Perhaps because of all the historical facts militating against the Club’s pet theory, they developed a whole Creation Theory to justify the otherwise inexplicable. To give their cult story a superficial credibility they depended upon the initially straightforward nature of the first few episodes. In Arrival, the scenario of the Village is explicated, Chimes of Big Ben is a clever, but relatively simple escape plot, A,B&C is another immensely subtle, but still clear story. The Club Theory then leaps forward to the bizarre machinations of The Girl Who Was Death and the unusualness of the final two episodes, for a “primetime” series. The contrast between these first three episodes and the final three is held up as evidence of how the series began as a simple extension of Danger Man and was only later tweaked into an allegorical conundrum. This simplistic idea was of course blown apart by the same cult fans later discovering that the episodes were not made in the order in which they were broadcast. However, they had by then written up their opinion and the (often contradictory) stories told them by peripheral members of the cast and crew and to retreat from their statements would make a nonsense of their whole history as an organisation; and so they naturally refused to do this and instead simply ignored the very facts they had discovered themselves and stuck with their original idea that Markstein created a simple secret agent show, which McGoohan then increasingly took over and moulded it into cryptic puzzles.
Naturally, any of us can make a mistake and any of us might prefer not to admit we are hopelessly wrong. That is just human nature. However, if we return ourselves to 1980, when these fans were beginning their musings that were to hopelessly confuse future writers on the subject, what seems less forgivable is their blatant inability to notice the huge clues that the show itself carries about the creative influences behind it, and from who those influences were coming from. The fourth episode broadcast was Free For All. This episode was written by Patrick McGoohan but although broadcast first, it was scripted simultaneously with Arrival.
SIX: Far be it for me to carp, but what do you do in your spare time?
TWO: I cannot afford spare time!
SIX (to crowd): Do you hear that? He’s working to his limit! Can’t afford spare time! We’re all entitled to spare time! Leisure is our right!
TWO: In your spare time, if you get it, what will you do?
SIX: Less work… And more play !
It is very clear from the very beginning of The Prisoner that McGoohan was making his own social commentary, utilising this secret agent/prisoner allegory as his popular vehicle. The real history of the making of the show itself demonstrates this beyond any doubt and so does the content of the show too. How could any serious fan of this series imagine that it began somehow as a sequel to Danger Man and then only later morphed into what it actually was? When you further consider that Dance of the Dead, perhaps the most wilfully odd episode (outside of Fall-Out) was the fourth episode to be produced and that Once Upon A Time, containing the most wilfully odd half an hour of primetime TV ever produced, was in fact the sixth episode commisioned, then any lingering notions of George Markstein somehow initially crafting a Danger Man sequel only to be usurped by an obscurantist Actor/Producer become irrefutably absurd.
The actual structure of Free for All itself also belies any simplistic origins. The idea of a prisoner standing for election is quirky but the story quickly moves on from that initial puzzle, which seems sufficient plot for the episode, into a situation where the prisoner is bafflingly forced before a committee to justify himself. One of the principal tropes of The Prisoner is the battle of the individual against duty-bound bureaucrats and nowhere in the series is the side that McGoohan himself is on, in this battle, made any clearer than it is in Free For All. From the very beginning of the screenplay it is clear that there is no intention to write this show as some kind of inverted British version of The Fugitive. The Un-reality of the opening scene sets out the writer's stall, when Number Six is talking by telephone to Number Two, he puts the phone down and then Number Two walks immediately into the cottage. This is inexplicable by any normality and Number Six makes no attempt to resolve his evident bafflement, entitling the audience to join him in this acceptance. The ensuing conversations between the two prime numbers about the accompanying woman/maid, Number Fifty-Eight holds a mirror to the series' initial obsession with “Information”.
TWO: … She may be a mere number.... but she used to work in the records. She has a great variety of Information
TWO: Oh, you’re the boss.
SIX: Number One is the boss.
Then, seconds later,
Part of the morphing fan-creation theory propounds that McGoohan had no idea that Number One would turn out to be Number Six until he came to write Fall-Out because he was making it all up as he went along and that at first the series was only about a secret agent in a predicament. This episode, penned at the very beginning by McGoohan himself demonstrates the none sense of such a proposition.
NumberSix makes a long speech about how the individual and society interface and how the individual relates to the demands of their society and the way individuals are persuaded to conform.
It was one thing for George Markstein to say what he liked; he was after all a free man. But how stupid are the writers who unchallengly and gleefully quote this and simultaneously fail to note the evidence from the show itself that so far as McGoohan was concerned heroes did sweat and Number Six was no different to any other hero.
The, err… buggy transport, the lady driver, will be at your disposal for the election period. And anything else you may desire – within reason...........
So far as I recall, Eric Portman gives McGoohan a sly smile as he says the last part – but not a nudge or a wink.
Looking for the real Number Six? He’s not hard to find. You just have watch the programmes.
Be seeing It.