“Has one the right to tell a man what to think, how to behave, to coerce others? Has one the right to be an individual? I (want) to make (viewers) ask questions, argue, and think. The function of any art is to speak ahead of the times, to herald warnings that are not obvious but which are there.” Patrick McGoohan. *1

“The bravest, the classiest, and, without question, the most original television series ever attempted.” Tony Sloman the Prisoner crew, film librarian. *2

“I remember distinctly driving down this street and thinking, here was a place for our man in isolation.” Patrick McGoohan. *3


The purpose of this introduction is to address two questions. Firstly, what is the essence and appeal of a 1960’s TV series that made such a significant cultural impact that; it transcended the medium; it influenced a generation, then evolved into common currency as it became part of the fabric of society, and is now recognised as a timeless classic that still has the power to affect individuals deeply. Secondly, perhaps more mundanely, nevertheless relevant, to address the question of how the episode chapters are structured, and what the reader may expect to encounter within them. Hopefully this will ensure the reading experience may be as rewarding as one would wish. As it unfolds, each episode perhaps overtly, but more often discretely, inserts serious themes, where it masquerades as an entertaining escapist drama. Over the series, our understanding of the ‘Village’, the plight of the prisoner, the series framework, and the story arc develops this intriguing puzzle.


Described as an ‘allegorical conundrum’, by its creator, Patrick McGoohan, the series employed mythology, nursery rhymes, archetypes, symbols, surrealism, and all paths lead to the timeless message of the individual’s right to be individual. At its heart, it is the quest for the inner self that is the underlying strength of the series that guarantees its longevity. The joy of The Prisoner is the exploration and evaluation of the carefully inserted covert ideas, including posing a number of the bigger questions in life, which ultimately can only ever be answered by oneself. With hindsight it is perhaps not only the sixties’ ultimate testament to that decade’s insecurities, social concerns, understandable paranoia, belief in conspiracy theories, and yet, towering over these, rebellious youth, intent on creating a society based on peace, love, and freedom of the human spirit. Its enduring themes are even more relevant today.


Each of the chapters do not necessarily follow a set format. ‘The Prisoner’ chose not to, and that is good enough for this writer. Their lengths vary, because I believe, for example, the spiritual heartland of ‘Free for All’ has much more to say than the content of ‘The Girl Who Was Death’. Upon consideration, and as a general trend, the reader may find the contents of each succeeding chapter adds to their understanding growing in depth and gaining in involvement. In each I explore, examine, and discuss the core themes, then research and review their wider implications. In addition to an attempt to give my perceived understanding, I augment key points to further interpret and clarify. Examples include imprisonment and dehumanisation in ‘Arrival’, politics and the press in ‘Free for All’, brainwashing and conformity in ‘A Change of Mind’, identity and individualism in, ‘Do Not Forsake’. In general terms, each chapter primarily focuses on a single episode and its analysis, accompanied by a closer examination of the issues raised, then scored by what I have termed a ‘Barrieometer’, to weigh and rate its significance.  Rather than leave the reader with a cold sense of closure, there will be six ‘Points2ponder’, that is ideas, concepts, that may spark the reader into pursuing their own voyage of further discovery. In addition, a number of suggested relevant books or films that I believe embody both selected and principal themes from that episode.


There have been many books written about this bold, innovative, radical, and challenging series. The production has been very adequately covered in a number of them, others have described the episodes content, and a precious few may have featured a little more. Yes, inevitably there will be an element of production information, however, primarily this book is one man’s attempt to take a journey to the very heart of the series. ‘Free for All’ for example, embraces a great deal, the instinctive heartfelt views that McGoohan wanted so much to convey, that I felt it warranted some 20,000 words. As his daughter Catherine, confirmed to me, “I think this episode is very iconic. I think he gets to say so much in this episode, it’s quite prolific.” *4 To my knowledge, no-one has discussed or written about why the prisoner should say, “Obey me and be free,” in the dying moments of a betrayed victory. Or from whence the term ‘Unmutual’ originated. Or dissected ‘Fall Out’ to the extent I have sought. Also consider, when the P comes face to face with ‘himself’ dressed in his supposedly destroyed original suit; “We thought you would be happier as yourself.” Again, (bar my own,) I can find no trace of a single observation regarding the scene’s symbolism, regarding this key moment.


This book has been nigh on some 60 years in gestation, since I first was captivated by ‘The Prisoner’ in the autumn of 1967. Over the decades I have written many thousands of words, interviewed a great number of those involved in its making, held in excess of two score ‘Brain-Bashes’ at Six of One conventions, to discuss and debate the purpose of, and what the ideas expressed in the series, are seeking to reveal to the viewer. Be in no doubt, whether overt or carefully buried, that was the creator’s intent. For this writer, apart from everything else, it was initially the scripts that resonated, struck a chord. Who were these scriptwriters? From where did they derive their inspired ideas? Obviously prime mover McGoohan was the dynamic vanguard, and in time I was fortunate to interview or correspond with a number of them, men of ideals, of passion. In a number of chapters, the writers may feature prominently.


The format, and deliberate intention, of its creator was something very rare, to ask the audience to question all that they saw and heard. Week by week, as the series unfolded, and the ideas and ideals became more embedded and emblazoned, the episodes progressively became more surreal, allegorical, and possibly downright bizarre, culminating with the crowning achievement, ‘Fall Out’. The uniqueness, ambiguity, and realisation this experimental series would create debate, be argued over, would become an integral part of the social fabric. Its impact would echo on, influencing many, sparking university courses, conventions where the series was discussed, and over 50 publications devoted to its principal messages. In essence, the puzzle it presents to the viewer is basically that of life itself, and what that reveals is yet more timeless questions. The series’ allegorical trajectory did not evolve; from its inception, it was clearly intended. For ease, throughout, the prisoner/Patrick is referred to as ‘P’, as in the original scripts. The title of this book is, “What’s it all about?” and the sub-heading, “Question everything.” Let us attempt to do just that.


* 1 The Scotsman 16th July 1977

* 2 Tony Sloman Reel Life Quoit Media 2021

* 3 Patrick McGoohan unknown interviewer. Known as the ‘LA Tape’. McGoohan had granted an interview for the ‘Six into One’ Channel 4 1984 documentary but was unhappy with certain aspects, so conducted this interview in circumstances where he enjoyed total control. I will deal with as a separate topic elsewhere. The interview appeared in Number Six magazines, Issues 3 and 4 Spring and Summer 1985.

* 4 Catherine McGoohan interviewed at Portmeiricon by this writer. Six 4 Two Issues 1-3


© David Barrie 2024. All rights reserved.