Friday, 18 February 2011

Patrick McGoohan - The Man Behind The Bars

"It ends this week..... the nightmarish cat-and-mouse game of spirit sapping tortures, subtle, scientific brainwashing and malignant mind probing."
Such was the description written by Anthony Davis for an article written for the TV Times, published in 1968, which went on........ "The last episode of the Prisoner, the most bizarre thriller series ever, is at an end. The moment when viewers will expect the answers to the questions they have been asking since this intriguing, two level blend of special agentry and science fiction began, sixteen curious episodes ago.
The Prisoner is Patrick McGoohans series. He devised it, after the original idea of George Marksteins which he also shared. He was executive producer, starred in it, wrote some of the episodes, had a hand in direction and even helped with the composition of the music. Never before, or since, has one man been so responsible for a television series, let alone a television series as remarkable as the Prisoner. Before it all began McGoohan said "If people don't like it, there is only one person to blame - me!"
So with that in mind its not so much a question of the Prisoner-No.6 behind the bars, but of Patrick McGoohan himself, having made himself a prisoner because of the television series he created. When asked about the Prisoner Patrick McGoohan could be the most exasperating man. Volunteering little or no information, answering laconically, or with one or two questions of his own for the one question asked! When asked what his feelings were now that the series has come to an end? McGoohan responded "I've done a job. I set out to make a specific number of films. I've made them. The series has come to an end. It's just the end of a job, that's all."                                  
     Well I can see where McGoohan was coming from, because that's just how members of the cast treated it, the majority of whom perhaps only worked on the Prisoner for a couple of days. After they had filmed their scenes, actors, actresses simply moved onto the next job. It is the fans who have made the Prisoner special, and they would have to figure it all out for themselves. It is very intersting to read of McGoohan underplaying his hand in the Prisoner, after all at the time there was nothing special about the series. Although McGoohan was trying to make people sit up, to make them angry, and ask questions, well television viewers certainly did that, there was a good deal of anger about the series at the time. Perhaps at the end of the day, Patrick McGoohan had put too much of himself into the character of the Prisoner-No.6. Had driven the production crew too hard, and himself even harder.
    Did Patrick McGoohan, at the end, achieve all that he set out to achieve, when he embarked on the Prisoner project? Well it is certainly a controversial series. At the time, you either loved or hated it. But love and hate are but different sides of the same coin. "If it failed in some respects then that's a pity" McGoohan once said "But I don't think it has." Although letters received by McGoohan at the time were not at all complimentary regarding the series, but the pros did outweigh the cons. Was Patrick McGoohan simply stirring up contraversy, and was that his main aim? Well I would have to say yes. But as McGoohan said to Anthony Davis Who said so? Pat demanded. "Are you saying or asking? Oh, you're asking."    But it was the Prisoner that was asking the question. "Has one the right to tell a man what to think, how to behave, to coerce others? Has one the right to be an individual? The series was meant to get people talking about it, love it or hate it, say what you want, but get people talking about it, which of course they did, and complained at the time to ATV. With the Prisoner McGoohan provoked people, he made them angry. People argued, discussed the series, and would continue to do so, for years and years after the original screening. Patrick had made Prisoners of us all, Prisoners of the Prisoner as the term has been coined. There is no continuity between the episodes, there is no logical pattern either. But if it's logic you're looking for, then the Prisoner is the last place you'll find it! What Patrick McGoohan had to say on the matter of logic was this, to ask yourself two questions; "You're living in the world? To which you must answer yes. Do you always find it logical? No. And that is your answer to that."  And when it comes to answers, brings one clear answer at least from McGoohan. He envisaged it from the beginning. "In a series like this, you have to know at the outset what you're aiming at. You have got to know the ending before you begin. So I had the idea for the final episode first of all and took it from there." The only trouble is, McGoohan had no idea how the series would end. He told Lew Grade as much during the production of the series. McGoohan met with Lew Grade, telling him that he'd lost his way, and could not find an ending. So much for knowing at the outset how the Prisoner was to end!      
    But what of the riddles, would the final episode provide all the answers? "What riddles?" was McGoohan's demand to Anthony Davies. "Those who run the village, where the village is located. Who is No.1? Why did the Prisoner resign? Which side was No.6 on? "No, no it doesn't" said McGoohan. Which was about as straightforward an answer anyone at the time was likely to get from Patrick McGoohan.
In fact the answers are there, in the Prisoner, all one has to do is ask the right questions. We may all not arrive at the same understanding of this remarkable series. But we can all agree simply to watch and enjoy.
As a footnote, when Patrick McGoohan was asked by Anthony Davies "Will the Prisoner ever return?" McGoohan's answer was a simple one "Definately not."
I'm Johnny Prisoner                                                                       


  1. I think you misinterpret McGoohan's confusion about the ending. The issue he seems to have had was the exact mechanic of making #1 turn out to be #6. After all, his message was that each of us contains our own worst enemy - ourselves.

    His predicament was how exactly to put that across. There are many examples of dialogue within the episodes that tease at the *real* identity of Number One.

    The most amazing thing is that every week the dialogue at the start says,
    "Who is Number One?"
    "You are Number Six"
    and none of us watching noticed because of the misdirection in the way the dialogue is delivered.

  2. Hello Moor Larkin,
    We are all our own worst enemy, and make a prison for oneself by what we say and write! At the outset of the production of 'the Prisoner,' there was no knowledge of who No.1 was. In fact members of cast and crew asked who No.1 was. And it couldn't possibly have ben known before 'Fall Out' who No.1 was, because McGoohan didn't know until he'd written the script, locked away in his office for 48 hours, or however long it was.

    As for the opening dialogue of the opening sequence, I've been thinking about that.

    "Who is Number One?"
    "You are Number Six."
    I, like so many of my contempories, have thought the answer is in the way the emphasis is placed on the word "are.' Making it seem that No.6 is No.1. But of course this is with having the hindsight of 'Fall Out.' When I first watched 'the Prisoner' as a twelve year old boy, I recall the meaning of the answer to "Who is Number One?" Being simply "You are Number Six,' meaning that the Prisoner has been told who he is. Having been given the number Six.
    The only person I have ever met, who understood at first hearing of these words, who realised No.6 was No.1, was someone who's first language was not English. And they were simply listening to the words, and not the emphasis.

  3. Quotes from the first script, Free For All.

    TWO: Oh, you’re the boss.
    SIX: Number One is the boss.

    TWO: If you win, Number One will no longer be a mystery to you – if you know what I mean…..

    Later after he had won the election, Number Six shouts: "I AM IN COMMAND ! OBEY ME AND BE FREE!!"

    I=1 Aye! Aye! Aye!

    One of the unused scripts has a quote from a character saying to No6, who do you think you are? Number One? I daresay that was a bit of a clue too far and one of the reasons it never made the cut. That's just a couple of things straight off the top of my head. McGoohan clearly knew all along, but simple answers to a gossiping crew? That would be telling.

  4. What you write about McGoohan knowing all the time who No.1 is, and the reason why he didn't tell anyone, seems sound reasoning. I cannot put up an argument against it.
    As for No.6 and No.1 being one and the same....well of course No.1's the boss. And should No.6 win the election of 'Free For All,' which he did, then No.1 would no longer be a mystery to him, if you know what No.2 meant, I don't. Because as far as I am aware, no No.2 ever met No.1, only perhaps speaking to him on the telephone. Because it's never made clear who No.2 speaks to on the telephone. Afetr all No.2 uses the address of 'Sir' and not No.1!

    By the use of the words "I am in command, obey me and be free" I've always seen No.6 as the new No.2 addressing the citizens, not as No.1.

    If No.6 is No.1, then who is Curtis? Because there was the suggestion several years ago now, that Curtis could have been No.1. Or at the very least Curtis, having not been killed by Rover in 'The Schizoid Man,' but was put on ice, and brought out again in one last ditch attempt to break No.6. 'Fall out' being the final manipulation of No.6. They tried to break No.6 by facing him with himself, Curtis. After all, even if Curtis did die in 'The Schizoid Man' what's stopping them from resuscitating Curtis in the same way as they did No.2 in 'Fall Out?' I'll stand for two No.6's in the village, but I'm blowed if I'll stand for three!
    Why three? Well if Curtis did die, and was not resuscitated, then there had to have been a third No.6 in the village. No.1 and No.6 may very well have been the alter ego of the other. But the two egos can never physically meet, not as they did in 'Fall Out.' And it's impossible for No.6 to physically be in two given places at the same time. So when No.6 is in the Green Dome, having broken No.2 in 'Hammer Into Anvil,' who is it No.2 is reporting himself to on that over-sized red telepohone, when No.6 is in the room at the same time?