The Prisoner

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The Prisoner
The Prisoner (logo).jpg
Created byPatrick McGoohan
George Markstein
Written by
Directed by
StarringPatrick McGoohan
Theme music composerRon Grainer
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series1
No. of episodes17 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)Patrick McGoohan
Producer(s)David Tomblin
Production location(s)
Running time50 minutes
Production company(s)ITC Entertainment
Everyman Films
DistributorIndependent Television Corporation
Original networkITV
Picture format4:3 35 mm film
Audio formatMono
Original release29 September 1967 (1967-09-29) –
1 February 1968 (1968-02-01)

The Prisoner is a 1967 British science fiction-allegorical television series about an unidentified British intelligence agent who is abducted and imprisoned in a mysterious coastal village, where his captors try to find out why he abruptly resigned from his job. It was created by Patrick McGoohan and George Markstein with McGoohan playing the main role of Number Six. Episodes covered various plots from spy fiction with elements of science fiction, allegory and psychological drama.[2] It was produced by Everyman Films for distribution by Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment company. [2]

A single season of 17 episodes was filmed between September 1966 and January 1968 with Portmeirion in north Wales standing in for the Village and interior shots filmed at MGM-British Studios in Borehamwood. The series was first broadcast in Canada beginning on 6 September 1967, then in the UK on 29 September 1967, and in the US on 1 June 1968.[3]. Although the show was sold as a thriller in the mould of the previous series starring McGoohan, Danger Man (1960–68; retitled as Secret Agent in the US), its combination of 1960s countercultural themes and surrealistic setting had a far-reaching influence on science fiction and fantasy TV programming, and on narrative popular culture in general.[4]

A TV miniseries remake aired on the US cable channel AMC between 15 and 17 November 2009.[5] This was followed by another remake as an audio drama in 2015 by Big Finish Productions.


The series follows an unnamed British man (played by Patrick McGoohan) who, after abruptly and angrily resigning from his job (seemingly being a government security job), apparently prepares to make a hurried departure from the country. While packing his luggage, he is rendered unconscious by knockout gas piped into his London flat. When he wakes, he finds himself in a re-creation of his apartment, located in a mysterious seaside "village" within which he is held captive, isolated from the mainland by mountains and sea. The Village is further secured by numerous monitoring systems and security forces including a militarised, balloon-based device called Rover that recaptures or destroys those who attempt escape. The man encounters the Village's population: hundreds of people from all walks of life and cultures, all seeming to be peacefully living out their lives. They do not use names, but have been assigned numbers, which give no clue as to any person's status within the Village, whether as inmate or guard. Potential escapees therefore have no idea whom they can and cannot trust. The protagonist is assigned Number Six, but he repeatedly refuses the pretence of his new identity.[citation needed]

Number Six is monitored heavily by Number Two, the Village administrator, who acts as an agent for the unseen "Number One". A variety of techniques are used by Number Two to try to extract information from Number Six, including hallucinogenic drug experiences, identity theft, mind control, dream manipulation, and various forms of social indoctrination and physical coercion. All of these are employed not only to find out why Number Six resigned as an agent, but also to elicit other purportedly dangerous information he gained as a spy. The position of Number Two is filled in by various other characters on a rotating basis. Sometimes this is part of a larger plan to confuse Number Six; at other times, it seems to be a change of personnel made as a result of failure to successfully interrogate Number Six.[citation needed]

I will not make any deals with you. I've resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own!

Number Six in first episode "Arrival"

Number Six, distrustful of everyone in the Village, refuses to co-operate or provide the answers they seek. He struggles, usually alone, with various goals, such as determining for which side of the Iron Curtain the Village works, if indeed it works for any at all; remaining defiant to its imposed authority; concocting his own plans for escape; learning all he can about the Village; and subverting its operation. His schemes lead to the dismissals of the incumbent Number Two on two occasions, although he never escapes. By the end of the series, the administration, becoming desperate for Number Six's knowledge as well as fearful of his growing influence in the Village, takes drastic measures that threaten the lives of Number Six, Number Two, and the rest of the Village.[citation needed]

A major theme of the series is individualism, as represented by Number Six, versus collectivism, as represented by Number Two and the others in the Village. McGoohan stated that the series aimed to demonstrate a balance between the two points.[6]


Recurring cast[edit]

Patrick McGoohan as Number 6

Actors who played the same role in more than one episode are:

Guest cast[edit]

Number Two actors[edit]

McGoohan was the only actor credited during the opening sequence, with Angelo Muscat the only actor considered a 'co-star' of the series. Several actors—including Alexis Kanner, Christopher Benjamin, Georgina Cookson, Kenneth Griffith and Patrick Cargill—appeared in more than one episode, playing different characters. Griffith appeared in "The Girl Who Was Death" and "Fall Out"; while he did play Number Two in "The Girl Who Was Death", his character in "Fall Out" may be the same character after the assignment of Number Two was passed to someone else (or, given events, abandoned). There is also a theory that Cargill played the same character in his two episodes; the Number Two that he plays in "Hammer into Anvil" may or may not be the same character as Thorpe, the aide to Number Six's superior, from "Many Happy Returns". Maher, McGoohan's stunt double, can be seen at the start of almost every episode, running across the beach; he also appears extensively in "The Schizoid Man" and in "Living in Harmony" as Third Gunman.



The show was created while Patrick McGoohan and George Markstein were working on Danger Man (known as Secret Agent in the US), an espionage show produced by Incorporated Television Company (also called ITC Entertainment). The exact details of who created which aspects of the show are disputed; majority opinion credits McGoohan as the sole creator of the series. However, a disputed co-creator status was later ascribed to Markstein after a series of fan interviews were published in the 1980s. The show itself bears no "created by" credit.

Some sources indicate McGoohan was the sole or primary creator of the show.[7][8][9] McGoohan stated in a 1977 interview (broadcast as part of a Canadian documentary about The Prisoner called The Prisoner Puzzle) that during the filming of the third season of Danger Man he told Lew Grade, managing director of ITC Entertainment, that he wanted to quit working on Danger Man after the filming of the proposed fourth series.[10] Grade was unhappy with the decision, but when McGoohan insisted upon quitting, Grade asked if McGoohan had any other possible projects; McGoohan later pitched The Prisoner. However, in a 1988 article from British Telefantasy magazine Time Screen, McGoohan indicated that he had planned to pitch The Prisoner prior to speaking to Grade.[11] In both accounts, McGoohan pitched the idea orally, rather than having Grade read the proposal in detail; and the two made an oral agreement for the show to be produced by Everyman Films, the production company formed by McGoohan and David Tomblin. In the 1977 account, McGoohan said that Grade approved of the show despite not understanding it, while in the 1988 account Grade expressed clear support for the concept.

Other sources, however, credit Markstein, then a script editor for Danger Man, with a significant or even primary portion of the development of the show. For example, Dave Rogers, in the book The Prisoner and Danger Man, said that Markstein claimed to have created the concept first and McGoohan later attempted to take credit for it, though Rogers himself doubted that McGoohan would have wanted or needed to do that.[4] A four-page document, generally agreed to have been written by Markstein, setting out an overview of the themes of the series, was published as part of an ITC/ATV press book in 1967. It has usually been accepted that this text originated earlier as a guide for the series writers.[12] Further doubt has been cast on Markstein's version of events by author Rupert Booth in his biography of McGoohan, entitled Not A Number. Booth points out that McGoohan had outlined the themes of The Prisoner in a 1965 interview, long before Markstein's tenure as script editor on the brief fourth season of Danger Man.

At any rate, part of Markstein's inspiration came from his research into the Second World War, where he found that some people had been incarcerated in a resort-like prison called Inverlair Lodge.[13] Markstein suggested that Danger Man's main character John Drake (played by McGoohan) could suddenly resign and, consequently, be kidnapped and sent to such a location.[13] McGoohan added Markstein's suggestion to material he had been working on, which later became The Prisoner. Furthermore, a 1960 episode of Danger Man entitled "View from the Villa" had exteriors filmed in Portmeirion, a Welsh resort village that struck McGoohan as a good location for future projects.

According to "Fantasy or Reality", a chapter of The Prisoner of Portmeirion, The Village is based, in part, on "a strange place in Scotland" operated by the Inter Services Research Bureau (ISRB), wherein "people" with "valuable knowledge of one sort or another" were held prisoners on extended "holidays" in a "luxury prison camp".[14] The Prisoner's story editor, George Markstein, this source contends, knows of "the existence of this 'secure establishment." However, this "Scottish prison camp, in reality was not, of course, a holiday-type village full of people wearing colourful" clothing.[14]

Further inspiration came from a Danger Man episode called "Colony Three", in which Drake infiltrates a spy school in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. The school, in the middle of nowhere, is set up to look like a normal English town in which pupils and instructors mix as in any other normal city, but the instructors are virtual prisoners with little hope of ever leaving. McGoohan also stated that he was influenced by his experience from theatre, including his work in the Orson Welles play Moby Dick—Rehearsed (1955) and a BBC television play, The Prisoner by Bridget Boland.[13] McGoohan wrote a forty-page show Bible, which included a: "history of the Village, the sort of telephones they used, the sewerage system, what they ate, the transport, the boundaries, a description of the Village, every aspect of it..."[10] McGoohan wrote and directed several episodes, often using pseudonyms. Specifically, McGoohan wrote "Free for All" under the pen name 'Paddy Fitz' (Paddy being the Irish diminutive for Patrick and Fitzpatrick being his mother's maiden name) and directed the episodes "Many Happy Returns" and "A Change of Mind" using the stage name 'Joseph Serf', the surname being ironically a word meaning a peasant who is under the control of a feudal master. Using his own name, McGoohan wrote and directed the last two episodes—"Once Upon a Time" and "Fall Out"—and directed "Free for All".[citation needed]

In a 1966 interview for the Los Angeles Times by reporter Robert Musel, McGoohan stated: "John Drake of Secret Agent is gone." Furthermore, McGoohan stated in a 1985 interview that Number Six is not the same character as John Drake, adding that he had originally wanted another actor to portray the character.[15] However, other sources indicate that several of the crew members who continued on from Danger Man to work on The Prisoner considered it to be a continuation, and that McGoohan was continuing to play the character of John Drake.[11] Furthermore, Dave Rogers states that Markstein had wanted the character to be a continuation of Drake, but by doing so would have meant paying royalties to Ralph Smart, creator of Danger Man.[4] Nevertheless, the second officially licensed novel based on The Prisoner, published in 1969, refers to Number Six as "Drake" from its very first sentence: "Drake woke."[16]

The issue has been debated by fans and TV critics, with some stating the two characters are the same, based on similarities in the shows, the characters, a few repeating actors beyond McGoohan, and certain specific connections in various episodes.[17][18][19]

McGoohan had originally wanted to produce only seven episodes of The Prisoner, but Grade argued more shows were necessary in order for him to successfully sell the series to CBS.[10] The exact number which was agreed to, along with how the series ended, is disputed by different sources.

In an August 1967 article, Dorothy Manners reported that CBS had asked McGoohan to produce 36 segments, but he would agree to produce only 17.[20] According to a 1977 interview, Lew Grade requested 26 episodes; McGoohan thought this would spread the show too thin, but was able to come up with 17 episodes.[10] However, according to The Prisoner: The Official Companion to the Classic TV Series, the series was originally supposed to run longer but was cancelled, forcing McGoohan to write the final episode in only a few days.[13]

The Prisoner had its British premiere on 29 September 1967 on ATV Midlands, and the last episode first aired on 1 February 1968 on Scottish Television.[3] The world broadcast premiere was on the CTV Television Network in Canada on 5 September 1967.[21]


Filming began with the shooting of the series' opening sequence in London on 28 August 1966,[22] with location work beginning on 5 September 1966, primarily in Portmeirion village near Porthmadog, north Wales.[23] This location partially inspired the show.[24] At the request of Portmeirion's architect Clough Williams-Ellis, the main location for the series was not disclosed until the opening credits of the final episode, where it was described as "The Hotel Portmeirion, Penrhyndeudraeth, North Wales".[23] Many local residents were recruited as extras.[23] The Village setting was further augmented by the use of the backlot facilities at MGM-British Studios in Borehamwood.[25]

Panoramic view of the central piazza, Portmeirion Village
The building at 1 Buckingham Place, used for Number Six's home

Additionally, filming of a key sequence of the opening credits—and of exterior location filming for three episodes—took place at 1 Buckingham Place in London, which at the time was a private residence; it doubled as Number Six's home.[26] The building is now a highlight of Prisoner location tours, and currently houses the headquarters of the Royal Warrant Holders Association.[27] The episodes "Many Happy Returns", "The Girl Who Was Death" (the cricket match for which was filmed at four different locations, with the main sequences filmed at Eltisley in Cambridgeshire) and "Fall Out" also made use of extensive location shooting in London and other locations.[28]

At the time, most British television was broadcast in black and white, but in order to reach the critical American audience the show was filmed in colour.[23]


Alternative ending[edit]

According to author James Follett, a protégé of The Prisoner co-creator George Markstein, Markstein had mapped out an explanation for the Village. In George Markstein's mind, a young John Drake, the lead character in the television series Danger Man, had once submitted a proposal for how to deal with retired secret agents who posed a security risk. Drake's idea was to create a comfortable retirement home where former agents could live out their final years, enduring firm but unobtrusive surveillance.

Years later, Drake discovered that his idea had been put into practice, and not as a benign means of retirement, but instead as an interrogation centre and a prison camp. Outraged, Drake staged his own resignation, knowing he would be brought to the Village. He hoped to learn everything he could of how his idea had been implemented and find a way to destroy it. However, due to the range of nationalities and agents present in the Village, Drake realised he was not sure whose Village he was in – one established by his own people, or by the other side. Drake's conception of the Village would have been the basis for declaring him to be "Number One".[30]

According to Markstein: "'Who is Number Six?' is no mystery – he was a secret agent called Drake who quit."

Markstein added:

The prisoner was going to leave the Village and he was going to have adventures in many parts of the world, but ultimately he would always be a prisoner. By that I don't mean he would always go back to the Village. He would always be a prisoner of his circumstances, his situation, his secret, his background ... and 'they' would always be there to ensure that his captivity continues.[31]

Opening and closing sequences[edit]

The opening and closing sequences of The Prisoner have become iconic. Cited as "one of the great set-ups of genre drama",[32] the opening sequence establishes the Orwellian and postmodern themes of the series;[33] its high production values have led the opening sequence to be described as more like a feature film than a television programme.[34]


Home media[edit]

The first home video editions of The Prisoner appeared in the 1980s. In North America, MPI Home Video released a total of 20 VHS videotapes in 1984 encompassing the entire series: one tape for each of the 17 episodes plus three more containing "The Alternate Version of 'The Chimes of Big Ben'", a documentary, and a "best of" retrospective. MPI also released editions of nine laserdiscs in 1988 and 1998, the last disc of which comprised the final Episode 17, "Fall Out", plus "The Prisoner Video Companion" on side two.

In the 1990s, the first DVD release of the series in North America/Region 1 was made available by A&E Home Video, under license from Carlton International Entertainment, in four-episode sets as well as a comprehensive 10-disc "mega-box" edition in the early 2000s; A&E subsequently reissued the mega-box in a 40th anniversary edition in 2007. The A&E issue included "The Alternate Version of 'The Chimes of Big Ben'" and the MPI-produced documentary (but not the redundant "best of" retrospective) among its limited special features.[citation needed]

Numerous editions of The Prisoner were, meanwhile, released in the UK/Region 2 by companies such as Carlton. These editions differed from the Region 1 release in their special features, including one release that included a recently discovered alternative version of "Arrival".[citation needed]

The Prisoner: The Complete Series was released on Blu-ray Disc in the United Kingdom on 28 September 2009,[35] following in North America on 27 October 2009.[36] The episodes were restored by Network DVD to create new high-definition masters,[37] of which standard-definition versions were used for The Prisoner: 40th Anniversary Special Edition DVD box-set released in 2007.[38] The US edition, once again by A&E Home Video, includes the first North American release of an alternative edit of "Arrival" (in high definition), as well as "The Alternate Version of 'The Chimes of Big Ben'" from the earlier DVD/VHS releases (in standard definition due to the degraded source material) and assorted documentaries and behind-the-scenes footage.[citation needed]

In other media[edit]

Film adaptation[edit]

Christopher Nolan was reported to be considering a film version in 2009,[39] but later dropped out of the project. The producer Barry Mendel said a decision to continue with the project depended on the success of the television mini-series.[40] In 2016, Ridley Scott was in talks to direct the screen version.[41]



Six into One: The Prisoner File (1984, 45 minutes) docudrama presented by Channel 4 after a repeat of the series in the UK. With its central premise to establish a reason why Number 6 resigned, the presentation revolved around a new Number 2 communicating with staff (and Number 1). It reviewed scenes from Danger Man and The Prisoner, incorporated interviews with cast members (including McGoohan) and fans, and addressed the political environment giving rise to the series and McGoohan's heavy workload.[42]

The Prisoner Video Companion (1990, 48 minutes) American production with clips, including a few from Danger Man, and voice-over narration discussing origins, interpretations, meaning, symbolism, etc., in a format modeled on the 1988 Warner book, The Official Prisoner Companion by Matthew White and Jaffer Ali.[43] It was released to DVD in the early 2000s as a bonus feature with A&E's release of The Prisoner series. MPI also issued The Best of The Prisoner, a video of series excerpts.

Don't Knock Yourself Out (2007, 95 minutes) documentary issued as part of Network's DVD set for the series' 40th Anniversary. It features interviews with around 25 cast and crewmembers. The documentary received a separate DVD release, featuring an extended cut, in November 2007 accompanied by a featurette, "Make Sure It Fits", regarding Eric Mival's music editing for the series.

The Simpsons (2000)[edit]

The series is parodied in the 2000 The Simpsons episode "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes". McGoohan reprised his role as Number Six in that episode. The 1998 The Simpsons episode, "The Joy of Sect", also includes a gag involving Rover.

The Prisoner (2009)[edit]

In 2009, the series was remade as a miniseries, also titled The Prisoner, which aired in the US on AMC. The miniseries starred Jim Caviezel as Number 6, and Ian McKellen as Number 2, and was shot on location in Namibia and South Africa. The series received mixed reviews, mainly unfavourable, with a 45/100 rating by 21 critics and 3.6/10 by 82 users as of July 2018.[44]


The finale of The Prisoner left open-ended questions, generating controversy and letters of outrage.[45] Following this controversial ending, McGoohan "claimed he had to go into hiding for a while".[45]

Awards and honours[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Prisoner, Original Soundtrack - 3 disc set - Network
  2. ^ a b Vinciguerra, Thomas (19 October 2008). "A Spy Trapped in a Nightmare of Psychedelia". The New York Times.
  3. ^ a b Pixley, Andrew (2007). The Prisoner – A Complete Production Guide.
  4. ^ a b c Rogers, Dave (1992). The Prisoner & Danger Man. [London]: Boxtree. ISBN 978-1-85283-260-5.
  5. ^ "The Prisoner - AMC". Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  6. ^ Gregory, Chris (1997). Be Seeing You--: Decoding The Prisoner. Indiana University Press. pp. 101–102. ISBN 1860205216.
  7. ^ "The Baron To Replace Danger Man" by Nan Musgrove The Australian Women's Weekly Wednesday, 3 August 1966 Page 19
  8. ^ Rick DuBrow Television Today "The Prisoner" The Cedar Rapids Gazette: Tuesday, 4 June 1968 pg. 10
  9. ^ O'Connor, John J. (16 January 1978). "'Prisoner' on TV Tonight". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 July 2011.(subscription required)
  10. ^ a b c d "The Prisoner Puzzle". The Prisoner.
  11. ^ a b Pixley, Andrew (Spring 1988). "The Prisoner: Every Man's Production". Time Screen (11).
  12. ^ Fairclough Robert, The Prisoner: Original Scripts Vol.1 pp. 9–10
  13. ^ a b c d Fairclough, Robert. The Prisoner: The Official Companion to the Classic TV Series.
  14. ^ a b Hora, Max. The Prisoner of Portmeirrion.
  15. ^ Calia, Barrington (1985). "Talking With McGoohan". New Video.
  16. ^ McDaniel, David (1969). The Prisoner #2. New York: Ace Books. p. 1. ASIN B001Q6TDUU.
  17. ^ White & Ali (1988), p. 145.
  18. ^ Terrace, Vincent. The Complete Encyclopedia of Television Programs 1947–79.
  19. ^ A.S. Barnes and Company (1981). TV Detectives. p. 113.
  20. ^ Manners, Dorothy (August 1967). "The Prisoner". Washington Post.
  21. ^ Toronto Star, 5 September 1967, p.22
  22. ^ The Prisoner: The Essential Guide, Rick Davy, Quoit Media Limited 2017 ISBN 978-1-911537-05-2
  23. ^ a b c d "In pictures: The Prisoner at 50". BBC. 5 September 2016. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  24. ^ Kahn, Eve M. (29 July 2007). "A Man's Whim on the Welsh Coast". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  25. ^ "Generous Donation :: Blog :: Elstree & Borehamwood Museum".
  26. ^ "The Unmutual Prisoner Locations Guide". Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  27. ^ "Royal Warrant Holders Association website".
  28. ^ "Complete Locations Guide to The Prisoner". The Unmutual Website.
  29. ^ "Rose Tobias Shaw, casting director - obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 10 November 2015. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  30. ^ James Follett (1994). The Making of Shakedown & DreamWatch '94 Highlights (VHS). London: Dreamwatch Media Ltd.
  31. ^ "An Interview with George Markstein". Archived from the original on 25 March 2009. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  32. ^ Mike Patterson. "The Prisoner – the classic British TV series".
  33. ^ Sardar, Ziauddin (1998). Postmodernism and the other: the new imperialism of Western culture. London: Pluto Press. pp. 1–3. ISBN 978-0-7453-0749-7.
  34. ^ Cole, Tom (15 January 2009). "Patrick McGoohan, TV's 'Prisoner' Number Six : NPR". Retrieved 11 March 2009.
  35. ^ Dave Foster (28 September 2009). "Film @ The Digital Fix - The Prisoner: The Complete Series (UK BD) in September". Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  36. ^ "The Prisoner: Complete Series Blu-ray Disc Details | High-Def Digest". High Def Digest. 27 October 2009. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  37. ^ Archived 31 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  38. ^ Eamonn McCusker. "Film @ The Digital Fix - The Prisoner: 40th Anniversary Special Edition". Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  39. ^ Child, Ben (12 February 2009). "Nolan signs to take Inception from script to screen". The Guardian. London.
  40. ^ "Nolan Drops The Prisoner". Contact Music. 13 August 2009. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  41. ^ Fleming, Mike (8 January 2016). "Ridley Scott Captivated By 'The Prisoner', Film Version Of Patrick McGoohan TV Series". Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  42. ^ Booth, Rupert (2011). Not a Number: Patrick McGoohan - a Life. Twickenham, U.K.: Supernova Books. pp. 305–310. ISBN 0-956-63292-0. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  43. ^ It was released in 1990 by MPI Home Video, then the licensed label for both/all three series in the United States. The copyright notice (the only credit) is ascribed to Maljack Productions, apparently the real company behind the name MPI. Jackson v. MPI Home Video
  44. ^ "The Prisoner - Season 1 Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2018-07-24.
  45. ^ a b "Number Six At 50: The 50th Anniversary Of 'The Prisoner'". Retrieved 2017-09-29.
  46. ^ "The Long List of Hugo Awards, 1969".
  47. ^ "September 2002: Prometheus Award Winners".
  48. ^ "TV Guide Names the Top Cult Shows Ever - Today's News: Our Take". 29 June 2007. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  49. ^ "Special Collector's Issue: 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time". TV Guide (28 June–4 July). 1997.
  50. ^ "The 100 Greatest TV episodes of all time!". TV Guide. 13 March 2003. Archived from the original on 28 October 2007. Retrieved 3 August 2009.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]