Sunday, 13 February 2011

McGoohan in his own words: Noone ever asked me, and they're not going to ask me, because they know there is no lost episode! But somebody made a lot of money out of it - because it sold!

The McGoohan quote that prefaces this particular blog is from the little-published interview Patrick McGoohan granted to Howard Foy around 1990, published in Primetime magazine. He was discussing the *Alternative* version of the episode Chimes of Big Ben. This different cut of the episode was found by an American researcher checking into the archives at Canadian Television. Famously it includes a scene entirely absent from the version that was made available in the British and American broadcasts, as well as some other differences.

The Canadians began broadcasting The Prisoner before anywhere else in the world, but they also stopped earlier than anywhere else and in that 1967 season only ever broadcast 13 episodes. It was not the only country to only use 13 episodes: Germany was another. However the reasons for this decision in Germany were quite different to those in Canada. It remains a little bit mysterious as to why Canadian TV was so precipitate in broadcasting The Prisoner - perhaps they thought there might be further series of it and so showing the first 13 only would allow them to end season one. That could be one interpretation. However, they broadcast the episodes in such a different order to the one that became the intention of the production company that I am left convinced that, for whatever reason of their own, they decided to only use the episodes that would be available  to them by the end of November 1967.

Some while ago, my fellow researcher, whom I refer to as The Sheriff, co-operated with me to elucidate the actual broadcast order that took place in this very first showing of The Prisoner. It had struck us as curious that in all the weighty and not-so-weighty tomes on the subject, it seemed nobody had ever have looked at the Number One version of the show. It seemed also rather remiss that the very first academic study of the show, which actually took place in Canada seemed completely oblivious to the manner in which their show had first been broadcast into the world consciousness.

Their lack of study of that history is perhaps forgiveable because in 1977, the Ontario group were not first and foremost interested in the making of the show, but more interested in the meaning of it. However, in the intervening four decades since then, nobody else in the world of prisoner fandom seems to have been interested enough in actual documented history to find all this out. They have filled books up with piffle and paffle, but of their Number One? They know nothing. Number Six would no doubt smile sardonically at this point.

Anyhow....... the order is.... for the record...............

05/09/67 - "Arrival"
12/09/67 - "A, B and C"
19/09/67 - "Free For All"
26/09/67 - "The Schizoid Man"
03/10/67 - "The General"
10/10/67 - "Hammer into Anvil"
17/10/67 - "It's Your Funeral"
24/10/67 - "Many Happy Returns"
31/10/67 - "Change of Mind"
07/11/67 - "Checkmate"
14/11/67 - "Dance of the Dead"
21/11/67 - "Once Upon a Time"
28/11/67 - "The Chimes of Big Ben"

What does this all mean? I expect it means what it is - a different order, but perhaps not one that many lovers of watching this show in different orders might have thought of. That the Canadians took their own, very unique line on the show is evident from some of their choices; and it must have been a selecting process to some degree as the order seems to follow no pattern of episodes simply becoming avaialable from the producers - Many Happy Returns for instance was the very last episode of these thirteen to enter production, but is shown at number 8 - whilst A,B&C remains very close to the start, as it does in the *real* broadcast order.

The fact that Once Upon A Time remains used as a penultimate episode is however no coincidence I think- given that McGoohan had always pre-destined it as his penultimate episode. That this episode least encourages the use of Chimes of Big Ben as the final one is emphasised by the fact that Leo McKern's Number Two had died at the end of Once Upon A Time ! However, the appealingly poignant and inconclusive ending of Chimes of Big Ben makes it an excellent choice as the series closer of course. Quite how these two final episodes segued for the original Canadian audience is not clear but the show certainly intrigued them as witnessed by some news comment the following year.

The impression given is that the show was *abruptly* cancelled. However, the story looks to be a little more complicated than that because the order of episodes shown by Canadian TV is both so radically different from the norm, yet still retains the significant elements of using Once Upon A Time as the penultimate one; whilst the thought-provoking notion of making Chimes of Big Ben the finale, rather than the more obvious choice of Many Happy Returns, which was the 13th episode put into production, seems to suggest a guiding hand by somebody.

As always with The Prisoner, things are rarely as simple as they might seem.

Be seeing you - or do I mean...... POP!


  1. Regardless of what they did with broadcast number and order, I was really grateful to the Canadians for producing the Troyer commentary with the Prisoner Puzzle Book. In the days before VCR and DVD, this was my only connection to The Prisoner since I had seen it in 1968 and 1969. I was married and my husband could finally watch it and find out what I had been talking about for all those years! And the book they produced became a prized possession (I still have it) and I very dilligently read each book they listed in their bibliographies for each episode. So, for me, it was a good deal.

  2. I recently became a fan of The Prisoner, and it's great to find some one writing articles that don’t just look over the episodes.

    Finding someone who'll go and do so much research and put it available for people like me to read is great.

    I'll certainly be looking at your other pieces. And congrats to the Sherriff as well.

    Be Seeing You.

  3. I'll pass your regards on to the lawman. We're Obliged.

  4. UPDATE:

    In the course of a web conversation I have today realised my Ordering was in error. Check out this Link for the correction:

  5. There may have been some confusion at the Canadian end because most, if not all of the ITC filmed series to that date (and almost all of them after) could have been shown in pretty much any order (like most of the US action-adventure series of the time). That is certainly true of The Saint and Danger Man. Some ITC filmed series had an introductory episode but from then on the episodes are self contained (albeit with some episodes which might logically have come earlier than others, but without being too obvious about it) - UFO and The Champions for example.
    The Canadians might initially have assumed that after the intro they could show the episodes in any order - whether or not they later realized their mistake and tried to make the best of a bad job.