Movies, Travel

The Prisoner in Portmeirion

The Prisoner is a British television series from the 1960’s which over the years has reached cult status because of its intriguing story line,  themes such as mind control, dream manipulation and various forms of social indoctrination, and ultimately, a lot of unanswered questions as to the meaning of the series.

The series is about a former British intelligence agent who, after resigning from his position, has been kidnapped and held captive by an unidentified power in an unknown Village. The episodes feature the prisoner, called “Number Six,” who week after week tries to find ways to escape from the island and discover who is behind his imprisonment, only to be disappointed again and again and always ending up back in the Village.

The series is co-created by Patrick McGoohan who also plays Number Six, and almost all episodes start with the classic lines between Number Six and Number Two, the person in charge of the Village, that have become ingrained in my mind:

“Where am I?”
“In the Village.”
“What do you want?”
“Whose side are you on?”
“That would be telling…. We want information. Information! INFORMATION!”
“You won’t get it.”
“By hook or by crook, we will.”
“Who are you?”
“The new Number Two.”
“Who is Number One?”
“You are Number Six.”
“I am not a number — I am a free man!”
(Laughter from Number Two.)

The cult status that the Prisoner has achieved is reflected in the influence the series and its themes have on popular and underground culture. The Iron Maiden album The Number of The Beast features a song called “The Prisoner” with samples from the series. The band Death in June also makes a generous use of Prisoner samples in the remix of “She Said Destroy” on the 93 Dead Sunwheels album. The 1994 movie Killing Zoe features a scene where the bank robbers discuss the Prisoner episode “A. B. and C.”

The Village, with its quaint architectural bricolage, is supposedly an island somewhere in Southern Europe. However, in reality it is the village of Portmeirion, a resort on the coast of Snowdonia in north Wales, created by visionary architect Clough Williams-Ellis from 1925 to 1973.

Over the years, Six of One, the Prisoner Appreciation Society, has held its (almost) annual convention, PortmeiriCon, in Portmeirion, turning Portmeirion back into the Village, including re-enactments of characteristic scenes from the series, such as the human chessboard (“Checkmate”) and the ‘six for two’ election march (“Free for All”).

In 2007, after moving to the UK, I finally had the opportunity to attend a PortmeiriCon convention, and I must say, the trip was worth it. After more than 40 years the Village does not seem to have changed much. Yes, the green dome is no longer green but there are plenty of sights that bring you back to one of the episodes.

During the convention Portmeirion is ‘dressed’ up to portray the Village. Among the reminders  of the series are the signs to find your way around the Village.

They may bring you to the Old Peoples Home along the water with the boat in front of it,  which in reality is the main hotel. In the series the ‘Old People’ are sitting on the deck with the Prisoner visiting them on several occasions.

Or the characteristic Taxi which brings the Prisoner around the Village.

And even Rover, the menacing guard of the Village, is brought back to life.

In addition, there are several indoor events with special guests from the series, the opportunity to see rare Prisoner footage, special lectures, and outdoor re-enactments of scenes. This combined with people dressed in the classic Village wear such as the outfit worn by the Prisoner, which is a black jacket with white piping trim, a dark blue mock-turtleneck shirt, tan slacks and dark blue boating shoes with white soles, makes for a unique, yet geeky, event.

The appeal may be different for everyone but for me the idea of an individual up against an unknown power, unwilling to give up on his principles and continuing his fight to achieve freedom is something that remains inspiring and makes it for me one of the best television series ever.

And although Portmeirion itself is very small, it is an attractive area to visit with beautiful views when the tides set in.

Nowadays Portmeirion is owned by a charitable trust, which uses the majority of the buildings as hotel rooms or self-catering cottages, together with shops, a cafe and restaurant. You can either stay in the hotel, or in one of the self-catering cottages, or visit for the day, but for a true Prisoner fan, the convention is a great attraction making the trip to North Wales even more unique.

Be seeing you.