Patrick McGoohan Explains The Meaning Of The Prisoner, A TV Cult Classic

A Rare Television Interview With Patrick McGoohan

McGoohan Answers Many Questions About One Of The Most Enigmatic and Brilliant Shows In The History Of Television – The Prisoner

(l-r) Angelo Muscat, Patrick McGoohan Leo McKern in The Prisoner

Yes, Patrick McGoohan has been dead for nine years. But this long format television interview with Warner Troyer originally broadcast in Canada circa 1977 has rarely been seen.

If you are a fan of the The Prisoner, this interview will be a revelation. McGoohan was the creator, writer and star, and details the making and the meaning of The Prisoner.

During the interview McGoohan admits The Prisoner was intended for a very small audience- intelligent people. It was meant to provoke and have people question its meaning. The show succeeded.

50 years later, The Prisoner has as much cultural relevance today as it did when it was first broadcast in 1967. It is still debated and analyzed and considered as being WAY ahead of its time. Many of McGoohan’s concerns about mankind are currently and unfortunately playing out.

WARNING -SPOILERS AHEAD –  DO NOT WATCH if you have never seen The Prisoner and intend on watching it. I’ve summarized the plot of the series below. If you have seen The Prisoner and have always wondered what is the meaning of it all, Patrick McGoohan answers many of those questions.

Breaking it down to its most simplistic level, The Prisoner’s basic plot involves a government intelligence agent (played by McGoohan) who has resigned his position for reasons unknown. In short order, when he returns to his home he is gassed unconscious . He is then taken by persons unknown to a strange place that he awakens in called The Village.

The former agent don’t know who has kidnapped him or where the Village is. Though there are no prison bars, he quickly learns there is  no leaving or escape from The Village. He is a prisoner. Surveillance is everywhere and constant.

The people who inhabit The Village are essentially his captors and enemies; but others are also prisoners. It turns out no one can be trusted. It is difficult to discern who is a fellow prisoner versus who is an informer or jailer keeping him in captivity.

In The Village no one has a name, everyone has a number. McGoohan is dubbed “number 6. The ex-agent rejects being addressed as a number, and defiantly reminds his incarcerators, “I am not a number. I am a free man.”

Throughout the 17 episode series number 6  is interrogated for “information.” The interrogation is usually conducted by number 2 (supposedly the second in command of the Village). The person who is Number 2 changes in most episodes. The interrogators do everything they can to gather information and to break number 6’s spirit. Besides trying to escape, Number 6 has his main question – Who is number 1? Who is behind all this?  I won’t go beyond this basic summary because the complex ideas presented within the series are open to interpretation on many different levels.

Below is the first episode of The Prisoner: Arrival. If you are intrigued, I strongly suggest you buy the series on DVD or watch it on one of the streaming services. If you question the collective versus the individual and how technology affects us, the series is well worth watching.

Be seeing you.

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4 thoughts on “Patrick McGoohan Explains The Meaning Of The Prisoner, A TV Cult Classic

  1. James Murray Walters

    I always liked the series Secret Agent. And the Prisoner. The Ending was shocking yet satisfying. A truely complicated plot. Loved Leo Mckern as number 2. The only number 2 to survive. And Dem Bones. Plus the Buttler Angelo Muskat. And great performance by Patrick Mc. Goohan.

  2. Ruth Morrisson

    Fascinating interview. I’ve been re-watching (part) of the series because ChargeTV ran a marathon in June — but NOT all 17 episodes, unfortunately :-(. I was in a collectibles shop last week outside Akron, OH (I’ve never seen so many different Funko Pops in my life!) and the guy behind the counter agreed with me that not making space in their schedule for the entire thing was just dumb….
    Love the part about “Rover” in particular. And the suggestion at the end of the interview that in fact #6 was NOT free… that it wasn’t the end, but “a beginning….”

    1. Marilyn Small

      I’m going to get the series to view again. I’m happy that my recollections of the show resound with his interpretations. I’ve always stayed away from deep analysis, as the majority of artistic creators disavow such intricate intent. “I just wanted to make it fun” , regarding the finale of the series. I have argued the meaning of #1’s identity (which I thought was rather obvious at the time) for many years now and feel quietly vindicated, but I would like to see the whys and wherefores again.


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