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The Prisoner: The Official Companion To The TV Series
Carlton paperback £14.99
The Prisoner Handbook
Steven Paul Davies
Boxtree paperback £14.99
reviews by Christopher Geary
Although it will never be as popular worldwide as Star Trek, The Prisoner remains, arguably, the finest television series yet produced. It is undeniably the greatest cult-TV show ever made, as its comparatively meagre 17 episodes are still being repeated on genre channels, re-released on video (and now available to buy on DVD), 35 years after the programme itself ended.
Obviously, The Prisoner continues to attract new devotees after all this time because of its unique allegorical qualities. Other mystery shows, such as The X-Files, may draw a greater following while they are on-air, but the majority of TV-related fan clubs evaporate without new product for their admirers to support. The Prisoner, however, is timeless. Despite its rather chequered history, The Prisoner Appreciation Society, 'Six of One', has been active for over 25 years.
Sources vary on details of the series' origins (the late George Markstein has claimed he devised the format), but the overall success of The Prisoner is attributed to its star, Patrick McGoohan, who also executive produced the show - through his Everyman Films - and scripted, or re-wrote, and directed the series' key episodes. These two new books about The Prisoner inform us when, how and where the programme was made, and offer some interpretations as to what it was about, but the question of why (as in 'why did the hero resign?') remains unanswered.
With an authorised text, the writer gets exclusive access to production archives of materials, so readers can expect lots of behind-the-scenes information (well, someone asked for it!), endless publicity photos, offstage pictures and artwork. This is fine, but a necessarily laudatory approach to keep the copyright owners happy means that critical assessment is neglected, which is where an unofficial guide wins the day. Robert Fairclough's Prisoner companion is an acceptable example of the official variety, while The Prisoner Handbook by Steven Paul Davies tackles its subject with a more investigative style. As such, these books complement each other and deserve consideration as essential buys for aficionados and collectors.
Fairclough's book has a foreword by actor Kenneth Griffith, and a chapter on Prisoner-related merchandise. Davies' volume includes a foreword by filmmaker Alex Cox, and a textual analysis from repeated viewings of the TV series. Aided by his exploration of programme's background, Fairclough champions McGoohan and his collaborators as creators of a TV phenomenon, while Davies suggests (with input from Six of One) that the support of fandom has elevated the show to the exalted status it enjoys today.
Fairclough provides a short biography of McGoohan, looks at thematic influences on the scenario of The Prisoner, narrates the history of Portmeirion (that curious Welsh resort designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, now home to annual Prisoner conventions) where most location shooting took place, showcases an exhaustive selection of pictures (though many are printed in much too small a format so they look like page-trimming mosaics), and has compiled comprehensive listings of screen credits.
Davies probes the depths of McGoohan's rebellious outsider character, Number 6, and studies the reasons for our nameless hero's open hostility to the authority figures epitomised by various Village wardens known only as Number 2, while also apprehending the individualist philosophy at the heart of The Prisoner. Davies describes how this 'mere' TV series has become far more relevant today, as a tool for understanding the political implications of dominant media and oppressive psychologies in the postmodern world than it was back in the 1960s.
Both books are centred on an episode guide to The Prisoner, but while Fairclough is concerned with documenting the production, Davies examines the possible significance and implications of each story. Fairclough's book often lapses into illustrating the story of The Prisoner, instead of telling it like it is. But, although it lacks colour pictures, Davies' more challenging Handbook is the more satisfying read of these two, by far.
Most notable of all the Number Twos, Leo McKern, died on 24 July 2002 (aged 82).
He was an excellent actor who, prior to his brief but telling residency in the Village, appeared in the classic British SF thriller The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961).
This review is respectfully dedicated to his memorable contribution to The Prisoner.
see The Prisoner helicopters on Rotary Action
"The Prisoner can't
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