A rare interview with Patrick McGoohan, in which he discusses, with Warner Troyer, the ideas, themes and meaning behind his cult series, The Prisoner.
“How free are we?” asks Patrick McGoohan, the creator and star of the series, “I think we’re being imprisoned and engulfed by…” here it almost seems unfair to continue in words, which cannot express his concerns as fully as the series does, but…“we’re being imprisoned and engulfed by a scientific and materialistic world. The Prisoner not only shows you why McGoohan is concerned, but offers alternative ways of looking at those concerns. For The Prisoner is an allegory that sets a man in unexplained captivity, depriving him of his liberty, privacy, and name. The series then tells of his successful efforts against all imaginable odds to regain his freedom. But he is struggling to gain his freedom from a world that strongly resembles our own world; only he sees it as a prison while we do not.
McGoohan’s series hooked a mass TV audience with its intelligent, clever, thrilling and entertaining scripts. Each episode was an event that left the audience either bewildered and angered, or enthralled and inspired. This was part of McGoohan’s intention, to create debate, have the viewers question their own reality. As McGoohan put it in this interview:
“Your village may be different from other people’s villages but we are all prisoners.”
The Prisoner was not some indulgent flight of fancy, McGoohan had written and planned the whole concept for the show long before a single frame was shot:
“There were these pages, don’t forget, at the very beginning, which laid out the whole concept; these forty-odd pages laid out the whole concept. That was no accident….
“...I was fortunate to have two or three creative people working with me, like my friend that I said saw the meteorological balloon. And wherever one could find these little touched, one put them in. But the design of the “Prisoner” thing, that was all clearly laid out from the outset…
“...And the style was also clearly laid out and the designs of the sets, those were all clearly laid out from the inception of it. There was no accident in that area, you know, the blazers, and the numbers and all that stuff, and the stupid little bicycles and all that….
“...You see, one of the things that is frustrating about making a piece of entertainment is trying to make it appeal to everybody. I think this is fatal. I don’t think you can do that. It’s done a great deal, you know. We have our horror movies and we have our science-fiction things. The best works are those that say…somebody says, ‘We want to do something this way,’ and do it, not because they’re aiming at a particular audience. They’re doing it because it’s a story they think is important, and is a statement that they want to make. And they do it and then whoever want to watch it, that’s their privilege. I mean, the painting in an art gallery, you know, you have a choice whether you go and look at this one or that one or the other one. You have a choice not even to go in.”
Recorded in Toronto in front of an invited audience in 1977, The Prisoner Puzzle is a wonderful treat for fans of Mr. McGoohan and his superb cult series.
Previously on Dangerous Minds
With thanks to Joe Kilmartin!