Oh, there are so many open goals – I mean, Rule of Six, Number Six; I shouldn’t have to elaborate. After all, it only seems like yesterday that I penned a post on ‘The Prisoner’ when I last gave it an outing a few months back; the remarkable ability of that programme to mirror the present tense whenever one happens to watch it never fails to amaze. Even without rushed legislation intended to enforce the unenforceable in the light of a pandemic that kills less than annual seasonal influenza, there’s enough of the here and now in Patrick McGoohan’s 1967 masterwork to show us that the tools of the future were busily being forged in the past, even if few wanted to admit it. But, of course, to point this out places me alongside the online loonies, the whole ‘It’s a weapon of global social control concocted by China and Israel and the Bilderberg Group to enslave us all’ professional conspiracy theory set, so I have to watch my words. One might almost conclude that conspiracy theorists have been allowed to flourish because their insane endeavours serve to cast doubt upon concerns that an actual conspiracy might be afoot, therefore meaning it can progress unimpeded.

I watched the performance of Priti Patel on Julia Hartley-Brewer’s Talk Radio show yesterday, in which the Home Secretary was presented with a hypothetical scenario whereby her neighbours were hosting a children’s birthday party in their back garden, one in which the guest-list exceeded six by one child. Would Ms Patel dial 999 to report the crime? The fudged response made a mockery of a politician who has built a reputation for herself as a no-nonsense hardliner, the kind of politician Westminster is sorely lacking at a time when the nation needs someone in a position of power to grow a pair; alas, her credentials as a potential successor to shagged-out, burned-out Boris should he decide to throw the towel in next year were damaged in a way that made her look as ineffective and lightweight as Matt ‘scary’ Hancock. Moreover, it further highlighted just how clueless this Government is as it stumbles its way through a crisis by making it up as it goes along, too willing to take the word of scaremongering ‘experts’ relishing the spotlight to devise a consistent strategy.

Today we have been informed that the mediocre administration in control of our shared destinies has given itself a fortnight to see if its Rule of Six works before deciding whether or not to reverse the recent easing of nationwide restrictions and plunge us all back into full-on lockdown. Local lockdowns have already been in operation in certain corners of the kingdom where cases have risen, such as Leicester and Bolton; but this is a threat to return us to where we were back in the spring, albeit with add-on caveats sparing schools and a few social environments. However, whereas recorded cases may have risen in a way that was utterly predictable once the general public began to repopulate the world beyond their doorsteps, the actual death rate has plummeted compared to back in April, when well over a thousand died on the darkest day. The Government is placing great emphasis on testing, but the haphazard manner of its programme so far doesn’t quite match its ambition – even if most of us no longer expect anything less from the current shower.

If one might be inclined towards a more benign frame of mind and look favourably upon a Government confronted by an unprecedented situation in modern history, one could say its initial tactics in preventing the wider spread of Covid-19 achieved its aim; that said, one still cannot assess September’s state of play and come to the conclusion that this cat-and-mouse policy of easing restrictions and then tightening them up again once cases inevitably rise as a result can be employed indefinitely. Yet, it would appear this is indeed the plan. It’s getting to the point where any venture outdoors seems weird without a mask on and a recent poll showing over half of those asked were in favour of continuing tough measures suggested Project Fear has succeeded way beyond the Government’s wildest dreams – or should that be the media’s, as the MSM had a far bigger part to play in the pandemic panic than Whitehall. Gatherings of more than six people being banned in England is intended to prevent cases from rising again, but when the rule is eased the cases will rise; so, it comes back in and they go down; then it’s eased and they go back up. And so on and so on forever.

I should be so lucky to assemble six people, anyway. I’ve spoken to half that number face-to-face in the last six months – three f***ing people in the last six months. I was fairly accustomed to living my life in the style of a medieval anchorite as things stood before any of this happened, but choice and personal circumstance had a hand in that. When Government intervenes and imposes such severe restrictions on the entire population, the majority of who have no experience of house arrest and understandably took their freedoms for granted, the amount of fire being played with is lighting one hell of a future fuse. I dread to think what the long-term psychological effects of this will be, but I’m already seeing signs of it in friends who are exhibiting worrying symptoms of becoming used to their withdrawal from society and have no outlet to alter that anymore. For me, this set up has exacerbated many things that have been part of my internal complexion for a long time; but for those with no ‘previous’ – well, all I can say is that the one industry that will profit from this above all others once a semblance of normality asserts itself will be that of psychotherapy.

I strolled up to my local cinema earlier on today and felt a palpable chill as I looked at posters for movies scheduled to be screened in the spring that never were; it’s been mothballed since the end of March. Those posters reminded me of the bricked-up pedestrian tunnel of a closed London Underground station recently excavated, a preserved time capsule displaying decaying posters for Ealing comedies showing at long-gone picture houses and so forth. Studying their 2020 equivalents today, it was as though I was looking through a portal into a parallel world whereby these movies were indeed shown at the cinema in question and life proceeded along its usual path. But, of course, they weren’t and it didn’t. I think it just reminded me – as if I needed reminding – that this half-and-half excuse for a life we have at the moment is no substitute for the real thing, and it doesn’t feel as if the real thing will be with us again anytime soon.

What this situation has done more than anything is to underline our absolute collective powerlessness. Sure, thousands can march in support of a cause that chimes with the consensus of the ruling elite, but that’s just a narcissistic performance bearing little relation to the limitations placed upon those who have no interest in brandishing placards, pulling down statues and throwing bikes at police horses, those who just want to get on with their lives and can’t. When it comes to the genuinely important stuff, we have no say and can do nothing about it. The powers-that-be can bend us to their will and that’s that. If a rule was brought in tomorrow that proclaimed everyone had to wear bowler hats on public transport and had to wear stilettos in supermarkets, we’d go along with it because we need to get from A to B and we need to eat. As the old saying goes, when you’ve got ‘em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow – and Patrick McGoohan knew that 53 years ago. Be seeing you.

© The Editor


Last week, for some reason, I was compelled to revisit the Village, even if I’m not entirely certain how long it is since I last watched ‘The Prisoner’; I’d estimate around five years. Prior to purchasing Patrick McGoohan’s seminal 60s series on DVD, I think I’d last seen it on its most recent Channel 4 rerun in the early 90s; and that viewing itself had been a decade on from when the same channel had introduced me to it in 1984 (I doubt the year of that particular broadcast was accidental). Seeing it as a 16-year-old meant McGoohan’s antihero naturally appealed to my adolescent rebellion phase; yet now I’ve started watching it once more and that particular phase is extremely distant, the appeal of No.6’s battle against the seductive oppression of the Village is still speaking to me – and it says something different to me every time I return to it. Not only does ‘The Prisoner’ have a remarkable ability to appeal to every stage of my life I pass through, it also possesses the power to always relate to events taking place out there in the contemporary landscape.

Books have long had the ability to do this, and certain movies have also managed it; but television rarely does. We can appreciate a vintage series and what it says about the time in which it was made, but it’s not often we can translate its central theme to the present day. ‘The Prisoner’ is quite unique in the way its relevance never appears to wane, however far we travel from 1967. It probably helps that it still looks so cinematic, being shot on 35mm colour film when so many 60s shows remain frozen in murky monochrome; but even the fact it displays all the gaudy visual hallmarks of kitsch associated with the period, there’s an Alice in Wonderland quality to the design of the series that almost places it out of time; it’s almost too strange to belong solely to the 60s. The depths of ‘The Prisoner’ can be so hidden they’re practically labyrinthine; but it’s a revelation when we encounter them.

I sometimes think the creative forces that gave us the enduring visions of Dystopian fiction set in near-futures or parallel presents – ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, ‘A Clockwork Orange’, ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics’, and ‘The Prisoner’ – were able to anticipate so much of what has come to pass and what we can still see coming because they’d lived through the 1930s. They’d seen with their own eyes how complicit the masses can be in their own suppression and ultimate destruction, how the individual voice can be submerged in a cacophonous chorus of mob hysteria. They never looked back over their shoulders and asked the obvious question posed by succeeding generations, i.e. ‘How could all those people have been taken in by Hitler?’ They didn’t need to. The more senior of them – Orwell, specifically – had already witnessed the denial of Stalin’s barbarous actions by the Left in the West even before the Austrian painter abandoned his watercolours. They all knew what can happen and they could all see it happening again by taking on a different shape for each era.

There are probably far more people in 2020 who can relate to ‘The Prisoner’ and No.6 than there were in 1967, yet it still made a huge cultural impact at the time of its original broadcast, perhaps because many viewers then also had wartime memories and got the references. In 1967, the inability of McGoohan’s character to trust anyone he meets and near-guarantee that every misplaced whisper will be reported to the authorities would undoubtedly have provoked recollections of villages in Nazi-occupied France peppered with informants, or even the ‘loose lips sink ships’ compulsion to keep tabs on neighbours and strangers alike that applied on the home front. Today, of course, one cannot help but think of lockdown fundamentalists dialling 999 when they spy more than three or four people gathered in next-door’s garden.

The advanced technology of Village surveillance, something which was in its infancy in 1967 – certainly outside of East Germany, anyway – has obviously become such a part of contemporary life since then that we often barely notice it anymore. Whether speed cameras, CCTV on street corners, online profiling, or ‘track & trace’ apps, it sometimes seems that dissenting voices questioning the wisdom of allowing the state or multinationals to spy on us with increasing impunity are diminishing with each development as reluctant acceptance morphs seamlessly into resigned indifference. ID and credit cards also helped No.2 monitor No.6’s movements, as the real-world equivalents do ours. And each imposition on his individualism and freedom is served with a smile; the Village isn’t modelled on a Soviet Gulag; it resembles a cross between Butlin’s and the Henley Regatta most of the time.

One episode I watched the other night dealt with what was called ‘speed-learning’ as the Village community absorbed a history course by staring at the TV screen for three minutes. Afterwards, villagers could automatically ask another villager a question related to the course and they’d receive the same reply, parrot-like, word-for-word; the information was implanted in every person who’d sat the course, but they only had the set reply; their knowledge went no deeper than that and was ultimately as useless as memorising the answers to expected questions on an exam paper. Hard not to think of some present-day degrees – gender studies, perhaps – that neither enrich the intellect nor guarantee a career but simply proffer useless information that has no more worth or value than being able to recite a shopping-list.

Another memorable episode in which it was impossible not to sense a theme echoing down the decades concerned a Village election. No.6 is persuaded to run for No.2’s office and instantly has his cynical honesty reported completely differently by what passes for a press. His words from the heart are translated as vacuous platitudes that could have emerged from the mouth of every politician of the last forty years; but in the Village, there is no independence of thought, so it doesn’t matter. He’s saying what all politicians say and are expected to say in the land of collectivist groupthink. That crossed my mind when I heard Matt Hancock opportunistically toss the token buzzword ‘Black Lives Matter’ into one of his briefings a couple of days ago. He is laughably pathetic, a man utterly bereft of principles and personality, not to mention one single original thought or a single utterance that doesn’t sound like a pre-prepared sound-bite for ‘Question Time’; but he would make a wonderful No.2.

I’m only halfway through my current viewing of ‘The Prisoner’, so I fully expect plenty more episodes that say something to me in 2020 that they didn’t say in the 2010s, 1990s or 1980s. I’m not the same person now that I might have been in those decades, and the programme now is not the programme it was then either. As for the world…well, what can one say? Please excuse me for the moment; I see a black man approaching, so I need to fall to my knees and acknowledge my privilege by begging my oppressed pet to forgive me for the imagined crimes of my slave-owning ancestors. He, of course, is a number whilst I am a free man.

© The Editor

PS After writing this post, I watched an episode in which No.6 is effectively ‘cancelled’ by the community, ostracised as a pariah by shouty students and hectoring harridans. It’s almost as if he’s been no-platformed by social media or something…