We are all Prisoners now !

In the late 1960s, a man tried many times to escape from here – running for his life, often pursued by a huge hovering balloon across a sandy estuary.

My wife and I chose to escape from our garden and four walls and the daily drudgery of Covid nonsense by coming to this wonderful place to enjoy probably the last of the summer sunshine.

Of course, the prisoner was the character ‘No 6’ in 1960s TV series ‘The Prisoner’ played by Patrick McGoohan and the place is Portmeirion in North Wales.

If you are not familiar with this wonderful TV series, it features a top government agent who angrily resigns his position and drives his sports car home.  He is gassed, awakes the next morning and opens the curtains to find himself in a mysterious isolated community known only as ‘The Village’.  It is a picturesque Italianate wonderland where the residents have numbers instead of names.  Number 2 is in charge, though he answers to an unseen superior. Our Prisoner is told: “You are Number 6.” 

No 2 wants ‘information’ including why No 6 resigned.  Number 2 tries to trick, bully, drug or torture him into telling. Of course No 6 refuses to tell.  His captors tell him the village is escape proof but No 6 is hell bent on getting out and each episode becomes a battle of wits between him and a No 2. 

No 6 is controlled by the Village authorities in cahoots with the Village community and watched by unknown “wardens” and 24 hour surveillance cameras (a scary concept in 1967).  His controllers use psychological manipulation and mind control and he is subject to orders and rules which make no sense and which he despises.

 “I am not a number, I am a free man”, No 6 tells No 2 – a sentiment that many of us can relate to as we are ordered to lockdown, have our movements and social lives curtailed and have to follow rules that are designed with the lowest common denominator in mind.

We are now to be observed by covid marshalls and we count comings and goings in the neighbourhood whilst we become paranoid that our neighbours are watching us.  The Prisoner never knows who he can trust – the establishment, the community, the scientists, individuals.  I feel I am in a similar situation struggling with the pandemic. 

The cult of The Prisoner plays on various conspiracy theories about the relationship between the individual and the authorities.  Some people claim Covid 19 is a hoax and lockdown is a conspiracy against the people.  I haven’t time for this nonsense but the Government’s use of spin and psychology to justify its actions or lack of actions is becoming noticed more and more as people become cynical and start to question the information they are fed.

In the Village, there is no religion, politics, or freedom of speech. Speaking one’s mind is a risky business and culture and individual identity is firmly suppressed and social conformity enforced.

We have religious freedom and freedom of speech, but many people are increasingly nervous of saying the wrong thing in case the lefty censorship mob or the social media thought police say it is politically incorrect or not ‘woke’ and they are shamed accordingly.  Criticising religion and celebrating national identity and culture is OK so long as someone isn’t offended. We must conform to what we think is the correct majority view.   

So are we becoming prisoners too?  Will we rebel like No 6?  I do think I detect a whiff of rebelliousness in the air as people grow more frustrated with effects of the pandemic and the ineptitude of Government.

It is likely that some of the Prisoner’s themes were based on post war secrecy and cold-war paranoia, and, interestingly there were secure places where secret agents who became a security risk were sent to be debriefed, assessed and kept out of harm’s way.

But what made this TV series so popular at the time and a massive cult since is that it was way ahead of its time, totally unique and intelligent. It had cultural relevance (and still does to this day), it featured futuristic technology, it was in colour and it was arty and psychedelic. It also had the biggest budget of any TV adventure series at the time.

The choice of Portmeirion as the setting for the series was inspired – and mainly thanks to McGoohan who suggested it having previously filmed an episode of Danger Man there. 

As a place to visit, stay and as a base to explore the local scenery, it is wonderful.  The mastermind behind Portmeirion is of course the architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis whose ambition was to design a coastal village. It was built by between 1925 and 1975, the pre-war phase leaning more towards the arts and crafts influence and the later development being influenced by an Italianate Mediterranean village (some say Portofino).  As a town planner (retired), I appreciate how clever Clough’s design is – accepting that the place was more a fantasy than a real community.  The buildings sit perfectly in the landscape with key buildings closely grouped around a Mediterranean piazza.  He showed that it was possible to design-in fun, colour and individuality – something that developers and architects feel duty bound to avoid these days.  The design includes rebuilt endangered buildings and unwanted artefacts from all over the globe – giving the place sustainability credentials also.

So visit it if you can!  If you do stay in the hotels or in other Village accommodation, you might like me, want to end the day with a drink or two and take advantage of the dedicated telly channel showing the entire Prisoner series.  

Did I buy a No 6 penny farthing replica badge or a natty black blazer from the Prisoner gift shop?   “That would be telling!”

Click here to see some of my photos of Portmeirion.

Author: Paul

I am a retired, married bloke, dad and grandad - growing old with attitude.

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