Thursday 15 January 2009

The Prisoner has finally escaped

Actor Patrick McGoohan has just died, aged 80. I'm not going to write an obit - the BBC has a perfectly good one if that's what you're after. I'm not going to write about the TV show that made him famous, Danger Man, or that he turned down the role of James Bond before Sean Connery was cast, or that he won two Emmys sixteen years apart, for different roles in the always-excellent Columbo. No, no, no. What I want to talk about is The Prisoner.

Since it was made a couple of years before I was born, my first exposure to The Prisoner wasn't until Channel 4 repeated it in the mid 80s, and the teenage me lapped it up. I loved, and still love, everything about that show. The theme music (by Ron Grainger), the complex title sequence, with that beautiful green and yellow Lotus 7, McGoohan's spoken-word intro, the setting (Portmeirion in North Wales is worth a day of anyone's time) and the plot... McGoohan's unnamed character, some form of spy for an unnamed government agency, resigns without reason. His employers want to know why, and so abduct him and whisk him off to a remote island where, over the course of the show's seventeen episodes, they use a serious of increasingly bizarre and extreme psychological measures to try to wrest the truth from our hero, Number 6. Oh yes, no-one has a name in The Village, just a number which, of course, gave rise to McGoohan's now-famous declaration "I am not a number, I'm a free man!" And - good for him - not only did he never explain his resignation, he tried to escape every week too...

I cannot emphasise enough how much this show meant to me. Within a year of seeing it for the first time, I was in Portmeirion (really, go as soon as you can, and take your camera). I bought a cassette of Sixties TV Themes (which I still have, even though it has oxidised away to an unplayable nothing) just so that I would have an original recording of the music. And I used my brother's Dixons-own-brand video recorder to tape each week's episode from Channel 4, so that I could watch them over and over. I bought a black and white umbrella, just like Number 6's, that I still have. I yearned for (but never actually got around to owning) a black blazer with white piping. I had a spell in the early 90s where I almost exclusively used a font called Albertus, purely because it is quite like the Prisoner/Village font. And I do actually own a sticker that goes on the bottom of a drinking glass, informing the drinker "You have just been poisoned"... so yes, I was quite the fan.

The Prisoner remains one of my all-time favourite television shows. Not only did McGoohan star in it, he did a lot of the writing, direction and production too - it was very much his baby, so thank you Patrick, and rest in peace. Be seeing you...

Links: Buy The Prisoner | The Prisoner Online (fan site) | Opening title sequence (YouTube) | The Prisoner Appreciation Society (fan site) | Portmeirion village (official)

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