The Prisoner: episode 10 – Hammer Into Anvil – discursion

Hammer into Anvil was the tenth broadcast episode of The Prisoner and the twelfth to go into production. It was written by Roger Woddis and was directed by Pat Jackson. Coming late in filming, when budgetary concerns were high, location footage (shot during a March 1967 return to Portmeirion) was minimised, with McGoohan’s stuntman and (uncredited) double, Frank Maher, covering most of the new work.
The rest of the episode confines itself to library footage and studio mock-ups, including the re-use of the café set featured in The General.
Hammer into Anvil is the simplest and most straightforward of the entire run, consisting of a single story that, despite its many elements, never deviates from its clinical path. A young woman is bullied to her death by a sadistic Number Two: Number Six avenges her by driving the man into madness.
Not Escape, not Resistance, not even Revolt. This is simply a tale of chivalry, or pure heroism, if you like. A parfait gentil knight restores Milady’s honour, albeit that she be dead. Hammer into Anvil is about as far away from the central conceit of The Prisoner as any story gets, even the three ‘filler’ episodes.
Which is not to denigrate it, not at all. It’s sharp, intelligent, pacey and a delight to watch as Number Six’s woven web gradually winds its way around a Number Two who, even beneath the superficial charm with which he is momentarily introduced, is simply the most unpleasant holder of that job.
The role was played by Patrick Cargill who, for most of his career, was a comedy actor (he plays the Doctor in the Tony Hancock classic, The Blood Donor: he sets up that most famous of lines, “A pint? Have you gone mad? That’s nearly an armful!”) but who was a very creditable hand in dramatic roles in the Sixties. He’s very good in his role, his bluster never quite real enough, even when he is, briefly, in command.
But no matter how perfectly he suits the role, he is an enormous pain, and so too is Hammer into Anvil. Yes, its the running order game again, and this time it’s inescapably fatal to the continuity of the series.
Because we recognise Number Two the moment we see him. Because he’s been in an earlier episode, in Many Happy Returns, where he was Thorpe, of British Intelligence. Where Number Six met him, under circumstances in which the most ordinary of people, let alone a highly-trained and very good secret agent, would have remembered clearly.
And Number Six doesn’t recognise him.
Short of giving way to the every-episode-is-a-different-prisoner theory, there is no logical construction that can bridge these facts.
The most plausible explanation would be to posit that, after the Prisoner was returned from London, having suffered his biggest defeat and been given the most crushing example of the totality of the control the Village has over him, he is at some offstage point brainwashed to forget the entire incident. It was clear from Many Happy Returns that he and Thorpe had never met before, which would mitigate against any of those accidental linkages that break conditioning in all forms of drama, and ensure that he could accept Thorpe as a previously unknown Number Two.
Of course, to have done so would have completely eradicated Number Six’s knowledge of the Village’s most comprehensive demonstration of control over him,which makes absolutely no psychological sense in relation to a prisoner that they hope to break.
It would also confirm, definitively, that the Village is a creation of British Intelligence, a point that the series wishes to play with, to hint at but leave unexplained.
What happened in practice was that, after his performance as Number Two, Cargill was asked to stay on for Many Happy Returns, with no thought for the consequences, any more than the series addresses the consequences of several contacts with British Intelligence.
This is the one. The point at which even the most eager-to-synthesize fan must concede is insuperable, that makes The Prisoner into what it truly is, and always was: bloody good TV, and not the Holy Grail.
Two other elements of this episode also give rise to running order issues, both involving the same episode, It’s Your Funeral, the next to be broadcast. The first, and greater of these concerns Number Six’s tactics which, as we have seen, consist of ‘creating’ a non-existent plot against Number Two, causing the Village leader to waste time and energy investigating a gigantic bluff.
Yet in the following episode, Number Six will make a temporary ally of a young woman who is part of a group that call themselves ‘Jammers’, who make life difficult for the Village by inventing non-existent plots and schemes: unable to escape, they distract and confuse and tie up resources. The Prisoner listens to all this as a new idea,one that had not occurred to him, but in the broadcast running order it is one that he has already performed with great skill.
So which episode comes first? In production order, it was certainly It’s Your Funeral.
The same question arises over the other thing which links the two programmes: kosho.
Now I don’t propose to say much here about this utterly bizarre sport/game, an invention of McGoohan’s. It appears at greater length in It’s Your Funeral, which demonstrates more of its ‘qualities’ so I’ll go into it then.
On the surface, it’s odd that kosho only appeared in two episodes, with different writers/directors each time, and which were separated in production order by three intervening episodes. However, when watching kosho in action, it’s easy to see that by its nature it’s not a game/sport that lends itself to the kind of variation that makes a sport interesting to watch.
It’s the sheer brevity of the kosho bout in Hammer into Anvil that intrigues me. Something like thirty seconds, and then ended, is not the way to introduce such a spectacle, and that is another indicator that this episode should go after It’s Your Funeral. Only the fact that it is clearly Basil Hoskins (Number Fourteen) as McGoohan’s opponent convinces me that this is not a case of having some unused footage left over from kosho’s introduction, and writing the bout into the story just to flesh it out.
Incidentally, after the last episode’s profusion of Guest Stars, this episode swings to the opposite extreme with only Cargill accorded that status, which seems a little unfair to Hoskins, given how much screen time he gets. On that subject, the episode also features a cameo by character actor Victor Maddern (a television stalwart, who also appears in The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night), who took the role because he was eager to work on The Prisoner.)

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