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The Prisoner

Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

The Prisoner
TV episode
Written by George Markstein and David Tomblin
Directed by Don Chaffey
Original air date: 29 September 1967


After resigning in anger, a British government agent is abducted and forced to live within the boundaries of a bizarre, unnamed village.


Read the complete story summary at Wikipedia


Didja Know?


The Village of The Prisoner was influenced by the real world Inverlair Lodge in Scotland, which is alleged to have served as a holding place for recalcitrant, talkative, or retiring spies who knew too much to be allowed to roam in public during WWII.


The opening sequence of this episode is repeated in a slightly abbreviated fashion as the opening of most of the episodes of the series in order to inform the new viewer of Number 6's circumstances.


The exterior Village scenes were shot in the village of Portmeirion on the coast of North Wales. The beachfront, which is depicted as a bay of the sea in the series, is actually a beach onto the Afon Dwyryd river, which empties into the Irish Sea some distance southwest of there.


The font used for most signage and labels in the Village is Albertus, slightly modified.


Didja Notice?


The sound of thunder at the very beginning of this episode (and as part of the intro sequence of most subsequent episodes) may be a representation of the anger of the agent soon to be known as Number 6, because the thunder is repeated when he bursts into the office of a bureaucrat and rails at him in a demonstrative manner, slapping his resignation letter on the man's desk. Also, the thunder in the beginning seems to blend into the sound of a jet airplane, followed by a shot of the agent driving towards camera on what may be an airport runway. Did he just arrive on a jet plane and hop into his car to deliver his resignation?


    The car driven by the agent is a Lotus Seven, produced by Lotus Cars 1957-1972, with license plate KAR-120C. The model is now produced as either kits or fully-assembled cars by Caterham. Notice that this agent's vehicle does not appear to have turn signals on the front; at 0:21 on the Blu-ray, he uses the UK hand signal for a right turn.

    The C at the end of the license plate indicates it was issued in 1965, C being the British registration letter for that year. 


During the driving sequence, at 0:17 on the Blu-ray, we see Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster.


According to the audio commentary of this episode on the Blu-Ray disk, the parking garage the agent pulls into at 0:30 on the Blu-ray is under Hyde Park, next to Buckingham Palace, London.


At 0:44 on the Blu-ray, the double doors leading out of the parking garage have the words WAY OUT painted on them. An unusual phrasing, as opposed to the usual "EXIT", though the phrase is used at times in Britain to signify an exit door. The words may have been used as a way of symbolizing the way out for the agent who is about to resign from his job and also a signal to viewers that this series will be "way out", i.e. unconventional.


The bureaucrat behind the desk in the resignation scene is portrayed by George Markstein, script editor for most of the episodes.


When the agent slams his fist down on the bureaucrat's desk at 1:02 on the Blu-ray, notice that a cup of tea bounces up from the shock, tipping over and spilling its contents. Also, the cup has two saucers under it (the bottom saucer has been thought to be a tea plate for holding biscuits) and the bottom one cracks in half from the force of his slammed fist on the desk.


The car that stalks the Lotus Seven back to the agent's house is an Austin Princess Limousine Hearse with the license plate TLH 858. The car being a hearse may be an intentional morbid touch, but might also be seen as a convenient way to transport an unconscious body (as the agent is about to become). 


   At 1:20 on the Blu-ray, the agent drives past Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the British king/queen. However, from the view seen here, he is driving the opposite direction from where he ends up (his house) at 1 Buckingham Place, London, near Buckingham Palace.

   Compare the Google Maps street view of 1 Buckingham Place with the view in the episode below.

   Is it ironic...or a clue...that the agent's house is No. 1?

View Larger Map 


Arriving at his London apartment, the agent grabs a briefcase from a corner of his apartment at about 1:44 on the Blu-ray. Notice there is a magazine holder with a copy of Esquire magazine showing. The cover states "Oh my God--we hit a little girl." It's the October 1966 issue. It's barely visible unless you freeze-frame it, which, of course, was essentially impossible for viewers of the series' original run in the 1960s. But, might this magazine cover be a clue to one of The Prisoner's greatest mysteries? The cover refers to the article inside the magazine titled "M" by John Sacks, about M Company, an American army unit in Vietnam during that country's civil war. The article tells of one of the company's soldiers throwing a grenade into a Vietnamese hut, too late finding out a 7-year old Vietnamese girl was inside, killing her, eliciting horror and grief from the soldier at what he had unknowingly done while following orders. Might something similar have happened to McGoohan's agent while on assignment? Is this what led to his angry resignation, the reason for which has never been revealed other than as for reasons of conscience?


In the same scene above, sitting on a nearby chair is a copy of Illustrated London News, a real world news magazine published from 1842-2003.


The agent packs his briefcase for a trip, including a file folder of photos of what appears to be a tropical beach location. It would seem he is fleeing there. For what purpose? Vacation? A permanent move? Something to do with whatever provoked him to resign?


The two men in the hearse who have followed the agent are dressed in dark suits and top hats, I suppose to look like undertakers. Later, some episodes of the series (such as "The General") depict Village administration officials in similar garb. Are the two "undertakers" here actually Village officials?


The men in the hearse who have followed the agent pump knockout gas into his home to incapacitate him. Though a common trope of popular spy- and adventure-fiction, there is no such incapacitating agent as a true, nearly instantaneous, knockout gas.


The skyscrapers that swirl around in the agent's vision outside his window as the knockout gas is piped into his apartment are the actual buildings at the end of Buckingham Place, across Palace Street.


When Number 6 awakens in the Village, he is in a room layed out and decorated in a manner very similar to his London apartment. Notice the couch he lays upon looks the same and the paintings hanging on the wall behind him are the same. But after he leaves his new domicile and returns after a walk around the Village and a visit to the general store, that same room is now different! The couch seems the same, but there is a window where one of his paintings was previously hanging! Was the painting originally covering a window, there to make him feel initially like he was still at home? The painting appeared to have a "cross" motif in the center; perhaps Number 6 was religious (as was McGoohan), but the Village shuns religious imagery (religious icons are never seen or discussed in the Village throughout the series)? Was it a production mistake in set design? Is it an indication that the Village is fluid, like a dream? Among some fan theories on the truth of The Prisoner is that it may be either a dream he is having while in a coma or that he may be in Purgatory.


The exterior of the cottage that is Number 6's apartment looks smaller than the interior! Perhaps the Village uses TARDIS technology?


At 3:29 on the Blu-ray, notice in the top left corner, as Number 6 is running down the steps, there appears to be a car parked in a driveway. Yet later episodes state their are no vehicles in the Village except the Mini-Moke taxis and some slow-moving maintenance carts.


The cafe waitress Number 6 speaks to appears to be Number 104. She wears a black badge instead of the white ones usually seen. Some fans have speculated that the black badges were originally meant to represent warders as opposed to white-badged prisoners, but that doesn't really make sense given that Number 2, a warder, wears a white badge; and some residents who seem to be legitimate prisoners are seen to wear a black badge in later episodes. Possibly the difference between white and black badges was dropped after the early episodes due to confusion on their meaning even within the production.


    Number 6 asks the waitress where he can make a call and she directs him to a phone box around the corner. He goes there and picks up the wireless phone and tells the operator on the other end, "I want to make a call to--" and then he is cut off by the operator asking what number he is. Who was he going to call? He resigned his job in anger, so it doesn't seem like officials there would be particularly inclined to listen to him. Maybe Sir Charles Portland, the father of his fiancé, as revealed in "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling".

   The wireless phone seen here is a Standphone II, made by National Intercom (as discovered by ultimate Prisonerologist, David Stimpson, and recorded in his 2017 book The Prisoner Dusted Down...highly recommended to serious fans of the show!).


At 5:03 on the Blu-ray, on the left edge of the screen as Number 6 walks through the Village, notice there is a sign propped up on a chair. It's in the distance, so it's difficult to read, but says something about " for filming". It's likely a production sign instructing guests of the Portmeirion Hotel not to park in the area due it's being reserved for filming of The Prisoner filming sign


The map of the Village seen at the information booth and at the general store has been posted by Mark Martucci at Flickr. Another, more detailed map, appeared in the information book The Prisoner: The Village Files by Tim Palgut.
Map of the Village Map of the Village
Information booth map Village map from The Prisoner: The Village Files


At 5:14 on the Blu-ray, notice that the buttons at the information booth omit the number 7 in all instances, with another number or symbol substituting for it. At 36:22, the Village credit card assigned to Number 6 is also missing the number 7 in the strings of "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8" and "15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22". Yet, it doesn't particularly seem that the Village in general avoids the number, as a couple of later inhabitants have 7 as part of their number and Number 6's phone also has a 7 on it. No explanation is ever given for the missing number where it does occur.
Village credit card


The information booth listing shows to press 9 for "taxi rank". But Number 6 gets a taxi by pressing 1 instead.


The taxi arrives immediately after Number 6 presses the button on the board. Did there just happen to be one nearby? Or is it an indication of his being watched and the powers-that-be in the Village already knew he would choose to summon a taxi? A later episode ("It's Your Funeral") also shows the powers-that-be of the Village using a computer to accurately predict what an individual will do during the course of a day.


The taxis used in the Village were Mini Mokes, manufactured by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) in England and other countries from 1964-1993.


The taxi driver is Number 16. When she first drives up, her badge has the penny-farthing facing left. A minute later (6:04 on the Blu-ray), it is facing right! Two different individuals called Number 16 are seen in "Free for All" and "A Change of Mind".


In the audio commentary of this episode on the Blu-Ray, Bernie Williams points out that the Asian woman driving the taxi in this episode was meant to indicate early on the international make-up of the Village, not just British.


When Number 6 asks the taxi driver the name of the Village, she says she thinks the place might be Polish or Czech. What makes her think that? The fact that she volunteered even that much information may suggest she is a prisoner too. In "The Chimes of Big Ben", Nadia (Number 8) claims the Village is on the Baltic coast of Lithuania, 30 miles from the border of Poland; however, Nadia turns out to be a clandestine operative for the Village, orchestrating a trap for Number 6, so she may have been lying. In "Many Happy Returns", Number 6 thinks the Village is near Morocco, and in "Fall Out" it seems to be off the A20 highway in England.


The taxi driver says the ride costs 2 credit units. "Units" is also the unit of currency used in the general store. It may be that the powers-that-be did not want the Village inhabitants to associate a known national currency with the Village, in order to keep its origins more anonymous. It also presages the now-ubiquitous concept of spending credit or electronic money (which was only just starting to become popular to the average person at about the time the series was made).


The clerk at the general store is Number 19 when Number 6 is conversing with him. But when Number 6 leaves a minute later, the clerk's badge now says he's Number 56! It would seem his real number is 19, as he appears with that badge again in "Checkmate".


At the general store, most of the canned food items are labeled as Village Foods brand. This continues in later episodes. It may be that the powers-that-be did not want the Village inhabitants to see standard brand labels, as it might give them clues as to where the Village is located or who is running it.


When Number 6 asks for a map at the general store, notice that the black-and-white one he is shown is nearly useless, being unlabeled except for generic "mountains", "beach" and "sea"! The color one is not much better, having the same labels, plus 8 or so additional labels of buildings in the Village.


When Number 6 returns to his domicile at 8:39 on the Blu-ray, he notices there is now a sign out front showing "6 Private". When he left it earlier, there was no sign, indicating work has been done while he was away.


When Number 6 returns to his Village domicile after a walk around, he finds a wooden doll on the desk holding a card that says "welcome to your home from home". The phrase "home from home" is a colloquialism known mostly in the UK, similar to "home away from home" in the U.S. The doll is a peg wooden doll, a toy that originated in Germany centuries earlier.


At 9:31 on the Blu-ray, the music of "Pop! Goes the Weasel" plays as Number 6 looks for the residence of Number 2. It's hard to say what the song is meant to reference against the backdrop of The Prisoner since the song's lyrics vary by time and country and are fairly nonsensical in the first place, with it's origins lost to history. One version of a lyrical stanza goes, "That's the way the game is played, Pop! Goes the weasel", perhaps in line with the workings of the Village being a game one must figure out how to play. The music plays a couple more times in the episode, as well as brief moments in a number of subsequent episodes.


At 9:46 on the Blu-ray, notice that several buildings are seen in the background behind Number 6. It would seem that these are not meant to be seen by the television viewer, as they are across the bay, outside the Village. This mistake occurs numerous times throughout the series.


At 10:27 on the Blu-ray, notice that there is a penny-farthing bicycle, the symbol of the Village, behind Number 2's desk. It is a permanent fixture in the office, as seen in subsequent episodes.


Why are there swirling lights in Number 2's office? Are they meant to be hypnotic for his guest?


When Number 2 invites Number 6 to a working breakfast, he asks what he wants, i.e. coffee or tea, how many eggs, etc. And the dishes uncovered by the butler already have what Number 6 asked for underneath them. This indicates that the powers-that-be in the Village have been studying his habits for some time and are able to anticipate him. Or does it? In "The Schizoid Man", the Village's powers-that-be attempt to convince Number 6 he is really Number 12 and they program him while he sleeps overnight to prefer flapjacks for breakfast in order to anticipate his request and present it to him before he's asked for it. This may suggest that he has also been "programmed" ahead of time here to request his chosen items in order to give the impression of near-infallibility by the powers-that-be. 


It is notable that, although the various Number 2s wear varying ensembles, all wear a black, white, and yellow scarf, and all carry an umbrella. Perhaps they are symbols of the office.


Number 2 says "they" want to know why Number 6 resigned from his service. He goes on to say that, personally, he believes Number 6's story that it was a matter of principle. This all suggests that the agent now known as Number 6 did not state precisely why he resigned in his letter or in his angry tirade against the beaurecrat, only that it was a matter of principle (or conscience, as he states in "The Chimes of Big Ben" and "Once Upon a Time").


At 13:05 on the Blu-ray, a large, double-stack lava lamp is seen in Number 2's office. The way the oil blobs move and bud off each other is similar to the release of a Rover in water as seen numerous times throughout the series.


As Number 2 shows slides of the life of Number 6, one slide prompts him to say, "A most important day...remember? Getting ready to meet Chambers, about to become late of the Foreign Office. You were hoping to, er, persuade him to change his mind before the big boys found out. You waited and waited, but he never turned up. A nice guy, Chambers. And so taut!" Apparently this gent Chambers was a friend, or at least a respected colleague, of Number 6's. We never learn more about him. The Foreign Office is a British government department that protects the interests of Great Britain in other nations. 


Number 6 reveals to Number 2 that he was born March 19, 1928, 4:31 a.m. (this is also Patrick McGoohan's birth date!). Assuming the series storyline begins in the same year it was shot, 1966, this would make Number 6 38 years old.


The helicopter seen in this episode (also in several others) has registration number F-BNKZ, a Sud Aviation SE 3130 Alouette II. At 16:59 on the Blu-ray, the Village penny-farthing symbol appears to be covering up another emblem painted on the helicopter (notice some edges stick out under the Village emblem). In January 1967, this same copter was sold to a new owner and received the new registration number, G-AVEE. This new registration number is seen on the control panel in the cockpit when Number 6 steals it at 46:15; it would seem this shot was borrowed from a later episode and inserted here in editing. This copter also appeared in other productions, including the 1961-1969 TV series The Avengers, in the episode "Murdersville".


At 15:35 on the Blu-ray, notice that Number 2's butler is the pilot of the helicopter as Number 2 gives Number 6 an aerial tour of the Village and its environs. However, as the copter was taking off just seconds earlier, it was clearly a different man (the real pilot) wearing the Butler's coat and hat.


   The Butler appears in almost every episode of the series, second only to McGoohan as Number 6. While other inhabitants carry colorful umbrellas, he is the only one to carry a simple black-and-white one (except for Number 6, who is given a black-and-white one with his new outfit before being discharged from the hospital later in the episode). The symbology of his umbrella has been debated among fans for decades. Some say the black-and-white coloring represents good-and-bad, or more precisely here, prisoners and warders, with the Butler's dual-colored umbrella representing someone in between the two positions. It has also been said that his having an open umbrella at the end of an episode indicates that a turning point between Number 6 and the powers-that-be has just occurred.

   Another thought that has crossed my mind: does the Butler's presence throughout the episodes, second only to Number 6, suggest he is actually Number 1, simply playing the part of a servant as a means of hiding in plain sight?


At 17:27 on the Blu-ray, we can see part of the name of the "boat" on the beach (actually a structure modeled after a boat owned by the builder of Portmeirion, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis). The full name is Amis Reunis, the actual name of the boat structure. Many say the name translates to "Stone Boat"...but in what language? The words "amis reunis" is actually French for "friends gathered". In a way, this name fits quite well with the concept of the Village in the series!


Observing the people at play aboard the stone boat, Number 6 asks, "What are they here for, St. Vitus Dance?" The term "St. Vitus Dance" refers to a neurological disorder also known as Sydenham's chorea. It usually strikes those under 18 years of age and causes uncontrolled rapid jerking movements of face, hands, and feet. I suppose 6 is asking why such young people are also being kept prisoner in the Village.


At 17:38 on the Blu-ray, more buildings are visible across the bay and even what appears to be crop fields. Notice also at this point that the people who were playing up in the rigging of the boat just a split second earlier are now gone as Numbers 2 and 6 walk away!


As 2 and 6 walk through the lawn area of the old peoples home, notice that a number of the seniors are wearing rather funky sunglasses! They look more like snow glasses for protection against snow blindness, with just narrow slits to see through. Might they be an indication of ocular damage to the older residents due to experiments performed in a long stay at the Village? (Although, some younger residents are also seen to wear the glasses in other scenes.) Number 2 and the Butler also wear the glasses during portions of the Degree Absolute interrogation of Number 6 in "Once Upon a Time".


The taxi driver at 17:54 on the Blu-ray appears to be Number 118.


The bass drum in use by the Village band at 18:14 on the Blu-ray is stained rather badly. Can't the powers-that-be afford a new damn drum?? The same drum appears in several episodes.


The statue Number 6 looks up at at 18:28 on the Blu-ray is a bronze Hercules from 1850 by Scottish sculptor William Brodie (1815-1881). It is an actual statue at Portmeirion.


It's hard to tell due to movement, but the old man who takes the penny-farthing bike at 19:10 on the Blu-ray appears to be Number 263.


An older couple walk past the camera at 19:13 on the Blu-ray. The woman appears to be Number 64. This same couple is seen at the concert where Number 6 meets Number 9 the next day.


At 19:20 on the Blu-ray, notice there are two men standing in the fountain bath, bending down as if picking up something from the water. Seconds later, it looks as if they start fighting over something. Another few seconds after that, in another shot, the two men have disappeared. At the front of the fountain, notice that another man is pulling a second along in a small rowboat! The man doing the pulling looks like the one who is apprehended by Rover seconds later; his crime is unrevealed, but maybe he was actually trying to take the boat from the occupant? Notice, however, that the figure shown being absorbed by Rover is not the same man! The figure being absorbed is wearing a pink blazer, while the original man being chased had on a red-and-white striped shirt; also the original man's sunglasses and hat are missing! It's also obvious that the man being absorbed is pressed up against a grassy mound, not the rose bushes seen at first.


At 19:25 on the Blu-ray, a man being pushed along in a wheelchair has a brown visor covering his face, presumably to protect from sunlight. A wheelchair-bound woman with the same is seen at 20:36.


At 19:41 on the Blu-ray, when Rover appears, all of the Village residents stand stock-still. The scene was shot with Rover moving away from the camera, then ran in reverse to give the impression of it moving towards the camera. The extras acting as residents were all told to stand still so they wouldn't appear to be walking (and generally moving) in reverse. This filming tactic happens again near the end of the episode (at 49:32), as Rover approaches Number 6 who has just landed in the helicopter; the smoke from the chimneys on the old people's home is moving in reverse...going back into the chimneys! The copter's blades are also rotating in reverse.


At 19:55 on the Blu-ray, notice a vendor of the Village newspaper, the Tally Ho, is visible in the background. The phrase "tally-ho" is a British one used during a fox hunt to announce sighting of the prey. This may be an indication of the Village's true purpose: not as a retirement community for government workers who handled sensitive information, but a way of keeping them all together in order to individually ferret out who may have compromised said information to other sources.


At 20:23 on the Blu-ray, the man in the red-and-white striped shirt is seen again in the background! Obviously, a shot was placed in a different order in the editing room to get a reaction shot from Number 6 that they wanted.


A man in a sailor's cap, referred to as an ex-admiral by Number 2, at 20:32 on the Blu-ray is Number 66. Yet, later, the woman who is assigned as Number 6's personal maid is also Number 66! And still later, the woman who drives the taxi as Number 6 is discharged from the hospital is also 66!


The Village is seen to have a labour exchange (now more commonly known as an employment agency). Is this merely a voluntary option for those "retirees" who would like to occupy themselves with work during their residency?


A number of signs with Village propaganda slogans are seen in the labour exchange office. "Of the people, by the people, for the people." "Humour is the essential ingredient of a democratic society." "A still tongue makes a happy life." "Questions are a burden to others, answers a prison for oneself."


All of the applicants at the labour exchange are humming the same tune. I've not been able to identify it.


At the labour exchange, Number 6 is asked to take an aptitude test. The test is simply to drop a round peg into a square hole. The round peg is smaller than the square hole, so fits easily in, until the hole irises shut, preventing the peg from falling. Possibly a lesson to Number 6 about how he is expected to "fit in".


The labour exchange manager is Number 20. He has built a contraption on his desk that is made from parts similar to those of the Tinkertoy construction set for children, but the parts are larger. Why has he built it? Simply a hobby to while away the time between applicants? He starts playing with the spinnarets on it when he suggests to Number 6 adding his hobby to the form he is to fill out, so possibly it is one of Number 20's hobbies. However, the man seems at least a bit frantic to reconstruct the thing when Number 6 knocks it down in a fit of temper.


Vanity Fair caricatures At 22:38 on the Blu-ray, three Vanity Fair caricature prints are seen on the wall of Number 6's study. They are of Sir Henry Hoyle Howorth (1842-1923), a British politician; Arthur Wrottesley, 3rd Baron Wrottesley (1824-1910); and Francis Workman-MacNaghton (1763–1843), Baron Macnaghton. (Thanks again to David Stimpson's The Prisoner Dusted Down.) Vanity Fair was a British weekly magazine published from 1868 to 1914, known as "A Weekly Show of Political, Social and Literary Wares".


When Number 6 tells the maid to get out of his apartment, notice that she has to open the door herself. Whenever 6 approaches, it opens and closes by itself; it seems to be keyed to his presence.


At 22:52 on the Blu-ray, a portion of the wall in Number 6's apartment slides up, revealing a larger apartment than what first appears. The sliding wall portion is never seen again in the series. Why was it there at all? Was it originally there to approximate the size of the original room at his home in London for his first wake-up on the couch near the beginning of the episode? Presumably this is the case because, in "Many Happy Returns", Number 6 escapes the Village and returns to his London apartment, and we do, in fact, see a wall in that location.


A couple of lava lamps are seen in Number 6's cottage at 23:35 on the Blu-ray.


While searching through the cabinets and drawers of his new apartment, Number 6 pulls two cans of food from a kitchen cupboard and slams them down on the cabinet, but in the next shot, there are three cans sitting in front of him. Also, a green cup that was sitting on the cabinet is now missing.


The series was prescient in the use of wireless electrical devices, such as the wireless public phone Number 6 used earlier and the wireless speaker in his apartment.


The maid tells Number 6 she's been in the Village for as long as she can remember and that her parents died when she was a child. This seems to imply she has been in the Village since she was very young and no longer remembers any life outside of it.


   The Control Room of the Village is circular and seen to have a huge map of the globe on one hemisphere of the wall and a map of the constellations and stars on the other. Are these of any particular use to the controllers? Or are they just decoration? (PopApostle reader Simon comments, "the star constellations there are completely fictious. My father knows a lot about astronomy and this catched his eye very early." I'm not particularly studied-up on my constellations, but I have to admit I can't pick out any identifiable ones...any other visitors out there able to tell if they are real constellations as viewed from Earth?) The floor of the room has a ring around it that may be a map of the Village, having a similar graphic look, but the landmarks do not quite seem to match the Village itself; perhaps it is the outer edge of the Village area, meant to aid in locating potential escapees?
   A large, electronic eye-like device rotates around the room, suspended from the ceiling. What is its purpose? In the final episode of the series, "Fall Out", a similar, though static, eye apparently provides Number 1's view of the proceedings of the assembly room in that episode. Is the device here then an indication that Number 1 was (or, at least, could have been) watching events in the Control Room at all times?
   And what is the purpose of the seesaw-like apparatus in the center? What benefit is derived from having the two men at the monitors mounted at either end bounce up and down and rotate?
Control Room


In the Control Room, we are introduced to the Supervisor, played by Peter Swanwick. He is Number 26. The Supervisor is the third most prevalent character in the series, appearing in 8 of the 17 episodes.


At 28:08 on the Blu-ray, notice that the bass drum carrier starts to walk into frame from the left even though the band does not seem to be playing. The shot seems to be a leftover from the earlier scene of the marching band.


Why is there an exact duplicate of the repairman in the form of a gardener? Are they twin brothers? Clones? Robots?


After his escape attempt is foiled by Rover, Number 6 finds himself in the Village hospital and meets another patient, whom he recognizes as a colleague named Cobb. An attendant refers to him as an amnesia case, but he recognized Number 6 from his past and answered his questions about how he found himself there. Later, Cobb allegedly commits suicide and Number 6 befriends a woman, Number 9, who says she was working with Cobb on an escape attempt and had grown attached to him. At the end of the episode, we learn (though Number 6 does not) that Cobb is alive and well and was working with the Village's powers-that-be all along.


Another lava lamp is seen in the hospital at 34:41 on the Blu-ray.


While running some tests on Number 6, the doctor manipulates buttons on a device that is labeled in the Greek alphabet at 35:21 on the Blu-ray. However, a couple of switches on the device are labeled in the standard Latin alphabet.


PopApostle reader Simon remarks on how the doctor is apparently able to read a computer punch card to tell the state of Number 6's health!


For some reason, the doctor does not wear a number badge, at least not visibly.


   At 35:25 on the Blu-ray, a Honeywell data tape spool is seen in use on the computer in the hospital; Honeywell made computer products at the time, but sold off the computing division in 1989.

   A few seconds later, a Roband oscilloscope is seen (and is seen in some later episodes); Roband no longer makes oscilloscopes.


The exterior of the hospital is the real world Castell Deudraeth, in the woods near Portmeirion. It was originally built in 1188 before falling into ruin over the centuries. It was rebuilt in the Victorian era and has served various functions ever since. It is now a hotel.


As Number 6 makes a return visit to Number 2's office at 37:11 on the Blu-ray, notice that video of the morphing blobs of a lava lamp is seen on one wall.


The music played by the Village band during Cobb's funeral is the "Radetzky March" composed by Johann Strauss Sr. in 1848.


The powers-that-be in the Village carry an electro-pass that allows them to bypass alarms, operate certain machinery, such as the helicopter, or to evade or quiet Rover. Number 6 is given one by Number 9 in the form of a watch, to allow him to take the helicopter in this episode; the new Number 2 even lets him keep it after his aerial escape is foiled, just to remind him that escape is not possible. Later stories suggest that Number 2 carries an electro-pass in the requisite umbrella.


Number 2 remarks to Number 9 "We shall be watching your progress with great interest." Over 30 years later, the character of Chancellor Palpatine in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace remarks to the 9-year-old Anakin Skywalker, "We shall watch your career with great interest." The almost identical statement in Star Wars may be a nod to The Prisoner. In both ongoing storylines, the protagonist seemingly becomes the villain (Darth Vader/Number 1) later on.


During a game of chess with Number 6, the ex-Admiral tells him, "Your mind's not on the game." Ironically, 6's mind is on the game, just a different one; the game he's begun with Number 2 to retain his individuality and escape the Village.


When Number 6 takes his leave of the chess match to join Number 9 on the stone boat, the ex-Admiral begins humming the old sea shanty song "Drunken Sailor" and the background music joins him.


At 45:30 on the Blu-ray, the electro-pass watch indicates the date is the 19th. From what we can tell in this episode, this is the day after Number 6's arrival, so that would have been the 18th. What month, we don't know. The watch is a modified Hamilton Automatic made by the Hamilton Watch Company.


The helicopter's control panel shows a fuel gauge in U.S. gallons as opposed to imperial gallons (U.K.), 3.79 L vs. 4.546 L.


The view through the cockpit of the grounded copter shows it is not in the same location near the Village beach as it was when Number 6 climbed in (notice the two-slatted wooden fence in the distance)!


In this episode, we learn that Number 6 knows how to fly a helicopter.


The ex-admiral's striped shirt must be awfully thin. At 47:41 on the Blu-ray, you can see his undershirt through it.


As he invites Number 9 to learn the game of chess, the ex-Admiral remarks, "We're all pawns, m'dear." This may indicate he is sharper than he lets on.


At 48:19 on the Blu-ray, the female Control Room operative appears to be Number 114.


At 48:41 on the Blu-ray, a parked car can be seen in the view of the Village below the helicopter.


At 48:47 on the Blu-ray, it is quite obviously not Patrick McGoohan in the helicopter as it lands back in the Village! In fact, the pilot is also obviously wearing a headset, which Number 6 is not.


Though the Village seems largely British-influenced, there are international touches visible. Might it be that the Village is maintained by a number of nations working in conjunction and possibly swapping agents? Notice that when Cobb leaves the Village he says to Number 2 that he mustn't keep his new masters waiting. What does he mean by "new masters"? Number 2 responds with, "They'll be delighted with you. Give them our compliments," and Cobb replies, "I will. And I'll tell them there are no loopholes." It sounds as if Cobb is being given over to work for another agency or, possibly, nation. Notice that at the very last he says, "Auf Wiedersehen," which is German for "goodbye", instead of the typical (for the Village) "Be seeing you." And he told Number 6 in the hospital that the last he remembered, he was in Germany before waking up here. So, maybe Cobb is being "traded" to either West or East Germany. If East Germany, all the more sinister since they were part of the communist block controlled by the Soviet Union at the time.


At 49:43 on the Blu-ray, the sign near the beach says "Residents Only". But isn't everyone in the Village a resident by default? The sign is worn-looking and seems to me it might be an actual sign of Portmeirion.


At the very end of the episode, the Butler, carrying his open black-and-white umbrella, walks toward the camera, and seems like he's going walk right into the "Residents Only" sign!


The final shot (besides the end credits) of every episode of the series is one of Number 6's face zooming up from an aerial view of the Village while prison bars slam shut over it. This signifies that at the end of every episode, he is still a prisoner.


Notes from the Audio Commentary on the Blu-ray edition by Bernard Williams (Production Manager) and Tony Sloman (film librarian)


Portmeirion is located within the larger community of Penrhyndeudraeth. The name is Welsh for "Peninsula with Two Beaches".


The presence of the Old Peoples Home in the Village is meant to suggest that once you are placed in the Village, you are there for life.


Early drafts of the first few scripts of The Prisoner referred to our protagonist as Drake, indicating he was, in fact, Agent John Drake of the Danger Man TV show McGoohan had starred in prior to co-creating this series. Later, the character was called P (presumably for "Prisoner"). Finally, "Number 6" was settled upon. Possibly the "Number 6" appellation came from an episode of the British 1958-59 TV series The Adventures of William Tell, "The Prisoner", in which Michael Caine guest-starred as a captured Swiss resistance fighter referred to as Number 6. (Intriguingly, the William Tell series was produced by Ralph Smart, who would go on to create and produce Danger Man.)


The commentators point out that the colored alert codes used by the Supervisor are similar to the modern day terrorism alert codes used by the U.S. Homeland Security Advisory System (during the administration of President George W. Bush).


Notes from the original edit of "Arrival" bonus feature on the Blu-ray boxed set of The Prisoner


This version has different music by Albert Elms instead of the familiar themes by Ron Grainer.


The appearances of Rover are accompanied by the sound of deep breathing and what may be a heartbeat instead of the semi-roaring sound Rover is known for since the airing of the series in 1967. But do the more organic sounds presented here indicate Rover is some kind of living organism?


Rover does not attack an errant Village inhabitant near the fountain in this version as it does in the televised version, though it does still make a mysterious appearance at this point and disappears into the Village, presumably sent after someone.


As the end credits close out, the penny-farthing fades out and instead of the familiar ending shot of Rover emerging from the sea and taking off across the waters, we see a painted image of the Earth against the background of the universe. Then the universe shrinks down to wheel size and both Earth and universe become the wheels of the penny-farthing!
Earth and universe pennyfarthing as Earth and universe


Notes from the aborted 1977 Marvel comic by Steve Englehart and Gil Kane


While working for Marvel Comics in 1977, Marv Wolfman obtained the rights for the company to produce a Prisoner comic book. Steve Englehart was drafted to write an adaptation of "Arrival" for the first issue, with Gil Kane providing art. The project was dropped before it was ever published, but a few pages for the comic have survived. Read Englehart's history of his involvement with it at his website, Six sample pages of Gil Kane's art from the story are on display at Heritage Auctions.


On page 1, notice that Number 6's vehicle is not a Lotus Seven as seen in the opening titles of the TV series, but something quite different. It does have the same license plate, KAR-120C.


The version of the Village seen in Kane's art is influenced by, but not an exact rendition of, Portmeirion.


To provide a cover for the program of Bay Con 2 (a San Francisco comic con), Englehart had inker Tom Orzechowski ink the page 1 splash page of the issue and Englehart provided the following quote (presumably from his original script) of Number 6 as we see him driving down a London street to deliver his resignation: "There seem to be so many times in a man's life when he must choose between honour and expediency. Once again, my time has come, and once again, I've chosen honour. A curious choice, but there you are. I expect there'll be some trouble over this."


On the Bay Con 2 cover, Orzechowski has changed Number 6's car to something else yet again, though it is a bit more reminiscent of the Lotus Seven. (See the image at


Notes from the aborted 1977 Marvel comic by Jack Kirby


Not long after Englehart's version of the comic was shelved by Marvel, famed artist/writer Jack Kirby took a shot at it. It was also shelved by Marvel, unpublished. You can read the first six pages (inked and lettered by Mike Royer) at the Internet Archive page of the Red Circle. Kirby and Stan Lee had earlier done an homage to The Prisoner in issues 84-87 of Fantastic Four in 1968-69, in which the heroic quartet are trapped by their arch-nemesis Dr. Doom, dictator of the European nation of Latveria, in a Latverian village filled with his obedient, fearful subjects.


On the double-page spread on pages 2-3, notice that Number 6 walks past a tree in a tree cage (designed to make the tree and its branches grow in a particular shape). This can be interpreted as an allusion to the inhabitants of the Village, caged within and forced to conform to a certain mental state. A very similar-looking, but smaller, cage is seen, incidentally, in various episodes, with vines growing on it instead.
Kirby tree cage Portmeirion tree cage


Page 4 states that the night of Number 6's resignation, the weather had been as bad as his temper. This would be a reference to the thunderclaps heard in the opening titles of the series (though no stormy weather is actually seen).


On page 5, the bureaucrat behind the desk who receives Number 6's angry resignation has a full head of hair, unlike the bald George Markstein who played the unnamed character in the opening titles and in "Many Happy Returns".


Also on page 5, a small conveyor belt carries Number 6's recorder card to the "Resigned" drawer. In the opening title of the TV series, a robotic arm carried it instead.


When Number 6 goes to meet with Number 2, another man is also present in Number 2's office; this man was not there in the televised episode.


The depiction of Number 2's helicopter on page 15 is an almost exact representation of the one seen in the episode. 

Unanswered Questions

Why did Number 6 resign from his job in the first place? Why did he not tell his agency why he did so? Wouldn't you want your employer to know why you were leaving so suddenly? I guess the idea is that he did tell them and they don't believe him. The resignation scene is presented silently except for music and thunder, but has anyone skilled at lip reading ever tried to figure out what McGoohan is saying? (There is an unsubstantiated rumor that McGoohan was merely reciting lines from a W.B. Yeats poem!)

How is Rover guided? Is it alive? A programmed machine of some kind?

Why is Number 2 replaced in the middle of this episode and a new one seen in almost every other episode? In "It's Your Funeral" it is revealed that there is a permanent Number 2 who has been on an extended leave (for unexplained reasons) and this Number 2 returns for his retirement ceremony in that episode.

One of the commentators suggests that the ex-Admiral has been in the Village too long and has lost his marbles. I commented above that maybe he is sharper than he lets on. Which is it?

Notes from the bonus materials on the Network Blu-ray set

The bonus materials on the Blu-ray series set include inserts of the "Resigned" file cabinet shot of the opening titles in various other languages for the non-English speaking countries in which the series was shown, including one in Oriental writing.

In the Don't Knock Yourself Out making of The Prisoner documentary, Prodution Manager Bernie Williams states that the black-and-white photo of the nameless agent seen in his resignation file is from a publicity photo of McGoohan from his time on Danger Man.

The female voice of the Village heard over the P.A. system was that of actress Fenella Fielding, uncredited in the series.

The original Rover Bernie Williams states that despite persistent rumors to the contrary, the originally-designed Rover machine did not sink in the waters off Portmeirion during the shoot of "Arrival". It was clear to the crew from the start once the unseen machine arrived on location in Portmeirion that would it never float. In fact, test shots (and gut instinct) on the grounds showed it to be laughably inadequate as anything the audience would accept as a scary guardian/pursuer. They dismissed any further attempts at using it almost immediately and later came up with the weather balloon idea for Rover when Williams and McGoohan saw some balloons in the sky while they were mulling the issue over a drink.
The original Rover  

Notes from the GURPS Prisoner sourcebook

The GURPS Prisoner sourcebook was published in 1989 by Steve Jackson Games as part of its GURPS (Generic Universal Role-Playing System). It was an authorized guide written by David Ladyman. As a publication authorized by ITC Entertainment, I am noting a few minor revelations it contains about the Village.

Some military officers may be allowed to retain their uniforms for wear.

   The book suggests a few different interpretations of the Village for GMs (Game Masters) to use in a gaming campaign. This includes one in which aliens are behind the Village, which could explain the weird science of the show and the rocket that leaves the Village in the final TV episode, "Fall Out". It might also explain the "cosmic penny-farthing" in the alternate closing credits of the pilot "Arrival" episode. Also, in the audio commentary of "Fall Out" by Eric Mival (music editor) and Noreen Ackland (editor) on the Blu-ray, Mival remarks that the rocket was said by the producers to be headed for another planet! There is also the Colonel's odd globe that does not appear to be of Earth in "A(r)rival" to consider.
   The book also suggests some literary archvillains who could be the masters of the Village, such as Professor Moriarty or Fu Manchu. Moriarty was the arch-nemesis of detective Sherlock Holmes in the Holmes novels of Arthur Conan Doyle. Fu Manchu is a fictional crime character created by writer Sax Rohmer in 1913 for a series of books and who has appeared in numerous films and comic books.

The book speculates as to whether Number 1 changes as often as Number 2. Or is Number 1 a computer?

The book points out that numbers over 100 tend to be underground workers (not generally appearing in the above-ground Village proper and assuming roles as doctors, scientists, bureaucrats, etc.).

The book points out that most of the numbered badges are black on white, but some are white on black, with no apparent significance to the variation.

The book points out that the numbering of the Village's population goes up to at least 300. It goes on to speculate that somewhere around 300 people live in the Village (including the underground workers). It goes on to speculate that about 70 workers live underground and about 40 live in the old people's home.

Page 21 speculates that there may be a subliminal component to the music that plays over the Village speakers.

Page 31 gives statistics on the Butler. He is 3'11", 115 lbs., with black eyes. However, actor Angelo Muscat, who played the Butler, was 4'3".

Page 32 gives statistics on the Supervisor. He is 5'9", 150 lbs.

Page 32 states that the masters of the Village tended to recruit social science and medical investigators whose research was impeded by laws against human experimentation. "This is the main reason why the village has access to ground-breaking techniques of behavior, mind and memory modification unavailable to the rest of the world."

Page 33 suggests that the workers occupying the see-saw posts in the Control Room are the best of the general observers, viewing screens that rapidly sequence through nearly every monitor in the Village. "With only a momentary glance through each monitor, these warders are trained to detect questionable activity and transfer the potentially offending view to one of the other warder stations in the room for more prolonged observation..." Still, the book provides no further explanation of why they should be seated at a device that see-saws!

Page 35 gives statistics on Number 6. He is 6' tall, 165 lbs. Actor Patrick McGoohan was said to have been 6'1" to 6'2" inches tall. And it seems unlikely that the man of 6' height would weigh only 165 lbs. unless he was extremely thin.

   Page 36 describes the Village hospital as like a four-story fortress. This may be a bit of a nod to the real world building's origins as a (reconstructed) medaeval castle.
   This page also describes the fourth floor as providing quarters for the staff.

Page 38 describes the foyer of the Green Dome as decorated as an 18th Century European salon.

Page 38 describes doors to the left and right of the door leading to the centrum of the Green Dome, the left leading to the Butler's quarters and kitchen, the right to a waiting room for those wishing to see Number 2. This is the first metion I have found of the Butler's living quarters. The later novel The Prisoner's Dilemma also describes the Butler's quarters (no mention of a "kitchen" other than his own). Possibly this room is the small annex at the back of the Green Dome noticed by David Stimpson on his Prisoner blog, though the photograph shows it to the right of the centrum door, not left. Butler's quaters

Page 39 points out a disguised, rarely used, back entrance to the Green Dome on the far side of the wall from the main doorway of the centrum.

Page 39 describes the House of Fun on the Village map as the home of the Cat & Mouse cabaret, a games arcade, and a cinema. The Cat & Mouse appears in "Free for All".

Page 40 describes the Shop on the Village map as a boutique that changes specialties periodically. According to the book, it is the watchmaker's shop in "It's Your Funeral".

Page 41 points out that the Citizens' Advice Bureau (mentioned in this episode) has become the living quarters for the Professor and wife in "The General" and is made over to simulate Number 6's agent offices in "The Chimes of Big Ben".

Postcards mailed to addresses outside the Village will come back marked "Address Unknown".

The Village Weekly magazine is available "occasionally".

The Mangrove Walk mentioned in the book is also mentioned in "Hammer Into Anvil".

Page 43 says there is an elaborate system of underground passages and rooms beneath the Village, accessible through the Green Dome, Town Hall, the hospital, and a few caves in the woods. One passage is said to lead into and out of the Village; supplies are delivered via this route.

Page 43 describes Rover as more than just a single entity, mentioning one that is about 6' in size and at least two others that are just 3' across, as seen for bringing back a Villager at sea. Rover did retrieve Villagers from the sea in "The Chimes of Big Ben", but I'm unable to recall a second occasion. In "The Chimes of Big Ben", it seemed more like Rover had budded two smaller spheres adhered to itself to tow in Nadia from the sea. The novels I am Not a Number! and Number 2 refer to different versions of the Guardian/Rover.

Memorable Dialog

be seeing you.wav
is your number "6"?.wav
delighted to see you.wav
one likes to know everything.wav
this can be a very nice place.wav
I will not be pushed.wav
my life is my own.wav
I shall miss it when I'm gone.wav
you might even meet people you know.wav
it will grow on you.wav
I think we have a challenge.wav
orange alert.wav
some new clothes.wav
he's coming along nicely.wav
I am the new Number 2.wav
everyone has a number.wav
I am not a number.wav
only so much time to give them what they want.wav
we shall be watching your progress.wav
we're all pawns.wav
she'll be well taken care of.wav
slamming jail door.wav

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