Monday, 4 September 2017
Fifty Years of The Prisoner
The Prisoner is fifty years old. In television terms, that is very old. And yet somehow it retains its power to entrance, entertain, and - sometimes - to irritate. It's an eccentric, almost uncategorisable series, one that surely could only have been conceived and made in the 1960s, that decade of extraordinary creativity and innovation.
I am old enough to have watched the very first episode, the first time it was screened. And I can therefore remember the general astonishment created by the series. To understand this, one has to know the background. Patrick McGoohan, the star of the show, was already a big name. He'd played John Drake in the highly successful series Danger Man and was often talked of as a "natural" for the role of James Bond.
I know I watched and enjoyed Danger Man as a very small boy, but I can't remember any of the stories. I think it was a conventional thriller series about a secret agent. But I suppose I was expecting The Prisoner to be a sort of variation on Danger Man, and probably everyone else was. Instead we found ourselves watching a weird show in which McGoohan becomes trapped in a strange village, where he desperately tries to find out what is going on. It was all very odd. But it made for mesmeric viewing.
Part of the pleasure, for me, came (and still comes) from knowing the village from personal experience. In real life it's Portmeirion, a fantastic resort on a sheltered Welsh coastline that I've visited a good many times, and I always find it delightful. They make a great deal of the connection with The Prisoner, and for good reason. Although it infuriated the critics back in the 60s, it became a cult success, and has remained so ever since. Long may its mysteries continue to tantalise!