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Prisoner, The (1967-68)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Prisoner, The (1967-68)
Everyman Films for ITC
1/10/1967 - 4/2/1968
17x60 minute episodes, colour
Directors includeDon Chaffey
 Pat Jackson
 Patrick McGoohan
Writers includeDavid Tomblin
 Patrick McGoohan
 Anthony Skene
CreatorsPatrick McGoohan
 George Markstein

Cast: Patrick McGoohan (Number Six); Leo McKern, Colin Gordon, Eric Portman, Peter Wyngarde, Patrick Cargill (Number Two); Alexis Kanner (The Kid/Number Forty-Eight); Kenneth Griffith (Schnipps/The President); Angela Muscat (butler); Peter Swanwick (The Supervisor); Frederick Piper (the Admiral)

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After resigning, a British secret agent is kidnapped and taken to an unnamed 'village' in an unknown location, where he is to be known only as Number Six. The village authorities subject him to a series of psychological challenges designed to break his will.

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The Prisoner (ITV, 1967-68), TV's most cultish series, owes its form and content to a number of dissonant factors. The story - a spy, the nameless Number 6, resigns for an undisclosed reason and is abducted to a mystery village for debriefing - has its roots in Cold War paranoia, hippy counter-culture ideology and growing concerns about the involvement of the state in the daily lives of its citizens. It might also have been influenced by the experiences of its star and co-creator, Patrick McGoohan, who had unexpectedly resigned from his previous series, Danger Man (ITV, 1960-67), because he felt trapped by the role of NATO agent John Drake.

In just 17 episodes, The Prisoner created an enduring phenomenon, partly because it remains open to continual reinterpretation. In addition, the allure of Number 6's stubborn refusal to reveal his motives for resigning and his efforts to escape from the mysterious 'Village' persists, not least because his symbolic battle against faceless state power is as potent as when the show was first devised.

The Prisoner incorporates a number of other elements that have helped it retain its popularity. The location of The Village, populated by a multi-racial and submissive population of ex-intelligence operatives, is as mysterious as the forces running it. The use of numbers instead of names adds a further level of intrigue, while the catchphrases ("I am not a number, I am a free man", "Who is Number One?" and "Be seeing you") enable fans to interact with the series by 'repurposing' snatches of its dialogue. The series was also greatly helped by its location, the Welsh village of Portmeirion, with its bizarre jumble of architectural styles.

The series evolved from a straightforward mystery into something far less easily described. In its increasingly elaborate attempts to get inside the mind of Number 6, the Village administration resorts to drugs and hypnosis, a move reflected in increasingly bizarre plot lines and the use of psychedelic imagery. However, the carefully constructed menace of The Village is continually undermined by the show's use of music, including snatches of nursery rhymes, and a performance from McGoohan that suggests Number 6 finds his incarceration little more than a joke.

The Prisoner's enigmatic dénouement - complete with song routines - continues to baffle audiences. Rather than clear up the mystery, the final episode, Fall Out (tx, 4/2/68), compounds the puzzle.

Be seeing you...

Anthony Clark

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Video Clips
1. Title sequence (2:09)
2. The village (5:47)
3. No. 2 (4:29)
4. Rover (1:23)
Episode 1: Arrival (48:14)
Danger Man (1960-67)
Ackland, Noreen (1921-)
Cargill, Patrick (1918-1996)
Eddington, Paul (1927-1995)
Grainer, Ron (1924-1981)
McGoohan, Patrick (1928-2009)
McKern, Leo (1920-2002)
'60s Spies and Private Eyes
Conspiracy Drama