Armen Chakmakjian

Patrick McGoohan – Some thoughts about how “The Prisoner” affected me…

In 60's Television on January 16, 2009 at 3:01 am

Many, many years ago, probably when I was 12 or 13, I was turning channels (we turned them back then because they were on a Dial, no remote), on UHF (omg) where all the really weird programming was.  You could see Lucha Libre, wrestling in Spanish…or see the Marvel Super Hero’s from a barely capturable station from Long Island (Dr. Banner, Belted by Gamma Rays, turns into the Hulk, ain’t he unglamourate….or Tony Stark Makes you feel, he’s a cool exec with a heart of steel…When Captain America throws his mighty shield….Cross the Rainbow Bridge Lies Aasgard…I can’t remember the one for Submariner) stuff like that.

Anyway, one day I was turning the UHF knob and came across this guy dressed in a black suit and mock turtleneck (no not Steve Jobs).   Then he appeared in some room where another guy spoke threateningly to him saying, “We want information.”  “Who is Number 1.”  “You are Number 6.”  And he was kidnapped.  Then he appeared in some weird colorful city near water.  And then he tried to escape on a beach and this thing that looked like a weather balloon came bounding down the beach and smacked him down.  It was so freaky that I had to watch it as bad as the reception was.  I kept trying to tune in the station every week about that time because I looked it up in TV Guide the next week and saw that it was on again.  It was SO WEIRD.

He was trying to get away from this place and he couldn’t.  They’d outwit him, he’d outwit them.  Then suddenly the silly weather balloon would appear and smack him down again.

I had to keep watching –  it was too weird.  No one at school knew what the hell I was talking about.  I found that two friends of mine watched the show and they lived in Westport and they knew all about it and had seen the final episode before.  (I lived in Bridgeport…no one watched the Prisoner;-)   I had to watch it through to the end.  Many many weeks later I watched the final episode.  Here’s a clip:

IT was even more bizarre than everything I watched up to this point.  Yes I watched Star Trek, I watched the old Battlestar Galactica, I loved Star Wars, Sean Connery WAS James Bond…But this was nuts.   And Patrick McGoohan was the good guy and somehow sinister at the same time.  It was all very unsettling.

From time to time, I would see Patrick McGoohan in other roles (as Wellington in some movie about Napoleon…in Braveheart as Longshanks…in a few other things…always evil for some reason).   I’d also catch Leo McKern on PBS, he was the last #2.  Then when I saw that he was not only Rumpole of Bailey but was the weird guy chasing Ringo Starr in “HELP” (you remember him, the guy who stuck his head out of the manhole in while the beatles sang “You’ve got to hide your love away.”) I was amazed.  This show really affected me and yet I NEVER UNDERSTOOD IT.

Many years later, when I was at DEC, I was poking around in VAX Notes and found a notesfile about “The Prisoner” which had several discussion threads about the meaning of the show and pointers to Prisoner unix news groups (something like alt.prisoner or something).   It was amazing the following that this show had in geekdom.   People I worked with at the time had NO Idea what I was talking about.    Then I found the website for the town that he was held prisoner, Portmeirion. It’s actually a real place, not just a set for the show.  Fascinating.

Anyway, Patrick McGoohan died the same day as Ricardo Montalban.  Mr. Rourke and Kahn were definitely significant characters and lots of geekdom is upset that people aren’t focusing on his work on the latter but he had a huge body of work beside that (yes including spy kids).   But in an odd way, the character of the Prisoner and the dilemma of him trying to leave the spy agency stuck with me at a much more basic level for some reason (and yes I remember that Chekov WASN’T in the botany bay episode).

Anyway Patrick McGoohan, Requiescat In Pace.

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