Friday 27 March 2015

The Prisoner - Many Happy Returns

Episode 7: Many Happy Returns

First ITV broadcast: Friday 10th November 1967, 7.30pm [ATV Midlands/Grampian]
Estimated first run ratings: 10.3 million
First CBS broadcast: Saturday 20th July 1968, 7.30pm

This episode goes for over 20 minutes without a single English word being spoken on screen. The episode is over half way through before we get a conversation in English. You would think that this could make some of the episode seem dull but it doesn't at all. The writing (Anthony Skene) and the directing (Patrick McGoohan under the pseudonym Joseph Serf) are both fantastic for keeping the story interesting in a very different sort of episode. The ending is particularly wonderful.

Number Six wakes up to find the Village deserted. There is an eerie silence and the grey weather outside casts a darkness over the Village. This complete silence is very strange for a place where usually the speakers and radios are continually blaring out a happy voice or upbeat music. Number Six takes an abandoned taxi to Number Two's house, where the door is open and no one is home. He drives to the edge of the Village and looks out at miles of mountains. Number Six can leave! But it is going to have to be by sea. He begins preparations for his voyage, which includes photographing the Village and building a boat/raft. There is a boat in the harbour but presumably it is no good for sailing else villagers could have taken off in it at any time.

Number Six - The Sailor!
In previous episodes we have already seen that Number Six can shoot, fence, box, create impressive woodwork, as well as several other things. Here we see his woodwork skills again as he uses trees, rope and empty oil barrels to build his vessel. Once he sets off he uses parts from a radio to make a compass. This guy has survival skills down to a tee and was probably a scout.

During his journey Number Six gets in a fight with some gunrunners before eventually swimming ashore and waking up on a beach. He finds some gypsies who, despite speaking no word of English, manage to point him in the direction of a road. We see a British policeman at the edge of the road and then a roadblock. Number Six climbs in the back of what looks like a horse van and later, upon hearing sirens, leaps up and dives out the back into the middle of a London road. In reality, he would probably have been immediately hit by a black cab. We know it's London because a double decker red bus goes past, with an advert for Typhoo tea on the side. An Odeon cinema can be seen in the background. We also see Wellington Arch. These are rather odd choices to indicate Number Six's arrival in London. I did recognise Wellington Arch, but I had to look up the name. Personally I would have liked a shot of the Clock Tower and Big Ben, a black cab and a telephone box. If they are trying to say he is in London, why not just go all out? Wellington Arch is hardly the most recognisable of landmarks and certainly wouldn't have been for viewers overseas.

Wellington Arch. A recognisable London landmark?
Number Six walks to his house, 1 Buckingham Place, as seen in the opening credits. He knocks and a maid (Grace Arnold) answers the door, something I found very odd! She's dressed in an old-fashioned black and white maid's uniform. I am aware that people did, and do, still have housekeepers, but I didn't think any domestic help would still be wearing such an old-style of clothes. Shortly afterwards the house's new owner, Ms Butterworth (Georgina Cookson), arrives in Number Six's old car. She looks Number Six up and down: "Terribly interesting." He is not happy to see someone else driving his Lotus 7 and tells her "I know every nut and bolt and cog; I built it with my own hands." "Then you're just the man I want to see." She says the car has been overheating in traffic and invites him in.

He asks her the date. "Saturday March 18th." "Tomorrow's my birthday." Number Six then proceeds to scoff Ms Butterworth's sandwiches and a fruit cake. He finds nothing to tell him anything at the house and leaves. Ms Butterworth insists he can change into some of her husband's old clothes and lets him borrow the car. "Don't forget to come back!" "I'll be back!" "I might even bake you a birthday cake!"

Rather dapper in his borrowed suit.
Number Six meets with two men who are either his former employers or colleagues. He shows them the photographs he took and a diary he wrote on the back of the Tally Ho during his voyage. "The evidence is there." Thorpe (Patrick Cargill) is not convinced. "A set of photographs from ground level of a holiday resort. And a schoolboy navigational log on the back of what you call the village newspaper." His objections are not unreasonable. He later adds "You resign. You disappear. You return. You spin a yarn that Hans Christian Anderson would reject for a fairy tale." The Colonel (Donald Sinden) feels the same and his comments reflect the political situation at the time. "And we must be sure. People defect. An unhappy thought but a fact of life. They defect from one side to the other." Then Number Six adds his thoughts "I also have a problem; I'm not sure which side runs this village."

I also have a problem. As far as I was concerned, the question of who runs the Village was made more or less clear in 'The Chimes of Big Ben'. If Number Six's superiors do not run the Village then they are at least happy to have him there. So why does he go to them in 'Many Happy Returns'?

Number Six, the Colonel, Thorpe. Can Number Six trust them?
In the rest of the episode, Number Six works with some officials who attempt to locate where the Village is. They conclude it must be south west of Spain and Portugal and north west of Morocco. It is possibly on an island. They get a plane to sweep the area and as Number Six heads out his pilot hangs back. A milkman switches places with the pilot and when the plane reaches the Village, the new pilot says "Be seeing you!" and Number Six is shot out of an ejector seat with a parachute. The Village is still empty and Number Six walks back to his house. Mrs Butterworth enters with a cake. "Many happy returns." She is wearing the Number Two badge. Number Six looks outside and music starts up as the Village is suddenly full of people again.

Happy Birthday Number Six!
It is a magnificent twist. Similarly to 'The Chimes of Big Ben', Number Six thought he had escaped but the Village was really still in control all along. This episode has several similarities to 'The Chimes of Big Ben'. In particular, Number Six's meeting with the Colonel and Thorpe echoes his meeting with the Colonel in episode 2. In both meetings the men question the legitimacy of Number Six's story about the Village. Both remark on him resigning, disappearing, then suddenly reappearing. Both bring up the possibility of defection. In both meetings Number Six gives a description of the Village. ('Many Happy Returns' - "Numbers in a village that is a complete unit of our society. A place to put people who can't be left around; people who know too much or too little. A place with many means of breaking a man.") Number Six meets a colonel who he believed he could trust but who turns out to be on the side of the Village. You could argue that the colonel in 'Many Happy Returns' might not have known about the plan to drop Number Six back in the Village. We don't even see the milkman and pilot swop places, so the milkman may well have knocked out the pilot and taken his place by force. Unlike in 'The Chimes of Big Ben' there is no clear indication that Number Six's colleagues are working with the Village.

If 'The Chimes of Big Ben' came after 'Many Happy Returns' and Number Six believed it might only be the milkman who was working with the Village, then it would make sense for him to contact colleagues again in the future. However, I don't think this works with 'The Chimes of Big Ben' coming first as it seemed pretty clear that his colleagues and therefore presumably Number Six's side were on the side of the Village. The West and/or the British were running the Village.

However there is another way of looking at this. In an interview in 1978, Patrick Cargill (Thorpe) said of the episode "I do not think that this was meant to imply that British security were running the Village, but rather that whoever was behind the Village had contacts everywhere." If we apply this to 'The Chimes of Big Ben' as well and Number Six assumed this, it would make sense that in 'Many Happy Returns' he again gets in touch with his colleagues, but chooses completely different ones to previously.

One final note: Number Six's birthday is the same as Patrick McGoohan's so I wonder how much that tells us about the leading man?

Be seeing you.

Thursday 19 March 2015

The Prisoner - The General

So far I have not discussed what episode order The Prisoner should be viewed in. The most important thing to say about this is that it seems no one can agree on it. It should not be viewed in production order and it should not be viewed in broadcast order, apart from the first episode and the last two. I have had a few people tell me I am watching in the wrong order. To be clear, I am following the order of my Network DVDs, which I believe is the original order broadcast in the UK. It is not the wrong order because there is no right order. When I have re-watched all the episodes I will try to put together my own opinion of an ideal episode order for all 17 episodes. But that is all it can ever be; an opinion.

  'The General' got me thinking about the episode order because there are some things that have not made sense. Colin Gordon returns as Number Two for this episode but whilst he looked on the edge of a nervous breakdown in 'A. B. and C.', under pressure to get information out of Number Six, he seems quite at ease here. Also, whilst 'The General' has the usual opening titles, in which Number Six asks "Who are you?" and the answer is "The new Number Two", the opening for 'A. B. and C.' has Number Two answering "I am Number Two". These episodes would seem to fit better coming one after the other, with 'The General' coming first. Another point is that Number 12 was Number Six's double in 'The Schizoid Man' and was killed. In 'The General' we have a different Number 12. Number Two asks "How long have you been with us, Number 12?" "Me, sir? Quite a long time, sir" is the reply. There are several possibilities here: 'The General' takes place a long time after 'The Schizoid Man'; 'The General' should come before 'The Schizoid Man'; or Number 12 has been with the organisation who runs the Village for a long time but has not actually been in the Village for very long, only being given the Number 12 badge quite recently. The General is mentioned by Number Two in 'The Schizoid Man' (near the end, on the way to the helicopter) and as the General is destroyed at the end of episode 6, 'The Schizoid Man' must come before 'The General'. For me, a better episode order for these three episodes would be 'The Schizoid Man', 'The General', 'A. B. and C.', with perhaps several other episodes placed in between 'The Schizoid Man' and 'The General' to make sense of Number 12 having been in the Village for a long time.

Episode 6: The General

First ITV broadcast: Friday 3rd November 1967, 7.30pm (ATV Midlands/Grampain)
Estimated first run ratings: 9.8 million
First CBS broadcast: Saturday 13th July 1968, 7.30pm

The episode starts with the view of a helicopter moving over the Village. It can see everything. We cut to the helicopter and then to Number Six sat outside a café, looking up at the helicopter. This gave a reminder of the all-seeing ability of those in charge of the Village, as well as perhaps their god-like power over the inhabitants. The villagers look tiny from the helicopter and every aspect of their lives is controlled by those above them.

There is an announcement. All students taking the History course with the Professor should return home. They are promised "a university degree in three minutes". Number Six is skeptical and whilst looking at a poster ("one hundred per cent entry/ one hundred per cent pass") he talks with Number 12 (John Castle), who urges him to enroll. "The only subject I'm interested in is, um, getting away from this place." "Exactly" comes the reply. Number 12 seems to want to help but we have been here before and it has always ended badly.

On the beach Number Six finds what looks like a small radio playing. It is the Professor speaking to his students. Number Six turns it off and re-buries it. Two men pull over in a car and approach him. They ask him why he isn't taking part in the course. "Are you prefects?" Number Six asks and when they ask what he's doing, he replies "Playing truant". I always like Number Six's quips and there are several in this episode. It is a pleasant reminder that the Village is not getting to him in the way many of the Number Twos would like. He retains his personality and as we know so little about Number Six, this is a nice thing have. One of the men, Number 256, repeats the poster's phrase "100% entry, 100% pass" and urges "Come on. You don't want to start the term with a black mark."

Number Six goes home, gets himself a drink and sits down to watch the Professor's broadcast. The Professor is late. The presenter (Al Mancini) is American and his manner reminds me of Professor Joe Butcher, the TV evangelist in the James Bond movie, Licence to Kill. It's his enthusiasm and approach to the whole thing. During this episode he really tries to sell the 'speed learn' idea and goes on about how wonderful it is. It must also be pointed out that his accent makes him stand out from everyone else in the Village too. So far, I believe I am correct in stating that we have only heard European accents in the Village. The presenter explains "The subject of tonight's lecture is 'Europe Since Napoleon'. A hard, complicated six month's study. Ladies and gentlemen: sit back, relax, watch the screen. We're going to cover it in fifteen seconds flat." The Professor (Peter Howell) appears for a bit and talks about speed learning. Next, a black and white image of a man appears. The camera zooms in on his eyes (very Big Brother/Orwellian), then one eye and then a green light. Number Six stares at the screen. He drops his glass. Then comes out of it and glances round. Number Two (Colin Gordon) and Number 12 arrives. Whilst Number 12 scans the place with some machine, Number Two says that the Professor has lost his recorder. Does Number Six know anything? Of course not... Number Two mentions the lecture and Number Six replies "History's not my subject." Number Two throws some History questions at Number Six and he knows all the answers. Number Two joins in with Number Six's final answer and they both follow each other word for word. When Number Two and Number 12 leave, Number Six picks up the phone and asks the operator the same questions. The operator answers them, exactly the same, word for word like Number Six did.

Those eyes. Big Brother is watching you.
Number Six goes back to get the recorder. It's gone but he hears a branch snap and finds Number 12 behind a bush, who says "You want to get out of this place, don't you?" and offers him the recorder, "Here's your passport." Understandably, Number Six is skeptical. As an audience we are aware that everyone who has ever offered to help him in the past has turned out to be on Number Two's side. "I don't trust Number Two. I don't trust you. And I don't trust your tape, Professor." After Number 12 has gone, Number Six plays the tape. It is the Professor's notes for speaking to his students. He says "Speed learn is an abomination", he calls it "slavery" and they must "destroy the General" in order to be free. Will they be though? Can anyone really be free whilst they remain in the Village?

Later Number Six is in a garden. The Professor's wife (Betty McDowall) was on television before and is around in the garden. Number Six has drawn her in a military uniform, a general's uniform? "So art's your subject too?" she asks. "No. Military history. Generals and that sort of thing..." He shows her the drawing and she tears it up.

Number Six sneaks inside a building nearby. A room is filled with plinths, covered in white sheets. The Professor's wife appears and says "This is a private room." Number Six begins to remove the sheets, revealing busts underneath. One of them is of a Number Two, previously seen at the arts and crafts fair in 'The Chimes of Big Ben', another is of the current Number Two and of Number Six. Suddenly Number Two appears, as does a doctor (Conrad Phillips), who earlier we saw leading the Professor away from his typewriter in an office-type room. The doctor says the Professor is not be disturbed and we see him lying in a bed in the next room. Number Six has picked up a club and bashes the Professor's face in, which is fine, because it isn't really the Professor. It's just a hollow sculpture. I feel like I am missing something as the reason for this is never explained, nor for any of the other sculptures.

Number Six is chuffed with is likeness
Number 12 stages a power-cut so he can come and talk to Number Six without being overheard. He gives him a pen and a couple of chips with the Village's penny farthing design on, asking Number Six to come see him the next day.

There a lot of men in black suits, top hats and black shades. If it wasn't for the shades they would look like undertakers and if it wasn't for the top hats they could be Men in Black. They are all asking to enter a Lecture Approval Session and putting one of the chips into a machine. Think 'Thing' from the Addam's Family because this is what it was inspired by. A little hand reaches out and takes the chips, allowing them through. Number Six is also dressed up, wearing the Number 56 badge, and hangs around before doing the same with one of his own chips. He heads to the projection room, taking out a couple of guards on the way, who are dressed up like US military policy. Whilst taking out the projectionist (Peter Bourne) Number Six gets a cut to his hand. There's a machine with thin tubes and Number Six removes a metal rod from the pen Number 12 gave him, then inserts it into one of the tubes.

We are the Men in Black!
Number Two and the other men in black have had a chat and decided to broadcast the lecture. Images of the different broadcast rooms appear as they check that everyone is ready. Number Two is drawn to the cut on his hand, recognising Number Six sat in the projection room and it's no wonder. He's removed his suit and put on the projectionist's white t-shirt. If he had at least kept his shades on he might have got away with it. Some guards sneak up and knock Number Six out.

Number Six has his arm in a sling and is being interrogated by Number Two and Number 12 ("Who's the head man?" "Santa Claus.") but Two knows it's useless. They take him off to meet the General. They enter the office where the Professor is typing away. Number Two explains "The general can answer anything, given the basic facts." The Professor has just finished typing a piece of paper and puts it into a machine. Out of another section a metal strip with holes in comes out. Number Two says "Allow me to introduce the General." The Professor pulls back a curtain to reveal a huge machine, a great big computer. If you have never seen a 1960s' computer before, imagine the biggest computer you can think of and then make it ten times bigger.

Number Two thinks it is brilliant. They can subliminally deliver huge amounts of knowledge and "no more tedious learning by rote." For now only history, but soon they plan to move onto other things. Number Six is not impressed, commenting that they will get "A row of cabbages", to which Number Two replies "Knowledgeable cabbages."

Number Two wants to demonstrate it's brilliance to Number Six and asks the Professor to note down some information. "Point one: a traitor in the Village. Point two: security pass discs were issued to Number Six. Point three: access to these is through [he looks at Number 12] where? Through where?" "Administration, sir." "Exactly. Put that down. Also that Number 12 is an official in administration. Now ask the General-" Number Six interrupts. "A question that can't be answered." It is clear that Number Two has worked out that Number 12 has been helping Number Six. More on that later...

Number Six says "There is a question that the General cannot answer." "Impossible." Number Two replies. "Allow me to ask it." "No." "You afraid?" "...Go ahead." So Number Six types out the question and puts the paper in the machine. The metal strip comes out and the Professor takes it over to the General. A dial swings to 'DANGER', smoke starts appearing and then there are explosions. Number 12 goes over to help the Professor but they both end up dead on the floor. "What was the question?" Number Two demands. "It's insoluble of man or machine." Number Six answers. "What was it?" "W. H. Y. Question mark." "Why?" "Why."

I can't help but wonder why Number Six did not choose to ask the machine who Number One is. Or where the Village is. Perhaps he thought the machine would not know. Perhaps he knew that the answers didn't matter. They would certainly have been no help to him, only resulting in him knowing a bit more about where he was stuck.

Number Two was about to ask the machine a question that would have exposed Number 12, who was certainly looking very nervous. As in 'A. B. and C.' this episode ends with Number Six getting one over Number Two and the Village. There is no evidence that Number 12 was luring Number Six into a trap and Number Two's suspicion of him appeared genuine. This episode then, is the only time so far that someone else in the Village has genuinely tried to help Number Six, without having an ulterior motive. It wasn't another prisoner either - it was one of the warders. During this episode Number 12 is depicted as Number Two's right-hand man. It confirms that there are people who do want to help Number Six but nonetheless, it still really is impossible to tell who.

Be seeing you.