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Thursday 26 October 2017

The Pri50ner: As Good Today As It’s Always Been

    What was it the President told the Prisoner-No.6? “Remember us, don’t forget us, keep us in mind.” That could so easily be addressed to those who were watching, the television viewers themselves. Because ‘the Prisoner’ enjoyed the most powerful and dramatic opening sequence of its day, and the television viewer was captivated from that first clash of thunder as dark clouds gathered over a long and deserted runway. At least I was. ‘The Prisoner’ stays with you, fixed in the mind, and with the occasional screening is indelibly imprinted onto the cortex of the brain, rather like the Professor’s lectures in the Speedlearn educational experiment in ‘The General.’ The series has continued to withstand the test of time because at the time, it was ahead of its time. But now time has not only caught the series up, but has over taken it, not that that makes it less relevant today. And in that time much of what ‘the Prisoner’ predicted has come to fruition. The credit card, surveillance, Britain has the most surveillance cameras of all the countries in the world. Cordless telephones have become the norm in recent decades, and the reliance on technology has grown and grown, despite Patrick McGoohan’s warning that man should slow down, and consolidate, rather than pursue greater technology. Hence the Penny Farthing bicycle seen in the series, and used as a symbol to indicate man is moving too quickly, and a warning which went unheeded.
    ‘The Prisoner’ has endured despite its flaws and imperfections. For example, what a pity that when the idea occurred to change the dark blazer worn by Curtis in ‘The Schizoid Man’ for a cream coloured one, they didn’t bother to alter the script as well. Number 24 took several Polaroid pictures of Number 6. She was practicing for the photographic competition at The Village Festival in a month’s time. It was such a Polaroid image which Number 6 {Curtis} produced from the breast pocket of his blazer in order to prove his identity as Number 6. Number 6 snatched the picture and studied it. I’ve never realized why Number 6 didn’t pick up on the evidence of that Polaroid picture when it was in his hand, and right under his very nose. Instead of proving that Curtis was Number 6, it should actually have disproved his identity! Why? Because in the Polaroid picture Number 6 is wearing a dark piped blazer, while Number 6 {Curtis} is always seen to be wearing a cream blazer! Had they not decided to change the colour of one blazer, on the grounds that otherwise the television viewer at the time would find ‘The Schizoid Man’ too complicated, then there would not be the inaccuracy in the episode. I have always been of the opinion that Patrick McGoohan seriously misjudged the mentality of the television viewer of the 1960’s. In fact had both Number 6’s been wearing identical piped blazers, the identity of the real Number 6 would not have been revealed until the very end of the episode. “Susan died a year ago Number Six!”
    A few months ago I encountered another fan of ‘the Prisoner,’ he was a complete stranger to me, and me to him, but we shared an affiliation and that made us instant friends. We still meet up occasionally and chat about ‘the Prisoner.’ I remember I asked him what his favourite episode was, he said “Fall Out.” My two favourite episodes are ‘Arrival’ and ‘Checkmate.’ I said. Then I asked him what his least favourite episode was? He said can you have a least favourite episode? I smiled, and said yes you can, and in my book that’s Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling.’ There are more holes in that episode than there are in a wedge of Swiss cheese, from the need for a “reversal process” of Doctor Seltzman’s mind transference technique, to the moment when Number 6 wakes up and instantly knows who the Colonel is! 
And yet, for all its discrepancies, because a bad script was turned in to an incomprehensibly terrible script, then made even worse by Patrick McGoohan’s editing of the episode, ‘Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling’ does have one redeeming quality, its unique incidental soundtrack music. The change in tempo as the Colonel arrives at The Village by helicopter. And the instrumental use of a traditional Scottish folk song, “My Bonnie lies over the ocean, my Bonnie lies over the sea, my Bonnie lies over the ocean, oh bring back my Bonnie to me” which refers to “Bonnie Prince Charlie” – Charles Edward Stuart after the defeat of the Prince at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 and his subsequent exile. But in this instance, as far as ‘Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling’ is concerned, the word Bonnie can be exchanged for “body.” “My body lies over the ocean, my body lies over the sea, my body lies over the ocean, oh bring back my body to me” referring to the Colonel’s body then occupied by Number 6’s mind, somewhere across the sea! And the use of the theme music again as the Colonel drives off in the Lotus 7. It’s dramatic, powerful, to say that the Prisoner, although his mind is wrongly housed in the Colonel’s body, he’s going to sort this situation out. “Get me Sir Charles………….I said get me Sir Charles Portland at once!”
   And then there’s the reluctance to use Number 6’s name amongst friends and ex-colleagues, even between lovers. Schmitt, Duval, XO4, D6, ZM73, PR12, and XB4 but at least we know who XB4 is, Potter by name! And Jonathon Peregrine Danvers, born in Bootle, and apparently not at all important as he doesn’t require a code name! And then there is the use of a different musical arrangement of the original theme music as the Colonel, having collected the photographic slides from the World Camera shop, drives through the streets of London to his home. Followed, not only by the undertakers in a hearse, but also by Potter XB4, to Buckingham Place. But with Patrick McGoohan, and not Nigel Stock, seen behind the wheel of the Lotus 7. It’s like watching the Prisoner returning home after having handed in his letter of resignation. Such is the use of, or reliance upon, film stock footage in certain later episodes. There seems to be an aversion throughout ‘the Prisoner,’ to use the Prisoner’s name, to the point of going out of their way not to use it. Even in ‘Many Happy Returns’ the Colonel calls his ex-colleague Number 6! Perhaps because the Prisoner is supposed to be “Everyman,” well he’s certainly an extraordinary man. Number 2 in ‘A B And C’ said he sometimes thinks Number 6 is not human! But to my mind, he will always be ‘Danger Man’s’ John Drake, my boyhood hero.
   The Prisoner’ has withstood the passage of time, and even after 50 years there still remains a mystique about it. There aren’t many television series of which can be said the same. Devotees of ‘the Prisoner’ will say that we know hardly anything about Number 6. But we know even less about the diminutive
Butler, who is an even more enigmatic character than Number 6. Also a white meteorological balloon became intrinsic to the series, appearing in 8 of the seventeen episodes, as well as in the opening sequence and after the closing credits. Symbolically The Village Guardian has been described as representing ones own fears. When someone is confronted by the Guardian they are being confronted by their own fear. On a physical level some devotees think the Guardian is a “thing” from another World, if so, that would make it just as much a prisoner as anyone in The Village! Personally I like to think of the white membranic Guardian as having been genetically engineered. Possibly “it” began life as membrane grown in a Petri dish by biologists and scientists in some laboratory somewhere in The Village. But I expect the smart money is on the Guardian simply being a meteorological weather balloon, which makes for a far superior Guardian than the original,
 which was to have been a Go-Kart with a fibreglass dome fitted with a blue light. One idea for ‘Rover’ as Number 6 once called it, was that it would have the capability of absorbing its victims, with the white membrane changing colour, taking on a reddish hue caused by the absorption of its’ victims blood. But that effect was deemed to be too frightful for the television viewer of the 1960’s.
     ‘The Prisoner’ raised more questions than it answered. Making questions a burden to others, and answers a prison for oneself. The general idea being that you find the answers for yourself, answers that suit you, but which might not suit other fans. As Patrick McGoohan once said, one thousand people can each have a different answer and everyone would be right. What’s more, questions still remain
 about ‘the Prisoner,’ questions which will now most likely never be answered. For example, in ‘It’s Your Funeral’ Number 6 has retrieved the radio detonator for the bomb in the Great Seal of Office from Number 51-the Watchmaker. But standing in his way is Number 100 who is determined to retrieve the detonator from Number 6. There follows a brutal fist-fight between the two men, which ends in Number 6 knocking Number 100 out. So why did the Guardian attack Number 100? Obviously we do not see this in the finished episode, but in ‘Arrival,’ when the young man in a striped jersey and sunglasses is attacked by the Guardian, as he is being suffocated, the scene changes to a man wearing a pink blazer. It is obviously actor Mark Eden as Number 100 wearing the pink blazer. It’s not so much the fact that a good action scene is spoilt by the insertion of a piece unnecessary stock footage film that concerns me, but the question as to why Number 100 would have been attacked by the Guardian in the first place. Especially when you recall how he was involved with ‘Plan Division Q’ and the radicalization of the Watchmaker, which was carried out on the instructions of the interim Number 2.
   Number 2 is another character whose background we know practically nothing about, except we do know the name of one, Mrs. Butterworth. And even if it isn’t her real name, at least it is a name. And that another Number 2 holds a position in the House of Lords, within the Houses of Parliament.
   As to the question of who is Number 1? It’s only Number 6 who concerns himself with that question, perhaps because he’s not an optimist! During ‘The Chimes of Big Ben’ Number 2 tells Number 6 that he’s an optimist, that’s why it doesn’t matter who Number 1 is. But persistently during the opening sequence the Prisoner is heard to ask “Who is Number One?” to which Number 2 replies “You are Number 6.” Of course it’s possible to make “You are Number 6” read and sound very differently depending on where you place the emphasis. But that only works after the advent of ‘Fall Out,’ because up until then we don’t know who Number 1 is, even Patrick McGoohan hadn’t decided, before he wrote the script for ‘Fall Out.’ So in Number 2’s reply to who is Number 1, he’s merely telling the Prisoner he’s Number 6. I suppose it’s all a question of interpretation, and much within ‘the Prisoner’ series is open to personal interpretation, or at times, misinterpretation. For example, when during the opening sequence of ‘the Prisoner,’ a man parks his Lotus Seven in an underground car park. Alighting from the car, he strides out and goes through a pair of doors marked 'Way Out.' This action has been interpreted by many fans of the Prisoner as demonstrating his rebellious nature by entering a building via the 'Way Out.' But the reality of the situation is, that the man is not entering a building, but is leaving the underground car park via the 'Way Out.’ If it was otherwise, the words ‘Way Out’ would be on the opposite side 
of the doors.
   ‘The Prisoner’ is a remarkable television series which many enthusiasts describe as being a work of art. It is also a window through which one can observe Portmerion as it was in the 1960’s, because in more recent years the Italianate village has changed, it has lost that “lived-in” look it once had.  Also Patrick McGoohan said of ‘the Prisoner’ that it was never meant as a children’s television series, and yet the author of this essay was twelve when he first watched it, and many of my contemporary fans were about that same age, possibly even younger. And yet for an adult series there is much childishness in it. So is it any wonder that ‘the Prisoner’ captivated the imagination of so many children, not only at the time, but also over the subsequent years and decades. That having been the case, Patrick McGoohan seems to have been the Pied Piper of his time. He called the tune, and we danced, not quite a “Dance of The Dead,” but as children we followed. He may not have taken us body and soul, but he influenced our minds, The Village Administration would have been proud of him! However it could be said he gave us something in return, in showing what it is to be an individual. To question, and not simply accept things as they are, not simply in regard to ‘the Prisoner,’ but more importantly in life. But perhaps the series is better viewed through the eyes and mind of a child. I was once told by someone, that after watching ‘the Prisoner’ for the very first time and in the company of her son, and later meeting other people who had seen ‘the Prisoner,’ she couldn’t understand what their problem was. Why they couldn’t understand the series, why they were looking for explanations, not to mention those so termed “hidden meanings.” She thought the reason why children get on so well with ‘the Prisoner,’ was that they do not expect to understand every detail, that they merely follow the story. She firmly believes that she was helped by watching ‘the Prisoner’ through her child’s eyes. It would seem that as adults we tend to overcomplicate ‘the Prisoner,’ looking to give questions complicated answers, when a far simpler reasoning can be applied. But in time all good things must come to an end. And so it is ‘Fall Out.’
   ‘Fall Out’ not from nuclear blast, although a rocket is involved, but a falling out of former friends. Such as Number 48 who had been with them, but then he went and gone, put on trial for representing rebellious youth. Rebelling against nothing it can define. And a “late” Number 2, who apparently died, but who they couldn’t even let rest in peace! And the former Number 6 is forced to witness these two trials. But at least they are allowed to state their case and address the Assembly, unlike Number 6. The delegates of the Assembly, each representative of different sections of society, are not prepared to listen to one single word Number 6 has to say. But they applaud his private war which is pure, for he has vindicated the right of the individual to be individual. High praise indeed. Besides that, he’s been given the key to his house, which has been prepared for him, as well as his car. A passport valid for anywhere, travellers cheques a million, and a leather string purse of petty cash. So now its come down to bribery has it? But in any case Number 6 has achieved  the right to meet Number 1 who turns out to be himself. Number 6 has been his own worst enemy all the time, although I personally suspect this only came about when Patrick McGoohan made himself Number 1, when he wrote the script for ‘Fall out.’ Up until then he had not decided who Number 1 would be. On the other hand, Number 1 might be the former Number 12-Curtis who hadn’t died that night in ‘The Schizoid Man,’ but had been kept “on ice” in the hospital. And now forced to impersonate Number 6 for a second time, well, it probably tilted his brain. No wonder he went berserk during that confrontation in the rocket! But that is a personal interpretation, everything in ‘the Prisoner’ is open to interpretation. However I disagree with what Patrick McGoohan said about ‘Fall Out.’ Yes it might be an allegory as he said, but that only means it’s a story or tale. He also said, he didn’t want to give ‘the Prisoner’ a James Bond style of ending. But action-wise that’s just what we did get. The finale to the series has all the qualities of a James Bond ending. Number 1 the villain in his lair, The Village, there’s a vicious fire-fight in which even the Butler gets stuck in, and who at one point can be seen strangling a man to death! The villain despatched to his fate in the rocket. The lair evacuated, there’s death, but no destruction, as The Village is not destroyed, and with the aid of four confederates the hero escapes to return to London. The End! But its not the end, ‘the Prisoner’ has no ending, no proper ending or conclusion as such, only a beginning. For in the Prisoner’s end is his beginning, as his future looks to continue the same as his immediate past.
Be seeing you

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