Travelling with Tinniswood: The Home Front


I know what people think about the North.
They think it’s all muck and living over the brush with women like Elsie Tanner.
Well, it isn’t.
There’s a part of the North that Southerners know nothing about.
Absolutely nothing.
I’m talking about the respectable North.
When I was little we always had satsumas at Christmas.
Without fail.
We had a box at the Theatre Royal for the Panto.
We had a sideboard filled of mixed nuts and sultanas.
Mother never went short of housekeeping.
She had an account at Atkinson-Sievewright’s.
She paid two visits per annum each year to her unmarried cousin at Bispham first class on the LMS, and Father never knew what it was like to miss the Old Trafford Test.
That’s what I call the respectable North.
The Southerners don’t know it exists, do they?
They think the North consists entirely of tripe and onions, the Rovers Return, flat caps and whippets, unemployment and Bill Maynard and his disgusting belly.
It wouldn’t be so bad if he could act, would it?
It’s people like him who give the North a bad name.
Any road, why should I bother to defend it?
There’s no need.
It stands up to criticism, does the North.
Am I right?
I am.
The Home Front came out of nowhere. I was on my way to my Grandad’s for the traditional Saturday dinner that had been going on all my life. I was in good time for the bus so I went in the newsagents’ for the paper. There was a spinner rack of books, which you never see these days, and I saw Peter Tinniswood’s name and immediately bought the book.
It was the first Tinniswood to appear as a paperback original, a Star TV tie-in as it proclaimed on the back. Which only made things the more strange as I’d read nothing about another Tinniswood scripted new series.
The book featured a new northern family, the Place’s. There was Mrs Place, a narrow-minded, tight-lipped, disapproving, interfering caricature of a kind of northern woman, tied to the past and unforgiving of anything in the modern world. Then there were her three children: Hallam, who wrote comedy scripts for Television and lived on Wimbledon Common, Garfield, a junior executive in a shirt-making company with a neat little home on a neat little estate, and Avril, who married beneath herself and shamefully produced a gifted child. And then there was Hazel, married to Garfield, but who had been prepared to give herself to Hallam.
It was an oddity as a book, it’s structure unusual. Although it progressed in a series of normal chapters, the story-line broke down into a succession of six events, each linked by a perfunctory continuity, which, of course, would represent episodes of the series. Or, if that were the case, it would be more appropriate to say five-and-a-half events, as the last one seemed to tail off, frustratingly, with something left dangling.
It’s quite clearly a novelisation of the series, which did not appear until some four to six months later, 9.00pm Wednesday night, ITV, for six weeks. This was not unusual in itself: the mid-to-late Seventies had seen several sitcoms appear in spin-off paperbacks that did no more than use unknown writers to adapt the episodes of a series.
However, Tinniswood was the writer of both book and series, and The Home Front was not a work that lent itself to a straightforward adaptation. Indeed, it’s difficult to fully understand the book without seeing or having seen the TV series. And it’s over thirty years since The Home Front was shown, and it was, as far as my knowledge goes, never repeated.
The work, in both its forms, focuses on the internal tensions behind the facade of the family. Each episode introduced a strong element of fantasy, making it difficult to tell what, exactly, was real (most likely the strongest factor in the series not being repeated). The first episode, which features only Mrs Place, takes place on a high speed train to London, to visit Hallam and his girl-friend Shirley, but it is mostly about an outsider, Kay Washbrook, going to London for the wedding of her only daughter, who she has not seen in fifteen years.
Kay, a low key lady, hasn’t seen her ex-husband in that time either. He took her daughter away, had her declared an unfit mother, for good and proper reasons, yet he and his daughter are equally torn between the urge to see her again and the desire for her to stay away.
Similarly, Kay is equally divided between wanting to see her family again and paralysing fear. Mrs Place, with her nosiness and prying, her caustic judgementalness, is the catalyst for all this to spill out, but the ending muddies the waters, suggesting that Kay changed her mind and never caught the train, even as her family, having played their part of the drama, are at the barrier at Euston as Mrs Place goes through.
The line’s more blatantly drawn in the next episode, which takes place in Hallam’s flat by Wimbledon Common. Hallam, we learn, is currently a TV writer by default: after one, very successful sitcom, he hasn’t and doesn’t write anything else. Hallam’s detached from everyone, especially Shirley, and he’s living off an allowance from his mother, who threatens to cut him off if he doesn’t a) get back to writing and b) marries Shirley.
The problem is that Hallam isn’t totally detached. He has an overwhelming concern for Wilfred. Wilfred is a standard poodle, unclipped (which means that, in a centrally heated flat, he is continually bothered with itchy balls, they being surrounded by wool). He was bought to keep Hallam and Shirley together, at which he’s signally failing. Well, he will go and crap in all sorts of corners. But then they keep forgetting to feed him. Or take him out for walks so he can do his business.
Because the greater part of this episode is narrated by Wilfred himself.
That was Tinniswood’s primary approach to converting his television scripts into prose: at very frequent intervals, the characters drop into the first person. What’s more, rather than an internal monolgue, they talk to the reader. They ask questions designed to justify themselves. Am I right? I am, says Mrs Place a hundred times during the course of this book, but everyone who talks to the reader is engaged in a conversation.
Wilfred might be the most improbable source of conversation, but not by much. On screen, he never appeared. Camera shots from his perspective, and a final shot that’s clearly a man in a dog suit. The sequence ends on a twist.
As a consequence, Hallam returns north with his mother, to the bosom of the family. Firstly, Mrs Place takes her younger son Garfield to visit Auntie Medora in her home. Auntie Medora, a very ugly old woman, was once a stunningly beautiful young woman,married to Jake but part of a virtual trio with Jake’s best friend Thurston.
Despite the use of a scenario taken from the 1968 film, The Family Way, the episode is written in such a way as to give the strong impresson that Thurston was an imaginary person, casting the events of the entire sequence into doubt.
This is followed by an episode set at the Place brothers’ old school, on a night honouring their former Headmaster, Mr J. W. H. T. Garlick. Garfield’s wife, Hazel, makes her debut here, a little too smart, too sophisticated for him, with a little-disguised thing for Hallam himself.
But the sequence centres upon Garlick. The tribute is held twenty-five years to the night, the anniversary of a dance organised between the boy’s school and the neighbouring girl’s school, a dance at which, we slowly learn, Garlick’s wife, Mademoiselle, publicly disgraced him with his fellow teacher, the clammy handed Mr Ullapool.
Mr Garlick set out to take his revenge on the school, by turning all his boys into mediocrities: designing their lives to become ‘future tennis club romeos, snug bar braggarts, golf club lechers, wasdhers of Sunday morning cars, pushers of suoermarket trolleys, drivers of mobile caravanettes, tenders of rows and rows and rows of suburban roses’. Garfield is his success, Hallam his one failure.
Mr Garlick is still manipulative. In a foreshadowing moment, he offers Hallam as his successor, a writer who, if asked nicely, will re-write your life, re-design your past and your future.
The episode ends in tragedy: Garlick has been drinking steadily throughout the evening, which in the series drifts backwards and forwards between past and present. This proves to be fatal when, brought up on stage to receive the painting done in his honour, he sees something that is not there but which completes the pattern, and he expires of a heart attack.
The third Place sibling, Avril, finally appears in the penultimate sequence. Avril, as I said, had disgraced the family by marrying beneath herself. The Place’s are a middle class family, bedrock of the respectable North, but Avril turned down the unprepossessing Geoffrey Lancaster for the working class Vernon Hemingway, a storeman in a furniture repository.
As far as Mrs Place is concerned, Avril has ruined her life through stubbornness. She’s determined to remind Avril of that, bringing up Geoffrey Lancaster and everything Avril could have had if she’d only seen sense and married him. Especially when it comes to the matter of Curtis.
Curtis is Avril and Vernon’s son. And he is a Gifted Child, writing letters to the editor of the local paper at the age of two. Everyone is mortally ashamed. Curtis just isn’t like anyone else. He talks to the reader, just as Wilfred did. He blames Hallam as well.
On the other hand, after being apologetic for his son’s intelligence, Vernon becomes the closest of friends with him, father seeking to learn from his infant son, forever struggling. And Vernon begins to learn, as the authorities seek to take Curtis away, to be among his own kind. Ostensibly, it’s for Curtis’s good, but the shadow of the social worker, breaking up families, only darkens the picture of something that is getting increasingly disturbing.
And they come, and they take away, only not Curtis. It is Vernon who’s taken away, to an asylum, Vernon who has taken Curtis’s intelligence into himself, who has become a Gifted Adult, who needs to be removed. It’s an ending that shudders, especially as Curtis has now become an ordinary, everyday, far-from-gifted child.
Who, a fortnight later, is run over by a pantechnicon, and killed.
It was this episode that brought the steadily-growing bleakness and darkness underlying Tinniswood’s humour into full focus. But there was still one final sequence to come.
I’d watched the series week-in, week-out. I knew the book, knew the story well by then. I preferred the book, preferred the additional level of darkness Tinniswood could always access in prose but which could never be fully unfolded for network TV. Being a drama series as much as it was a comedy, The Home Front had gone far deeper than I Didn’t Know You Cared, but the fantastic elements, the attempts to pull off differing levels of reality, had not convinced me on screen.
The final episode was set to facinate me. What we had in the book was not enough, was cut off abruptly. There was more, had to be more, in the last episode. Presciently, I videoed it. I have watched it several times over, though not for several years now, as I do not have a video-player. Though this series is a series of book reviews, in this one instance I have to go beyond the page in order to fully explain the experience of ‘Walk in my Shoes’.
The sequence begins conventionally at first. The Places are all staying at Hallam’s flat, as a treat for Mrs Place’s birthday. She and Hazel are out shopping, Avril’s cooking the meal, Hallam’s at his desk writing, and Garfield enters carrying a bowl of hot water in which he proceeds to soak his feet.
The brothers begin to speculate what their mother will say when she returns, about London, its shops, the minorities, why Garfield has his feet in a bowl of water. Avril joins in, having prepaed a huge repast. When Mrs Place and Hazel return, her words are exactly as predicted.
The meal is excellent, though Mrs Place characteristically is ungrateful, rude and caustic about it, still bringing up Geoffrey Lancaster, which provokes the usually placid Avril into a rant to her mother, in which she states that she hates Geoffrey Lancaster with a passion and a fury, and that if her mother continues in this fashion she will grow to hate her mother with a passion and a fury.
What this might lead to is interrupted by a knock on the door. Hallam has invited some of his friends over for his mother’s birthday.
All this, thus far, is in the book, and took the tv episode up to the first commercial break. But where the book did not, could not, go further, what followed on the TV took the story light-years beyond anything else I had or have ever seen.
The Second Act begins in identical manner to the First. Mrs Place and Hazel are out shopping, Avril’s cooking the meal, Hallam’s at his desk writing, and Garfield enters carrying a bowl of hot water in which he proceeds to soak his feet. The dialogue is identical. But the Places, Mrs Place smiling all over her face, are the audience, sat on the mezzanine balcony. Hallam’s friends, actors all, are performing a script he has written for them. A play that duplicates what has taken place.
They are, of course, actors. They are recognisable in their roles, but they ‘act’ their parts, adding an artificiality to what we have already seen. The ‘play’ plays out, an exact replica, cutting to the ‘audience’ as they take it what is happening before them. Hallam casts several concerned looks at his mother, having second thoughts as her expression shows her reaction to this portrayal.
Until she shrieks for them to stop. It’s not like that, not like that at all. She descends to the ‘stage’, interrupting the actors, bitterly complaining that it’s not like that at all. The Places follow, arguing about what as been going on. Gradually, the ‘actors’ slip away in the background, leaving the stage to the Places, until their arguments reach a peak, and the actors-turned-audience stand to applaud loudly.
Things have already gotten so intense that the relief of a commercial break is welcome. The episode is intensely theatrical. What would follow that?
The Third Act begins,with a sense of both symmetry and inevitably, with the same scene. But Tinniswood has taken things to a yet deeper levels, for now it is the Places, playing the actors playing the Places, with a levity and an archness that is completely at odds with what the scene has become through its previous repetitions. It is impossible not to follow dialogue you are now hearing for the fourth time in less than an hour without trepidation as to what will next be revealed.
And it comes from Mrs Place again, breaking character by being her own character, choosing a moment in the dialogue to turn on Hallam: Hallam the writer, Hallam the manipulator, Hallam who has controlled and shaped their lives, as earlier chapters have hinted. Not just Mrs Place, but Hazel as well, and Garfield and Avril, and even the actors, forcing him to retreat behind his desk as they crowd upon him, characters turning upon their writer, challenging his right to design their lives as dark, difficult and miserable.
Until Hallam begins to speak. Not a conversation, not a dialogue, but a monologue, a monologue about the responsibility of designing people’s lives, that ends in his dismissal of them. He doesn’t like them, not any of them. He’s tired of them, he will not have them in his head any longer. And he is alone.
In the book, Mrs Place’s fluff about how she loves her family and wouldn’t have them any other way merges into the beginning of the book/series, as she gets talking to an anonymised Kay Washbrook. To my shame, I cannot emember the exact ending of the series. I have not watched the tape in many years: I do not have a means of watching it now.
The Home Front is an oddity of a book. The Northernness of the characters echoes the Brandons, presumably deliberately, but nowhere do the Places rise to the solidity of their forerunners: whilst Tinniswood eschews the stripped-down approach of The Stirk of Stirk or Shemerelda, both book and series lack depth. Tinniswood’s work is still sufficiently stylised to make the characters caricatures to one degree or another.
I can easily imagine the Brandon’s going about their lives beyond their books: I cannot see the Places outside The Home Front.
Though it’s likely next to impossible to get to see the series, it’s still entirely possible to read and enjoy the book in its own right, excepting that final episode, which should have been recognised as a classic of television in itself. But apart from the final episode, the series was less successful than the book. Indeed, it was quite weak in many places.
In the series, Mrs Place was played by Brenda Bruce, a Manchester born actress with a prolific TV career behind her, though her open-facedness and comeliness never fitted my conception of her from the book, whilst Hallam was played by a young, but still superb Warren Clarke. With the exception of Cherith Mellor, as Avril, I don’t recollect seeing any of the cast in anything else, though Malcolm (Garfield) Tierney also had a prolific career, appearing in Dr Who and Dalziel and Pascoe among many things, so I obvioudly didn’t recognise him.
The part of Kay Washbrook was played by Jennie Linden, who was stunningly gorgeous, but that has nothing to do with the book.
If anyone knows of any repeats of the series, or any proposals to release it on DVD, I’d love to hear it.
For the next few years, Tinniswood’s career in print would run only one way, as we shall see.

The Prisoner: episode 17 – Fall Out – the final discursion


Who is Number One?

Fall Out was the seventeenth and final episode of The Prisoner to be produced and broadcast. It was written and directed by Patrick McGoohan, although the Red Judge’s speeches were written (uncredited) by Kenneth Griffith, at McGoohan’s request.
This is the episode that makes The Prisoner. Without this, with something that made any kind of rational sense, it sinks. It goes into the shadows and is forgotten, all its good work forgotten. Anything, anything at all that is realistic and it can go ignored, filed away into the back cupboard of memory and never allowed out again. Only by breaking all the rules, by destroying everything that resembles any kind of compact with its audience does The Prisoner survive.
It answers by not answering. It ends by not ending. It promises and withholds, it infuriates and angers, it raises feelings. Its writer/producer/director/star takes his wife and children to Ireland, three days later, and then to America. He never works in British television again.
I was twelve years old when I watched Fall Out, at the end of the initial run. We who were served by Granada were the last in the country to learn what answers Patrick McGoohan had chosen, but we still had no idea what we were going to see. I have always wished that I had been older, old enough to understand the impact of that moment when Number Six rips the mask off Number One and finds himself staring back.
It’s a cliché now: our enemy is always ourselves, but it was not so then, not merely for twelve year olds.
Fall Out is a thing in itself that is almost too strange, too weird and wonderful to be criticised, to be analysed. It was an enormous hostage to fortune, a thing too easily open to contempt, to be dismissed as nonsense (and by extension everything that went before and beside it), to be contemptuously derided as not an ending at all, as proof only that McGoohan didn’t know what he was doing, that he was making it up all along and when the time came to make it make sense, he had no ending.
Didn’t we hear all of that about Lost?
Because the truth is that there is not a thing in Fall Out that makes sense. That connects to any part of The Prisoner on the ground upon which the series has stood since its beginning. The questions that had built up are thrown away, discarded as irrelevancies. The organisation that has held the Prisoner in its keeping for weeks prostrates itself and gives in to him for no reason whatsoever. It vanishes, like a puff of nuclear smoke, like the rag ends of a dream. England and home is down the end of a long, dark tunnel. The only thing anyone ever had to do was to shoot their way out. It’s guns, and bullets and All You Need is Love.
An old and once dear friend, with whom I’ve long since lost touch, married an ex-Army Physical Training Instructor turned self-taught Master Builder named Ray. They were an unusual pairing, for he was very solid and rational, and not at all imaginative or creative. Yet it was he who gave me the only explanation of the ending to The Prisoner that made ‘sense’.
It goes back to Once Upon a Time, to that moment in the caged room when Number Six’s demeanour changes, when he says the word six, when he tastes it, and relishes it, slings his jacket over his shoulder and walks out of the room, leaving a baffled Number Two behind. From that moment onwards, he is in control. Everything falls before him. First Number Two, then the Village, it all crumples away.
Because Number Six broke, because when he accepted the term Six, he went mad, and everything that followed is an unhinged fantasy.
Think about it. Because it does make literal sense, where nothing else does. Fall Out is the final escape, out of reality, it is the ultimate victory, irreversible, beyond any further restriction. The Village’s authorities become faceless, indistinguishable figures, in robes and symbolic masks. It’s demand for conformity applies to others – others that the Prisoner will, god-like, release – yet his rebellion is deified for no reason other than that it is by him.
It’s a set-up that can be destroyed by the burst of a machine gun, a hiding place that magically turns out to be virtually on his own doorstep. His only gaoler is, in fact, himself, a self that he can lock up and send away. And home is just the beginning, restarting the cycle, to be played put endlessly, over and again.
In its curious way, Fall Out is not the allegorical victory that everyone assumes it is, but a tragic defeat. The Prisoner’s only escape is into himself, a theme repeated years later in Terry Gilliam’s monumentally brilliant film, Brazil. In that visually astonishing mix of 1984 and Heath Robinson, hero Jonathan Pryce is ultimately captured, his girl killed, his life destroyed, yet in the midst of torture, he is rescued, he escapes, she lives and they drive away to a place of freedom, far beyond the bureaucrats: until two of them appear above the horizon, to agree they’ve lost him. For they have: he has never left the torturer’s chair. Not physically.
There are many people who will baulk at this interpretation, and indeed one aspect of its genius is that it can be read in so many ways, and their opinions are every bit as valid as mine. It is an allegorical gambol, and you may take that for the pun it also is.
According to McGoohan, the episode was written in thirty six mostly unbroken hours. Though he never had the ending worked out in the beginning, he has said that it represented what his ideas were running towards, and that he would not change a moment of it. It is an episode done in incredible haste, using what was at hand and convenient.
Coming hard on the heels of The Girl Who Was Death, Fall Out re-used and reinterpreted its sets and props in every way it could (underneath the globes in Number One’s room is the circular table with its map of London that belonged to Professor Schnipps, and that is, of course, his rocket, and the same clips of Thunderbirds in the countdown sequence). Guest stars Kenneth Griffith and Alexis Kanner were asked to stay on, though not Justine Lord (save for one or two extras dismissed from the Control Room in Once Upon a Time, the whole two-part ending is free from any female presence).
Leo McKern was, fortunately, available to repeat his role as the former Number Two, though in the year that had passed since Once Upon a Time his appearance had drastically changed, shaving off his beard and cutting short his flowing hair. As the actor objected to wearing wigs and false beards, the scene was written in where his appearance is changed.
This on its own symbolises the serendipity that creates Fall Out. It was a circumstance forced by chance, yet it becomes the outward symbol of Number Two’s two-way passage through death – another element of madness, the death and resurrection of the prevailing enemy so that he may congratulate you on your success and then join your cause. Written on the spot, made up out of whatever happened to be there: this was not a planned ending and sometimes we should wonder in amazement that it had any coherence whatsoever.
And we should not forget to congratulate Lew Grade who, when faced with this extraordinary thing, completely unrecognisable as any kind of television programme he had seen before, allowed it to be screened. True, he had a schedule to maintain, and an audience that, if anything, would have been even more confused and angry had he refused to let Fall Out be broadcast than it would prove to be after he did. But he broadcast it where many would have taken one look…
But in everything, in every single conceivable respect, Fall Out was a moment of its time, a prism through which the series would forever be seen, a thing that could not have happened in any other way, at any other time.
As is shown in Kanner’s dress, as the dandy-teenager, the proto-hippy complete with cowbell, as is demonstrated in his dialogue, and that of the Red Judge in trying to speak to him in his own terms, as is even shown in ‘Dem Bones’. This was 1967, and someone’s ear was not tuned in with perfect clarity.
What can we say? That there had been nothing like it before is a mere truism. That there has been nothing like it since is, in some ways, the most savage indictment of forty five years that we can make. That there never will be anything like it again is a despair.
As always, I come back to that moment, inevitable in retrospect, that I was too young, too immature to understand when I saw it. We have seen the face of Number One and it is ourselves. We are always and inescapably our own gaolers. It is still so for me, even now.

The Prisoner: episode 17 – Fall Out – synopsis


The final episode opens with the title card for the series and a montage sequence from Once Upon a Time lasting three minutes and forty seconds. It is followed by a different version of the theme music at its brightest, over an aerial tour of the Village, on which is superimposed details of Portmeirion and an acknowledgement to Mr. Clough Williams-Ellis.
The Controller, Number Six and the Butler descend a shaft. At the bottom, they step out into a room where a mannequin, crudely fashioned to resemble the Prisoner, wears the clothes Number Six wore the day he was abducted to the Village. The Controller explains that they thought he would feel happier as himself.
The trio walk down a steel-floored, rock-lined underground corridor. In every cranny there is a jukebox, all of which are blaring out the Beatles’ (then-new) “All You Need is Love”. At the end of the corridor, the Butler goes ahead to unlock a door. Inside, it is a metal door, surmounted by the words “Well Come”.
It opens into a vast underground chamber, full of people. As the Controller leads the group forward, we see: a circular pit from which steam rises in explosive bursts, with a young man in a top hat clamped to a pole: the two-armed, rotating device from the Control Room, but with the operatives bearing machine guns instead of cameras: an operating theatre with green-gowned surgeons, surrounded by scaffolding: a rocket, around which vapours rise: computer banks set into the high walls on the cave, reached by a gantry: four men at a table: two dozen men sat in parliamentary rows: security guards with white gloves, dark glasses and helmets: a dais on which stands a man dressed as a Criminal Court Judge in red robes: an ornate throne on a dais reached by four steps.
The men are all dressed in white hooded robes, beneath which their faces are concealed by identical gargoyle masks: half frowning white angel, half smiling black devil.
We do not, at first, see that the number one is painted on the body of the rocket, nor that it contains a mechanical eye.
The Controller is given a robe and mask, which he dons. He joins the body of men on the benches. Each has a plate before him, identifying a faction, his ‘Identification’. All are identical and concealed.
The Red Judge welcomes the Prisoner and declares that this session has been called at a time of democratic crisis, to discuss the question of revolt. The masked Controller presents Number Six, but the Judge intervenes. Number Six has passed the ultimate test and has vindicated his individuality. He has won the right not to be called Number Six, or indeed any number at all. The Red Judge and the Delegates applaud enthusiastically.
However, there are ceremonies to go through to prepare for the transfer of ultimate power. The Prisoner is invited to watch. Silently, he takes the throne.
Eyes turn as the caged kitchen descends slowly from the Embryo Room above. The shield slides away and two surgeons expectantly wheel a stretcher up to the doors. The Rocket flashes, revealing its Number. The Red Judge barks the order, “Resuscitate!” and the screen shows Number Two’s final moments, reversing the film so that he leaps to his feet and regurgitates his last drink.
The Butler unlocks the cage then crosses to the dais to stand at the Prisoner’s left hand. The surgeons carry out Number Two’s body and wheel the stretcher to the operating theatre. He is sat in a chair and a device like a hairdressers helmet is lowered over his head. His beard is lathered with shaving cream. A circular rubber pad extends to cover his face and the machinery begins to hum.
The Red Judge addresses the cavern on revolt. Revolt takes many forms and he will present three specific examples. The first is Number Forty-Eight, the youth in the pit. He is dressed in black jacket and trousers over a white, frilly, Edwardian shirt, open almost to the waist, and has a bell on a chain around his neck.
The newcomer proclaims this a crazy scene and starts singing the familiar song, ‘Dem Bones, Dem Bones’. It fills the cavern, driving the delegates wild, setting them dancing. The Red Judge screams at him, trying to get him to shut up, but it is not until the eye in the rocket starts beeping that things calm down. The Judge orders Number Forty Eight be released: the young man walks round to in front of him as the Judge intones about youthful rebellion, rebelling because it must, but that society requires security and conformity, and it must be stamped out.
He pauses, inviting a response. Instead, Number Forty Eight leaps away, singing ‘Dem Bones’ He runs round the cavern, leaping here and there, causing chaos in his wake as security guards pursue him frantically. Eventually, he is surrounded by guards, but it is the Prisoner’s intervention, addressing him as ‘Young Man’. that calms him.
The Judge is about to protest but his is overruled from the rocket. Addressing Number Forty |Eight as Young Man, he tries to talk to him in the ‘language’ of youth, which Number Forty Eight parodies in amused contempt. The Judge urges him to confess, repeatedly, to which the Young Man responds again with ‘Dem Bones’, until a recorded version of it begins filling the cavern, sending everyone into anarchy again. Except the Young Man, who squats on the floor in the lotus position, as calm as anything, until the Judge pronounces him Guilty.
The charge is, for all its fine words, refusal to conform, the most sinister aspect being a refusal to respond to his number. The Prisoner is asked to approve, but he withholds comment. The Young Man is taken away,security guards lifting his arms as he remains squatting, to the place of sentence, pending the Prisoner’s inauguration. At the pole, he straps himself in and disappears below, still singing his song.
The next revolutionary is the revived ex-Number Two. The pad is withdrawn, revealing him short-haired and clean shaven, except for a trimmed moustache. His eyes open and he slowly checks himself out before letting go with a roar of laughter, shouting that he feels like a new man. He dominates the cavern, congratulating the Prisoner, shaking his hand. He signals for the Butler to follow him, and is momentarily impatient when he stays at the Prisoner’s side.
Accepting this, he climbs to the Red Judge’s dais and addresses everyone about his former power and importance, his ability to command, the things he wrought with his decisions, and how obvious it was that he should have been abducted and brought here. What is deplorable, however, is how quickly he gave in, accepted power second only to one…
He points to the Prisoner as an example of his last decision, concerning bthis man. The screen shows again his screaming “Die!” at Number Six, and his own death. He asks if it was the drink, but the Red Judge says that some security secrets cannot be revealed even to a former Number Two. “You couldn’t even let me rest in peace,” the ex-Number Two mutters, bitterly.
The Prisoner intervenes to ask if the former Number Two ever met Number One. His old opponent laughs, mockingly. He crosses the floor to the rocket, looking into the eye, still orating. He gives the eye a Stare. The Red Judge screams that he’ll die. If so, the ex-Number Two says, snatching off his badge, he’ll die his own man, and he draws back his head a spits in the eye, which closes.
Immediately, he is seized by the guards and hustled across the cavern, booming with laughter. The Prisoner agrees that he be taken away to the place of sentence. He is strapped to another pole, which descends, but as he vanishes, he looks into the camera’s eye and says, “Be seeing you,” before resuming his laughter.
The Judge characterises this revolt as biting the hand that feeds him. Like that of youth it is unproductive and must be stamped out. But the Prisoner’s revolt is at the other end of the scale…
As he speaks, the sign shows a For Sale sign being taken down from outside the Prisoner’s dwelling in London, as his Lotus is delivered back to his door. He continues to praise the Prisoner as a man of principle, of steel, who has resisted and overcome for the right to be a person, a magnificent leader, who will show them all.
There is a prize for him. A hooded delegate wheels a trolley forth. From it, he produces the house key, travellers cheques worth a million, his passport, and a small bag of ‘petty cash’. He is free to go. Anywhere. Coldly, the Prisoner asks why, repeating his question each time the Red Judge’s nebulous answers end. They have conceded, he has won. The Judge invites him to address them, to make his statement.
The Prisoner thinks about this, then descends his dais, checks and pockets each of this things. He mounts the Judge’s dais and prepares to speak. Twice, his opening word of “I…” is drowned out by applause and chants of “Aye, Aye, Aye”. Twice he gavels it to silence and restarts. The third time, he desperately shouts his statement, but the chanting of support drowns it out. The Red Judge watches him, cynically, and when he runs down, ends the chanting by raising a finger. It has been a complete waste.
But now it is time to meet Number One. The Judge leads him to another pit, without pole or steam. The Prisoner descends again, to another steel-floored corridor lined with guards. The Butler marches towards him, briskly, leads him forward. Beyond, the Young Man and the ex-Number Two wait in glass tubes, marked Orbit 48 and Orbit 2. One sings his song, the other laughs. A third tube is empty.
There is a control room, with four hooded and masked figures poring over dials and readings. They ignore him. The Butler indicates a spiral staircase. The Prisoner creeps up this, silently. He can see another circular room, dominated by globes of every size, another hooded figure inside, its back to him.
The door slides open, automatically. He walks silently towards the hooded figure, who is watching a screen. On it, we see the Prisoner in Arrival, repeating his “I will not be pushed…” speech. Suddenly, the screen changes to show the Prisoner advancing on the hooded figure, who slowly turns, on screen and in life.
He is holding a crystal ball in both hands, which he gives to the Prisoner. Inside, the closing scene of the bars slamming on the Prisoner’s face repeats three times. The Prisoner drops it, smashing it. Number One throws his head back and his hands in the air. He is dressed as all the delegates, except that the large red Number One is on his left breast. The Prisoner reaches out to the mask, twists it off. Underneath, an ape’s face chatters at him, bestially: another mask. He drags this off. Underneath the hood, his own face stares back at him, laughing hysterically.
Barely do we have the chance to register this when Number One breaks away, still laughing, running around the control room. The Prisoner, in shock, chases him, tries to grapple with him, but Number One breaks away, climbs another set of circular stairs and, with the Prisoner climbing after him, leans over the hatch, laughing in his face, before slamming it shut from above.
The Prisoner promptly begins to activate the rocket’s launch controls. Outside, via the screen, the delegates mill around the cavern. The Red Judge is watching the eye, suspiciously. Having set things in motion, the Prisoner creeps downstairs. At the foot of the staircase, the Butler indicates with his eyes the position of the men. The Prisoner leaps onto them, knocking them sideways. He sprays them with the fire extinguisher and, when he wades in with his fists, the Butler takes over. They then release the Young Man and the ex-Number Two.
Dressed in the hooded robes, they signal the guards to enter the room. They too are sprayed with an extinguisher and knocked out. Arming themselves with machine guns, the quartet rise up unnoticed from the pits. The Prisoner begins shooting.
The cavern is reduced to chaos, with gunfire on all sides. The Red Judge calls for control, then orders everyone to evacuate. Delegates, guards, men in wet-suits on bicycles flood up the corridor. In the Village, tannoys urgently order “Evacuate!”. Helicopters take off, streams of Villagers start running away.
Below, the rocket progresses towards launch. The firing ends. The Butler reveals that the base on which the caged room rests is only panels, behind which are the wheels of a trailer. He gets behind the wheel, the others strip off their robes and climb into the room. They drive off along a dark tunnel, leading to wrought iron gates.
At the same moment the trailer breaks through the gates, the rocket launches, rising slowly through the heart of the Village. A half-inflated Rover shrivels into nothing in the blast-pit, to the sound of Carmen Miranda’s “I-I-I-I-I like you very much”, which becomes the song playing on the dashboard radio of a Rolls, being driven along a countryside dual carriageway by a businessman. The trailer is ahead of him in the centre lane. As he overtakes it on the inside, the Young Man and the ex-Number Two are dancing, and the Prisoner serving coffee, to the rhythm of the song. He speeds on. A road sign shows A20, London 27 miles.
Further on, the trailer pulls into a lay-by to let the Young Man out. He crosses the carriageway and starts to hitch.
The trailer continues into London. Circling Trafalgar Square, it is followed by a scooter-riding Policeman, who flags it down to park on the Thames Embankment. The occupants descend and walk away. The ex-Number Two walks towards Parliament. After staring at it for a few moments, he waves to his colleagues, crosses the road and, after a few words with a Policeman, is let in a rear entrance.
The Prisoner watches him leave, the Butler stood some twenty feet off. The Policeman slows walks past the Butler and goes up to the Prisoner. He asks a question. The Prisoner replies, gesticulating, even dancing, then leaves the Policeman to return to the Butler. The two race across Westminster Bridge and jump on a London bus.
The Young Man walks cheerfully down the carriageway, waving his thumb. Alexis Kanner’s name appears onscreen. He crosses the carriageway and starts hitching the other way, unperturbed at not being picked up.
The Prisoner and the Butler arrive outside his house. The Prisoner gets in his Lotus and starts the engine. The Butler walks up the steps. Angelo Muscat’s name appears onscreen. For the first time, we can see that the number of the Prisoner’s home is 1. The door opens by itself, with the low, sibilant hum of Village doors, and the Butler goes inside.
An aerial shot shows the Lotus being driven through London traffic, near Parliament. The word Prisoner appears onscreen.
The ex-Number Two, now sporting bowler, umbrella, business suit and carnation, marches gleefully along. Leo McKern’s name appears onscreen. He crosses the road and is ushered inside  Parliament by a Policeman.
We hear a brief crash of thunder. A road appears, wide and straight, stretching out before us like an airfield runway. Something appears at the perspective point, racing towards us with incredible speed, a Lotus Seven. It is being driven by the Prisoner, who has a grim, set expression on his face. It is the first shot of the first episode.
The credits run. They end, not on Rover rising from the sea, but on the finished, compiled image of the Penny Farthing.

The Prisoner: 26, 17 or 7?


Trying to work it out can feel like this sometimes

The stories have varied down the years.
I have a vague memory, obviously inaccurate, of someone in a newspaper claiming that The Prisoner was originally meant to run for forty episodes, and even at the age of twelve, and with the series finale coming up, being immediately intrigued at what all the other twenty-three episodes would have been about.
Then I learned about how it was supposed to have been twenty six episodes, two series of thirteen, but the ratings for series One fell away and it was decided to make it seventeen, on an emergency basis, to fill a scheduling gap.
And then it was how McGoohan had proposed The Prisoner as a seven episode mini-series, before we had mini-series.
Then that the emergency episodes weren’t supposed to be filler after all, but instead a genuine series Two
And there’s yet another wrinkle to add to this ever-shifting tale of just how many episodes of The Prisoner there were supposed to be, because Patrick McGoohan gave this interview in 1979 in which he claimed that, far from insisting on twenty six episodes in two series, Lew Grade accepted the mini-series Prisoner from the outset, as a seven issue run.
Under this theory, the first location shoot at Portmeirion was intended to be the only one. The bulk of McGoohan’s septet were filmed there: Arrival, Free For All, Checkmate, Dance of the Dead and The Chimes of Big Ben, with Once Upon a Time shot at Elstree immediately after. That was what the budget was for, that was what the show was about.
You’ll notice that there’s no mention of Fall Out in that theory: Fall Out did not, at that time, exist. The series had an ending, McGoohan just hadn’t created it then.
But then, in this latest explanation, Grade phoned up to say he couldn’t sell the series as seven and it would have to be twenty six. So McGoohan and Tomblin sat down and dragged out every idea they could think of, phoned Grade back and told him they could do seventeen, and so seventeen was agreed.
It’s an interpretation that’s inconsistent with everything that had gone before it, but then when it comes to The Prisoner everything is inconsistent with everything else. Even Robert Fairclough then went on to refer to six other episodes being made as being far too expensive on a budget that was working out as £75,000 per episode, instead of another eleven episodes for this insistent seventeen episode series.
Including the still-not-extant Fall Out.
He does identify the inconsistencies, including the evidence that supports one incompatible theory against another, rendering the whole thing completely impossible to resolve, rather like the series as a whole will become when the final episode is made.
Because the production staff of The Girl Who Was Death are the first to hear that the next episode will be the last episode, which suggests to me that up to that point The Prisoner was making episodes in a piecemeal fashion, lacking any kind of anchor as to series length. Like those who, decades ago, wrote and drew Marvel’s successful Star Wars comic between the end of the adaptation of Star Wars and the appearance of The Empire Strikes Back: spin the wheels, keep it in motion, but the one thing you can’t do is do anything.
I’m more than willing to accept that Patrick McGoohan saw – and pitched – The Prisoner as a tightly-conceived seven episode mini-series, and that in his mind those seven episodes are the real series (though never in all the time I have had the DVD box-set, or the less expansive one before it, or even the videos I made of the C4 repeats, have I watched McGoohan’s ‘pure’ Prisoner, something I must do).
I’m equally willing to accept that the commercial realities of commercial television in 1966 made such a thing impossible, and required the dilution of the idea by additional episodes, some of them of very high quality, to make up a conventional series length.
But I’m not prepared to believe that Lew Grade would break the commercial habit of a lifetime by blithely signing up to the ‘pure’ Prisoner and I’m equally not prepared to believe that the filler episodes were made as part of a predecided single seventeen episode series.
And I’m also not prepared to believe that Fall Out would have happened in a ‘pure’ Prisoner. When he sold the idea to Lew Grade, Patrick McGoohan had outlines, notes and titles for six episodes. Unless some sensational discovery is yet to be made of a seventh story contemporaneous with the first six, I believe McGoohan went into The Prisoner without an ending.
With ideas, yes, inchoate, unresolved, unshaped, and ideas that would be eventually expressed in Fall Out, but I cannot bring myself to believe that what became the ending of The Prisoner was implicit in its beginning or that it could have come to be without the experience of the sixteen episodes that preceded it.
In Roger Zelazny’s popular Chronicles of Amber, he makes it plain, by casual, offhand remarks, that their narrator, Corwin of Amber, is telling his story to some unnamed person, in some unidentified and potentially disastrous situation. The first two novels (of five) each cover distinct and separate periods of, in the first book, years and in the second months. The remaining three books cover approximately one subjective week, are continuously written and include cliff-hanger endings.
The change in tone between books two and three is so distinct that I am convinced that, at the very least, Zelazny threw away his original plans for the continuation and end of the series in favour of others of much greater proportions, and that the auctor revealed at the end of the penultimate chapter of the fifth book is not the person who heard the first two.
Welcome to the fall out.

The Prisoner: episode 16 – Once Upon a Time – discursion


Once Upon a Time was the sixteenth episode of The Prisoner to be broadcast and the sixth to go into production. It was written and directed by Patrick McGoohan, although the shooting scripts used on set bore the name Archibald Schwarz, McGoohan being nervous of the reaction of everybody to such a bizarre episode.
After the last half-dozen episodes, the intensity, the underlying seriousness of Once Upon a Time comes as a shock: a welcome shock, a dose of cold, clear water after a series of sweet carbonated drinks. This is unsurprising, given that the episode was one of McGoohan’s original seven, the mini-series he wanted, the episodes he stood behind. It is one of the episodes filmed on the first run of shooting, although it uses only a tiny handful of location shots.
It followed on from The Chimes of Big Ben, hence the re-appearance of Leo McKern as Number Two. Despite their differences in the previous episode, the two actors respected each other and McGoohan invited McKern to remain, and it is all to the good for the episode.
Not only was McKern one of the best Number Two’s, not only did his scenes with McGoohan demonstrate a genuine, mutual respect between the characters, but the mere fact of a return, of a superior Number Two being recalled after a string of inferior men and schemes, leant the episode an immediate gravitas. McKern’s performance nails it instantly: he doesn’t want to be back, but if it is so important that he is needed, then it will be done, once and for all.
And it is. In a way, Once Upon a Time is the true conclusion to The Prisoner, and its final episode is accurately depicted by the title Fall Out. If the episode had been what it was long supposed to be, a cliff-hanger conclusion to series One, then we don’t need the evidence of supposed series Two episodes like Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling to tell us that a second series would have been an artistic disaster that would have pulled the roof down on the series forever.
That wasn’t the opinion of everyone. George Markstein held the script in contempt, called it utter gibberish, and a cold, hard look at it on the page, with its lengthy sequences of McGoohan and McKern shouting “Five!”, “Six!”, or “Pop,” “Pop,” “Pop pop,” at each other, makes it hard to justify.
But it is not just the two leads’ performances that turn this episode into an intense, psychological battle that envelops the viewer on levels beyond the rational.
The episode overall breaks down into two sections. There is Number Two’s return, the sanctioning of the mysterious Degree Absolute and the secrecy with which the preparation is made. The episode is at its most coldly rational in this long introduction, even down to the singing of nursery rhymes to the drugged and brainwashed Number Six in his bed.
And there is the sequence in the Embryo Room, one long, extended scene, on a minimalist set, where props are obviously props and the real is abandoned, as the process of Degree Absolute – the episode’s working title, incidentally – takes the fight into Number Six’s own mind.
The episode wears its roots lightly, in Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man, which are to be recapitulated in the week of the ordeal, recapitulated but manipulated to turn the roots of the character McGoohan plays into a creature amenable to the requirements of the Village, whilst retaining those elements that make him so valuable to that organisation.
Indeed, McGoohan throws in a couple of autobiographical notes as part of this cascade of impressionistic moments: his own boxing training, his first job as a Bank Clerk, before he became involved in acting. We can even see John Drake, through this prism, being recruited to the Service via an ancient and traditional organisation whose bases align with the security of the country.
It’s a tight, claustrophobic sequence, for all its refusal to confine itself to grounded reality. McGoohan faces McKern, with Angelo Muscat – promoted in the opening credits to ‘Featuring’ status – as a silent, grave presence, unassuming, solid, and in the final act shifting his loyalty to naturally, so airily, to Number Six, as control of the process slips into the latter’s hands and the countdown starts to the inevitability of Number Two’s death, a death that comes from no cause save only dramatic requirement and the demands of a process that has taken on an inevitability far beyond anything the players can do to halt it.
Number Two made the risk plain at the beginning. The processes’s title reinforces it. It really is an Absolute. One or the other. Six or Two. We may not see what we hoped to see in the charming Number Two of so very long ago, of the second broadcast episode, as near to the beginning as this is to the end: there is no battle of wits, not with a Number Six deprived of them until an end whose own reality may not be what we want it to be. But we see a man who does believe in what he does and who, to further the cause for which he works, goes willingly to what he knows, if he succeeds, is his own death: corporeal or mental.
And then the promise. Enter the Supervisor: cold, unsentimental, indeed a little contemptuous of his fallen colleague, even though he has expressed a sadness at what was then, in his mind, only a possibility: sorry to lose you.
Number Two is sealed away, out of sight. Number Six may have what he wants, and what he wants is what he’s wanted from the very beginning, what we who have watched this series have wanted, and that is answers. The answer is Number One, and there are no more obstacles, no more frustrations, no prevarications, just: I’ll take you.
Only the most forensic of minds, and how many are there in that moment, would recognise that that promise is not a promise to reveal anything, just a commitment to transport the once and former Number Six to something.
Of course, such prescience is easy when it’s no longer prescience.
I have a theory about Once Upon a Time, but not one that I can speak of here, because there is still an episode to come. My theory – not my theory in its origins but I find it impossible to run away from – explains too much that should not be spoken of until we have reached the end. I will say here only the word Brazil.
McGoohan, McKern, Muscat, and Peter Swanwick (whose steely glaze concealed serious frailties that brought about his death later in 1968): these are the players. John Cazabon (as the man with the Umbrella) and John Maxim (as Number 86 though his scene and his two lines were edited out after the credits were produced) are the only other actors, save for the unknowns who populated the Control Room.
It’s getting very late now.

The Prisoner: episode 16 – Once Upon a Time – synopsis


Thunder crashes. The full title sequence runs. We hear Leo McKern’s voice again in the catechism.
We open on a shot of the Green Dome, rising above the Village. In Number Two’s office, the Butler is steering a breakfast trolley. The Chair is occupied by a pulsating Rover. The Butler carefully deposits his tray on a side table. He operates the controls to cause a chair to slide up out of the floor. A moment later, a man rises through the floor, head bowed. We recognise him as the charming Number Two of The Chimes of Big Ben.
Number Two looks around him, disgustedly. He orders the Butler to take the breakfast away. He snatches up the red phone and snarls at the person on the other end to get rid of that ‘thing’ (i.e., Rover): he is not an inmate. Irritably, he orders the Butler to leave the coffee, shouting at him when he doesn’t move quickly enough.
He logs onto surveillance of Number Six, who is having breakfast in his kitchen. Carrying his cup and chewing a piece of toast, Number Six gets up and starts pacing back and forth. Number Two steps up to the gantry beneath the screen, almost putting himself into the pictiure. Why do you care? he muses, repeating the question.
He grabs the yellow phone off the desk, asks for Number Six. We hear the latter’s phone beep, see him answering. Why do you care? Number Two asks. I know your voice, the Prisoner replies. Number Two confirms he has been here before, and repeats his question. You’ll never know, Number Six says, putting down the phone and leaving his cottage.
Number Two continues to watch him as he makes his way through the sparsely attended square. Number Six button-holes a man with an umbrella, who reacts fearfully to being spoken to, and implores him to go away.
Coming to a decision, he snatches up the red phone again. He argues with the person to whom he is speaking, insisting that they have been going about things the wrong way, that he told them so first time. If they want him, they must do it his way, and there is no alternative: he demands approval for Degree Absolute.
This is clearly a serious, and irrevocable step, and one that is risky for Number Two himself. He acknowledges this. He is a good man, was a good man, if they they can get Number Six, he will be better. Number Two is willing to sacrifice himself. Consent is given, to start tonight, but though Number Two objects, he is given only seven days, which he believes is too short.
We cut to the Control Room. Number Two bustles in, announcing Degree Absolute, and requiring all subsidiary personnel to be removed. The Supervisor challenges him, proposes to check, but Number Two overrules him. The staff are told to leave, to submit their time sheets on the most favourable rates, leaving Number two, the Controller, and one operative on the twin-arm device.
Number Two takes one of the screens and tunes into Number Six, asleep in bed. The Controller counts to six, and announces that the first waveform is clear. A second count is made. Onscreen, Number Six grows restless. Number Two orders a third count, diminished, holding on five. Number Six threshes about, but remains asleep. A sweating Number Two is satisfied. As he leaves, the Supervisor says he would be sorry to lose him.
In his bedroom, Number Six sleeps. The ceiling light descends towards his face on its cord. It starts to flash. Number Two, sounding very weary, starts to croon the nursery rhyme, Humpty Dumpty. Number Six remains undisturbed, with the lamp over his face, as Number Two wanders round singing other rhymes. No matter how loudly he sings, Number Six is not disturbed. Number Two lies down on a shaped couch.
In the morning, he raises the blinds and looks across the village, as did Number Six on his first appearance. He wakes Number Six, asking him if he wants to go walkies. Number Six grins vacuously and leaps out of bed.
After he dresses, Number Six is wheeled across the square and into Number Two’s Office by the Butler. Whilst Number Two talks to himself as much as Number Six, the Butler walks over to one of the floor-discs and is dropped through the floor. Number Two leads Number Six to another disc, before his Chair: they drop out of sight. They emerge in a dark corridor, along which they are carried on a moving causeway. This leads to a pair of thick metal doors, which Number Two unlocks,
Inside the room, it is dark, until Number Two switches on the light to reveal a strange large room. It features objects such as a playpen, which which the Butler, wearing snow-glasses, stands, shaking a rattle, a free-standing door, a mini-tractor, a seesaw, a kitchen unit contained behind bars. Excitedly, Number Six goes to the playpen, seizes the rattle and starts shaking it. Number Two dons an identical pair of snow-glasses, and sets the clock by the entrance. The doors slide shut. The week begins.
Number Two starts to recite Shakespeare’s ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech as he chalks three objectives on a blackboard: A. Find Missing Link, something that has been in Number Six’s brain, even as a child, B. Put it together, refining it, tuning it, making Number Six theirs, and if he fails, C. BANG.
Number Six is taken for a walk in the park, to the seesaw,but as soon as Number Two brings up the word father, he is let down with a bump. From the park it is to school: the Butler fetches Number Two a cane and a mortar board, Number Six a straw boater. ‘Report to my study in the morning break,’ snaps Number Two.
He quizzes the schoolboy Number Six about an incident of talking in class, nine days ago. Number Six has been accused, wrongly. He knows the true culprit but will not give him away. For nine days he has refused. He accepts the term ‘fool’ but says he is not a rat. It is a matter of honour. For his refusal to conform, he is left with the Butler, who brandishes the cane.
He emerges a graduate. Headmaster Number Two praises his prize pupil for hos he has overcome his rebellious spirit, and learned to conform. He demands Number Six say why he resign. Number Six protests mildly that it is a secret. Number Two’s pressure leads to screams and a fight in which Number Six starts to choke the older man. Unhurriedly, the Butler replaces the cane in the cupboard, selects a truncheon and crashes it down on Number Six’s head.
When Number Two recovers his breath, the pair manhandle Number Six onto a table. A hairdryer like device is placed over his head. A still-gasping Number Two admits he is beginning to like Number Six.
Restored, Number Six sits on a rocking horse. Number Two prowls round him, verbally sparring. They get into long to-and-fros, counting letters, numbers. Number Six has a block on the word six and will not, cannot say it. They repeat various, nonsensical combinations of the word Pop at each other, during which Number Two explains, obliquely what it stands for: Protect Other People.
The sparring continues into real sparring: boxing training, protective headgear, Number Six as the Champ, Number Two as his trainer, needling, forever needling him over his resignation, until Number Six punches him down. Then they become fencers, Number Two contemptuous of his opponent until his foil is twisted away, out of his hands. Still he taunts Number Six, accusing him of cowardice, of being the one-man band, but unable to cross the threshold to kill. Number Six backs him against the door, strikes with the button foil, just missing. Number Two taunts and he strikes the door again, but now the button has come off. Undaunted, Number Two throws forward his contempt until Number Six shrieks and lunges – but only into Number Two’s left shoulder. ‘You missed, boy, you still can’t do it’. He mocks Number Six’s shocked apology.
The two clean themselves up, Number Two’s arm in a sling. Then another approach: Number Two as interviewer using the kitchen. Number Six seeks a job, but he has no concern for the traditions of the Bank: he just wants to work, to have a job. But it’s more than a stamp-licking job, he is important, he is being groomed for his true role in Intelligence, his future. He drive a motorised toy car to the interview where this is explained to him.
Surreally happy, Number Six drives the toycar around until he is halted by the Butler, in policeman’s helmet, blowing a whistle. He is tried for speeding before Number Six, the judge, tries to alibi it on his job his secret job, above the law. Over his protests, he is fines a sum he cannot pay, and is, literally, dragged off to jail, hand-cuffed inside the caged itchen.
Number Two hammers at him again, verbally, demanding the secret of his resignation. Number Six resists, begins to slur his voice, act drunkenly. Number Two’s mastery over him starts to dwindle as the Prisoner invites him to kill him, produces a carving knife from the kitchen drawer, lies down.
Instead, we go on to a war scene, artificial smoke, the sound of bombs, the two men straddling a mid-air plank, pilot and release-operator on a bomber. Number Six’s inability/resistance to the word six creates an overshoot, a second pass, a bailing out.
Number Two interrogates Number Six in German. Number Six is apologetic, almost hangdog, but as the harangue continues, his demeanour changes. He starts to count numbers. He says the word six, starts to relish it. Removing his jacket, he nonchalantly walks from the cage.
Number Six’s acceptance of the number six has changed the dynamic. Number Two is no longer in charge. The Butler massages his temples as Number Six starts to ask penetrating questions about the psychological procedure of Degree Absolute, it’s dependance upon complete trust and its risk to any doctor who has his own problems. Number Two is effusive in his answers, admitting that he has flaws. They still have time to work on this though, but when he draws back the velvet curtains, the clock shows that only five minutes remain.
He rushes over to the kitchen, opens and bottle and pours himself a whiskey. He is still gabbling about time as Number Six experimentally slides the door to and fro, until he slams it shut and locks it. Number Two grabs the bars, then laughs as the Butler comes forward and takes the key from Number Six: he thinks you’re in charge now, he shouts.
Number Six looms over him, threatening to enter. Number Six turns fearful, pleading with him to stay away. When the door is open, he stumbles out and falls. Number Six pursues him as the man begins to disintegrate. Number Six starts counting down the time, with Number Two still protesting it’s not too late. But the inexorable march of seconds is counted down. Number Two lurches back into the caged kitchen, takes another drink, as the seconds run out. On zero, he ceases breathing and falsl to the floor, dead.
Number Six looks as if he too has come out of a trance. The steel doors slide open to reveal the Supervisor, who congratulates Number Six. He walks over to the cage and looks at Number Two. We shall need the body for evidence, he state, an edge of contempt in his voice. Number Six smashes his glass violently on the floor.
A hinged metal door slams down from above, sealing the kitchen. The Supervisor asks Number Six what he desires, to which the Prisoner replies, ‘Number One’. ‘I’ll take you’, says the Supervisor. They walk towards the doors, leaving an empty Embryo Room, silent but for a nursery rhyme.

The Prisoner: Who was he, really?


Is it him?

According to one of his co-creators, he always was John Drake. The upright, moral agent, who believed in what he did. Who was committed to his job. Who devised the idea of a retirement home for aged spies, where they could live, safe and protected. Who resigned, from a job that he was the last you could imagine abandoning, because he learned that his proposal had been adopted, but perverted into an interrogation camp. Who resigned knowing that only by this route could he infiltrate this abomination and bring it down.
But his other co-creator had a diametrically opposite opinion: he was anybody in the world except John Drake. He was everyman, the ultimate individual, the one man setting himself against the overwhelming force of the establishment, a growing, cynical, authoritarian establishment requiring conformity to itself in all things. He had no name, because he needed no name, because he was symbol, not person.
Plus there was the legal position that if Number Six were John Drake, the royalty payments due to Drake’s creator, Ralph Smart, would have made the show impossible to produce.
I’ve already commented that, by deliberately blanking Number Six’s name and background, other than his being a spy, allowed Number Six to appear complete with an assumed history. As one who, however young, was there for the first broadcast, I can confirm that our entire family (with the exception of my six year old sister, whose bedtime fell before either programme started) watched the first episode believing The Prisoner to be an extension of Danger Man. To us, and to the vast majority of that first night audience, Number Six was John Drake, no question.
The lack of a ‘real name’ for Number Six created certain difficulties for the scripters, especially in those episodes in which the Prisoner succeeded in returning to London, or, in the case of The Chimes of Big Ben, met former trusted colleagues and friends in the belief that he had done so. Extraordinary contortions were required to get around the necessity that not one of these persons who had worked closely with Number Six in his previous life address him by his actual name.
Not even his fiancée, even when she is convinced that his mind has somehow been transferred into the stranger’s body of Nigel Stock, addresses him by name.
The closest any of these episodes comes to acknowledging this quandary is in Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, when the Colonel has invaded Number Six’s old headquarters and is challenged to give his name: cleverly, ‘Number Six’ asks “code or real”, and is allowed to identify himself by his various code-names, “Duvall”, “Schmidt” and “ZM73”. Incidentally, none of these code-names have been identified as ones used by John Drake in Danger Man.
In every other scene, devices have to be resorted to, Number Six must be addressed as ‘my friend’, or ‘old man’. The most obvious moment comes in Many Happy Returns, when Number Six can call his old, old friend the Colonel, James, but the Colonel’s only personal reference to him is by the deliberately ironic ‘Number Six’.
It’s an interesting dichotomy: Number Six, the epitome of the individual, lacks that most individual of aspects: a name. Throughout the series, even to his ‘triumph’ in the final episode, when his designation is taken from him, he is nothing but Number Six, the name of a cypher. The man who asserts himself against the weight of all authority ultimately has no individual identity.
Or does he?
The Girl Who Was Death certainly sails very close to the wind of identifying Number Six as having been indeed John Drake. It’s an episode full of in-jokes, and by the very presence of these, we should treat any information in it as being tendentious, but the episode makes an immediate and strong link to McGoohan’s former role. The Agent’s first appearance sees him adopting the same cap and raincoat combination that was characteristic of John Drake.
And Christopher Benjamin, who played Drake’s self-satisfied liaison, Potter, in the two episodes of the aborted Series 4, returns playing what we are invited to assume is the same character.
It’s a very broad hint that Number Six is the former John Drake, though of course the name is never spoken. The hints, however, could not be clearer.
For many years, before the advent of video and DVD, a substantial number of viewers were insistent that Number Six was actually identified in Once Upon a Time as Drake: Leo McKern barks out a pre-advert line that sounded like “Meet me in the morning, Drake”, though the greater availability of the series has helped dispel that myth by allowing everyone to hear it correctly as “morning break”. And elsewhere in the same episode, the nursery rhyme, ‘See saw, Marjorie Daw’ is used in its oldest form, where the next line is ‘Jacky shall have a new master’ (the version I grew up on wasn’t ‘Jacky’, though I can’t tease out the memory of what it was): Jacky, or Jack, is a diminutive of John, a popular variant of the original: John who?
Like so many enigmas about this series, the answer lies in the viewer’s own mind, in what they read the runes as saying. We must, finally, come back to McGoohan’s insistence that Number Six was not Drake, and that originally, to emphasise that there was no actual connection between his former series and his new one, he wanted another actor entirely to play the part, but Grade insisted he wanted McGoohan himself. And who, in all the world, then or since, could have played Number Six in the manner that ensured the series would survive so long?
You pays your money and you takes your choice. I began by believing, in 1967, that The Prisoner was a direct, as opposed to thematic, sequel to Danger Man, and that Number Six was John Drake. No matter how much I know he isn’t, I prefer to believe in the continuity between the two, and that Number Six was always more than just a Number.