In the history of telly there have been a few outlandish, enigmatic, inscrutable or just quirky series which have generated, among viewers, affection, abiding curiosity, loyalty, even a cultists' devotion - the early Avengers, with Ian Hendry, spooky, a bit S and M; Blake's Seven, with Servillan and Avon displaying a bucketful of fetishes, the Americans have had the X Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Ally McBeal and of course tragic David Carradine's unforgettable, benign, warrior-monk, Kwang Chai Caine, in Kung Fu,
Surely the most enduring, timeless of these things, though, is the late Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner,
a seventeen episode series, starring and co-created by McGoohan.
These seventten episodes have been shown over and over, memorised and dissected by afficianadoes since they were first shown in 1967. It may be that the tenor of the times - Peace, Man and Drugs and Sex - imbued the series with a weight it didn't really merit; equally, the series may have dignified a culture which was, in many ways, rubbish, a Whiter Shade of Tosh, the over-acclaimed, druggy doggerel of Sgt Pepers Lonely Hearts Club Band. To a backdrop of mini-skirts and mini-mokes and God fucking help us, mini-operas, McGoohan's nameless hero, a former spook contends with, as WIKI relates;
" .... striking and often surreal storylines, and themes include hypnosis, hallucinogenic drug experiences, identity theft, mind control, dream manipulation, and various forms of social indoctrination. A major theme of the show is individualism versus collectivism."
A kid at the time, I was just enchanted by McGoohan's terse resistance to all the forms of coercion ranged against him, curious about the bizarre setting - the Italianate mock village - undersized frontages only, like a Western movie set - of Portmerion in Wales, delighted by the vehicles, a Caterham Seven
and a minimoke
and by McGoohan's catch phrases, some carried over from his previous series, Danger Man - I'm Obliged, Be Seeing You and some unique to The Prisoner, I Am Not A Number, I Am A Free Man. They were picked up and circulated by viewers, still are.
I never understood The Prisoner, still don't, but I loved its extravagant cinema-quality production values, its originalty, its refusal to kowtow to advertisers' and schedulers' expectations. The Prisoner was to television what Highway Sixty-One Revisited was to Pop music, in the dreadful desert of 'sixties TeeVee, The Prisoner shone and sparkled like God's own oasis.
Unrelieved even by the presence of the now sadly ubiquitous Ian McKellen, there is an Anglo-American so-called remake showing on ITV currently. Miss it.