In addition to stopping for a moment to be eternally thankful for family, friends, good health and our cat, MiniBoots, no Thanksgiving would be complete without recognizing the contributions made by two classic British series in not only setting me on a lifelong desire of wanting to consume all things British when it comes to telly but also give early on direction to what I would choose as a career path. One of the all-time classic series from the ’60s — or for that matter, anytime — is The Prisoner.
Equal parts spy fiction, science fiction and allegory with a major dose of psychological drama thrown in for good measure, The Prisoner was created by and starred Patrick McGoohan (Danger Man or Secret Agent in the U.S.) as No. 6. The series tracks a British secret agent who, following his abrupt resignation from his job, appears to have been abducted and then imprisoned in a mysterious coastal village resort run by No. 2, the village administrator.
No. 2 desperately needs to know why No. 6 has resigned his position with a myriad of ways to extract information, including hallucinogenic drug experiences, identity theft, mind control and dream manipulation at his fingertips. Adding to the complexity of the series, the identity of No. 2 changed from week to week partly to confuse No. 6 as he continued to refuse to co-operate or provide the answers they sought.
Secured by numerous monitoring systems and security forces including a militarized, balloon-based device called Rover that recaptures or destroys those who attempt escape, The Village was isolated from the mainlands by mountains and seas. No. 6’s sole purpose while living in The Village is to learn the identity of No. 1 and escape, all the while defiantly pronouncing that, “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own.”
Originally broadcast during 1967-68, and even counting the Beatles among its as avid fans, this brilliant series’ location filming was done mostly in Portmeirion in North Wales. If you’re headed that way on a road trip, that’s 1 1/2 miles south of Porthmadog and 1 1/2 miles west of Penrhyndeudraeth, just off the main road at Minffordd. Should be easy enough for you to find with these parameters, don’t you think?
The brilliant thing about Portmeirion is that it still remains today true to “the village” look of the series. The surreal architecture and Mediterranean feel of the village was the vision of Welsh architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who acquired the desolate coastal village in 1926 for 5,000 pounds. You can stay at the Portmeirion Hotel, stroll through gardens and dine in numerous restaurants. If you decide to leave, however, make sure you know just where the bouncing ball is. It’s kind of like Hotel California where you can checkout any time you like but you can never leave. Or maybe the Overlook, perhaps?
The Prisoner transformed primetime television drama into avant-garde art. At a time when British telly was shot in black and white, the series was shot in color with an eye towards overseas sales in the U.S. I remember the first time I watched the series in its entirety, I sat there with a “WTH” look on my face wondering what just happened during the 17 episodes I had just seen.
Even though The Prisoner was created over 50 years ago, it has stood the test of time and remains one of the best series ever made.
The other series that played a significant part in shaping my ‘formative years in British telly’ was when I discovered Monty Python’s Flying Circus. When he series first aired in the United States in 1974, courtesy of my local PBS station, KERA (where I have now worked for a majority of my career in television), it totally changed my comedy landscape. It was beyond description when you consider what most U.S. comedy on television looked like at that time.
My eternal thanks to then KERA Program Director Ron Devillier and KERA President/CEO Bob Wilson for having the comedy foresight to take a chance on a group of guys doing sketches about a dead parrot, a cheese shop, the Spanish Inquisition and a singing Lumberjack!
A short year later in 1975, I was standing on line at the Esquire Theatre in Dallas for the ‘world premiere’ of this little unknown film called Monty Python and the Holy Grail. After about an hour on line, they handed each of us two coconuts and moved us inside. As we really had no clue as to what the film was about, we just knew it was from the brilliantly twisted mind palaces of Monty Python so it would definitely be worth the wait. Fortunately, it only took about 5 minutes before we understood completely the importance and meaning of getting a pair of coconuts as a parting gift for attending the premiere.
While it’s a bit hard to believe it’s been 45 years since that unforgettable night in 1975, my belief stands that Monty Python’s Flying Circus is one of the greatest comedic masterpieces of all-time and has not diminished one bit over time.
So, on this Thanksgiving Day/weekend, I am eternally grateful for family, friends, good health, MiniBoots, The Prisoner and Monty Python’s Flying Circus!
In: Odds & Sods