The Prisoner at 50 – Many Happy Returns!

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The Prisoner began on Friday 29th September 1967 in the UK, hence this is the 50th anniversary.


The very first broadcast actually took place in Canada on 5 September 1967. See POP goes The Prisoner.

Six of one, Half a dozen other confusions?

What can one write? So much has been written on The Prisoner. The range of material on the series is intensive, even extending to an appreciation society I used to be a member of, whose monthly magazines explored The Prisoner from ever possible angle.
I wont be doing things like debating the usual, such as the correct order of the seventeen, or thirteen episodes, whatever. I’ll try to be a little original by not following any real serious theme in this post, apart from regular sprinklings of ‘many happy returns’ to celebrate fifty years of The Prisoner. By the way this is my fourth write up on the series.
https://twitter.com/nickjjoy/status/913436184554147840
Despite The Prisoner being intended as pure entertainment, there is clearly a lot of hidden stuff to be found within the series – political statements, a propensity towards anarchy and nihilism, the revolt against authority and authoritarianism, the attack upon social control, brain washing, big brother, fake news (yes this is fifty years before Trump lol!) torture, the treatment of people as units of commodities, ethics, morals, and so on.
Perhaps the biggest puzzle for many was the question why our hero resigned. Apparently it was ‘for peace of mind.’ A huge peace of mind especially when the one in charge of The Village turned out to be his own self wearing a mask and a cape with the legend ‘One’ on it. Clearly Patrick McGoohan was showing each of us that we are our own worst enemies.
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That’s the guy! Number One.
Number Two had many faces and often sat in a Eero Aarnio Ball Chair. He had a servant, simply called The Butler, diminutive and ever faithful. The Butler was originally mooted to be a tall athletic gentleman, perhaps rather like William E Simms, the manservant from Adam Adamant. Number Two wasn’t a swashbuckling guy like Adamant except when it came to the ultimate showdown with Number Six in Once Upon a Time. At times, Two could be mediating, relaxing over breakfast, yet still plotting the numerous devious ways he thought necessary to extract the inner workings of Number Six’s mind.
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Number Six and Number Two cross swords with each other in Once Upon a Time.
The series’ own policeman, Rover originally arrived as a sort of patrol car with flashing blue light on top. It didn’t work. A weather balloon was spotted in the sky and the idea for the new Rover, the bouncy ball with a mind of its own was conceived. Rover proved to be very popular but it wasn’t easy filming him. Some scenes had to be filmed backwards to hide the wires pulling this glorified weather balloon along.


The final ending, Fall Out set the trend for TV series (and films) that have big issues with conceiving proper endings. Lew Grade, ITV’s mogul wanted more episodes, yet Prisoner stories became harder to conceive. McGoohan finally thought, let’s party the hell our way out of the program! The Beatles’ ‘All You Need is Love’ played in the background amid gun battles against The Village’s authorities, which we could take to mean McGoohan doing battle with the authoritative Lew Grade. This was perhaps McGoohan’s way of saying to Lew Grade, “you wanted seventeen episodes, you got your wish. We had great fun, zany shoot-outs and funfair rides, we blew all the money, now we’re gonna run!” And run he did – all the way to America! No more punch-ups in the streets for daring to make a mockery of the entire series.
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Happy arrival at One Buckingham Place before an enforced return to The Village!
The London scenes included Victoria and Westminster. The most famous is of course Number One Buckingham Place, our hero’s former home before mandatory relocation. There’s the car ramp in Great College Street which features in the opening scenes.
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Many Happy Returns! Number Six at Hyde Park Corner en route to his former home.
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Fall Out: Number Two and the ‘new’ Number One at Parliament before going their separate ways.
Other scenes included Hyde Park Corner, Westminster bridge, Trafalgar Square and outside the Houses of Parliament (to the sound track of Dem Bones) in the finale Fall Out. Quite a bit was done at Marble Arch including in Park Lane itself and the underground garages where the corridor scenes in the series opening was filmed.

A private war

The private war Number Six had against the authorities, the system, can to be likened to McGoohan’s fight with Grade to retain the integrity of the series. McGoohan was happy with seven episodes, but was forced to stretch these out to thirteen, and then seventeen episodes. No wonder he felt frustrated.
Indeed. Despite materialistic efforts, McGoohan survived intact and secure – but only just. He spent a solid 36 hour stint trying to write the script for Fall Out. He turned out to be a revolutionary of a different calibre in turning the entire series upon its head, and making the identity of Number One totally the opposite of whatever viewer expectations had been.
His revolutionary story unfortunately made a lot of people angry. It was time for him to leave the country and go to America, thus really escaping for once and all the real Village which turned out to be England itself. Ultimately he would never escape The Prisoner, it would always haunt him.
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The President’s speech on Number Six’s ‘private war.’

The President in Fall Out: “We are honoured to have with us a revolutionary of a different calibre. He has revolted. Resisted. Fought. Held fast. Maintained. Destroyed resistance. Overcome coercion. The right to be a Person, Someone, or Individual. We applaud his private war and concede that despite materialistic efforts he has survived intact and secure. All that remains is recognition of a Man.”

Whether it was McGoohan or Number Six, he was free to go. Or stay. A huge dilemma. Whatever he choose, things would always go round in circles hence the rationale behind the episode ‘Many Happy Returns.’ Whatever Six did, he would always find himself grudgingly back in The Village, and whatever McGoohan did, he would always find himself grudgingly associated with the series.
It would be some several years later before McGoohan felt he could sit down comfortably in interviews and once again talk about The Prisoner.
https://twitter.com/nickjjoy/status/913462643993792512

And it’s Many Happy Returns!

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Number Two brings the birthday cake! Many Happy Returns!
Here’s a review of some of the London scenes mainly from Many Happy Returns. These have been covered in detail before however here are some new views that show the before/after. The later scenes to be filmed at Buckingham Place entailed the use of a newer Caterham 7, even though the numberplate is the same.
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One Buckingham Place: Filming the final episode Fall Out
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Many Happy Returns: Georgina Cookson (Number Two) arrives at Buckingham Place. Note bay window at Number Three.
Its difficult to do before and after views here, I have never known Buckingham Place to be clear of vehicles!
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Similar view looking down Buckingham Place in 2017. Doorway of Number One on extreme right.
One big difference between the 1967 and 2017 view Number Three’s bay windows are now plain ones.
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Many Happy Returns – the Castle Lane flats in the background I wrote about here. The offices in the far background on Victoria Street was known as Kingsgate House, demolished 2012.
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Similar view to the 1967 one showing the Castle Lane buildings.
Regular pub goes in London will remember The Stag, a gay theme bar on Bressenden Place in Victoria. This was named after The Stag brewery opposite, where for some thirty years after the brewery had been demolished, there was a huge square with a gigantic sculpture of a stag guarding it. This square was featured in Many Happy Returns and shows Number Six crossing the square en route to his old home, having escaped from The Village.
It seems very little’s been done re the scenes filmed in Stag Square, hence a more in depth examination….
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Stag Place. The bus is either a 11 or 24 entering Bressenden Place. The view looks in the direction of Victoria station.
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The road the red London bus would have exiting as seen in The Prisoner – Many Happy Returns. The famous Stag Inn is on the right. In 2008 as this Google street view shows, the corner of the store at left and the staircase next to it, both seen in the 1967 scenes behind the red bus, were still extant.
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This huge stag sculpture was by Edward Bainbridge Copnall. Its now relocated in Maidstone. Note the arched windows at Portland House. Picture from Wikipedia.
Compare with the picture below showing a similar perspective.
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Marks and Specner’s stands where the steps by The Stag were. The sculpture itself was a bit nearer Portland House, whose arched windows are the only remaining link to The Prisoner scenes filmed here. The huge red dots on the right was where the road led from Bressenden Place into Stag Place.
The original 1960s Stag Place with Portland House at centre shown in this aerial photo on Flickr.
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Filming for The Prisoner in 1967 by Roebuck House. This is right opposite Buckingham Place.
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Roebuck House similar view today. Roebuck is one of a handful of buildings to remain from the 1960s Stag Place redevelopment. Its now called The View. Peter Sellers lived in a flat here for a number of years.
Google Street View can take one for a walk through the sections of Cardinal Place where those very scenes from the Prisoner were filmed. I don’t know whether that is deliberate or an accident of design. Despite the demolition of a number of buildings that could be seen in The Prisoner, Google Street View still currently depicts some of the structures and older road layouts around Bressenden Place and Victoria Street although it takes some clicks to get to the relevant views as the continuity from 2017 to 2008/9 is somewhat broken.
I end this 50th anniversary post with links to new articles written on the Prisoner. Many Happy Returns! BCNU.


Telegraph: How did the Prisoner ever get made?

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