Who is Number One? The Prisoner returns for one night only...
Here at CV Towers we are huge fans of 60s television, particularly the cheesy offerings of cigar toting Sir Lew Grade and his ITC organisation, the company which brought you such entertainments as The Champions, Department S and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased).
For its contribution to Radical Film Network’s citywide festival to mark the 50th anniversary of May 1968, theCV is screening Fall Out, the final episode of ITC’s surreal, pioneering series The Prisoner.
When it first aired in 1967, there was no stranger television programme and no more strange a hero than Patrick McGoohan’s Number Six, the ‘prisoner’ of the show’s title.
Hoping to capitalse on the huge popularity of its Danger Man franchise - in which McGoohan had appeared as spy John Drake - ITC bankrolled the star’s largely temporised new project on the basis of a handshake. The resulting television series was more bizarre than even Sir Lew could have predicted...
In The Prisoner, McGoohan plays a former secret agent, rendered to a mysterious coastal resort known only as The Village (architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis’s Portmeirion doubling as a kind of pop art Guantanemo). Assigned the number Six, every week sees him attempt to outwit his captors and escape, only to be recaptured and imprisoned again.
If the cartoon capers of Steed and Mrs Peel in The Avengers can be said to bottle the essence of Swingin’ London, McGoohan’s weekly bouts of doomed to fail escapology represent the comedown from the Summer of Love... As broadcasts of The Prisoner ran into the next year, the stuff of dreams turned into the fabric-weave of nightmares.
Written and directed by McGoohan himself, Fall Out was first broadcast in February 1968 and can be viewed as an expression of the social and political turbulence that would erupt into pitched running battles on the streets of Paris a mere few months later.
Fall Out is not your average telly fare. A freewheeling struggle of wills, it promises to finally reveal the identity of Number One - the mysterious oft-mentioned, hitherto unseen figure behind it all - but deliberately, and some would say perversely, poses more questions than it bothers to answer.
While contemporary television audiences are hip to this sort of post-modern ambiguity, back in 1968 people were affronted. McGoohan was forced into hiding, hounded by outraged viewers who demanded some sort of explanation.
“Everyone wanted to know who Number One was,” recalled McGoohan ten years later. “When they did finally see it, there was a near-riot, and I was going to be lynched.”
The actor persistently refused to give much away about British television’s most enigmatic series, taking his secrets with him to his grave in 2009. It may have run to just seventeen episodes, but over the intervening years, McGoohan had watched The Prisoner grow into a cultural force to be reckoned with.
theCV is proud to present this one-off screening of The Prisoner - Fall Out in the appropriate surroundings of the Central Charges Court in Leeds Town Hall, The Headrow, Leeds. theCV thanks Laura Ager, Alex Cox, Chris Fell and Roger Langley.
For more Prisoner related loveliness, Six of One, the official Prisoner Appreciation Society, can be found at www.sixofone.co