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Trivia / The Prisoner (1967)

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  • Actor-Shared Background: One of the only pieces of information Number Six voluntarily gives the Village is his date and exact time of birth (19 March 1928, 3:15 a.m.) — which coincides exactly with McGoohan's.
  • Banned in China: "Living In Harmony" was rejected for broadcast in the USA for reasons that remain unclear. Suggestions put forward include:
    • That it was just too much of a Bizarro Episode and executives found it incomprehensible. (In addition, the episode lacked the standard opening credits sequence and is not identified as The Prisoner; even in the UK a Prisoner title card was added to the original broadcast.)
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    • That the episode's focus on pacifism was considered too controversial during the Vietnam War.
    • That the references to the Village's use of hallucinogenic drugs to help create Number Six's illusion of being in a Western setting were too explicit and in breach of Standards and Practices rules about depiction of drug use (despite the fact clear and negative consequences are shown).
    • That the climax of the Western plot, in which Number Six's character kills the Kid in a gunfight, breached Standards and Practices rules about the depiction of shootings by having both characters in shot when the gun was fired - supposedly rules at the time stated that such killings could only be depicted by cutting from the killer firing the gun to the victim falling.note 
  • Big Name Fan: Any number of people famous in other fields loved this show - The Beatles and Jack Kirby of Marvel Comics are just two prominent examples in different media. The Beatles were particular "early adapters", to the point where not only did they allow their "All You Need is Love" to be used in the finale episode, but unlike many other uses of Beatles songs in film and TV, apparently the licensing was done in such a way as it did not impede future home video release of "Fall Out" (in contrast to, for example, episodes of Doctor Who that have had to be edited, or even temporarily withheld from home video release, due to the presence of Beatles recordings on the soundtrack).
  • Creator Backlash: Patrick McGoohan seemed to bounce back and forth in his opinion on his creation, embracing it at times (witness his participation in "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes" on The Simpsons) and refusing to talk about it at others. He reportedly declined an invitation to appear in The Prisoner (2009), though this was likely due to poor health (he died before it was broadcast). He did allow himself to be quoted as saying he was pleased with the remastered DVD (and later Blu-Ray) version of the original series.
  • Creative Differences: Ironically, George Markenstein eventually resigned from the series due to disagreements with Patrick McGoohan. The former wanted a straightforward spy series, while McGoohan wanted something a bit more abstract and allegorical.
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  • The Danza: Nadia in "The Chimes of Big Ben" is played by actor Nadia Gray.
  • Development Hell: Christopher Nolan was reported to be considering a film version in 2009, 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 Prisoner (2009). In 2016, Ridley Scott was in talks to direct the screen version.
  • Directed by Cast Member: Patrick McGoohan always had complete control over the series, so it isn't surprising that he wrote and directed many episodes - usually under pseudonyms.
  • Divorced Installment: George Markenstein saw this as a sequel to Danger Man. Patrick McGoohan disagreed.
  • Executive Meddling: In this 1977 interview, Patrick McGoohan said, "I thought the concept of the thing would sustain for only seven episodes." However, meddling executives wanted the episode count raised to 26. In the end, 17 episodes were filmed, but McGoohan claimed that only seven of ("Arrival", "Dance of the Dead", "Check Mate", "Free For All", "The Chimes of Big Ben" and "Once Upon A Time"/"Fall Out") "really count". The Mind Swap episode "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" was intended as a dry run for a possible second season in which No. 6 was sent away from the Village on assignments.
  • Franchise Zombie: McGoohan wanted to make a seven episode miniseries, but ITV executives wanted it to last two 13-episode seasons (for a total of 26). In the end, they compromised on a single 17 episode season. McGoohan eventually got what he wanted; he claimed later on that only seven episodes were canonical.
  • Hostility on the Set: While Patrick McGoohan would describe Leo McKern as a friend, McKern wasn't too enamoured with McGoohan, describing him as "a bit of a bully".
  • Inspiration for the Work: The idea for the series came to Patrick McGoohan when, following the success of Danger Man, someone asked him, "What happens to secret agents when they retire?" Meanwhile, George Markenstein came across a story from World War II about a village used to house PO Ws who knew too much.
  • Life Imitates Art: The official Prisoner fanclub's leadership dissolved in a heady mix of paranoia, backstabbing, and accusations of people spying on each other in real life. Several tertiary members mentioned this trope when they heard of what happened.
  • Missing Episode: "Living in Harmony" was not broadcast in its original American run on CBS for featuring Six rejecting a call to arms, not a message the network wanted to send during an active draft. (The official explanation at the time characterized the call to arms as a "walking hallucination" – read: mind-altering drugs.) All later runs show this episode in its correct place.
  • Out of Order: The series was written in one order, filmed in a second, and aired in a third; the original intended airing orders often had to be shuffled around because several episodes were not ready for their original transmission dates. Though the show has an ongoing storyline, it's so frequently surreal that it's impossible to say what the "right" order is. The most widely accepted order nowadays, and the one used for its DVD release, was deduced by the fan club, and contradicts the canonical order given by the production company, the order given by Patrick McGoohan, and the airing order, but does work out logically (that is, references to Number 6 as a new arrival antecede references to his having been there a while, and what few calendar dates we see all happen in the right order).
    • The BBC's page on the series sums up the problem neatly: "One of the many fascinating things about The Prisoner is that no-one knows what order the episodes should be watched in. There is, however, a consensus on two things. Firstly, they should not be watched in the order they were made, and secondly, they should not be watched in the order they were broadcast."
  • Prop Recycling: The production of the series only had a limited pool of Village badges with different numbers printed on them. This is the reason you see several different minor characters with the same number. Given the fact the series establishes that numbered Villagers are replaced all the time - including, and particularly, Number Two him/herself, and one episode even has Number Six talking about how a lower-end Villager's number had been reassigned - this is appropriate.
  • Recycled Script: "The Girl Who Was Death" is adapted from an unused Danger Man script, which is why it feels so much like a Danger Man episode, at least at first. This fact is also used as ammunition by those who believe No. 6 and John Drake are the same character.
    • Anthony Skene recycled his script for "A, B and C" for an episode of Counterstrike, a BBC science fiction serial aired in 1969. (Purportedly he had run out of time to develop his original idea for the series, and hurriedly adapted the episode in the hope that no-one would notice.)
  • Shoot the Money: Although the series seemed to make extensive use of Portmeirion, the location filming had been restricted to just a few weeks early in the production, and later episodes were mostly studio-bound. The directors nonetheless gave the impression that most of the series had been shot on location by carefully rationing the existing footage.
  • Stunt Double: Patrick McGoohan's stunt double was Frank Maher who, as well as doing the physically demanding stuff, would also stand in for Patrick McGoohan in long shots where the character was just running (this was also to allow McGoohan to concentrate on his other duties as writer/producer/director). He was also featured prominently in "The Schizoid Man" which featured Number Six's Doppleganger.
  • Technology Marches On: Much of the technology, especially in "The General", have obviously become outdated. The big exception is the bulbous sentry robot, Rover, which still looks as believably advanced as a machine and scary as hell; not bad for a last minute improvisation when the intended prop sank.
    • Particularly fun these days is No. 6's aghast double take at a cordless phone in "Arrival".
    • "The General" was an explicit warning about relying too much on computers for information (oops), as well as a cautionary tale against what we today call online learning.
  • Throw It In!: Leo McKern was easily the most popular No. 2 among cast and crew, so they wrote new episodes just to bring him back. When the show was canceled, they rushed the final episode and added an on-camera haircut to "explain" his trimmed beard and shorter hair due to a year passing between the penultimate episode being filmed and the finale.
  • Trolling Creator: After "Fall Out" aired, Patrick McGoohan had people routinely coming to his doorstep demanding to know what it was all about. His comment:
    "I wanted to have controversy, arguments, fights, discussions, people in anger waving fists in my face saying, how dare you?"
    • McGoohan had almost complete creative control, a budget 1.4 times as large as that of most other series, and no idea where the show was going from episode to episode. After what was broadcast as episode 11, the script editor, George Markstein, quit the series and was not replaced. Scripts and story ideas from that point on came from random people and places: a Western-themed episode was suggested by a video editor, and the infamous episode "The Girl Who Was Death" was an unused script from Danger Man (featuring characters, props and locations from said series).
    • The series is also believed by many to be a sequel of sorts to McGoohan's previous series, Danger Man, with "Number Six" actually being Danger Man's John Drake. There is at least one shared character (or possibly just a character with the same name and actor), Number Six's "civilian" clothes are the distinctive outfit usually worn by Drake, and a publicity photo of McGoohan as Drake is X'ed out during the opening credits. Official Prisoner novels flat out name the Prisoner as Drake. For many years, McGoohan publicly maintained that the Prisoner was not Drake, but it is suspected that he was just being contrary.
  • Troubled Production: The co-creators of the series, actor Patrick McGoohan and screenwriter George Markstein, almost immediately began to clash over what the series should be. Markstein has gone on record stating that his idea for the series came about while McGoohan was making Danger Man and that the premise would be what would happen if McGoohan's character, John Drake, resigned and was sent to a special resort-type prison similar to a kind used to crack POW's in World War II. McGoohan, on the other hand, maintained that the two characters are different and that the two shows are completely independent. Beyond the question of the central character's identity, it seems that Markstein wanted to keep the series rooted in the espionage genre, with Number Six's character as a spy imprisoned by (probably) his own side because he knew too much, while McGoohan saw the show from the start as a much more abstract surreal allegory about the relationship between the individual and society. It is likely that both creators went into the project with their own notions of what the "truth" was, and both interpretations influenced the writing and the acting. Beyond the characterization, many of the details of who created what and when were contested between McGoohan and Markstein, with the preponderance of the evidence supporting McGoohan, but not completely invalidating Markstein's claims nor his influences in writing the series. Once McGoohan won his power struggle with Markstein and the show started to get seriously freaky, Executive Meddling made things even more troubled. There are even conflicting claims from all concerned about how many episodes were originally planned, and whether the show was cancelled prematurely or not. Certainly, there are reports from many actors and crew members that the final episode, "Fall Out", was made in completely chaotic circumstances, with McGoohan still working on the script during recording breaks, Kenneth Griffith (who played the President) being asked to write his own dialogue, and as much of the production as possible having to be recycled from previous episodes. The production had also a number of budgetary problems. The reason McGoohan chose to appear in Ice Station Zebra in the middle of everything (which in turn led to the episode "Do Not Forsake Me Oh my Darling" which could be filmed almost completely without him) was to use his sizable paycheck towards funding the rest of the series.
  • Unfinished Episode: There were a number of unused scripts which were submitted. Perhaps the most intriguing is one which had a religion pop up in the Village which was "proven to provide eternal life". More details here.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: The show criticizes Cold War power structures (with the major implication that Number Six's captors may be his own "side" and his retirement from spy service as a "matter of conscience"), and has an overall tone that can only be described as 'psychedelic', features very 1960s fashions (most notably Number Six's jacket, the multicoloured capes seen on a few characters, and the prevalence of lava lamps). The finale includes (without giving away too much) the music of The Beatles ("All You Need Is Love") and a character, thematically representing universal youth culture, calling everyone "dad" or "baby". Not all episodes are period pieces, however: one in particular, "The General", turned out to be quite prophetic with regards to the rise of digital culture and the Internet; it just does so involving a computer the size of a room that spits out printouts. Also averted with regards to smoking; with the exception of one episode in which smoking is a plot point, virtually no cigarettes are visible in The Village. This is significant given that at the time of production (and definitely in the previous McGoohan series, Danger Man), smoking was still widely seen in modern-day-set TV series.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • The original Rover was remote-controlled and resembled a giant wedding cake. Thankfully everyone realized how Narmy it would be (not to mention that the original model malfunctioned and shot into the sea, rendering it unusable - which was also problematic considering all the scenes planned that required Rover to function over water), and happened to spot some weather balloons as they were discussing other possible designs.
      • Here is a photograph of the original Rover. It was placed on top of a go-kart frame and engine and a person was intended to sit inside and drive it. Two major practical problems with this were that the tiny gap on the left was the only thing the operator could see out through, and the exhaust fumes would accumulate inside the thing.
    • Kenneth Griffith wanted his character in "The Girl Who Was Death" to be based on Hitler. Thankfully, Patrick McGoohan didn't think this was funny (remember this was barely 20 years after the war), and made him change it to Napoleon.
    • The decision to resolve the storyline wasn't made until after Lew Grade ordered production of the series to end on very short notice. Prior to this there were plans sketched out for a second series that would have seen No. 6 not escape, but instead be pressed into service as an unwilling agent of the Village. The episode "Do Not Forsake Me Oh my Darling", which saw No. 6's mind transferred to another man before being returned to London to investigate a scientist's disappearance, is seen as a possible dry run for the concept (presumably without the Mind Swap aspect - or possibly even with should McGoohan have decided to leave or scale back his involvement in the series).
  • The Wiki Rule: The Prisoner Wiki.
  • Word of God: According to script editor and co-creator George Markstein, Number Six resigned from his position after discovering files indicating the existence of the Village. The Village was an idea Number Six had submitted to his superiors many years before but had since decided was monstrously inhuman.
  • Write Who You Know: Number Six is to an extent a stand-in for McGoohan, unsurprising given that the series is all about his own views on individuality and authority. A prime example of how Tropes Are Not Bad.
  • You Look Familiar:
    • Alexis Kanner played Number 48, "The Kid", and an unnamed photographer in different episodes.
    • Patrick Cargill played a British government official in "Many Happy Returns", and Number 2 in "Hammer Into Anvil". Given the show's themes, it's difficult to tell if we're supposed to notice and account for it in the story.
    • Christopher Benjamin appears as different characters in "Arrival", "The Chimes Of Big Ben" and "The Girl Who Was Death". In the former two, it's conceivable (but not stated) the two are the same character, and in the latter he actually reprises a character named Potter that he played in an episode of Danger Man.
    • Kenneth Griffith plays No. 2 in "The Girl Who Was Death" and The President/Judge in "Fall Out". This was in part due to the two episodes being filmed back to back and there being no time to find a new actor (Griffith was also asked to write some of his own dialogue for the latter episode).
    • Colin Gordon appears as No. 2 in the episodes "A, B and C" and "The General", being the only actor besides McKern to play No. 2 more than once. However, given the nature of the series, there is actually a case to be made that Gordon is playing two different No. 2's, if one compares elements such as characterization. The one-off appearance of Village workers in "Arrival" who look exactly the same (possibly twins, possibly clones) is cited as possible evidence in support.

      The Colin Gordon question may depend on which order you watch the episodes. If "A, B and C" is seen before "The General", as it was during the show's original run, they may be different. If that order is reversed (into the order in which they were originally filmed), they appear to be the same character, who goes from a highly confident Smug Snake to a broken man terrified of the consequences of failure. Supporting this, "A, B, and C" is unique as the title sequence contains the line "I am No. 2" rather than "The new No. 2", suggesting that episode was meant as the second episode featuring that No. 2, as there'd be no need to reintroduce himself then or indicate anything had changed.

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