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Wednesday 16 January 2019

All At Sea With No.6!

    Whenever I watch Number 6 on his voyage of discovery in ‘Many Happy Returns,’ I cannot help think how easy he has it. Always a calm sea, at times we can see the seabed, and with fair winds. He constructs his homemade compass, keeps a daily log. He is observed shaving, and eating corned beef from a tin. But a man can only go without sleep for so long, and before long tired, exhausted, and from lack of sleep Number 6 collapses unconscious, leaving the raft to drift on the tide, carried along by the current, and blown by the wind. Of course we see but only a fraction of Number 6’s 25 days at sea. But it’s the impression the film gives, indicating that Number 6 had it pretty easy during that voyage, and by no means indicating the hardship he would have had to endure. I have made much of Number 6’s sea voyage in my book The Prisoner Dusted Down, which deals with what we see on the screen. However recently I have had the opportunity to examine the script for Many Happy Returns to see how it was originally intended. So after the disappointment of “Don deron doy doy,” I turned my attention to Number 6’s experience at sea.
    The script is far more descriptive of Number 6’s sea voyage than could be shown in the actual episode. To indicate this, for those of you who have not read the script, I shall insert a few extracts to indicate how Number 6 had it much harder at sea than at first thought.

    “The raft is on the open sea. No land. No village, nothing but sea. P is starving. From one of the boxes he takes bread, cheese and ham. The sail is flapping cheerfully in the wind.”

    “The sail hangs limply. The boxes of food are only half-full. P, looking far from cheerful, stares for sight of land.”

    “The raft is swinging a bit, so P has to hang on. But at last the sail is full. He looks very tired as he goes to the food boxes. But they are empty. He takes up the last can of orange-juice, thinks of opening it but changes his mind and puts it back. He takes out a fishing line with five hooks and plays it into the sea. Then stretched on the raft and the end of the line about his wrist. He waits.”

    “P is staring thirstily at the can of orange-juice again as the line suddenly tugs at his wrist. Excited, he pulls in the line, the fish swinging it from side to side. Then just as he is about to land the fish, the line snaps. So does his temper. He grabs up the orange-juice, pierces the can angrily with a knife and drains it. He wipes his stubbly chin as he throws the empty can back into the box.”

    “P is stretched on the raft, his arms over his face to shield it. He wakes and pulls himself wearily to the boxes. But they are empty. He sits there, bearded now haggard, staring at the sea. He takes up the empty can and leaning over, scoops up sea-water, almost raises it to his lips but does not, lets it drain back again.”

    “A roll of thunder. The sky is thick with grey clouds.”

    “The first drops of rain are splashing on P. He struggles desperately to get the sail down. He does so and, as the rain really starts, he uses it to catch some.”

    “Even the sea is silent as the raft drifts through thick mist. P glances up at the sail, made into a bag and hanging from the mast by its four corners. The lack of movement irritates him and he slides into the water to swim and push the raft ahead of him. But one of his pushes is too strong and it vanishes. He forces down the panic, swims methodically until he finds it again. He clambers aboard and presses himself flat against the logs.”

    “A stiff wind is spinning the sail-less raft. P is hanging onto the mast for dear life. Suddenly the raft heaves and the mast snaps. The bag of water vanishes into the sea. The mast hits P knocking him out. So he does not see that some of his lashings are coming apart. As he lays there, one of the logs drifts off with its two oil drums. What is left of the raft is at an angle now and P’s lower half is in the sea. This wakes him. He clings to the upper edge desperately, at the end of his strength. He takes out his knife and cuts free the remaining oil-drums. So that the raft, even if very low in the water, is at least level. He knows he is near the end and, with the rope thus freed he lashes himself to the stump of the mast.”

    “Close on P. He looks very rough now, his beard some three weeks’ growth. He is still, he could be dead. The raft beneath him rocks a little. Pull back. On either side of him is a pair of seaman’s boots.”

   So according to the script Number 6 had been at sea for three weeks, four days less than the recorded log in the finished episode. What’s more Number 6 does suffer far more in the script than we see on the screen, and had it all been filmed and included in the finished episode it may have dragged on a little, but would have added realism to the sea voyage.
   Finally I have often wondered from where Number 6 obtained that thick seaman’s jersey he wears during his sea voyage. It was suggested that perhaps he took it from the General store along with all the other items he obtained there. But clothing is not sold in the General Store. The script for Many Happy Returns has it that Number 6 took it from the wardrobe in his cottage. But that is far from satisfactory, as it doesn’t answer my question!

Be seeing you

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