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Be seeing you, Patrick McGoohan

One of my favourite actors, star of the great series, The Prisoner, has died. Here’s a great appreciation of that cult 60s television series by the late Chris R. Tame. It goes without saying that the message of that series – the dangers of an all-encompassing state – are more relevant now than ever.

Patrick McGoohan, rest in peace.

22 comments to Be seeing you, Patrick McGoohan

  • Bruce Hoult

    He was clearly one of us, and made a huge impact.

    I’m surprised at how many of the new graduates I’m working with have seen and love The Prisoner.

    I remember snippets — mostly the opening sequence and Rover — from being up just a little too late when it was first shown when I was six or seven, but I bought the DVD set a few years ago and it is fabulous, and relevant.

  • RAB

    A fine actor and a great man.
    He wrote the Prisoner, one of the finest pieces of television I can remember.
    My parents didn’t get it at all. They thought they were getting Danger Man 2, a Bond/Saint type secret agent thing, but us kids got it instantly!

    It screamed Freedom at the top of its voice!

    It is being re-made


    Please God they dont nause it up!
    But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

    McGoohan not Pinter, had the biggest influence on my little life!

  • virgil xenophon

    My first memories of McGoohan were in the 60s in HS and college in his role as John Drake in the TV series “Secret Agent.” The show was ABSOLUTELY obligatory viewing for me and my friends. In the US it was shown on either Fri. or Sat night as I remember, and in college I used to drive my dates crazy as I would forget and make a date for the same time the show was broadcast, then call up my date just prior to tell her I would be an hour late as I/we had to watch Secret Agent–priorities, you know.

    BTW, the memorable theme song from “Secret Agent Man”–“they’ve given you a number and takin’ away your name” was sung by someone (Johnny Rivers–a stage name) who a girl from Baton Rouge that I dated at LSU had gone to HS with at Lee High in BR. He used to play in a band at lots of their HS sock-hops in the late 50s-early 60s.

    So–I had THAT mental connection to the Secret Agent series too, as I always thought of her when I heard it’s theme song when played on the radio (was a big hit as a single-release in the US) long after the series ceased–still do…

  • It goes without saying that the message of that series – the dangers of an all-encompassing state – are more relevant now than ever.

    And less heeded than ever too.

  • permanentexpat

    R.I.P. Patrick
    “The Prisoner”…brilliant…he must have been clairvoyant. The UK is now “the Village” without the menacing charm of Portmeirion.
    There was a message there, those many years ago but, even then, we didn’t ‘do’ messages…the rot was already under way & the poisoned Welfare chalice was our suicidal nation’s nemesis.

  • Laird

    A great loss.

    It’s interesting that they’re re-making the Prisoner. I’m tempted to ask “why bother; why not just rebroadcast the original?”, but I suppose people like to see newer automobiles, high definition, etc. Also, there were only 17 episodes in the original, so I guess there could be some new stories to tell. Still, although the Guardian article RAB linked seems to say the right sorts of things, my fear is that they will screw it up and dilute (or even completely pervert) the message. Who is “ITV1”? Is it part of the BBC? If so I have no doubt that they’ll screw it up with a heavy dose of newthink.

    When the show starts broadcasting, I hope that someone will post a review here. Sooner or later it will make it over to the States and I’d like to know if it’s worth watching.

  • Tony Hollick

    Thanks for giving Chris R. Tame’s review “Different Values” a favourable mention. It’s the best example of Chris’s insight and writing I can think of.

    The series was conceived by George Markstein, a senior desk officer with MI6. To the secret agent, the State is a lethal threat. Whereas to the ‘Security’ officer, the State is the paramount value, to be upheld at all costs. Very few people understood that in the early ‘Sixties. They sure do now.

    All the ‘Prisoner’ episodes are available on DVD. Patrick McGoohan’s peformance was perfect — his best.

    Be Seeing You!

    Tony Hollick

    “The secret of Happiness is Freedom; and the secret of Freedom is Courage.” — Thucydides, Greek Philosopher and General

  • Shad

    For those without the DVD version of the series, AMC has all of the episodes of The Prisoner available for free on their website.

  • guy herbert

    Let’s also remember the contribution of the late George Markstein(Link), who with his own somewhat mysterious background was obsessed with the possibilities of the surveillance state, and with McGoohan devised the original set up.

  • Brad

    I won’t be able to watch some of those classic Columbo episodes the same way anymore. Apparently Peter Falk is losing his faculties and Patrick McGoohan is dead. Time marches on.

    One of the best bits of acting that I know is at the end of By Dawn’s Early Light (1974) when the McGoohan character has been vastly under estimating Columbo right up to the very end. In about five seconds, with one mostly stoic, stony look, McGoohan conveyed comprehension that he’s been bested by a superior mind, a bit of shock, and acceptance – all with subtle shades of expression and the eyes. I suppose there was a reason he won an Emmy for it. Overall the episodes of Columbo with McGoohan are the best.

  • Red State Witch

    One of the great pleasures of my life was visiting Portmeirion on a trip to Wales. Our room overlooked the helicopter landing area. Walking around the town was a truly surreal experience.

    Also, the personalized license plate on my sports car is KAR120C. Only one person ever asked me what it meant.

  • Novus

    To be frank I don’t altogether buy this idea of The Prisoner as a deeply libertarian work. I concede that it can be read as such, but the allegorical intentions of its creator appear to be rather different. I don’t have a link for this interview, but it was conducted some time in the Seventies, in Canada, and was in fact more of a symposium than an interview, with questions taken by McGoohan from an amusingly earnest audience of students, if that helps anyone who wants to go looking:

    “…We’re run by the Pentagon, we’re run by Madison Avenue, we’re run by television, and as long as we accept those things and don’t revolt we’ll have to go along with the stream to the eventual avalanche… As long as we go out and buy stuff, we’re at their mercy. We’re at the mercy of the advertiser and of course there are certain things that we need, but a lot of the stuff that is bought is not needed…

    “…We all live in a little Village… Your village may be different from other people’s villages but we are all prisoners.”

    These concerns don’t seem libertarian to me. Rather they put me in mind of Popper’s “conspiracy theory of society”. Given the time The Prisoner was made, at the very zenith of the hippy movement, it seems quite likely to me that McGoohan was more concerned with the “sinister forces” of war, capitalism and the mass media than he was with issues of negative liberty that many people seem keen to ascribe to him today.

    On the other hand, perhaps I am reluctant to embrace McGoohan as one of us as I find The Prisoner an absolutely infuriating series to watch. It is at times wilfully incoherent, bordering on obscurantist, and toe-curlingly arch; and the overall tone is utterly self-satisfied, like no-one could get over just how good it was when they were making it.

  • ITV

    Laird: “Who is “ITV1″? Is it part of the BBC?” No, it’s Independent Television – the main competitor to the Beeb.

  • Sam Duncan

    Laird: “Who is “ITV1″? Is it part of the BBC?” No, it’s Independent Television – the main competitor to the Beeb.

    Meaning there’s some hope.

    On the other hand… I always enjoyed The Prisoner, but I can’t disagree with the rest of Novus’s comment. If it was trying to promote libertarian ideas, it could have done so a lot more clearly, and I too suspect that a lot of the time that wasn’t the intention at all. McGoohan himself was ambiguous; I understand he was involved in trying to get Atlas Shrugged filmed, but there are too many quotes like that one floating around to be sure of his opinions.

    Not that I mean to speak ill of the dead; he was indeed a great actor, and The Prisoner a magnificent performance.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Novus, I cannot really let your remarks go without a rebuttal. It is true, maybe, that some of the late actor’s comments can be taken to show some anti-business sentiment, or that some of the film-maker’s involved in the series were, as you describe it, “arch”. It may also appear a bit dated for some folk’s tastes. Taken as a whole, though, it is hard to see how it is anything other than a fairly obvious attack on the Big Brother state, on the loss of privacy and a plea for more respect for the individual. That’s fairly libertarian to me.

    I have long since stop worrying about whether actors, or directors, have views that I might take issue with. So long as the broad thrust of what they do is entertaining, thoughtful, or genuinely insightful, as this series was, that’s good enough for me.

  • Laird

    I agree with Johnathan. After all, George Orwell* was a socialist, but we still all appreciate the messages in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. Also, I would posit that the intent of the artist is irrelevant; what matters is the viewer’s interpretation of the work. If we all think The Prisoner has a libertarian theme, then that’s what it is.

    *Yes, I know that’s a pen name.

  • Alec

    I can’t believe that Samizdata mentions the death of Patrick McGoohan, yet ignores the death of John ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’ Mortimer. Call yourselves Libertarians?

  • I can’t believe that Samizdata mentions the death of Patrick McGoohan, yet ignores the death of John ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’ Mortimer.

    Why? Mortimer’s work defending freedom of expression in the ’60’s and ’70’s was excellent but I was under the impression he was just another leftist who was all for state control of the economy, so he was very much on the wrong side in the ’80’s… so a rather selective friend of liberty. Not ‘Pinter scale’ loathsome perhaps but hardly a fellow traveller either.

    Call yourselves Libertarians?

    Certainly not with a capital L.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I can’t believe that Samizdata mentions the death of Patrick McGoohan, yet ignores the death of John ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’ Mortimer. Call yourselves Libertarians?

    Not with a capital L, necessarily. I admired Mortimer’s stance on civil liberties but he was also an advocate of Big government, the Welfare state, powerful trade union privileges, etc. Not a consistent advocate of liberty at all. He was no friend of markets and property, except his own.

    Anyway, he had his good points and I enjoyed Rumpole.

  • I’m celebrating the Obama inauguration by watching “The Prisoner” on AMC’s website.

  • Alec

    Many thanks, Perry & Johnathan, for replying to my gentle prod in the ribs with a blunt finger (a rapier thrust to the throat was not intended). Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa on the capital L.

    I, however, have a more benevolent view of old ‘Rumpole’ (probably because I’m older) and his driving of a coach and horses through Britain’s archaic blasphemy and obscenity laws. He, also, was a great defender of free speech and many of today’s Blogs would not exist without his winning ways.

    We need more of his type to defend us against the present progeny of the Wee Free/Puritan sects that rules over us.

  • Moor Larkin

    Just further to the strange comments about George Markstein……… He was not *mysterious* at all. He was merely a nonentity like the rest of us until he wrote his first book when he was about 45 some five years after he was ‘tutored’ by McGoohan’s inspriration. He was in fact just a hard-working, jobbing journalist for years. He wrote for a GI newsrag called ‘Overseas Weekly’ in the Fifties and later jobbed articles such as an interview with Tony Benn about TV (Benn being the then Post-Master General) around the TV Times magazine in England. He became a creative writer after his involvement on the prisoner show, evidently inspired by it, rather than the other way around. He certainly was never anywhere near MI6… :-))) ….. There seems good reason to believe McGoohan in fact fired him because he didn’t do his script-editing job very well. Freedom comes at a price sometimes.