Characters in The Prisoner
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Characters from the TV series The Prisoner.
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Number Six typically wears a dark brown jacket with off-white piping trim (often mistaken for a black jacket in some lighting conditions, but the original has been seen by fans in Portmeirion in the 1980s and is unfaded dark brown all over), a dark blue rollneck sweater, tan slacks, dark blue boating shoes with white soles, and forsakes his "6" ID badge. There were at least two dark jackets, with slight differences in the cream-coloured piping. Little is known about Number Six's background other than that he fought in a war against Germany and was born on 19 March 1928 (which is also McGoohan's birthday). The flashback setup in "Once Upon a Time" suggests that Number Six was a bomber crewman, most likely with RAF Bomber Command. His seated position relative to the pilot (portrayed in illusion by Number Two) indicates that he was a bombardier/navigator. In the episode "Many Happy Returns" he claims that his name is "Peter Smith" and expects it to appear on his house lease and car log book. In the episode "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" the Prisoner, in another man's body, reveals that he was at one point engaged to the daughter of one of his superiors. He refuses to cooperate, despite constant efforts by Number Two to get information from him.
Number Six initially spends his energy seeking ways to escape, and later in the series turns his attention to finding out more about the Village and its unseen rulers. His attempts are easily rebuffed; however, their efforts to extract information necessitate increasingly drastic measures through the course of the series.
The later episodes feature fewer escape bids and more psychological themes such as the nature of power and authority, and their relationship with liberty. His cunning and defiance only increase while in captivity: in "Hammer into Anvil" he reduces Number Two to a mad, paranoid wreck through deception. As the Number Twos become more coercive and desperate, Number Six's behaviour becomes progressively sharp, uncompromising, and eccentric.
Patrick McGoohan has been quoted in an interview in the Summer/Fall 1985 issue of New Video Magazine (reprinted in The Official Prisoner Companion) as saying he chose "6" because it is the only number that becomes another number when turned upside down. He acknowledged that 1 and 0 achieve the same effect, but said, "6 is far more interesting."
Number Six always assumed that someone designated "Number One" was in charge of the Village, but only twice do any of the Village's visible authorities directly acknowledge the existence of such a person. In the final scene of "Once Upon a Time", Number Six, having trounced Number Two, is asked by the Supervisor, "What do you desire?" When Six answers, "Number One," the Supervisor responds, "I'll take you." At the end of "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling," the Colonel implores of Number Two, "You must contact Number One and tell him I did my duty." It is unclear if the Colonel is simply assuming that Number Two's superior is Number One or if he has actually met Number One, although the original shooting script makes it clear that "Oscar" (the Colonel) has indeed met One, and has a conversation with him whilst observing Six behind a two-way mirror. The Colonel is certainly not part of the Village's usual operating staff and does not have a number himself. Perhaps significantly, Number Six does not appear to hear his statement. In the final episode, Number One initially appears as a hooded figure. When confronted by The Prisoner, he is wearing a mask of an ape, but when this mask is removed, the face of Number Six himself is revealed. Number One then climbs up a ladder and seals a hatch behind him, laughing madly all the while.
A clear, direct statement regarding Number One is never forthcoming even when it is the subject of discussion in the series, with Number Two in "The Chimes of Big Ben" declaring, "It doesn't matter who Number One is." In "Free For All", when The Prisoner and Number Two are discussing the consequences of being elected Number Two, the older man states, "Number One will no longer be a mystery to you, if you know what I mean." Both statements may be conceding the existence of an actual Number One, or may simply refer to Number Six's desire to meet Number One. It is also possible that Number One is, like The General, not a human being. In their official functions, Number Two and the Village operations staff even avoid referring to Number One by title. Some have interpreted this as indicating that there actually is no "Number One" in the personal sense, much like the non-existent Big Brother in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is evident, however, that there is someone who certainly seems to give direct orders to Number Two, because in several episodes, Number Two appears intimidated by telephone calls from a person addressed only as "Sir".
According to co-creator George Markstein, "Number One is the villain in charge."
In a 1970s television interview with British television presenter Mike Smith, Patrick McGoohan stated: "The reason that it was confusing, and that [the viewers] were disappointed, I think, was that they expected the ending to be similar to a 'Bond' thing, with this mystery man, the head man or whatever they call him in Bond; and of course it wasn't about that at all. It was about the most evil human 'being', human 'essence'; and that is ourselves, because within each of us, that is the most dangerous thing on Earth, is what is within us. And so therefore that's what I made No. 1: One's 'self', an image of himself that he was trying to beat." McGoohan planted clues to this throughout the series, including the Prisoner's residence in London bearing the numeral "1" on the door, and that the phrasing of No. 2's response to the Prisoner's question, "Who is No. 1?" can be taken either as a non-response – "You are No. 6" – or as an answer – "You are, No. 6."
In a 1977 television interview on Ontario Television with Canadian television interviewer Warner Troyer, McGoohan stated he was astonished that no one in the interview audience postulated that The Butler (played by Angelo Muscat) was either Number One, or someone even higher in authority than Number One. McGoohan based this scenario on the final scene of "Fall Out" where Number Six's door automatically opens and closes itself in the same manner as in The Village in combination with the presence of The Butler with Number Two.
In Shattered Visage, a comic book sequel set 20 years later, Number Six says rhetorically, "Does the presence of Number Two require the existence of Number One?"
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The Village is openly administered by an official designated as "Number Two". The person assigned to the position is changed on a regular basis. There are two Number Twos with repeat appearances: Leo McKern appeared in three episodes, and Colin Gordon in two. With the exception of "Fall Out", this was the result of the actors performing their roles in two consecutive episodes filmed back to back. Colin Gordon was filmed in "The General" followed immediately with "A. B. and C." McKern was featured in the series' second transmitted episode, "The Chimes of Big Ben," and then featured in the next production episode to be filmed "Once Upon a Time." Three actors who portray Number Twos also appear in other episodes, possibly as different characters – Georgina Cookson ("A. B. and C." as party guest and "Many Happy Returns" as Mrs Butterworth/No. 2), Kenneth Griffith ("The Girl Who Was Death" as Schnipps/No. 2 and "Fall Out" as The Judge) and Patrick Cargill ("Many Happy Returns" as Thorpe, and "Hammer into Anvil" as No. 2) – although this is ambiguous, particularly in the case of Kenneth Griffith's character.
The various Number Twos seem to make use of several symbols of their authority. One of the most striking is the Seal, a large golden medallion, somewhat in the style of a mayoral chain, with the penny-farthing logo and the official title "Chief Administrator". This is only seen in one episode, "It's Your Funeral". The two more visible signs are a multicoloured scarf, and a colourful cross between an umbrella and a shooting stick (used as a cane). Most, though not all, of the Number Twos seem to use these symbolic objects.
Throughout the series, the various Number Twos try to break Number Six with their will. A variety of interrogation, intimidation, drugs, and mind control techniques are used by sequential Number Twos. Number Six's importance usually prevents the use of brutal methods – routinely employed on other prisoners – against him (this policy was ignored by the female Number Two at the end of "Free For All").
The first episode, "Arrival", established that the people holding the position of Number Two were rotated on a regular basis. Some fans have interpreted the removal of a Number Two exclusively as a punishment for failure, but there were only two individuals who actually fit this categorization. The episode "Free for All" initially suggests that Number Twos are "democratically elected by the people." However, this was ultimately revealed to have been part of the attempt used by the Number Two(s) of that episode to break Number Six.
One of these Number Twos was recalled to the Village as the final Number Two (as played by McKern). This Number Two appears to be known at the highest levels of government, since in the final episode, "Fall Out", McKern's character arrives at the Palace of Westminster and is immediately admitted; presumably this is intended to signify his entry (or return) into the administrative or political "mainstream". It has also been noted that the character uses the Peers' Entrance, and thus might be a Member of House of Lords, with a title either inherited through birth or received from the Crown. An alternative interpretation is that the Palace of Westminster is a symbol of openness and democracy, in contrast to the themes of secrecy, totalitarianism and the suppression of the individual; given the McKern character's experiences in the episode, he may represent the birth or rebirth of this enlightened point of view within the government.
- Established in Arrival (The Prisoner).