Took a few days break last week, and visited Portmeirion for the first time, something I’ve been intending to do for years. Portmeirion, of course, is where they shot the tv series The Prisoner, fifty years ago to this very month. It’s quite a surreal place anyway, but even more so when you recognise locations used in the tv show and get a sense of the ‘true’ geography compared to that engineered by the tv show and particularly its editors (the taxi tour given to Patrick McGoohan in the first episode has it going one way, then returning back along the very same pathway although it is inferred to be someplace else entirely). It was quite odd seeing places I’ve seen in the tv show in the flesh, so to speak- I’m sure it will be just as odd re-watching the show next time, too.
It was so very strange walking those streets thinking it had a tv crew shooting the show there fifty years ago (there is some fantastic silent Super-8 footage filmed by tourists during the filming that can be found on the Blu-ray set). Fifty years though- I suppose most of the people on that set would never have imagined the impact and long life that The Prisoner would have. Many years have passed and most of the people on that set are naturally long gone, such as McGoohan himself, but that tv show and their work remains as vibrant and strange and infuriating as ever.
The series wouldn’t actually air until the September of the following year, a reminder of the long gestation such ambitious shows had back then For a sobering comparison, over in the States, the first series of Star Trek was being shot and aired in the very same year as The Prisoner was being filmed, each episode mere months between shooting and broadcast, some feat considering the pre- and post-production complexities of that show. I’m currently reading Marc Cushman’s excellent These Are The Voyages books about the making of Star Trek, which are giving me a better appreciation of the achievements (and brutality) of making that iconic series fifty years ago. I don’t think we Brits were set-up for that ruthless kind of scale of production; I recall filming on Space: 1999 commenced in 1973 and it wasn’t aired until late 1975.
The Prisoner remains one of the most important, and iconic, tv shows created here in the UK, and certainly is as timely and thought-provoking now as it ever was. Portmeirion of course has a life utterly seperate from that tv show, and a history stretching back decades before and after The Prisoner filmed many of its exteriors there. But post-The Prisoner, visitors familiar with the show will always have a curious sense of walking through a film set. Anyway, here’s a few shots I took of the place and some of the iconic landmarks from the show. Be seeing you.