Sunday, January 18, 2009

Feel free

Another treat from the XTC vaults with this video for "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul" taken from The Laughing Prisoner, filmed on location in Portmeirion and broadcast in April 1987.

Simply because of the title, I'm going to call this a tribute not only to Patrick McGoohan but also to John Mortimer -- barrister, champion of civil liberties and freedom of expression, political activist, writer of the autobiographical A Voyage Round My Father (a film which helped me better understand my relationship with my own father) and, of course, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey.

(Funnily enough, McGoohan and Mortimer are both most famous for their work involving Leo McKern, who played both Horace Rumpole and the most formidable yet ultimately sympathetic Number Two in The Prisoner.)

A while back, I swore off making any more posts about the deaths of any of my childhood icons...but I had to violate that promise once again, because the careers of both these guys were so important in my life. (Mortimer also advised Monty Python on avoiding prosecution over the film Life of Brian so he gets a twofer in my personal pantheon of heroes.) So here's to you both, for the things you did in both fiction and real life that helped other people become a bit more free.

As a bonus, here's the real meaning of The Prisoner so far as I'm concerned:

The correct answer to "Why did you resign?" is it's nobody else's business. That's not avoiding the answer, it is the answer.

Hope that clears up any questions.


  1. and yet, I always believed that No. 6 was telling the truth when he said "It was a matter of conscience." The problem with the No. 2 was that they would never believe anything as simple as the truth. As steeped in lies and deceit as they are, they will never believe the truth. And so it will always elude them. When No. 6 goes back to playing their game, it is with mixed results, as we see in Free for All, or Dance of the Dead.

  2. Yes -- actually, we're saying the same thing.

    Being a person and having free will means having responsibility for the consequences of the decisions we make. When an authority figure says "Put your conscience aside, trust us, let us decide what's right and wrong, just do as you're told and don't think about it anymore" that's the road to becoming less than a person -- i.e., a number, a statistic.

    When someone refuses to go down that road and says instead "I'm the only one who can decide what I think is right and wrong, I have to live with my own conscience, and I don't owe anyone else any explanation" that undermines the whole basis of the Village. The threat of the Prisoner was that he felt entitled to have a conscience, entitled to walk away from something he felt was wrong.

  3. Oddly, I had been showing a friend the series right before McGoohan's death had been announced, and had watched Fall Out just a night or two before it happened.

    I'm not sure it's possible to keep hold of the same views on government and individualism after watching The Prisoner for the first time.


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