The Prisoner: Angelo Muscat


After Patrick McGoohan, the actor with the best track record in The Prisoner is Angelo Muscat, who played Number Two’s butler in fourteen of the seventeen episodes, and, despite never saying a single word, is as big an icon of the series as Portmeirion itself.
Muscat, who was born in Malta in 1930, was a short man in a family of tall people: both his parents and all three brothers were six foot or more, but Angelo only grew to the height of four feet three inches: stocky, rotund and balding. And sadly, very lonely.
His size restricted his employment opportunities on Malta, though he developed a love of the theatre there. He moved to England after the death of his parents, in quick succession, and worked in a zipper factory until, in 1961, he responded to an ad for casting of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
This began an acting career which included appearances in a lost William Hartnell Doctor Who adventure and in the twice weekly medical soap opera, Emergency Ward 10, but his career highlight was being selected for The Prisoner.
The early scripts make it plain that McGoohan and co envisaged a completely different figure for the Butler: a conventional, six foot strong-arm man, who would have (albeit banal) dialogue. According to ITC publicity, Muscat was personally selected for the part by McGoohan, after reviewing hundreds of photos.
The casting gave Muscat particular pride, both in the responsibility it gave him as virtually the only other series regular, and because he was a great Danger Man fan, and would be working with Patrick McGoohan.
Like so many aspects of the series, his casting was an act of genius.
I’ve already mentioned his immediate impact in our household on first viewing in 1967: I may have been somewhat idiosyncratic in my anticipation of a quasi-Lurch, but Muscat’s appearance – short, round, immaculately clad, deeply serious, silent, unfailingly grave – was 180% away from anything that might have been expected.
His performances throughout the series maintained that initial impression. In the episodes we have reviewed so far, he has opened doors, brought and removed breakfast trolleys, carried and held the prototypical Village umbrella. To the extent of his participation in the story is concerned, he has been a cypher, as much as the Village symbol of the Penny Farthing.
Only in A Change of Mind does the Butler engage in a minor interaction with Number Six, when the latter makes his second and condemnatory appearance before the Social Affairs Committee: Number Six finds that the Committee members have vanished and he is alone, at the centre of a ring of tables, with the Butler solemnly contemplating him. Without a muscle moving, facially, Muscat contributes a suggestion of amusement as he waits Number Six out. And when the latter leaps to his feet, intent on challenging the encircling, Muscat is equally fast, if not faster, to pull the requisite table aside and create egress.
In Hammer into Anvil, when the paranoid Number Two dismisses him and threatens to strike him, Muscat is still silent and immobile, yet in his stance and the slightest of expressions around his eyes, creates the powerful expression that he is deeply hurt at having his loyalty questioned, though equally he shows no sign of fear at the physical threat of a much taller man.
And as I’ve already mentioned, when discussing that episode, Muscat is used to conclude A Change of Mind in vivid fashion, unfurling the Village umbrella and briskly walking up the rosepath in the wake of his latest broken master. Similarly, an earlier episode, lacking an adequate closing moment, finishes with a shot of the butler, dressed in his coat and bowler, holding the umbrella and looking down on the Village.
Naturally enough, with Muscat seemingly ever-present, unspeaking but observant, and with the series still emphasising its espionage roots, many were led to speculate that the butler was, in fact, Number One. That is a popular trope by now, the mastermind whose disguise is ordinariness and lowliness, but in 1967 in would have been fresh for television. If the series had been more concerned with concrete drama, it might even have been a possibility for the ending, though we know that George Markstein’s thoughts led in a different direction.
The Butler would play a larger, more direct role in the final two episodes of the series: indeed, he would feature in The Prisoner‘s penultimate shot. But his significance in the majority of the show was symbolic, from his very first, reality-breaking appearance. The Village was elsewhere, beyond and outside Number Six’s old (= real) life. Its combination of scientific advance and surface whimsy rendered it a fantasy in which the former Agent was suspended, a dream from which he was not allowed to wake. Angelo Muscat’s unusual appearance was another, vital component of the suspension/perversion of reality that enabled the programme to work to the degree it did.
Sadly, The Prisoner was the highlight of Angelo Muscat’s life and career. Markstein recalled him being a pleasure to work with, always with a smile on set, no matter the hour, forever cheerful. In some ways he was the programme’s mascot, a role of which he was proud.
He would go on to more film and TV offers, including the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, but would quickly be forgotten. He died of natural causes in 1977, having spent the last few years of his life living alone, almost penniless, in a basement flat in London, supplementing his income by making ornate bird cages.
Angelo Muscat deserved better

The Prisoner: episode 14 – Living in Harmony – discursion


The Kid

Living in Harmony was the fourteenth episode of The Prisoner to be broadcast and the fifteenth to go into production. It was written and directed by McGoohan’s Everyman Films partner, David Tomblin, and was based on a story by Tomblin and Ian L Rakoff, assistant film editor on the series.
With the exception of Fall Out, this is probably the most controversial episode of the series, in many respects.
First amongst these must be the subject of the episode itself. As we’ve seen from the synopsis, it’s essentially a re-interpretation of the Prisoner set-up in a Western, but instead of framing the idea within the format of the series, for fully three-quarters of the length of the episode, the programme is rejected in every aspect: no theme music, no opening credits, a completely inexplicable alternate scenario and not even the name of the programme on screen! (On first broadcast, a number of the ITV companies superimposed the words The Prisoner over the intro, to McGoohan’s fury).
Whilst the idea of taking a series outside its normal parameters is now accepted, if not common, it was completely unheard of in the Sixties, and completely against the accepted, and comfortable ethos of television and television viewing. And even a near half-century later, I cannot recall another series which took the idea to the extent in Living in Harmony.
The episode is also the most overtly violent of the series, between the lynching (seen from the victim’s viewpoint up to the moment of the noose being slipped over his head), McGoohan being beaten viciously twice and guest star Valerie French getting strangled twice, once in each of her two characters! The level of violence was unusual for British television as a whole, and whilst three ITV companies moved the episode to 10.00pm, after the ‘watershed’, several others reacted by editing down, and in once case out, the violence to make it acceptable to them (the second strangulation was cut out, making Number Six appear to race into the saloon and punch Number Eight for no apparent reason).
On the other hand, the violence is an integral part of the story, as the explanation behind the experiment explicitly makes clear.
There is also a dispute over the credit for the idea of a Western, and the writing credits officially registered. In the blog on Unused Outlines, I mentioned Ian Rakoff responding to the request for ideas with the notion of a Western (initially under the title Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling). Rakoff, a western comics enthusiast, claimed to have worked on the story for a long time, and to have written the full episode, except for the lynching (which he found distasteful) which was added by Tomblin. Instead, his role was reduced to the second of two collaborators on a plot, and he was cut out of all residual payments. Rakoff stated that he tried to complain to McGoohan, but the star refused to meet him, and he never saw him again thereafter.
But the biggest controversy that surrounded the episode was its treatment in America, where it was dropped for the first two broadcast runs.
Many theories about this have been advanced. One suggests the episode was dropped because of its depiction of hallucinogenic drugs, and is usually accompanied by a sneer at the inconsistency of American television, given that several previous episodes featured Number Six being drugged. It has been pointed out that there is a substantial qualitative difference: in previous episodes, the viewer is forewarned that the Prisoner is or is going to be drugged, and the scenes play out in that knowledge: there is no such warning in Living in Harmony, and the viewer doesn’t learn that they’ve been watching a drug-induced hallucination until very close to the end. It’s a fair distinction.
It’s also been claimed that the episode was too uncomfortable for American television in 1968: with the Vietnam war in full spate, with American facing the first inklings that they might not automatically win it, with protest about the War rising daily and young men refusing to be drafted into the Army. Into this political melee comes a foreign television programme using a classic American form to deliver an anti-violence, anti-War, anti-authority message: the case is obvious, surely.
Whilst I’m certain that there were more than a few figures who thought exactly that, the reason for the episode’s exclusion was apparently rather more prosaic, although still tied in with the political issues of the day.
In the early summer of 1968, Robert Kennedy was assassinated whilst running for President. The reaction including a rash of claims that television was inciting violence, and led to hasty regulations in relation to the depiction of violence. Shootings were still permitted, but the shooter and the victim had to be shot separately. In Living in Harmony, McGoohan and Alexis Kanner appear in the same shot for their shoot-out: the episode could not be broadcast until that regulation had been rescinded.
As usual, there’s a difference between the original script and the broadcast episode, though on this occasion the story is barely affected. To reflect the Western setting, the script was pared down, and in the case of the Kid, his dialogue was completely removed, making the character mute. A read of the Original Scripts shows that the Kid’s dialogue was nothing more than stereotypical tough guy talk, and the decision is brilliant: Kanner plays the part entirely in gesture and expression, conveying an frightening psychopathy from his introduction. It’s a superb, beautifully stylised performance that outshines everyone in the episode.
Kanner, a French-Canadian actor, was making his first of three appearances (one uncredited), in the last four episodes of the series, each time playing different characters. At the time of his appearance, he was probably best known in British television for his short-lived portrayal of DI Matt Stone in nine episodes of the first series of BBC’s Softly, Softly. This was a Police drama, a spin-off from Z-Cars featuring the latter’s Barlow and Watt. Kanner claimed to have left the series early because he did not want to become typecast, and that his performances (recorded live) were controversial to the point of questions being asked in Parliament. Others on the series claim that his antics during performance were unwelcome and he was sacked. The BBC wiped most of the series, and only one episode with Kanner remains, and that is non-committal either way.
For some, never explained reason, on each of his credited appearances, Kanner’s names is surrounded on screen by a white box, a distinction granted to no-one else in the series. It’s been speculated that McGoohan saw in Kanner a reflection of himself – the actor’s level of intensity here demonstrates the force he could bring to a part, and he is the only actor to challenge McGoohan in that respect – and wished to indicate a kind of mentorship.
The two remained firm friends and later co-starred in Kanner’s film Kings and Desperate Men, which he co-wrote and directed in Toronto.
Kanner’s fellow guest, Valerie French, a Fifties starlet here making her best known television appearance, is equally interesting in a different way. From the moment of her first appearance as Cathy, French is the most overtly sexy character in the whole series. She is wearing a shoulderless Western saloon girl’s costume, tightly fitted, pushing upwards and outwards and instantly displaying far more female flesh than every other woman in the series collectively.
And though this particular version soon disappears, her main costume demonstrates a considerable amount of cleavage. And, in keeping with her Fifties starlet origins, Ms French was a buxom lass. At the time of shooting, she was 39, and in her outfit would have been uncharitably called “mutton dressed up as lamb” (just as Ena Sharples stigmatised Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street).
But she’s still very good-looking and the suggestion of beginning lines in her face fit her to the part she’s (doubly) playing like a second skin: it’s interesting that she actually looks older as Number Twenty Two.
It’s interesting to see the change of direction that comes with these hasty, potentially second series episodes. In Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, Number Six suddenly is possessed of a fiancée:  the next episode, he has won and lost love. Is this really the self-contained, anti-romantic Number Six and his possible earlier incarnation as John Drake?
Well, no, not really. Though the Village wants to involve him with a sexy woman, and Number Twenty Two really does fall for the notion (poor, weak-willed woman that she is), there’s no evidence in the episode of Number Six acting towards Cathy with anything other than his ordinarily chivalrous instincts. Still, it surprises to see the rigidly moralistic McGoohan allowing so (comparatively) risqué a show of flesh.
But the sexy lady theme is (over)played again in the next episode, as we shall see.
But in amongst all these disparate concerns, what about Living in Harmony in itself? Is it actually any good?
Several have lauded it as a brilliant subversion, both of the series and of television itself, by translating its central theme into a completely different genre, and it is. The justification for this radical departure is ingenious, and that’s without any overt reference to another brilliant conception: Number Six is aware of his importance to the Village from the outset, which provides him with a subconscious reassurance that he can take any risk, go to any length in defending himself, without ultimate consequence, because he’s too important to be harmed. Transferring him into a primitive re-enactment of his struggle, is a less-sophisticated, more violent setting removes that surety, and demonstrates Number Six’s ferocity even more when we see that, rather than succumb, he is willing to provoke his own death.
And, taken together with the third ‘filler’ episode, the farfetchedness of this notion is a demonstration of just how desperate the Village is getting, and in the context of the series as a whole, it supports the necessity for a once and for all, extremely dangerous plan in the forthcoming Once Upon a Time.
Living in Harmony can be, and is praised for many aspects, bit each time I look at it, no matter how much I enjoy it, I cannot help but think one thought. It’s a Western. The Prisoner is a contemporary espionage drama, concerned with deep philosophical and sociological issues affecting life, authority and identity in the 20th Century, and it’s a bloody Western. It’s a story composed out of Western clichés, neither subverted nor illuminated, from first to last, that was made because they couldn’t think of any better ideas and besides, they wanted to play a kids game of Westerns (McGoohan and Kanner practised incessantly to try to beat each other in the shoot-out).
I don’t remember what my Dad said about this when it was first broadcast, but I have inherited enough of his thinking to be incapable of watching this episode without thinking of it as a cheap gimmick by people indulging themselves in an extended game. I mean, it’s a fucking Western!
So I stick by what I said and, just as much as the succeeding The Girl Who Was Death, which was even more an eking out of the series by any means possible, and weaker yet that this, Living in Harmony is a Filler episode.

The Prisoner: episode 14 – Living in Harmony – synopsis


A lone horseman gallops across the landscape, spurring on his horse. An acoustic guitar starts a quiet theme, with horns entering to overlay it.
A man sits behind a desk. He has a Marshall’s badge on his shirt. Suddenly, a Sheriff’s badge is dropped on his desk. He looks up to see a grim, silent stranger, the man we know as Number Six. The Stranger unstraps his gunbelt and leaves it on the Marshall’s desk.
He walks along the trail, his saddle slung across his shoulder. At the top of a hill, he is confronted by a gunslinger, who forces a fight on him. The Stranger beats him, only to find five other gunmen surrounding him. He wades into them but is beaten unconscious.
The title card Living in Harmony, in the Prisoner font, appears on screen, followed by a screen detailing guest stars.
The Stranger is taken to an isolated Western town. The name Harmony is displayed over the wooden arch on the road into town. He comes to, looking around at his setting. An offscreen voice, coming from a Mexican figure, welcomes him to Harmony and suggests he try the saloon.
The Stranger enters the Silver Dollar saloon, a traditional western saloon with tinkling piano, noise, whiskey and bar-girls, such as Cathy, a buxom woman in her late thirties, in an off-the-shoulder dress. The saloon falls silent as he enters. Cathy welcomes him and the bartender slides a shot glass of whiskey down the bar: the first one is free for regulars.
As the Stranger moves to pick up his glass, an offstage voice invites him to sit with him, followed by a gunshot that shatters the glass. Unmoved, the Stranger orders another whiskey, though he hesitates a moment before picking up the glass.
He takes it over to the Judge’s table. The Judge, who has iron grey hair, is dressed in the frilly shirt an dark suit of a riverboat gambler. Stood behind him is his bodyguard, the Kid, and only a look is needed to realise that the Kid is dangerous. He is tall and thin, with a pointed face, and he is wearing high-waisted trousers with braces over a pink, unbuttoned undershirt. He also wears an immaculate, shiny top hat.
The Judge wants the Stranger to work for him as Sheriff in Harmony, but the Stranger has no intention of staying. He leaves the saloon, pausing only to punch the Kid in the mouth, knocking him down.
He tries to buy a horse at the stables, but the owner asks $5,000. As he walks away, the Stranger is surrounded by townsfolk, telling him what a good place Harmony is to live, and how the Judge looks after them all. The Stranger is unconcerned, but the Mexican starts shouting angrily that he has insulted their town. The townsfolk are quickly incited into a lynch mob, and the Stranger has to be rescued by the Judge’s gunmen, who put him in jail in ‘protective custody’.
The Judge is waiting in the Sheriff’s office and repeats his offer. When the Stranger declines it again, he is put in a cell. The townsfolk are still baying outside, so the Judge cynically offers them a sacrifice: another prisoner, Johnson, is dragged from his cell and handed over to the mob, who quickly string him up. Cathy runs from the saloon, crying, but is prevented from interfering: Johnson is her brother.
The Stranger relaxes in his cell, under the watchful eye of the Kid, who is toying with his gun and making elaborate play of lining up a shot. Cathy brings him a bottle of whiskey from the saloon. Though she is clearly older than him, the Kid is equally obviously fixated on her. He prowls around her then clumsily grabs her, trying to kiss her, but she wriggles free and returns to the saloon. However, whilst he has been pouring their drinks, she has slipped the jail keys off their hook and she appears at the cell window, leaving these for the Stranger.
Once the Kid has finished his whiskey and fallen asleep, the Stranger unlocks his cell, steals a horse and sets out on the trail. However, the Pass is guarded and he is ambushed and dragged back to Harmony, and in front of the Judge in the saloon.
The Judge calls for a hearing and the saloon is quickly converted into a ‘courtroom’ When the Stranger asks what charge, the Judge says he faces none: he was in ‘protective custody’. The charge is levelled against Cathy, for helping a prisoner escape. She is found guilty, and goes to jail, but the Judge advises the Stranger that she will go free if the Stranger agrees to become Sheriff.
He goes to the saloon for a whiskey. A gun is slid along the bartop to him but he ignores it. It comes from the Kid, who wants him to fight. When the Stranger refuses to react, the Kid shoots twice, one shot grazing the Stranger’s right cheek-bone, the other the back of his left hand. The Judge breaks things up, ordering the Kid back to the jail. The Stranger slides the gun back along the bartop, telling the Kid he’ll need both to deal with a woman.
With the unstable Kid in the jail alone with Cathy, the Stranger decides to accept the role of Sheriff, but whilst he will accept the badge, he will not accept the gunbelt and gun that goes with it. Cathy apologises to him that she has got him into this but he gallantly brushes this aside.
The following morning, the Stranger goes out with his badge. He is confronted by Zeke, who challenges him over not carrying a gun. The Stranger beats Zeke but is set upon by his two friends, one of whom beats him heavily. But the Stranger hauls himself back to his feet, knocks the third man out and dumps him in the horsetrough.
The Kid arrives in the saloon which is busy. He is looking for trouble. Will, a drunken cowboy, puts his arm round Cathy. The Kid reacts by viciously stubbing out his cigar on Will’s neck. Everybody clears out of the way, leaving the hapless Will facing the kid. Hurriedly, he scrambles out his gun but stands there, holding it foolishly. The Kid draws his gun and shoots Will down. The shot brings the Stranger running, but the crowd confirm that Will drew first. The Kid leaves. When the Stranger follows him, the crowd start shouting at him, that he is the Sheriff, that he should be able to do something about this.
Back at his office, one of the townsfolk approaches the Sheriff offering his help in cleaning up the town. It is not something any of them can do alone. However, the Judge is aware of the visit, and sets his men on the townsman. They beat him to death and leave him in the Sheriff’s office. The Stranger angrily gets out the gunbelt the Judge gave him, but rejects it again.
In the saloon, the Stranger quietly tells Cathy to get her things together and meet him at the edge of town that night as they are leaving. The Judge suggests that someone ought to tell the Kid that the Sheriff is talking to his girl. At dusk, he rides out towards the Pass, where he ambushes the ambushers, leaving them tied up.
Meanwhile, the saloon empties. Cathy gathers her things and prepares to leave the saloon, but the Kid blocks her. She calls him crazy, then tries to run from him in fear. He intercepts her, crushes her in his arms and kisses her, but she bites his lower lip viciously. He wipes the blood from his mouth, advances on her and puts his hands around her throat, squeezing it.
Disturbed at Cathy not being at the meeting place, the Stranger carefully re-enters Harmony. He sees the Kid leave the saloon and goes inside. He finds Cathy’s dead body on the stairs. At dawn, he completes digging her grave and returns to his office, where he tests the gun and ties it on. He leaves the Sheriff’s badge on the desk.
Outside in the street, he is confronted by the Kid. They draw and fire simultaneously. The Kid spins his gun, restores it to his holster, then collapses dead.
The Stranger goes into the saloon and orders a whiskey, which he downs in one. The Judge and his men follow, enthusing about what they have seen. The Judge doesn’t care about losing the Kid since the Sheriff is faster, but the Stranger says that he is leaving. The Judge reminds him that he has Cathy but the Stranger says he doesn’t: she’d dead. This shocks the Judge but he is still not prepared to let the Stranger leave. He can’t work for another outfit: the Judge will kill him first.
He gives the Stranger a count of five, whilst his gunmen spread themselves around the Saloon. At the count of four, the Stranger rips into action. He kills all three gunmen quickly, but finds himself directly in front of the Judge, who has drawn a derringer. He shoots the Stranger twice at point-blank range. The Stranger presses his hands to his head, and collapses.
Number Six awakes to find himself lying on the floor of the saloon, in his Village clothing. He has on a pair of headphones and two other wires. Getting to his feet, he rips these off and looks round wildly. He sees the Judge, with the derringer and lurches at him, only to find he is a black and white cut-out. So too is the Kid’s body, on the ground outside.
Harmony is empty but for Number Six, but suddenly he hears a fragment of music on the wind. He follows a lane outside the entrance to Harmony. It leads him to a position overlooking the Village square, where the Villagers are circling.
Number Six makes his way directly to Number Two’s office. On the threshold he halts: Number two is the Judge and his assistant, Number Eight, is the Kid. By the Penny Farthing a woman, Number Twenty-Two, stands: it is Cathy. Number Six takes all this in and turns and leaves.
Number Two and Number Eight argue over the responsibility for failure. It is apparently Number Eight’s scheme – to dose Number Six with hallucinatory drugs, talk to him through microphones, create a primitive scenario where he faces danger, gets and loses love, and breaks. Number Eight blames the failure on Number Two’s impatience, forcing the crisis too soon, and getting too involved in the scenario.
They are distracted by sobs from Number Twenty-Two. When she realises they are staring at her, she runs from the Office, leaving Number Two to comment that he was not the only one to get too involved. Number Eight looks after her with hungry eyes.
At twilight, Number Twenty-Two returns to the Harmony set. She enters the saloon and lies down on the stairs, where ‘Cathy’ was found dead. A silent Number Eight appears, staring at her through the open slats of the stairs. In a harsh voice she berates him about it being over, and goes to leave. He says her name, and she stops, giving him chance to grab her around the throat.
Number Six has also returned to Harmony. He hears the scream and races into the saloon. It is Number Eight who is screaming. Number Six knocks him down and turns to the fallen Number Twenty-Two, who is dying. Her last words are that she wished it had been real.
The final player, Number Two, arrives by Mini-Moke. His appearance in the saloon triggers the final breakdown of Number Eight. Gabbling about not letting the Judge beat him again, he scuttles up the stairs, leans out over the balcony and throws himself to his death.
Number Two looks aghast at what has happened. Number Six gives him a look of utter contempt before walking away.
The Prisoner’s face races towards the screen. A pair of iron-barred doors slide across in front of it, slamming shut.

The Prisoner: Portmeirion


In addition to the personalities without whom The Prisoner could not have been the programme we still remember, almost half a century later, we must not ignore one other essential element in making the programme so distinctive an experience.
Portmeirion – properly, the Hotel Portmeirion and its grounds – was designed, built and owned by the noted architect Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis, later Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. Situated on the south side of the Lleyn Peninsula, in North Wales, Portmeirion is an Italianate folly village, commonly regarded as being inspired by the village of Portafino in Italy. Williams-Ellis consistently denied this, stating that his aim was to capture the atmosphere of the Mediterranean region, though he admitted to living Portafino.
Portmeirion’s site was originally an 18th century foundry and boatyard which was developed into a private estate under the name of Aber La, or in English, Ice estuary. Willams-Ellis, who was entirely self-taught as an architect, interpreted the site name as ‘frozen mouth’, and changed it to Portmeirion when he began to develop the area in accordance with his belief in architecture that was in tune with its surroundings. The name simply connected Port and Meirion, a reference to the Welsh County of Merioneth (the county name, being an English designation, was swept away in the Local Government reorganisation of 1974, when Welsh county names were restored throughout North and Mid-Wales, based on the former Welsh princedoms).
Beginning with the fragments of part-demolished buildings, Willams-Ellis began construction and development of Portmeirion in the early 1920s, first opening it to the public in 1926. Development continued until 1939, when it was interrupted by the War. It resumed in 1954 and continued in stages until 1975, with a final addition being made the following year, two years before Willams-Ellis’s death.
Even afterwards, development continued, under the ownership and direction of the Charitable Trust that maintains the site. Castell Deudraeth (the exterior of which was filmed as the Village Hospital) was bought by Williams-Ellis in 1931, from his uncle. It lies just outside the grounds of the Hotel itself, and it was his dream to incorporate this into the site. The Castell, a mansion house developed from the ruins of a castle dating back to at least 1188, was finally opened as a Hotel in 2001.
Though it’s by far his best known work, Portmeirion was not Willams-Ellis’s only noteable achievement. For instance, he designed the original Snowden mountain-top Cafe, and was Chairman of the Development Committee that designed Britain’s first New Town, Stevenage.
Portmeirion has been operated as a Hotel since it was first opened to the public, but it also operates as a tourist attraction, drawing visitors to North Wales. It incorporates a restaurant ans a cafe, not to mention a long-standing Prisoner souvenir shop, based in the building whose exterior was filmed for Number Six’s cottage. With the exception of the private grounds reserved for Hotel guests, Portmeirion can be explored at leisure for an admission charge, though no vehicles are allowed and you must walk in and out.
Portmeirion’s exotic appearance made it a popular place for location filming, giving British TV series a cheap opportunity to film ‘European’ scenes. The most famous use is The Prisoner, but Portmeirion has turned up in a wide variety of series: it is used in the very first episode of McGoohan’s Danger Man, as well as Dr Who, Citizen Smith and the final episode of Cold Feet.
It’s a fascinating place to visit. I’ve been there twice, and look forward to my next trip, though it’s a bit inaccessible if you haven’t got a car. Beware of one particularly potent piece of culture shock: when you enter the Souvenir Shop, which is close to the entrance, the whole building is only about ten feet deep.
Patrick McGoohan was introduced to Portmeirion in 1960 and loved the place immediately. He spoke on a number of occasions of setting a programme inside it, and when the concept of The Prisoner came up, the selection of Portmeirion as a setting must have been utterly irresistible. If the incarnation of the Village on Earth did not exist, how could it possibly have been created?
The advantages of Portmeirion were not limited to its other-worldly, chocolate box appearance, its strangeness and charm, but also included its virtual isolation. On Earth, it is technically part of Penrhyndeudraeth, from which it may be reached via a narrow, woods-lined road, and is only two miles from the coastal resort of Portmadoc (Porthmadog), but in itself it is a small, confined area, surrounded by woods, built onto the side of a small ridge paralleling the coast.
It looks out upon the Dwyryd estuary and Cardigan Bay, with the rolling hills of Mid-Wales as a background. It is in sight of no other community, and its position enables exterior and aerial shots to emphasise the sense of being very far away from anywhere else, a sense that is compounded once you walk through the arched entrance.
Once inside Portmeirion, even on a summer’s day with tourists milling, you feel as if you have left the world behind. Quarter that number of tourists, deck them all in the eccentric, vivid Village ‘uniform’, and the sense of otherness increases exponentially.
It is the ideal backdrop to the external, holiday camp image of the Village, and in it’s decorative appearance, fussy, delicate, ornate, the equally-ideal contrast to the cold, utilitarian, brutal interiors of the Village hierarchy: a perfect visual metaphor for the organisation of the Village in its entirety.
What could have replaced it if Portmeirion did not exist? In all the years since the series was broadcast I have never myself, nor through the material produced by others, discovered any real setting that could, in any way match Portmeirion. Had it not existed, could it have been created as a studio ‘reality’? Given the technical capabilities of the era, no. It’s very obvious in the series where studio-based exteriors are being used: the cafe with the tables on the grassy bank, the rose walk. They stand out too much.
Nor, under any kind of Sixties TV budget could a remotely convincing ‘Village’ have been built. It’s totality, the sense of a real geography connecting the various familiar settings – as demonstrated so fully in Checkmate – couldn’t have been conveyed so well from a series of studio sets. And it is precisely the atmosphere that having a real-life ‘Village’ to hand, an anchor in reality and an exercise in implausibility at one and the same time, that was crucial to the series’ success.
Throughout the initial broadcast, audiences were eager to know where the programme was filmed, but in accordance with the shooting agreement required by Williams-Ellis, Portmeirion was not disclosed on screen until the final episode, in a special caption of thanks. Portmeirion owes a great deal of its world-wide popularity to its association with The Prisoner, but not as much as The Prisoner owes to the ambitions and obsessions of Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis.

The Prisoner: episode 13 – Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling – discursion


Number Six and his fiancee

Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling was the fourteenth episode of The Prisoner to be produced,the first to be made after the three month gap after the conclusion of filming on Many Happy Returns, and the thirteenth to be broadcast. It was written by Vincent Tilsley, and directed by Pat Jackson, although it was changed dramatically by McGoohan when he returned from his film commitments.
McGoohan was committed to location filming for his part in the film Ice Station Zebra, and his brief appearance in the episode was filmed in a single day upon his return. The plot was thus necessitated by his absence, and required the casting of Nigel Stock to take McGoohan’s place
When I gave an overview of the series at the beginning, I gave the account that I had always understood. That The Prisoner had opened to great ratings, but these had rapidly fallen away as the audience found itself confused and upset, so that it became clear that a second series would not be commercially viable. That McGoohan had confessed he had no stories for season 2, and Lew Grade therefore offered to release him from his contract on condition he produced four extra episodes – one of them a finale – to fill a scheduling gap. This required McGoohan and Everyman to write, film and produce four more episodes, with the series already in mid-run, with a new production team, without access to Portmeirion and without McGoohan himself for one episode.
By implication, Robert Fairclough in The Complete Scripts Volume 2 disputes that interpretation.
He points out, unavoidably, that Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling started filming in August 1967, three months after filming had ended for ‘series one’: this was a month before Arrival would receive its first broadcast in the ATV region of the ITV network.
Fairclough also suggests that the revised opening – the pre-credits teaser that was a staple of ITC’s thrillers but which had not previously been used on The Prisoner, the new music theme, the absence of the catechism – were all changes made to distinguish a second series that would follow George Markstein’s wish to see Number Six operating in ‘the real world’ (though Markstein was to have no further connection with the series). And there’s the original script, which goes out of its way in the opening scenes to establish that a year has passed since Number Six was originally brought to the Village, that in all that time he hasn’t told them a single thing, not even the trivial issue of why he resigned, and that the new Number Two intends to use Number Six by ‘sending him away’, which, in view of the contents of this episode, Fairclough sees as a pointer to a series of episodes in which Number Six would effectively, carry out missions for the Village.
Despite this evidence supporting the idea that a second series did start shooting, I remain unconvinced. The long-established story has it that Grade agreed to pull The Prisoner due to ratings failure, but it’s also accepted that filming had exceeded budget and taken longer than expected – unsurprising given McGoohan’s perfectionism about the series, which was increasingly becoming difficult to distinguish from obsession. But these are two resounding issues that make it impossible for me to believe that this episode was ever seriously intended for an opening episode ion a new series.
The first derives from the ending of the yet-to-be-discussed Once Upon a Time. This was always planned to end series one, and it does so on the cusp of a momentous moment. I don’t want to give anything away in advance of dealing with that episode directly, but it was a substantial cliff-hanger, and if Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling was genuinely the ‘next episode’, then it would represent a colossal betrayal – indeed, a complete shunning of – the set-up left at the end of Once Upon a Time.
Its been argued that the ending we know to Once Upon a Time must have been re-written and filmed when the episode was changed to serve as a lead-in to the new finale, Fall Out, but Fairclough’s Complete Scripts shows that the filmed ending of the episode was there from the very beginning.
The second issue is McGoohan himself. McGoohan is virtually absent from this episode, which  had to be written around his unavailability absence. An entire episode of a show geared around its star, its central character, its prime mover, but without having him in the flesh.
In what scenario is this setting more plausible? That the episode is required to be filmed immediately, for broadcast on a fixed and early schedule, to slot in with a series already running in which additional episodes have to be made under straitened circumstances?
Or that it is the planned in relative leisure opening episode – the first episode – of a returning as-yet-not-established series, with no agreed broadcast date, and with twelve further episodes to be filmed and scheduled after this episode?
I repeat, this is supposedly going to be the first episode of the series, setting everything up again for both returning and new viewers, and it’s intentionally made without its star? Not in my Universe. You might get something like that now, but this was the Sixties, and this was an ATV thriller series. Lew Grade might have accepted it as a matter of necessity, mid-series, but it would never have washed as the flagship episode of a new series.
Then there’s also the general air of sloppiness about this episode. I complained about this in relation to A Change of Mind but it’s even worse in this episode.
Nigel Stock was physically very different to Patrick McGoohan. He had fair hair, thinning in front and on top, which he wore brushed back, he was bulkier and squarer, both of face and upper body. When sitting in the Prisoner’s Lotus (a duplicate of the original car, which had been sold abroad when this episode came to be made), or when wearing his dark jacket and polo-shirt from the credits, he looks considerably larger than McGoohan. Yet the episode uses a lot of stock footage of the Lotus being driven around London in which it is obvious that it is McGoohan driving and, whilst that may have been dictated by budgetary concerns, even worse there is a close-up shot of Stock in the car, against a studio backdrop, in which he is wearing shirt and tie, instead of the polo shirt!
Then there is the curious case of the filming in Number Two’s office. The scenes are filmed in a mixture of long and close shots. Surveillance footage of Number Six plays (supposedly) non-stop on the big screen, but the close-ups are all shot from angles which preclude sight of the screen, and this is only seen in longshots. These are almost exclusively shot at a three-quarter angle, from a high point, and every single shot of Stock in them is of a stand-in in with considerably more hair, all of which is darker than Stock’s natural colouring.
Indeed, I’m not at all convinced that the Number Two in these long-shots is Clifford Evans, as the footage is determinedly distant and slightly blurred. Though it has to be conceded that Angelo Muscat, as the Butler, was present for these long shots.
What on earth is the story behind that? The only logical explanation is that the long shots were filmed at a later time, when Stock, and probably Evans, was not available, to replace scenes already recorded, but with different dialogue.
This is extremely plausible when the broadcast episode is compared to the original script.
The difference between the two is so radically wide that it seems only sensible to call the original script Face Unknown after its working title. Frankly, in many respects, it’s a better story.
The two stories have the same theme and same general sequence, but only a handful of lines from late on in Face Unknown make it into Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling. Indeed, I almost feel I should give a synopsis for the former.
Face Unknown, as I’ve already said, makes explicit that a year has passed since Number Six’s resignation, and he is to be sent back to the very night he wrote his resignation, having been assigned by find Professor Seltzman From there, the episode proceeds specifically in the light of the Prisoner being in the exact frame of mind that caused him to hand in his resignation, and indeed his visit to British Intelligence is to deliver that letter – of which they already have an identical copy, a year old.
Scenes showing Number Two talking to ‘Colonel Oscar’ in McGoohan’s body, in which the Colonel appears humourless and unpleasant, are deleted, as are earlier scenes in which Colonel Oscar expresses his concern about being ‘put’ into a healthy body with no organic damage – words that are echoed in ‘his’ final words in Seltzman’s body, referring back to a promise that only existed in Face Unknown.
In Face Unknown, the Prisoner never encounters Sir Charles, who is ostensibly out of the country, and a series of scenes in which Sir Charles discussed developments with an unseen third party were excised in full, apparently because the scenes would have hinted too strongly at a connection between British Intelligence and the Village (a connection envisaged by Markstein, as we have seen).
And the Face Unknown scene of the Prisoner’s fight with Potter included dialogue in which Potter made it plain that he saw the Prisoner as a traitor.
Vincent Tilsley was unhappy with what was done to his script, as any writer would have been, though he has long been disappointed with himself at failing to come up with a more original notion than that of mind-transference. But even beyond the excising of elements that were not wanted, the conversion of the script into Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling reduced the story into incoherence in many respects, especially the ending. As shot, Number Two realises that Seltzman has put himself into the Colonel’s body just as the helicopter is taking off (infeasibly quickly, given how short a time before that the Colonel’s body has left the operating theatre). Yet he’s apparently gone beyond recovery, in a Village helicopter that we know can be remotely flown from the Control Room.
We should also note the recurrence of the name The Colonel, for the third time in the series, and Number Six’s third return to London without any comment upon his two other escapes. It’s been argued, plausibly as far as I’m concerned, that when McGoohan left for filming, he left behind instructions about this episode which were misinterpreted, i.e. that ‘Sir Charles’ was to continue the tradition that the Prisoner’s boss in Intelligence should be named ‘The Colonel’, and McGoohan returned to a scenario which, having been filmed and subject to budget and deadline issues, could not be corrected.
As for third time round, this situation is easily distinguishable from the returns of The Chimes of Big Ben and Many Happy Returns. On Number Six’s side, remember that his memory has been extinguished with some precision, including knowledge of his two earlier escapades, and that on this occasion (unless they have the knowledge that the excised conspirator scenes imply) they are presented with a complete stranger who claims to be their ZM73, and to whom they would disclose no information whatsoever.
Of course, one of the most intriguing, and implausible, aspects of this episode is the introduction, indeed the existence, of Miss Janet Portland, long-hidden and long-suffering fiancée of the upright and very moral Number Six (and, without being too facetious we can definitely conclude that this engaged pair hadn’t anticipated their nuptials, Swinging Sixties or not!).
Fairclough, in suggesting this episode as being emblematic of the new direction, refers to the appearance as Janet as adding some glamour. We know every well that that would have not flown with McGoohan for an instant, and her inclusion – even as a fiancée! – actually has the feel of someone trying to pull a dodge off, behind the teacher’s back. Certainly, if this ‘development’ had been allowed to continue, it would have been part of taking the series off in a much more conventional direction, which would rapidly have diffused the achievements of the series to date.
No, I’m prepared to accept that this script may have been developed as an intended first episode of a second series that never materialised, but the overall haste in which it seems to have been prepared, and most importantly of all, McGoohan’s absence (not that it stopped him interfering!) marks this as something being prepared against a deadline.
As the series (rapidly) heads towards a conclusion, the quality of episodes, and their applicability to the theme of the series, begins to fall off dramatically.

The Prisoner: episode 13 – Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling – synopsis


A series of transparent slides are being projected onto a filmscreen in an extensive, luxurious office. Two men, initially offscreen, discuss them. When seen they are Sir Charles Portland and Villiers of British Intelligence.
The slides are holiday scenes, in no logical order, some over-exposed, some under-exposed, some correct. Sir Charles believes that there is a code somewhere in them that their code technicians have been unable to penetrate. Villiers is concerned that there is nothing at all.
The next slide – identified by Sir Charles as Number Six – shows an elderly man of foreign extraction, white hair receding from a thin face with prominent cheekbones. His name is Seltzman. But where is he?
Thunder crashes.
The first part of the opening credits follows, until the Prisoner collapses unconscious on his couch in his flat. When he wakes, a new melody is heard, and the familiar catechism is omitted.
We see overhead shots of the Village, from a helicopter descending to land. It’s occupant is a man known only as the Colonel, who goes immediately to Number Two’s office, demanding to know what he has been brought there for.
The new Number Two, white haired, with a very assured manner, directs the Colonel’s attention to the surveillance footage of Number Six pacing in his cottage. The Colonel is not impressed.
Number Two asks him if he has ever heard of Professor Seltzman? Seltzman is a brilliant neurologist who has concerned himself with the transfer of thought and has, apparently, invented a machine that can transfer the mind of one man into the body of another. The Colonel is openly disbelieving. Number two enthusiastically describes it as the ultimate espionage tool, with which they could break the security of any country: just capture an agent and send him back with their own man’s mind in his body.
However, the Village doesn’t know where Seltzman is, and the only man who might is Number Six. But they have a Seltzman machine, and an Amnesia Room where they can erase a person’s memory back to a specified date (they are about to erase the last three weeks from a man who told them everything very easily, so he can go back and learn more).
Number Six’s memory will be erased back to the eve of his capture by the Village, and his mind will be transferred into the Colonel’s body. He will be returned to his flat in London, unaware of the Village, and he will then have to find Seltzman if he wants his own body back.
The Prisoner wakes in his own bed in his flat, musing about the things he needs to do today. There is a photograph on his dresser of an elegant, dark-haired woman, signed ‘All my love, Janet’, which he looks at closely. He goes through into the hall, passing a mirror, then steps back in shock at the sight of his new face and body.
A series of memories of his time in the Village threatens to break through his induced amnesia, but before it can do so, he is distracted by a knock on the door. When he opens it, it is Janet, asking excitedly if ‘he’ is here, ‘his’ car is outside. Unwittingly, he says that ‘he’ is here, but Janet quickly confirms no-one else is there and asks him anxiously about the missing man.
For a moment, the Prisoner plans to take Janet into his confidence, but her anxious questions make him realise that is inadvisable. Instead, he calls her Miss Portland (she is Sir Charles’ daughter) and claims to be a friend of the missing man,
He recollects his ‘friend’ telling him about Janet’s fitting for a dress of yellow silk, and is shocked when she tells him that that was a year ago: the last time she saw his ‘friend’. The Prisoner, shocked to find he has lost a year, gently hints at his ‘friend’s occupation and suggests he is on a mission for Sir Charles. He promises to bring Janet a message as soon as he can.
An angry Janet storms off to her father’s office, accusing him of knowing of her fiancé’s whereabouts all along and letting her suffer. Although he should not even tell her this, Sir Charles denies that the Prisoner is on a mission and ‘honestly’ states he does not know where he is.
Meanwhile, the Prisoner dresses in the same clothes as in the opening credits and drives his car to the underground car park. He enters the anteroom, where a different person, Danvers, is sat, He demands to see Sir Charles and, when Danvers asks who he is, grabs hi and begins shaking him.
Two guards calm things down. Whilst he waits to be seen, the Prisoner displays his (embarrassing) knowledge of Danvers, until Villiers arrives. Villiers requests his name: the Prisoner enquires whether he wants Code or Real.
His Code name is Duvall, in France, Schmidt in Germany, but Villiers would know him best as ZM73. He produces a photo of his real face. Villiers takes him to Sir Charles, where the Prisoner attempts to prove himself by reference to intimate family details. Sir Charles confirms the accuracy of these but points out that anything the stranger says could have been extorted from the real man by drugs or brainwashing. Frustrated, the Prisoner leaves: Sir Charles warns him he will be followed. An Agent named Potter is instructed to follow him.
On his way back to his flat, he is again followed by a hearse, but when he turns right, the hearse goes straight on and is waiting in his street when he returns.
The scene shifts to a large home where a black tie party is taking place. The Prisoner arrives in dress suit. A waiter hands him a glass of champagne: it is the Undertaker from the hearse. The Prisoner seeks out Janet and asks her for a dance. Though he was not invited, he has used his ‘friend’s invitation of a year before. He tells her that if she ever wants to see her fiancé again, she must give him the slip of paper that the man asked her to hold for him a year ago.
He waits in the arbour, musing over whether she believed him, but Janet turns up with the slip, eager for the message he has for her. First he caresses her face with his hand, then kisses her lightly on the left eye, the right eye, the tip of her nose, then her lips. She flings her arms round him and kisses him passionately, before breaking in realisation. He asks her who else could have given her that message, asks her to say only him: he needs her faith. Only you, she replies.
The next morning, the Prisoner attends a London camera shop first thing, reclaiming the transparencies being held under the receipt Janet has given him. They have been checked out before, by ‘clerical error’. Both the Undertaker and Potter observe him in the shop. He takes them home, draws the blinds. He writes Seltzman’s name on a sheet of paper then works out the alphabetical number for the even letters – E, T , M and N. Sorting out the respective slides, he superimposes their images in the projector. This reveals a composite message: Kandersfeld, Austria.
The Prisoner leaves for Dover. There is a homing device in his car, and Potter follows him. He travels through Paris, France and into Austria, stopping at a café in Kandersfeld, where a waiter welcomes him to the Village. The waiter identifies Seltzman’s picture as Herr Hallen, the barber and confirms he is still in Kandersfeld.
The barber is clearly Seltzman. At first, the Prisoner pretends to need a shave, but he quickly abandons this and explains who he is and why he is there. Seltzman is unconvinced. It is the same as with Sir Charles. However, the Prisoner convinces Seltzman that no two handwritings can be the same and, as Seltzman has sentimentally kept a letter sent to him, this can be proved (the letter is addressed to Portmeirion Road).
Seltzman sympathises with his young friend, and asks if he has been followed. They must not let themselves be taken by a side that does not have the Prisoner’s real body. Potter is first to arrive. The Prisoner tackles him and the two fight in Seltzman’s basin, until the Undertaker enters and gasses both into unconsciousness.
For a second time, a helicopter descends on the Village. Seltzman and the Prisoner in the Colonel’s body come to Number Two’s office. Seltzman has perfected the reversion process, but will only carry this out under his own terms, that he be completely alone. Number Two agrees, as he is having the entire process filmed.
Seltzman prepares his machine with the two unconscious bodies in place. He puts on an electroded cap and switches on. Lightning crackles between the three heads, subjecting Seltzman to extreme strain until he collapses.
Emergency services are called, but Seltzman is dying. The Colonel leaves for his helicopter.
‘Seltzman’ is fading fast. His final words to Number Two berate him for promising him the body was healthy and requesting that Number One be informed that he did his duty. Number Two’s puzzlement ends as he suddenly realises the implications of this statement, which is affirmed by Number Six, in his own body, sitting up and advising that Seltzman had gone further than any of them had suspected: he could transfer three minds between three bodies. The one he is in has gone free.
The helicopter takes off and flies away.
The Prisoner’s face races towards the screen. A pair of iron-barred doors slide across in front of it, slamming shut.

The Prisoner: George Markstein


I first watched The Prisoner  when it was first broadcast, between 1967/8. The Granada region was the last to take the series, running one month behind the show’s ‘home’ network, ATV. Up here, it ran from late October through to early March, a period of time that encompassed my 12th birthday.
I – we, the whole family – watched it avidly, though my only recollection of that run comes from the first episode: as Number Six approached the Green Dome I said that this was the sort of place I’d expected to see a Lurch (referencing The Addams Family‘s giant, Frankensteinian butler): when little Angelo Muscat, short, rotund, impeccably grave, opened the door, my Dad roared with laughter and announced, “That’s not a Lurch, that’s a Stumble!”. And Stumble he was to us ever after. I definitely owe my sense of humour to my Dad.
But it was been and gone, as all television was, and I don’t recollect it being repeated until 1976/7: again piecemealed region by region. This time I turned 21 during the run, and it’s from here that I mark my true fascination with the series, and the urge to know more and understand more.
During that time, old certainties about the series, hundreds of details, have shifted as more information becomes available. Consensus opinion about the series, its production, its meaning, its goals, is in a constant state of slow shift.
To take one example: my understanding of the origins of the series has always been founded in the ‘fact’ that The Prisoner was co-conceived by George Markstein, the newly-appointed script editor on Danger Man, and that it was based on the true Second World War situation of Inverlair Lodge, a very comfortable, very remote building in Scotland that was home/prison to people that British Intelligence could not afford to allow to be captured.
With McGoohan chafing in, and abruptly resigning from Danger Man, the analogy is too proximate to be ignored: Markstein suggests The Prisoner as a sophisticated espionage drama, an Agent who resigns but is kidnapped to a seemingly idyllic prison, and McGoohan seizes upon the concept as a vehicle for his existing ideas about society and the direction it is taking. Markstein provides the structural basis, McGoohan the symbolism.
It’s only relatively recently that I’ve come to understand just how much that initial status has been challenged down the years. McGoohan in particular increasingly claimed that the idea was entirely his own, that he had conceived of The Prisoner alone, before his decision to leave Danger Man, that he had discussed his ideas with Lew Grade before the famous breakfast meeting at which, instead of agreeing to go back to being John Drake, McGoohan sold Grade on The Prisoner.
I never met Patrick McGoohan, nor communicated with him in any way, and I would never dream of suggesting that he was lying or self-aggrandising when he sought to increase the extent to which he was identifiable as the sole creator of The Prisoner. Indeed, many people accept and repeat his claims on the justifiable grounds that he was a very successful, very widely-respected and very much ‘in demand’ actor who had to need to inflate himself by claiming credentials he did not deserve.
But by then it was very clear that the series was the one thing that would most signify him and his life, just as the forthcoming Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi, despite the diversity of his career to date, is being only identified as Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It (it will be interesting to see if that changes after Doctor Who: I suspect it might not).
Patrick McGoohan was ‘The Prisoner’ for the remainder of his life, irrespective of whatever else he did. It defined him, and I cannot but think of Arthur Ransome, the Swallows and Amazons writer, about whom I wrote extensively in this blog. Ransome’s Swallows, the Walker children, were firmly based upon the real-life Altounyan children, yet towards the end of his life, Ransome firmly denied the connection, effectively calling the Altounyans deluded, and self-aggrandising.
Ransome had become so psychologically associated with his creations that he was unable to admit, even to himself, that he was not their sole creator. It would not seem strange to me that McGoohan, as the years passed by and his own recollections dimmed, may have come to unconsciously emphasise his contribution to the concept of the series that defined his life, and gradually reducing that of his collaborator – from whom he’d diverged so dramatically, almost immediately – almost to insignificance.
But what of Markstein himself? In his later life he was decidedly contemptuous of The Prisoner, not merely because of the comprehensive re-purposing of the series away from the ideas he had intended, but also because of the cultishness of its appeal.
To him, it was a denouncement of television itself that so much time, energy, thought and words should be expended on The Prisoner, decades after it was completed. It was nothing but a TV series, and as such should have been watched once, enjoyed and forgotten. How much of this was a genuine insistence upon television having no validity as an artform, as something made to exist and not be utterly disposable, and how much was a bitterness at having the great idea of his life taken out of his control, perverted (in his eyes) and made famous as the creation of someone else, is impossible to even suggest.
I sympathise with him fully, and in some episodes of the series, a greater leavening of Markstein’s concrete imagination would have been very useful. But ultimately it’s like the early concept of Doctor Who, in which SF stories rigidly alternated with historical ones, an uneasy mixture enforced by the BBC until viewing figures definitively demonstrated which types of story packed in the viewers.
George Markstein’s Prisoner would have been a different kettle of fish and, good as it most likely would have been, I seriously doubt I would be spending so much time writing about it now. What made the series was the crossing of the two diversive notions, the realistic and the symbolic.
In recent years, Markstein’s own conception of the fulcrum of the series has been made public, though it’s not quite the ending it’s portrayed as being. Surprisingly, just as we’ll see McGoohan doing, Markstein saw Number Six (who most certainly was John Drake!) as being ‘Number One’.
Markstein’s concept was that, some years earlier, Drake foresaw the need for an isolated, idyllic place for spies who retired to go, where they could live in comfort and security. Subsequently, he learned to his disgust that his side had indeed built a Village, but that it was being used for imprisonment and interrogation. Drake therefore resigned, knowing that this would result in his being kidnapped and taken to the Village, and once there he could work to undermine and expose it. But once he had arrived, he began to wonder if he was in his own side’s Village – or somebody else’s?
And Markstein had no difficulties in envisaging a second series outside the Village. Drake could go free, he could go wherever he chose. But wherever he went, and whatever he did, he would remain a Prisoner: of himself and his history, trapped into being what he was and doing what he did, forever manipulated by the Village, no matter how far from its walls he got.
As you can see, it’s not an end. Even McGoohan didn’t have an end when he pitched a seven episode mini-series to Grade: that episode was open and to be created, and Markstein’s ‘ending’ is not so very different in that respect.
We live in a singular Universe or, perhaps, we live in a Multiverse of alternate and parallel existences where other histories pertain, where the thing undone, the road untravelled have been done and travelled and the outcome is different in ways we could not possibly begin to estimate, only we just can’t see into any of these alternate Universes.
But if there are such things, in one such Universe (positing one alternate logically requires us to posit all) George Markstein’s ideas shaped The Prisoner. I’d love to see what he made of it all. Three series, and no-one has talked about it since 1975, maybe?

The Prisoner: episode 12 – A Change of Mind – discursion


Yes, this woman is in the Village

A Change of Mind was written by Roger Parkes, and was his first television script (following a tip off from his friend Morris Farhi, writer of the unused The Outsider), leading quickly to a whole host of scripts for other ITV thrillers. It was directed by Joseph Serf, a pseudonym for McGoohan, who again took over the reins after sacking the original Director, who on this occasion only lasted a single morning.
It was the eighth episode to go into production and the twelfth to be broadcast, marking the end (save for the deliberately displaced Once Upon a Time) of the original series plan, and the end of the production team, including Story Editor and co-creator George Markstein.
Like it’s immediate predecessor in both filming and broadcast, It’s Your Funeral, A Change of Mind draws its inspiration from The Manchurian Candidate, this time from the brainwashing aspect. As such, it laid the foundations for a potentially fascinating psychologically-oriented episode.
Unfortunately, A Change of Mind turned out to be one of the poorest episodes of the series, beset by an underlying sloppiness in both filming and scripting, that undermines the best efforts of all to convince, and the overwhelming use of studio mock-ups for Village exteriors – actual location footage being almost exclusively from stock shots – only helps to reinforce the feeling of something tired being churned out.
This suspicion appears in the very first scene, of Number Six in his ‘outdoor’ gym, when the camera work does far too little to conceal that it is McGoohan’s stunt double, Frank Maher, who is doing all the gymnastic work. Believability gets a knife to the throat at the outset.
And the on location double for Number Two in the scenes in the Square are even worse: a double completely unlike the man in hair, face and build, which is shamefully obvious when Number Two is chased back to the Green Dome.
What is worse though is the underlying confusion as to what the story is intended to be. Reading the original script in Robert Fairclough’s The Original Scripts Volume 2 exposes just how much the story was changed between scripting and filming. Not in any dramatic manner: the spine and the sequence of the story remains the same, but emphasises and dialogue are shifted constantly, the characterisations of the two guest stars are changed but running dialogue themes about them is only partially removed, leaving old strands dangling, a scene is cut but its aftermath is allowed to remain and, worst of all, after building up throughout the first half of the story the idea that lobotomy is a serious threat, the filmed version loses its nerve at the crucial point, tips its hand that it’s a con and drastically alters for the worse the meaning of all that then follows.
The guest stars are John Sharp (mistakenly credited as ‘Sharpe’) as Number Two and Angela Browne as Number Eighty Six. As written by Parkes, Number Two was supposed to be a farmer-type, with a face suggesting peasant stock (he even mops his perspiring face with a red handkerchief at one point!). He’s superficially blunt and honest, full of farming metaphors throughout, this leading to Number Six’s satirical jab on the Balcony, deliberately echoing Number Two with ‘The butcher with the sharpest knife has the warmest heart’.
Sharp, in complete contrast, speaks with a very English voice and an effete accent. He is slow and indolent, but easily raised to a waspish fury that is continually directed at Number Eighty Six (out of her hearing) who he despises as a woman. His first ‘farmer’s adage’ is left in but all the others are deleted. Yet Number Six’s line remains, a satire of a non-presence that is strikingly off-key when it appears, distracting the audience into confusion at the emotional climax.
Number Two’s original persona has been wiped out, yet the job has not been completed, as if someone only got so far into revising the script then either gave up or ran out of time.
Incidentally, Sharp’s performance and his unquestionable disdain for Number Eighty Six is once again powerful support for the misogyny argument. Given the context of the time, and the decade still to follow, I can only see it as a not very subtly coded portrayal of a homosexual character, of the stereotypically bitchy, woman-hating type. Which does not improve the episode one iota.
As for Number Eighty Six, the script portrays her throughout as someone passionately interested in Number Six, forever seeking his attention to her ‘as a woman’. Now we know that wasn’t going to fly with McGoohan for a second, and indeed Browne’s performance throughout is clinical, and passionless, until she is drugged into a quasi-hippy, flower power frame of mind.
But there’s a running gag throughout the original script as Number Six tries various ways to attract the Prisoner’s attention only be be rebuffed with ‘If there’s one thing I cannot stand it’s a girl…’ ‘with a fake accent’ (Number Eighty Six puts on a fake Swedish accent in her first scene)/’who wears slacks’ (she switches to a dress).
As with Number Two, these are dropped, but not dropped throughout. Angela Browne still lets her hair down and switches to a totally non-Village, very feminine dress (and looks very good in it too), though the rationale for this has gone, and Number Six still uses the formula of ‘If there’s one thing I cannot stand it’s a girl…’ to justify displacing her as a tea-maker. It’s once again an echo of a ghost element, and it distracts the viewer at the wrong moment.
I mentioned above a deleted scene, whose aftermath still appears. I mentioned in the synopsis that, after returning from the terrace café where he has been shunned, Number Six arrives dishevelled and sweaty, his hair messed up and falling in his face. Surely it’s not that long a walk back? Especially after the Doctor told him he’s in such good condition.
The answer is that the original script had a scene prior to Number Six’s return home, in which he was followed by the Villagers offended by an Unmutual, and then forced into a scuffle with several ‘socially concerned’ Villagers. Hence his appearance.
Whether the scuffle was shot than cut, or whether the later scene was filmed with appropriate continuity prior to the decision to cut, it’s another example of the sloppiness afflicting this story. Its effect is reminiscent of the strange decision made by ITV when showing Chinatown on TV for the first time when, instead of showing the scene where Jack Nicholson’s character got his nose ripped by a knife, they cut to adverts in mid-scene and returned to the film for the next scene.
It was as if the film itself had been left to run whilst the credits were being shown, but the worst of it was that for the rest of the film Nicholson appeared with bandaging, or prominent stitches, for a wound that had not been seen being incurred, undermining the very reality of everything thereafter.
Going back to the original script again, it’s very clear that the intention throughout is to make the viewer believe that not only has Number Six undergone the lobotomy, but also that Number Six believes he has gone through the operation. The influence of the drugs, on top of what he has ‘seen’ and ‘heard’ in the operating theatre, has a very strong effect on Number Six, who only gradually starts to resist, as the effect of the drugs wear off, and whose rehabilitation is only confirmed in the second fight with the two jerks.
Instead, the episode bottles out and shows us that the equipment is turned off before it can do any damage. The viewer is in on the plot, and is only waiting for Number Six to snap out of it. And I’m bound to say that McGoohan’s performance from this point onwards does nothing to convince even the dullest viewer that it might have been real.
He can’t keep himself from roaring out odd words, in anger, from restless prowling, from beating a fandango on the kitchen worktops. He’s suspicious of Number Eighty Six, insistent in overriding her  and making tea. It’s obvious that the supposed operation hasn’t had any effect on him and the mystery is why the Village gets no further than Number Eighty Six being suspicious. Number Two, of course, is oblivious and blames any slippage on the stupid woman making mistakes.
So, instead of Number Six coming alive and truly realising that he’s still himself in the woods with his two punching-bags, we are just waiting for him to punch them out again because we, as an audience, have never been allowed to think that something really might have been done.
It’s a massive failure on the part of McGoohan as Director and is of the primary cause for the many revisions made to the script.
Another interesting aspect is the conclusion. Already, it’s concerning that Number Eighty Six, instead of being sedated by the Nytol like Number Six, seems to have her brains run out of her ears and turn into a near-drooling idiot (misogyny). But her appearance in the finalé, denouncing Number Two in a firm voice, calling him Unmutual and demanding Social Conversion, is far from enough.
Her voice alone is presented as enough to overturn the entire Village, to rebel against Number Two, to challenge the system and make him run (terribly unconvincingly) away. It’s a non-ending, a non-sequitor, covered up by the final image of the silent Butler and his umbrella. At a stroke, the entire purpose of the Village vanishes, Number Six wins, spectacularly! And no-one seems to recognise this.
Because overall A Change of Minds is the episode that is the harshest of them all on the Villagers themselves. Ironically, in the immediate wake of an episode that introduces a substrata of Villagers who resist, who interfere, who plot and Jam, the very next episode portrays them as being, in their entirety, weak-minded, slavish conformists, in thrall to cheap sociological patter, the model of the ‘Sheep’ and ‘Rotted Cabbages’ that Number Six has insulted them as being.
Because that’s why the ending doesn’t count, or work. Slavish, blind receptiveness to the authority of Number Two and the Village can be overthrown at a single voice, and the easily-swayed Village turn on Number Two because a pretty girl in a frock with a clear voice tells them to. It’s a deeply cynical, or else lazy and unthought out idea that tries to get a neat ending for free, and hang any kind of consistency with the rest of the series.
Immediately following this episode, the series would continue with the three ‘filler’ episodes required by Lew Grade to flesh out The Prisoner to the new seventeen episode length. Though hastily conceived, cast and filmed, with a brand new production team, and ever more tangential to the theme of the series, they each had more about them than A Change of Mind, which contributes more than it should to the overall feeling of growing desperation about the series that would, in an unplanned but ergonomic manner, contribute so much to the ending of the series.

The Prisoner: episode 12 – A Change of Mind – synopsis


Thunder crashes.
Number Six is exercising in his private gym – a high bar and a swinging punchbag – in a clearing in the woods, going through his fitness regime. Two men approach him,doing a cross talk, evidently spoiling for trouble, asking why he doesn’t use the Village gym, suggesting he’s anti-social. They refer to the ‘Committee’ not liking that.
They force a fight, which Number Six wins, but as they run away, the two men threaten that the Committee will hear about this.
Number Six is duly summoned. He waits in an annexe amongst others. Number Forty Two, a dark haired young woman, is crying incessantly. A broadcast from the Committee Chamber finds signs of disharmony in Number Ninety Three, who is sent out to make a public confession, repeating words the Committee choose for him. He breaks down, applauded by everyone but Number Six.
It is his turn next. He descends into a circular room where the Committee – all anonymous in appearance – sit in a circle around a green baize table. He sits in the centre. The Chairman advises him that a serious complaint has been filed. Number Six is his usual, sarcastic, dismissive self, refusing to take the Committee seriously, questioning its authority. He is warned that the matter is serious, but his case is suspended as the Committee adjourn for tea.
Outside, the news that he is under investigation is already in the Tally Ho, and Number Six is surprised to find fellow Villagers already starting to shun him: refusing to respond to his greeting, turning and walking away as he approaches.
Returning to his cottage, he is not surprised to find Number Two – a rotund, slow-moving man with an effete voice – waiting for him. He warns Number Six that the situation is serious. He disavows any relationship to the Committee: it is the Villagers, insisting upon social co-operation and if Number Six is found guilty, Number Two will be powerless to intervene.
Number Eighty Six – an attractive blonde woman in Village garb, with her hair up – enters the cottage. She has an earnest, almost formal air. She is there to assist Number Six: she has been before the Committee herself. She will help him through the Social Group.
Number Two leaves them together, but continues to survey developments. He is waspish, almost caustic about Number Eighty Six, hissing ‘Females!’. One mistake for her and they could lose Number Six. He taps the side of his forehead, to emphasise this.
The Social Group meets and argues earnestly about social responsibility and the obligation to interact. Number Forty Two is part of it. Number Six simply cannot take it seriously and draws the wrath of the Group,  Number Forty Two included, down on his head. They denounce him, calling him Unmutual.
He is then taken to the Hospital to undergo a medical, which demonstrates he is physically fine. In a room marked ‘Aversion Therapy’, he sees a man being fed images of Rover and Number Two, receiving electric shocks to reinforce his responses. He tries to intervene, in disgust, but the door is locked. A man with a shy smile and a hesitant manner gently reproofs him for getting so worked up. The man has a small scar on the right side of his forehead.
At the next meeting of the Committee, Number Six is declared Unmutual. He emerges to find it the headline of the Tally Ho. He is shunned by everyone.
The Appeals Committee visits him at his cottage, though they refuse to enter. They consist of three overweight Mothers Institute type of women, and Number Forty Two, who is still accusative. His resistance causes them to abandon him for now, but the growing isolation soon begins to get to him. Again, Number Two, watching, hints at the possible consequences by tapping his head.
Number Six visits the café by the Old People’s Home but the waiter ignores his request for tea and everyone gets up and gathers at the further end, glaring at him. He returns to his cottage, dishevelled and sweaty, where the Appeals Committee are waiting. They tell him that this is not a game and that the Villagers are socially conscious people, to whom the presence of an Unmutual is loathsome. When he calls the Villager sheep, they leave, warning him that there is only one course open.
Number Two rings to warn him that it has gone too far, that he will now undergo Instant Social Conversion. It is not drugs but something long lasting, after which Number Six simply will not care. The Prisoner realises that Number Two is talking about lobotomy.
The loudspeaker announces that the Social Conversion of Number Six is about to take place and all those interested in witnessing this should go to the Hospital. Outside the cottage, a crowd has gathered, headed by the Appeals Committee. With a glow of self-satisfaction, they beat Number Six with their umbrellas. The crowd seizes his and drags him to the Hospital, where he is anaesthetised and strapped to a trolley in an operating theatre.
Number Eighty Six, dressed in a white doctor’s coat, conducts the operation, explaining in detail what they are doing and the effect it will have. A laser will focus on the connective tissue in Number Six’s brain and an ultrasound generator will sever this, removing forever his aggressive tendencies. Number Six listens helplessly. The procedure starts, but at the last minute, Number Eighty Six reduces the ultrasound back to zero, indicating that the operation is a bluff.
Number Six wakes in the Hospital, a strip of plaster across his right forehead. He is relaxed and tranquil, and the Doctor advises him to avoid excitement. Number Eighty Six, now dressed in a non-Village pale blue sleeveless dress, with her hair let down, takes charge of Number Six and leads him home through crowds of welcoming Villagers.
Number Two is waiting in the cottage, happy to talk about unimportant matters such as Number Six’s resignation, but abandons this in the latter’s confused state. Number Six, though ‘converted’ is still aggressive enough to shout odd words angrily. Number Eighty Six makes him a cup of tea, into which she drops a fast dissolving pill. Suspicious, Number Six sees this, and sends her to feth him a blanket, allowing him to pour the tea away into a plant pot.
Numbers Two and Eighty Six watch Number Sis on screen. Number Eighty Six is concerned. The Prisoner is restless, frustrated. Though she has sedated him with Nytol, he already suspects. Number Two sends her back to give him another dose.
She makes him another cup of tea, doses it with Nytol. But Number Six, in hearty manner, overrules her, claiming that if there’s one thing he can’t stand, it’s a woman who doesn’t know how to make a decent cup of tea. He determinedly makes another pot, pours out two cups and, after she has again dropped in the pill, switches them so that Number Eighty Six gets the drug.
She is quickly lethargic, drowsy, a little trippy. A furious Number Two, again railing at her as a ‘Stupid woman!’, and orders her to his office. Number Eighty Six leaves, and Number Six goes for a walk.
He winds up at his gym, still inhibited from using them equipment. However, the same two taunting men find is there. They intend to give him a beating, but he quickly reverts to his usual self and defeats them easily.
Returning to the Village, he encounters the still-dreamy Number Eighty Six, who is picking flowers for Number Two, to make him happy. In her suggestible state, Number Six uses his watch to hypnotise her. She reveals the entire plan, including the fake lobotomy. He then gives her instructions.
Number Six then goes to the Green Dome, where Number Two greets his in a welcoming manner. Number Six is happy to talk about that silly matter of his resignation, but he wants to do it in public. Slightly wary, Number Two agrees, and calls the Villagers to the Square.
Speaking from the Balcony, Number Six praises Number Two, but it is soon clear that he is spinning out time until the Clocktower strikes. Number Two is growing nervous and his suspicions are confirmed when at four o’clock, Number Eighty Six steps out of the crowd and denounces Number Two as Unmutual.
Number Six takes the chance to urge the Villagers to overthrow Number Two and his world of control. Nervously, the man slips out of the back of the balcony, to return to the Green Dome, the Villagers following en masse in silence. His nerve breaks, and he runs, with them on his heels.
Silently, with a black and white umbrella raised, the Butler follows behind.
The Prisoner’s face races towards the screen. A pair of iron-barred doors slide across in front of it, slamming shut.

The Prisoner: Other Media


A Graphic Novel

Though the canon of The Prisoner lies solely in its seventeen, much-repeated episodes, there were attempts, both contemporaneous and afterwards, to expand the concept into other media. I am not referring to the 2010 re-make by American TV, which I neither have nor will watch. But there were spin-off novels, in the tradition of the American market for popular shows, and several attempts to translate the series into comics.
The most prominent examples of trying to cash-in on the appeal of the series were the three novelisations written in America between 1968 and 1969: The Prisoner by Thomas M Disch, Who is Number Two? by David McDaniel and A  Day in the Life by Hank Stine (a mini-pseudonym for JeanMarie Stine).
I bought these in the Eighties when they were re-published in the UK through New English Library, though I’d read the first and third as library books in the late Seventies, whilst living in Nottingham. I sold them on again, years ago, and my memories of them are faint and patchy.
The three books are very different in style and approach, although the three authors wrote them to be continuous, with the succeeding novels having some vague reference to their predecessor, as if that adventure had been half-obliterated by brainwashing or drugs.
Disch was a major SF writer of repute, whose work centred upon helpless, passive individuals in situations they are unable to control, so not the obvious writer to continue the story of Number Six. His story was set after the end of the series and Number Six’s ultimate ‘escape’, and involved his recapture and return to the Village, in an oddly prosaic fashion.
However, he has been brainwashed to forget completely his previous incarceration and everything to do with the Village (he only discovers this in the form of videotapes – several years before these became available – consisting of the seventeen episodes of The Prisoner).
I remember little else of the story, save that the book as a whole was downbeat and generally dull. It completely lacked the surreality of the series, save for that in-joke, and the device of effectively restarting the whole thing, treating The Prisoner as something done and dusted, seems to me to be, in retrospect, a device to allow Disch to write as Disch, and not in McGoohan’s model.
McDaniel, in contrast, was a prolific writer of licensed properties – The Man from U.N.C.L.E and Star Trek being two of his regular berths – and a very good exponent of the field according to those who collect such books. His Who is Number Two? was chronologically second, but not released until last, for some unfathomable reason.
It’s the most conventional of the trio, and the one most anchored to the format of the series. McDaniel’s Number Two plots to undermine Number Six’s resistance, to gradually overcome his desire to escape by allowing him to have his /lotus in the Village, and by gradually providing supplies that enable the Prisoner to lavish attention on cleaning, re-tuning and eventually racing his beloved car on a self-built track near the beach.
The more Number Six has a stake in life in the Village, the less determined he will be to resist. But Number Six is very slowly constructing an escape plan, as his new, customised, fibreglass streamlining is actually intended as a boat hull, with the Lotus to motor an escape. Which fails,of course, but which enables Number Two to get away in Number Six’s stead.
Stine’s A Day in the Life, though the furthest removed from the series, was always the most interesting book. It’s a subjective, sollipsistic, impressionistic account of life in the Village as a mixture of good and bad times. The Prisoner ends up getting away to London, absolutely free and clear, only for the whole experience to be revealed as some kind of hallucination which, as he has expected all along, cracks in one go.
Incidentally, both McDaniel and Stine specifically identify Number Six as John Drake.
All three are worth reading as curios, and several different editions are available through Amazon and eBay, but they bear the usual relationship spin-offs have to a series: they are neither canon nor able to evoke more than an impression of the original.
Since then, there have been two other attempts to invoke The Prisoner in print. Roger Langley, founder of Six of One, wrote three Prisoner novellas in the Eighties, all privately printed and collected in a single Volume that can be bought in the Six of One shop in Portmeirion. I have read none of these, but the internet accounts are dismissive.
More recently, the LA-based Powys Media, who specialise in Space: 1999 novelisations, have branched out into Prisoner spin-offs as well, with two to date and a third due in 2013. Again, I have read none of these, but the on-line reviews available for The Prisoner’s Dilemma do praise its capture of the mood of the series and its sheer energy of invention.
The world of comics has not ignored The Prisoner either, with both Marvel and DC taking their turn at trying to adapt the series. Marvel licensed the show for adaptation in the mid-Seventies, at the behest of writer Steve Engelhart, who was in tune with its anti-establishment theme. Working with veteran artist Gil Kane, he produced an eighteen page adaptation of Arrival which, in a later interview, he described as following the episode faithfully, but adding thought bubbles.
The result, to the best of my knowledge, has never been seen, as Stan Lee decided it wasn’t visual enough, and gave the project to Jack Kirby instead. Kirby had already demonstrated his enthusiasm for the series in 1968, plotting and drawing a four part Fantastic Four story, set in a similarly mysterious Village in Latveria, operated by Doctor Doom.
With the standard page-count having been adjusted yet again, Kirby got seventeen pages now, and he duly wrote and pencilled an adaptation of the first half of Arrival. A total of six and a half pages were inker by his regular inker, Mike Royer, before the plug was again pulled, and Marvel concluded that they couldn’t turn The Prisoner into a Marvel Comic, for which I am grateful.
Nevertheless, many of Kirby’s pages have appeared, and can indeed be seen on-line: enough to make you wish he’d been given more latitude. He does a sterling job of interpreting McGoohan and Portmeirion into his style, whilst working within his own futuristic design, and the work intrigues.
It would be left to DC, a decade later, to actually succeed in getting a Prisoner comic into print, as a four part Prestige format series later collected as the Graphic Novel, Shattered Visage (the title being taken from the Shelley poem, Ozymandias).
The comic, co-written by Dean Motter and Mark Askwith and drawn by Motter, was fully approved, with both McGoohan and Leo McKern agreeing the use of their faces. It departed from the series in being set contemporaneously, twenty years on (and dismissing the series’ own finale as a drug-induced hallucination).
The story centre on a divorced couple named Drake, Thomas and Alice (the latter a nod to Lewis Carroll), who both come from a British Intelligence background. Alice, who has resigned, plans to sail the world in a computer-controlled yacht. Thomas, who is still in the system, rigs her boat to run aground and strand her on the island where stands the decaying ruin of the Village.
Twenty years on, the man who was Number Two, after a long prison sentence, has published an autobiography exposing the Village. Thomas has been responsible for vetting it and has blurred many details as to the programmes running at the time (as well as contemporary, real-life security issues). But what Thomas knows is that, when the Village was closed down, the man known as Number Six stayed on, renumbering himself Number One. And the former Number Two is on his way to the Village.
Hence, Alice is sent on ahead, whilst Thomas, working alongside a seemingly rogue American agent, follows later. By now, Alice has been named as Number Six by the ageing, heavily bearded familiar figure, who speaks mainly in shallow platitudes, and whose decision to stay when he could leave makes him look like a mere contrarian, as opposed to a principled man.
When Number Two turns up, intent on ‘freeing’ his erstwhile enemy from the Village, instead of the subtle psychological battle of Once upon a Time, we get a fist-fight. Though it is interesting to have the ex-Number Two claim that the Prisoner was defeated: unable to bend, he broke, shattered, and when he took a Number, any number, even Number One, he accepted the Village’s valuesand lost.
This pertinent point is, however, undercut when Thomas and his American pal arrive, find the underground control rooms that were the scene for Fall-Out and discover several more active nuclear weapons. These get set off, destroying the Village once and for all, and killing Thomas with it.
Alice and Number Six sail back to London, where he shaves off his beard and delivers one final platitude that undermines the precepts of the series: “Does the presence of Number Two require the existence of Number One?”, and assures her that his secrets are still completely safe and that the World would have been destroyed by now if they weren’t.
All this takes place against a background of sub-Le Carre intrigue, culminating in a new set of masters taking over British Intelligence. Thomas’s boss is ordered to resign, is gassed and take away mysteriously, implying that the cycle is beginning again.
What might have been moderately interesting in its own right, turns out to be confused, confusing and over-eager to stuff itself with unexplained hints, nods and winks, and it falls a long way short of living up to McGoohan’s original ideas, even if it was approved by him (“he didn’t hate it,” Motter said).
So, when all is said and done, we only have the seventeen true stories, and nothing else to lend itself to expanding our visions.