‘The Prisoner’: Six of the best… Number Two

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In our new series examining one of the most iconic (and definitely culty) TV series of all time, The Prisoner, we’ll be taking a look at the various facets that make Patrick McGoohan’s 1960s masterpiece such a compelling watch.

Buy the complete series on Blu-ray on Amazon.

First up are the weekly bad boys in The Village – the Number Twos – and we’ve got six of the best for you…


#6: Derren Nesbitt

Perhaps the most striking in the looks department of his contemporaries, Nesbitt’s man-in-charge comes off like Joe 90 got bored with being a good boy and defected to the other side. The Where Eagles Dare actor impresses with puns (not to mention his impeccable hair), but it’s his mannerisms that make him so unique. Try out the drinking game for each time he takes off his glasses (usually putting them back on immediately) – you’ll be plastered by the end of the episode (the rather pedestrian ‘It’s Your Funeral’).

#5: Peter Wyngarde

Television’s durty boy Jason King makes for a more laid back approach to Number Two. Wyngarde’s casting, reflecting McGoohan’s role in Danger Man, suggests that even the most flamboyant and extrovert character is toned down and forced to heel by the ‘man’. His tone is almost sympathetic as he targets Number Six with great strategy in the iconic chess game episode, ‘Checkmate’ (turning Two’s tactics against him). Wyngarde’s cross-legged karate on a plank of wood wins him extra points for oddness.


#4: Colin Gordon

One of only two actors to play Number Two twice, Colin Gordon was very much the stiff in the upper lip through his disquieting milk-drinking characterisation. His Two was as emotionally tight as his perfectly cropped moustache as he engendered a new brand of education in ‘The General’ (that brand being speed learning). Though it was filmed first, the episode was actually broadcast after his second filming stint on the much more intriguing, not to say typically Prisonery, ‘A, B And C’ (more drugs, more dream sequences, etc…). By the end of his experiment trying to break Six, it is he who leaves the broken man – his hair dishevelled and his mind fractured as he sees McGoohan’s hero able to place and manipulate Number Two (and himself) within his own dream.


#3. Kenneth Griffiths

Better known for his edgy documentaries, Griffiths also has the distinction of starring in a 1955 film called The Prisoner, starring Alec Guiness. His Number Two spent most of the episode, the deliciously oddball ‘The Girl Who Was Death’, not in the usual blazer and badge combo but in a Napoleon-esque outfit as he tried to kill Number Six along with the help of his equally wired-to-a-Mars-bar daughter. It took place in the imagination (presumably of the titular character) as he reads to The Village’s children. It’s an utterly bonkers story with nutacular performance from Griffiths.

His enthusiasm landed him a second appearance in the show, during the series finale ‘Fall Out’. Griffiths pops up as a judge in yet another memorably off-kilter scene, bookended by The Beatles’ ‘All You Need Is Love’. His manic expressions and rambunctious physicality make Griffiths a resoundingly pleasing watch.


#2: Patrick Cargill

Perhaps best known for his lead role in the ITV sitcom Father, Dear Father, Cargill’s Number Two in ‘Hammer Into Anvil’ goes from violently assured authoritarian (he slaps Number Six – twice!) to a bumbling, paranoid child. All thanks to Six and his magnificent undermining, suggesting that the Village is in cahoots with Six and against Two. Cargill’s skill is evident as he plays the weekly master with some relish, instantly hateable. We feel satisfied by the end when he reduced to a bubbling wreck and, again, the actor does a fantastic job in demonstrating the man’s decline into madness.

Cargill also makes an appearance in the following episode, ‘Many Happy Returns’, where he plays Thorpe, a colleague of Number Six (who has just managed to escape the village and return home). This sparked much debate whether or not The Village was run by the British government but Cargill dismissed the idea believing it to demonstrate rather that the “Village had contacts everywhere.” According to Rose Tobias-Shaw (casting director), Cargill’s casting was down to his likability as an actor as opposed to his character. Of course, McKern’s return to Parliament in the finale would further muddy those waters.


#1: Leo McKern

Even if McKern had only appeared in the one episode, ‘The Chimes Of Big Ben’, the future Rumpole Of The Bailey actor would still have topped the list thanks to his gregarious and lovable performance as Number Two. “Tip top!” he roars at Number Six as our intrepid hero enters an art competition. McKern’s chumminess borders on disinterest in Six’s actual motivations behind his resignation – he would seemingly rather befriend than understand. Even when McGoohan’s character figures out the rouse (being tricked into thinking he was back in Blighty), McKern’s Two sighs wistfully and gets on with his life.

Though getting on with his life would actually mean an audacious return for the brain-scratching two-part finale. Filmed immediately after his first appearance but broadcast some fourteen after, ‘Once Upon A Time’ would see the on screen battle between the two men spill over into reality. McKern suffered a breakdown at the hands of McGoohan who, by that time, was dreadfully dictatorial and drinking (but still charming to many); pushing everyone to their very limits.

But it was here where the viciousness of McKern’s man in charge raised its head in a final attempt to squeeze Six into confessing. Of course, a confession did not arise and the episode was pretty much two men fighting for forty minutes or so as Six regressed to childhood and grew up again. Cage fighting would never be this entertaining again.

Heart problems ensued for the Aussie actor though McGoohan was keen to push on and their friendship died. Oddly McKern was persuaded to return for ‘Fall Out’, the show’s final episode (both in production and airdate). Cleaned up and beardless, McKern was a new man. As was his Number Two.

After dying at the hands of Six, he is resurrected and, ultimately, joins our nameless prisoner in his attempt to be free. The final scenes see him pin-stripe suited up and toddling off to Parliament, a reminder of the political nature of the show. Was he an MP? A Civil servant? Who knows, but chillingly, after his experiences in The Village, he returns to his previous life, not embarking on a new one. The mirror image of Number Six.


Buy the complete series on Blu-ray on Amazon.

What are your memories of The Prisoner? Let us know below…