Saturday, 17 January 2009
Number Six, Your Time is Up
When I was a waiter, I used to start just before lunchtime, and get home at around midnight. To unwind, I would watch some TV or listen to music. Using headphones, so as not to disturb my mother, who had a more normal routine.
During this period, in 1993, they repeated a strange science fiction/spy thriller series for it's 25th anniversary. This was the first time that this series had been shown again on National British TV since 1968, when most people would have seen it in black and white.
The series was "The Prisoner", and I was hooked. It starred Patrick McGoohan, of course, who died this week aged 80.
You're probably familiar with this programme - our hero was Number Six in a strange kind of prison (a sort of upmarket Butlins) where spies were taken to when they tried to resign. No names are used. Number Two is in charge (but who is number one?).
There's supposed to be some doubt about which side runs The Village (and where it's located), but the traditional British holiday camp features - the annoyingly cheerful voice of the tannoy announcing "another beautiful day!", and the compulsory events and competitions are a bit of a giveaway. Siberia was never like this.
Number Six is not a happy camper. Every week he tries to escape or otherwise cause problems for his captors, but every week (until the final episode) he ends up still a prisoner.
They only made seventeen episodes - it was so wierd that the TV bosses decided it wasn't worth the money and cancelled it early. This was probably a good thing, since McGoohan seems to have struggled to come up with enough ideas as it was, and the final two episodes are really bizarre.
The Welsh hotel of Portmeiron was used for the "Village" where the programme is set. Though they didn't often get out there due to cost, so there are a lot of duplicated outdoor shots and ropy studio mock-ups, particularly of the beach.
One of the episodes ("Do Not Forsake Me, My Darling") was even made without McGoohan, who was away filming Ice Station Zebra, and one is set in the Wild West, which saved more money since the studio had an appropriate set anyway.
I've never actually been to Portmeiron, though an amateur pilot did once take me out there, and I got to see it from a few thousand feet up. One day I'll go, but it's in the part of Wales where they actually speak Welsh and where the roads are so windy that it takes you several days to get anywhere. And as you probably realise, I'm not very adventurous.
McGoohan was also in several episodes of Columbo, another series I love, and always made a fantastic murderer.
Definitely a unique actor.