This article originally appeared in Strangehaven issue #6, May 1997.
When ITV first screened The Prisoner, I was a young lad of six years and its impact was conveyed to me by my elder brother (as he did with Monty Python’s Flying Circus) without my ever actually seeing an episode as it was normally broadcast past my bedtime. This of course merely created a further mystique about the series (although I was already a fan of McGoohan’s Danger Man) and I somehow contrived to see part of the seventeenth and final episode, “Fall Out” (being allowed up late due to start of the school holidays possibly).
Even on our black & white TV, the vivid imagery and excitement of those hooded figures, space rockets, machinery and Patrick McGoohan striding around in underground caverns combined with the bizarre soundtrack switching from “Dem Bones” to “All You Need Is Love” (in addition to Ron Grainer’s original score) left an indelible scar on my mind.
Due to the controversy that final episode created in the media, The Prisoner was hidden away in the depths of ATV’s vaults in days long, long before domestic video recorders. ATV finally repeated the series at the end of 1976 and after the last episode was screened, Prisoner enthusiast Dave Barrie’s address was broadcast which soon led to the formation of Six Of One, The Prisoner Appreciation Society.
When I was eighteen I became aware of Six Of One (probably through a comics fanzine like Comic Media News) – formed a year or so earlier. I joined immediately and remained a member for many years. Back then, the Society’s magazine consisted of a number of smudgy duplicated loose foolscap sheets and the occasional sticker, but through a concerted effort, they managed to bring about a nationwide re-screening of the entire series on the UK’s fledgling Channel 4.
The series – from its stunning opening sequence (probably the best ever on TV) to the ambiguous last episode – was an absolute masterpiece. The combination of McGoohan’s political allegory with spy thriller had barely dated and which confirmed my status as a devotee of the most thought-provoking TV fictions ever made.
Since then, The Prisoner has been repeated many times on both terrestrial and satellite TV, and has been made available on video in various formats; there have been several quality books published; rumours of a Hollywood movie version persist (although who could replace the charismatic McGoohan as Number Six is a moot point); and Six Of One is still going strong, 20 years after its formation and 30 years after the original screening of The Prisoner. The Society’s current output is a long way from its humble beginnings – a professionally produced glossy magazine with full-colour covers, In The Village is published quarterly and number of other publications and exclusive items are included with each member’s mailing. The Society also organises an annual convention at Portmeirion (where the series was filmed) as well as other events and screenings for its 3,000 members.
The enigmatic Prisoner has always been one of my favourite TV programmes, and more to the point, one of the inspirations for Strangehaven, as followers of both will no doubt realise. If you’ve never seen the series, you really ought to try tracking down the videos, and once hooked I’d also highly recommend joining Six Of One.