector. Number Two is just leaving his home for the Control Room when he is confronted by Number Six and his team who take him prisoner: they couldn’t leave without thanking him for having them.
When the distress signal cuts out, the team think they are rescued. Number Six is suspicious: it’s too soon. When he gets to the beach, the lilo has been pulled ashore, the signal has been switched off and the Rook is nowhere to be seen. Lights of a motor vessel can be seen offshore. With a heavy heart at abandoning his team, Number Six paddles out to the Polotska and is taken to its cockpit to meet its skipper.
Instead, he is regaled, by television screen, by a freed and relaxed Number Two: the Polotska is a Village vessel. Number Two has been freed courtesy of the Rook, who denounces Number Six as an agent provocateur. That is, until Number Two tells him that he was mistaken: Number Six is a prisoner. The Rook’s pain is obvious to see.
Number Six had overlooked the flaw in his plan. He had differentiated prisoner from guardian by identifying the latter’s underlying arrogance. The Rook had applied the identical test to Number Six and persuaded everyone they were being trapped. But they will not come to any harm. They will be back where they belong, on the chessboard, tomorrow.
Number Six makes a final attempt. He smashes the screen, attacks the crew and gains control of Polotska. But Number Two releases ‘Rover’, who simply forces the vessel towards land. A white pawn sits on the edge of Number Two’s desk. As ‘Rover’ takes control, the silent butler picks up the pawn and carries it over to a chessboard, setting it in its proper place, before the Queen.
The Prisoner’s face races towards the screen. A pair of iron-barred doors slide across in front of it, slamming shut.

100 Bullets: Brother Lono 3

In which…

¡El Amor de los Muertos!(‘The Love of the Dead’, which I was able to work out for myself, this time) rolls the story further forward towards that ending I am foreseeing from those pages at the bgeinning of issue 1.

This is not an issue that tells us much. It begins with another murder, vicious and brutal, in the name of Las Torres Gemelas, but a murder that sets of a chain of, not consequences, for we are far too early in this tale for these, but effects: effects that, like dominos, are felt in a series of stages, leading everything back to where it began. And to the mini-series’ first ‘cliff-hanger’ of an ending.

A man who has cheated Las Torres Gemelas is killed by Cráneo, who leaves the body to be disposed of by his lieutenant, Pico. The body is found buried on Orphanage soil, by the children, gardening under the supervision of a more conventionally-dressed Sister Rose. Father Manny complains to Cortez, who takes it out on Cráneo, aggressively, who takes it out on Pico, aggressively, who, drunk and pissed off, comes onto the Orphanage land after dark, swinging a machete. On long stalks, to begin with, but he is prepared to complete the cycle by using it on Father Manny.

Until Brother Lono intervenes, breaking Pico’s arm, so badly that the bone protrudes through the flesh. He hands the machete to Father Manny whilst he checks for others, but all he finds is Sister Rose, who has heard the scream, and ventured out only to see an unwelcome tableau…

Next month…

But a 100 Bullets story is never about one thing at a time. The Policeman, Cesar, runs Lono back to the Orphanage, questioning him about his past, a past that Lono ‘do(es)n’t remember’ in a way that Cesar recognises as professional. His theory is that Lono sometimes sleeps in his jail because the big Hawaiian doesn’t trust himself. Lono corrects him: it is beause he knows himself. Cesar expresses another theory, that Lono may have turned to religion, but he does not trust God either. This Lono does not comment upon.

Later though, that night, the night that Pico will interrupt with his machete, drawing forth the first manifestation of the Hawaiian we knew, Lono lights a cigar in the dark, thinking about that past, thinking about bodies, and blood, on his hands. A hallucination of the rotting, decaying dead, climbs out of the ground to cling to him. Some we remember: Milo Garrett, with the shreds of the re-affixed bandages, and Joe Dirtz from the Penitentiary, and Wiley Times and Cole Burns, an unexpected pair for it was not at Lono’s hands that the Point Man and the Wolf met their ends. But they haunt him.

We are still in the middle of the story, still putting together the pieces that go round the edge of the jigsaw. We do not have the box with the picture on the lid. In the world of 100 Bullets, we never get to see the lid. We draw that picture for ourselves. I am doodling a shape myself.

What picture do you see?

A Universe in one Comic: Astro City (Volume 3) No. 3

Issue 3 of the new Astro City series completes the story begun last month, in exactly the same way that Alex Ross’s still-fussy, still-crowded cover completes last month art: the two covers form a dyptich for a larger image that still doesn’t work,for the reasons I cited last time out.

Some parts of this issue are pretty much as I expected from the first half: Marella Cowper, a call centre operative for Honor Guard, whose  primary task is to filter incoming calls by their degree of seriousness, does indeed react with shame and self-disgust at her ‘failure’ to assess a call from a girl whose mother is being struck by a man as requiring more than Social Workers.

No matter that she has acted correctly, no matter that she is blaming herself for not seeing the unseeable, the outcome is death and destruction, the turning of a remote Ecuadorian village into a war zone as Honor Guard battle it out with “Slaughter” Shaw and the Skullcrushers. It’s Mrella’s failure in her own eyes, a failure made all the greater by the with-hindsight discovery of additional clues, clues that are only clues because of the retrospective significance they have gained.

The whole issue is about Marella’s obsession with doing something to appease her irrational guilt. Most of it is practical, thankfully, and the actually bemoaning of her poor judgement is actually kept to a thankful minimum. You have no idea how many comics I have read that have featured self-berating heroes, tearing their bleeding hearts out over what they have done or allowed to have done, and Marella doesn’t stint on that in the early part of this issue, but to my relief, after an initial bout of locking herself in her room and misery-surfing the news reports, Ms Cowper sneaks off to Ecuador, using her Honor Guard card to teleport her as close as possible to the disaster area, bringing supplies (especially toilet rolls) and, under the pretense of being a vacationing student, volunteering aid.

No-one knows where she is. She hasn’t told her family, she’s absent from her job, she’s going to get fired (which she’s convinced she deserves) and yet she can still teleport for more supplies anytime she wants and she’s shutting her mind to the implications of why her Honor Guard card hasn’t been shut down.

What Marella wants most of all is to find Esme, the girl she ignored, and her mother Maria. Only then can she, even in part, redeem herself. And in this she succeeds: a burned man, of whom she is suspicious, is brought into the makeshift hospital, a man who, with Toni’s clandestine help, she identifies as an uncaptured Skullcrusher. She follows him back to the mountain, discovering a hidden entrance, and the surviving Esme and Maria, but only at the cost of capture and imminent death.

Which is when the deus ex machina turns up, on cue: an Honor Guard quartet who’ve been carefully watching what employee Marella Cowper has been doing, via the tracker in her card. They clear up the last of the crooks, Marella gets the surviving mother and daughter to safety, and gets a shock as Cleopatra tells her to be back for duty on Monday.

For one thing, she did not make a mistake, except in her own mind. Everybody makes mistakes: Marella will make others. Some can’t handle it, crack and leave. Some shrug them off too easily. The ones that Honor Guard want the most are those who, like Marella, set out to try to fix mistakes. Though very few go to her length…

It’s a well-made story, though it is, in the end, something of a predictable one. Apart from the unnecessary melodrama of having Esme fall from a high gantry and Marella physically save her, which is a little too much of an indulgence of the latter’s guilty conscience, the story is smooth and enjoyable. Personally, I found the first half of the tale to be the more original and imaginative, even as it lacked a storyline. Once Marella goes into action, whilst the context is less cliched, the actual psychological journey and the redemption is a little too formulaic to completely satisfy me.

You’ll note that I’m not buying any other super-comics though.

As for future issues, Busiek confirms inside that issue 1’s the Broken Man reappears in issue 5, and Ben Pullam and the Ambassador in no 6, but for next month we have a non-hero, non-villain super-powered character named Mattie front and centre: undoubtedly the same Mattie as in the Crimson Cougar story in Family Album.

I’m looking forward to that.