THE UNMUTUAL PRISONER ARTICLE ARCHIVE
"THE McGOOHAN PHILOSOPHY", By Roger Ffoulkes
From the Security Protocol website FFOLKESTAR.
Ffolkestar Security Protocol takes the time to celebrate actor/writer/producer Patrick McGoohan, a master thinker who, in our estimations, best work took the form of a 1967 TV program called The Prisoner, a limited edition British series which aired in 1968 USA as a summer replacement in the "Dean Martin Golddiggers" variety show time slot, and was repeated the following year.
Only 17-episodes, McGoohan fashioned his mini-series on a shoestring budget immediately following a successful character role run as John Drake, a fictional NATO spy, in 'Secret Agent', shown in its native UK as 'Danger Man'.
You've heard the series' title song, "Secret Agent Man" by Johnny Rivers. Its tag line – "...they've given you a number, and taken away your name", was in itself just the first of a string of prophecies McGoohan perpetrated upon the world in warning of things-to-come.
Do you have an American Social Security card? Those cards until recently stated that an individual's issued number was not to be used for identification purposes. Not so any more. And not so for we 'John Drakes'.
A pivotal year in history, 1968 was to our minds the end of the age of elegance*. America experienced two major political assassinations, men and women stopped behaving well in public, bras were burned - ok, not so bad really - and Vietnam was the daily rage. Back then people angered to injustice. Now they just take it.
The freewheeling 1960's were an age of media prophecy before corporatocracy bought up all the media, reversed the message and cowed the populace with their supremacy. We remember Star Trek warning of the computer taking over; 2001:A Space Odyssey warning of the computer taking over (significance reversed in its sequel, 2010), and the classic Mission: Impossible bringing down nasty foreign dictatorships until early efforts at political correctness forced the IMF team to fight domestic drug pushers.
Then McGoohans' prophetic The Prisoner blossomed amongst TV weeds. At first no one knew what to make of it. There was no hoopla, little fanfare, actually the show was supposed to be soon forgotten filler - but it grew legs! Each episode, starting with the successful spy who angrily resigns his job only to be gassed and awaken in a fanciful seaside village from which he can't escape, was a mesmerizing event.
The show captured our attention. It was the Individual against the State. Personality vs. Conformity - concepts then the popular anguish of the period. When the series' second episode confirmed this pleasant but prison-like little unnamed village WAS a template for the upcoming New World Order, the intrigue intensified. No, places like this can't exist, or can they?
McGoohan took a small premise -- that Scotland once held a place where old spies and those who-knew-too-much were forcibly retired -- and expanded the concept into township of kidnapped ex-intel-staffers who make the best of each day knowing tomorrow may never come. In "The Village", posters hint at strict but unwritten rules: 'Questions are a burden to others; Answers a trap for oneself..." - reminiscent of WW2’s “Loose Lips Sink Ships”signage.
Filmed at the architecturally eclectic Portmeirion in North Wales, everyone in residence turns out to be a paranoiac number – no names allowed – with no one to be trusted and everything monitored by a central control. Cool fiction in 1968 but all too real now, especially in London where cameras are everywhere, and with suburban constabulary rampantly ticketing the slightest infraction.
McGoohan plays the title character of Number 6. His nemesis is Number 2, the person summarily in charge but who is replaced every episode, sometimes twice, for failing to trounce McGoohan’s character or to prevent No. 6 from establishing rapport – a scheme real-life public servants typically employ to make petitioners go mad.
The series’ running questions are, "Who operates the Village?...Who is Number One?" At face, nothing makes sense. Take a long look these forty years later and it all makes sense. An allegory of everything that doesn't work in the world, The Prisoner is a MUST SEE for the person who thinks he/she is all alone and helpless against the system.
McGoohan had been offered the role of James Bond before Connery. He did not like the potential immorality of Fleming’s character, deciding instead as true artists do to take other and varied roles even in Disney pictures, before landing the provocative spy series, 'Danger Man / Secret Agent' and making for himself his course. Once 'DM/SA' had its run, McGoohan was offered to pursue his muse as the lone hero who goes up against a mad society.
Singularly fascinating for its bizarre sets and mind twisting defiance of the machine, The Prisoner's much anticipated though wackily freeform final two episodes initially disenfranchised McGoohan's fans, because they answered nothing.
Apparently the long hiatus between the first fifteen installments and it's two-part ending, during which McGoohan appeared in the film Ice Station Zebra for the money to complete his work, made colleagues lose interest in the project.
Under contract to finish The Prisoner and with no one caring any more he fancifully blew it off, which hurt him in England for a while. A UK man looking forward to that final episode is reported as telling his family, "He'd better lay low after that one." But it became so classic Mike Meyers spoofed it in his Austin Powers film.
Even so and thankfully so, McGoohan worked steadily since, even starring in a short-lived early 1970's American TV series as a physician called "Rafferty". His collaborations with Peter Falk of Colombo fame are renown (plus it's a matter of some pride your editor was once thrown off a Colombo location set).
Ffolkestar recognizes Patrick McGoohan as a modern day media prophet. His exemplary personal life kept him from superstar status [apparently never spanked a supermodel], but we recognized his talent then and even more so now. Here's to you, Mr. McGoohan.
Be seeing you.
* No mere coincidence that composer Ron Grainer's opening treatment for The Prisoner was originally called "The Age of Elegance." Grainer is most famous for composing the haunting “Dr. Who” theme. Other works include “The Omega Man” and “To Sir With Love”.
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