Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Remembrance of prisoners past

By John Dacapias
The recent passing of Patrick McGoohan leads my mind back to a time when I was in my early teens, a tall-for-my-age, shy-around-everyone 14-year-old geek. Yes, The Prisoner, the mod but mind-bending TV series, which came at the very end of the '60s spy genre (1967), led to the maturation of this very writer near the end of the '70s.

I swallowed whole books, films and television programs as if they were all milk chocolate kisses, anything dealing with the future, of proud men striding forth to conquer a bright tomorrow, angry aliens and computers. One can imagine then how the introduction of The Prisoner in the only commercial free station available in San Diego (KPBS) was to me.

A man, No. 6, proud of spirit, fighting against a hidden but multivalved organization with tentacles where ever he turned, who tried every means at his disposal to retain his individuality: the series was like manna to my aching soul.

The Prisoner ostensibly followed a character similar to John Drake of Danger Man, McGoohan’s former television series, that lead to the Johnny Rivers hit “Secret Agent Man” (subsequently, the series was called “Secret Agent” in the United States). Snatched after resigning from a secretive organization that remotely resembled M16, or the British version of the CIA, a few puffs of smoke, and he is “reassigned” to the Village, the Hotel Portmeirion, in North Wales (which we do not discover until an end credit in the final episode).

Quizzed by a variety of No. 2s through the whole of the series, as to why he resigned from his former organization, we go from having No. 6 quizzed while being in a Western (“Living in Harmony”) to having No. 6 discover that all along (SPOILER), he was the elusive No. 1 or the head of the Village.

Though only 17 episodes, (The Prisoner was pared down from 26 episodes by a studio (ITV) probably confounded by the results of what was being made through their financial auspices) it was a spy series that with the final episode, “Fall Out,” threw everything that was experienced by this viewer into doubt.

Patrick McGoohan, if one thinks about it, was an unlikely action hero. With eyes set deeply into his skull and a stentorian voice that approached the heights of his mentor, Richard Burton, McGoohan ultimately had his hand in virtually everything that was The Prisoner, from writing a few of the scripts to directing more of them (ultimately using pseudonyms so it was not too obvious). McGoohan clashed with directors, such as on the set of Ice Station Zebra, and was reportedly depressed about not achieving a viable film career at the time of his passing, it was said.

With the continued resonance of The Prisoner throughout pop culture, from The Simpsons having the bulbous Rover chasing Marge during one episode, to rock and pop groups all quoting its distinctive main theme, Patrick McGoohan need not worry about his legacy. If only writers continue to fall in love with its varied themes of personal value within increasingly formalized nation-states, trying against it all to remain a name, a free man, and not a number.

P.S. Even now, as I type this, if you go into the AMC Web site, you will see that the basic cable channel is doing an ill-advised remake of The Prisoner series. Though it is a a definite product of its time (the 1960s), without having the ever inquisitive mind of Patrick McGoohan in some capacity, the current redo of The Prisoner will only be a very weak version of the timeless British series.


John Dacapias is currently head of the Movie Club of San Diego, Calif., now celebrating its tenth year, and is a member of the San Diego Asian Film Forum, also celebrating its tenth year. A graduate of San Diego State University, he enjoys cheese enchiladas, the love of his girlfriend, Carla, and the murmur of a crowded theater audience, collectively reacting as one.

Labels: , ,

Um... thanks for spoling the ENTIRE series by putting the whole climax of the show within 1/2 inch of a weak warning.

I really wanted to watch this show.

In fact, my buddy was having a viewing party this weekend.

What should I tell him? Can you call him and explain?
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Follow edcopeland on Twitter

 Subscribe in a reader