The Prisoner – Free For All

Episode 4: Free For All

First ITV broadcast: Friday 20th October 1967, 7.30pm (ATV Midlands/Grampian)
Estimated first run ratings: 11.1 million
First CBS broadcast: Saturday 29th June 1968, 7.30pm

There is an election on and Number Six is one of the candidates.We have got to know a bit about the Village now and it seems ridiculous that they should hold elections. The residents have been brought there by force and every aspect of their lives is monitored and controlled. The idea of there being something as free and democratic as an election is absurd. Number Two (Eric Portman) says that there are elections once a year. Of course not all elections are fair. Number Six says “Everyone votes for a dictator” but Number Two argues “Not at all. It’s just that their resistance is low.

Number Two encourages Number Six to stand against him in the election. Number Two has a large group of supporters following him around. They wear their most multi-coloured of clothes and cheer or blast horns whilst the Village’s typical brass band music blares loudly. They wear ribbons with ‘2’ on them and carry large posters of Number Two’s face. Like the arts and crafts fair in The Chimes of Big Ben, it shows how devoted the population are to Number Two. Unlike Number Six, most of the Village appear to have given in and are determined to settle down and live a life as well as is possible in the Village. They conform. When Number Six is invited to follow Number Two and give a speech, he begins by saying “I am not a number. I am a person.” Everyone falls about laughing. What a mad idea! No one in the Village is a person. But Number Six continues “I intend to discover who are the prisoners and who are the warders“, giving us the reminder, as seen in the previous episodes, that not everyone in the Village has been brought there by force. Number Two announces to the crowd that Number Six will be running for office and suddenly the crowd move into action. All the posters of Number Two have been replaced by posters of Number Six – the photo is the same as his file photo seen in the opening credits. The crowd cheer and shower Number Six in confetti. But they have only done so because Number Two has announced it and so it would seem that they are really still under his control.

“I am not a number! Unless it is convenient for election campaigns.”

This episode marks the first time in the series that Number Six chooses to wear his number. He has only once been seen wearing his number badge and that was back in Arrival when he was leaving the hospital. He immediately tore it off, implying that someone else had pinned it to his jacket. Here he wears an election ribbon with a ‘6’ on, just like the ‘2’ ones. I think he only wears it because of his determination to win the election, having realised that no one else will ever stand against Number Two.

Number Six is bundled onto a taxi and a photographer, Number 113b (Dene Cooper), leaps on the bonnet, trying to take pictures of Number Six. A reporter, Number 113 (Harold Berens), also gets on the taxi and says they are from the Tally Ho, the Village’s local (and only) paper. Number Six answers “no comment” to all of the reporter’s questions so the reporter makes up all the answers. It is a blatant ridicule of the press, compounded when the taxi stops next to a news stand and a copy of the paper is rolled off immediately with a headline saying “No. 6 Speaks His Mind”. Clearly the article had been written before the interview.

Number Six gets papped!

Number Six is required to attend a council meeting. Number Two is present and the council members stand in a circle. Their numbers are ‘2c’ ‘2d’ ‘2e’ etc. and none of them speak. Everything is done through Number Two. The council is only for show. Number Two is still in charge really. Number Six calls them “brainwashed imbeciles“. He asks “Can you laugh? Can you cry?” and shouts “In your hearts must still be the desire to be a human being again!” I find ‘brainwashed’ to be the perfect word for the Village. Like Number Two’s supporters there are those in the Village who have given in and find it easier to conform to the rules. They do as they are told, chant and cheer at the right moments, trying above everything not to stand out or make a fuss. They have lost what it means to be human; to be an individual person.

RELATED ►  The Prisoner - Many Happy Returns

Number Six is spun round then plunged through a hole in the floor. He staggers down a corridor lit with a red light and loud tense music plays on the soundtrack. He falls through a door and is invited to have tea with the Labour Exchange manager, Number 28. There really has been a lot of tea in this programme. When Number Six tries to get up Number 28 presses a button. “This is merely the truth test. And there’s no need to be alarmed. Why did you wish to run for electoral office? Number Six cannot get up. He cannot speak. “Everything you think here is in the strictest confidence.” Now this begs the question: if they have a way of reading thoughts, why do they not ask Number Six why he resigned? Presumably the machine can only read some thoughts and cannot get too deep if there is enough resistance. Number 28 discovers that Number Six thought he could organise break outs if he won the election. Number Six shakes in the chair until suddenly it all stops. Number Six seems different. He slowly stands up and smiles. “Thanks for the tea. You’ll be voting for me of course?” He acts as though he has no memory of the truth test and from now on seems a little odd, as though he has been brainwashed in some way. It’s always so hard with Number Six that it’s difficult to tell whether he is putting it on or not.

Outside there is a madly cheering crowd. The reporter and photographer appear. There’s a film camera and a microphone shoved in Number Six’s face. He waves to the crowd and happily answers all the questions.

Back at his house, Number Six is with his new maid, Number 58 (Rachel Herbert), who Number Two introduced to Six at the start of the episode. She speaks no English and gabbles away in some Slavic language. The television is on and we see Number Six giving a speech. He gets frustrated with Number 58’s inability to learn an English phrase and then seems to have a moment of sudden clarity. He runs out the house, gets in a taxi, and drives down to the harbour. Behind him we can hear a crowd chanting “Six! Six! Six!” Number Six gets in a speedboat and drives off. He grapples with some men, fighting several off before falling in the water and being brought back to shore by Rover. As he glides across the water, he mutters the words of the election broadcast.

We see Number Six in hospital but not long afterwards he’s back on a boat in the harbour making a rousing speech. He tells the citizens that if they give up information they will get access to more activities in the Village. We cut to Number Two on the village green. There’s hardly anyone there and only a few listening. He says that Number Six has a good record “but he has no experience whatsoever of the manipulation of a community such as ours“. Number Six himself is clearly being manipulated in some way. He drives past Number Two shouting “the word is: freedom!” It is a false freedom he is promoting though.

Later Number Six is in a bar with Number 58 and gets angry when he can’t get a real alcoholic drink. The waitress (Holly Doone) says that it “looks the same, tastes the same” and Number Six adds “but you can’t get tiddly“. This explains why in The Chimes of Big Ben when the Colonel serves Number Six a whisky, Number Six does not immediately realise they are still in the Village. Number 58 takes Number Six to a cave where he finds a drunken Number Two drinking illegal alcohol. This is the therapy zone” he says and Number Six is given a drink. But as Number Six finishes his drink and keels over, Number Two is suddenly sober. The barman (John Cazabon) says “The portions are just right to take him through the election” and so it is confirmed that Number Six has been controlled in some way.

RELATED ►  The Prisoner - A. B. and C.

Election day. Ballot boxes. Number Six’s box is overflowing. There are cheers from outside “We want Number Two!” Defeated, Number Two hands his ribbon over to Number Six. Outside the old Number Two raises Number Six’s arm in front of the crowd but they are silent. Miserable looking even. A taxi takes them both to the green dome with Number 58, who then encourages Number Six inside and Number Two leaves. Number 58 enthusiastically plays with all the dials and switches and then Number Six also joins in. The large screen shows lights whizzing by and Number Six is transfixed by it. Number 58 takes his ‘2’ ribbon off, clicks her fingers, slaps him repeatedly, saying “tic tic tic” over and over. Number Six comes out of the daze and grabs one of the phones. “This is our chance! Take it! Now! I will mobilise all electronic controls. Listen to me – you are free to go! You are free! Free! Free!

Hair tied back now she’s in charge

Two men appear and try to grab Number Six. He runs back out the door and fights with several men. They are all wearing sunglasses inside, reminding me of Presidential bodyguards in numerous films. Number Six takes quite a beating. He is dragged back into Number Two’s control room to find Number 58 standing there, wearing the ‘2’ ribbon. In perfect English she says “Will you never learn? This is only the beginning. We have many ways but we don’t wish to damage you permanently. Are you ready to talk?” He is not. Number Six is taken away on a bed and carried back to his house.

Like several of the episodes, ‘Free For All’ is one where I cannot help but feel sorry for Number Six. He is allowed to get so far, allowed to think he has won, that he can escape, but then it is all snatched away right at the end. It is the Village proving that it cannot be beaten, that even when you think you have control they still know exactly what they are doing and will get their own way in the end. This episode ridicules elections, campaigning and the press. In the Village, Number Six’s ‘chance’ to become the new leader is really just an excuse for them to bring someone else in. Someone new takes over but the regime is going to remain almost exactly the same.

We get some hints about Number One in this episode. At the beginning of the episode Number Two calls Number Six, wanting to meet with him. “The mountain can come to Muhammad.” The front door opens, with Number Two standing there. “Muhammad?” he asks. “Everest, I presume?” Number Six answers. “Where’s Number One?” “At the summit.” At the top, in a higher place, he’s worked his way up? That can be taken to mean a lot of things. Shortly afterwards they discuss the election. “What physically happens if I win?” You’re the boss.” “Number One’s the boss.” “If you win, Number One may no longer be a mystery to you, if you know what I mean.” No I don’t know what he means and I’m sure Number Six doesn’t either. Number Two doesn’t expand on this. When he says “If you win” is he really referring to the election? Perhaps what Number Two really means is if Number Six beats the Village, wins against the system, finally finds a way to escape. We’ll see.

Be seeing you.


  1. Anonymous

    As a satire on elections and the press, I thought this episode was fantastic. I sometimes watch it around election time (along with the movies "The Candidate" and "The Manchurian Candidate") as a reminder to myself of the reality of what is going on. In this case, Number 6 is more like The Manchurian Candidate because he is drugged to fall into line and become a politician, although getting swept up in events is also seen here. I suspect there might also have been a bit of old-man-politician-poking in this episode, with that line about Number 6's good record "but he has no experience whatsoever of the manipulation of a community such as ours".

    This episode, too, is wonderfully inside continuity for The Village. It mentions the fake alcohol again, we get a mention about how some of the people with numbers are actually warders and not prisoners, and so on. It really builds up the alternate-reality that is The Village.

    Very good review.

    Be seeing you.

  2. Anonymous

    Good post but I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this topic?
    I'd be very graterful if you could elaborate a little bit further.
    Thank you!

  3. H E Cooper

    'Free For All' is among the most popular posts on this blog and I think it is one of the best episodes. Its satire is very accessible and interest tends to peak around elections. Alas, Anonymous, I am unlikely to have time to write anything more on The Prisoner any time soon. I really enjoyed doing these blogs at the time and deeply regret not making it through the whole series; if I were to revisit it again now, I think my interpretations would be rather different. One day…

  4. Reggie

    Having just seen the episode, I’ll take on the role of the sole naysayer(the Number 6, if you will!). I didn’t like it much at all. The satire was there, but all of it would’ve been far more biting if we’d been allowed to connect with Number 6 and feel the experience through his character as opposed to having him brainwashed throughout, not counting the odd moment where he tries to randomly flee on a boat. Instead, I spent the whole episode waiting to figure out what was up with him and what the point of brainwashing him to go through an election was to begin with. After all, he’d already made up his mind about participating and probably would have won and gotten to Number 2’s room if they hadn’t done that council baloney.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *