Actor Patrick McGoohan died in Los Angeles on Tuesday after a brief illness; he was 80. Beginning in the summer of 1968, the seventeen episodes of The Prisoner —the British spy-science fiction series he helped to create and starred in— were broadcast on American TV. The notion of a determined individual (“I am not a number — I am a person”) beset by the mysterious and sinister forces of the state struck a resonant chord on both sides of the Atlantic in that roiling year.
Film historian David Thompson has described The Prisoner as being like James Bond material written by Harold Pinter, designed by an extraordinary surrealist, and directed by Hitchcock.
The show had —and has— a devoted cult following. The eventful opening —in which Mr. McGoohan tools through an almost deserted London in a Formula One car, is gassed, and ends up as a prisoner in a creepily idyllic village— set the pace and the tone of the episodes and the series.
All seventeen episodes of The Prisoner can be seen free online thanks to AMC— by following this link. An American documentary —The Prisoner Video Companion— mined them for themes and meaning.
In The Prisoner, “be seeing you” were the words with which the inhabitants of the village took leave of each other. Like most things in the series, the three simple words were fraught with meaning. In a 1977 interview on Canadian TV, Patrick McGoohan was interviewed by Warner Troyer.
Troyer: This is kind of a banal question, I guess, but if you could leave one sentence or paragraph in the head of everyone who watched The Prisoner series, the whole series, one thing for them to carry around for a while, when it was over, what would it be?
McGoohan: Be seeing you.
Troyer: Just that?…..enigmatic to the end.
McGoohan: Be seeing you. That means quite a lot.
Troyer: It does indeed.
McGoohan: Be seeing you. Yeah.