Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Prisoner

My Uncle Leo McKern and Patrick McGoohan in "Prisoner".

Grade asked if he would at least work on "something" for him, and McGoohan gave him a run-down of what would later be called a miniseries about a secret agent who resigns suddenly and wakes up to find himself in a prison disguised as a holiday resort. Grade asked for a budget, McGoohan had one ready, and they made a deal over a handshake early on a Saturday morning to produce The Prisoner. McGoohan not only produced, he also wrote, directed and starred in the show. He used two pseudonyms, writing "Free for All" as Paddy Fitz and directing "Many Happy Returns" and "A Change of Mind" as Joseph Serf. He also wrote "Once Upon A Time" and "Fall Out" using his own name. The seven episodes were increased to seventeen.

The main character spends the entire series trying to escape from The Village and to learn the identity of his nemesis, Number One. The Prisoner was a completely new, cerebral kind of series, stretching the limits of the established television formulas. Its influence has been echoed in Lost, Babylon 5, Nowhere Man, I-man, The Truman Show, The Simpsons, Reboot, even American Idol teaser ads.

The main character, the unnamed Number Six, became McGoohan's most recognisable character. Unfortunately, it also became his prison. Number Six was so obsessively pro-individual that whenever McGoohan later played someone who had something to say about individuality or freedom, the character was often compared to his previous incarnation; for example, his rather ironic portrayal of the Warden in Escape from Alcatraz.

"Mel [Gibson] will always be Mad Max, and me, I will always be a Number," he was once quoted as saying.

The cult of The Prisoner spawned many books, college courses, a quarterly magazine and documentaries. There were several fan clubs - most notably "Six of One," which honors the show annually with a convention in Portmeirion, Wales, where the show's exteriors were shot. McGoohan was the honorary president. In the May 30, 2004 edition of "TV Guide," The Prisoner was ranked 7th in a list of the "25 Top Rated Cult Shows Ever!" McGoohan's show outranked the likes of The Twilight Zone (#8) and Doctor Who (#18). "TV Guide" wrote, "Fans still puzzle over this weird, enigmatic drama, a Kafkaesque allegory about the individual's struggle in the modern age."

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