The Prisoner – Hammer Into Anvil

Episode 10: Hammer Into Anvil

First ITV broadcast: Friday 1st December 1967, 7.30pm [ATV Midlands/Grampian]
Estimated first run ratings: 9.1 million
First CBS broadcast: Saturday 31st August 1968, 7.30pm

This episode is a rare example of Number Six getting one over Number Two and the Village. I have written before about ‘little victories’, little acts of defiance that help keep Number Six sane, but this one seems like quite a big victory.

Number Two (Patrick Cargill) quotes Goethe to Number Six, translated as “You must be Anvil or Hammer.” “And you see me as the anvil?” Number Six asks. “Precisely. I am going to hammer you.” replies Number Two. As Number Six leaves, Number Two shouts after him “I’ll break you, Number Six!” This is quite interesting as up until now several Number Two’s have been quite clear about not wanting to ‘break’ Number Six. Leo McKern‘s Number Two in The Chimes of Big Ben says “I don’t want a man of fragments!” and Mary Morris‘s Number Two in ‘Dance of the Dead‘ interrupts an attempt to break Number Six, insisting she wants him intact. However, Anton Rodgers‘ Number Two in ‘The Schizoid Man‘ says of Number Six “Once he begins to doubt his own identity, he’ll crack.” Apart from the events of ‘The Schizoid Man‘ though, most Number Two’s want a mentally sound Number Six who can coherently spill out all his secrets.This episode’s Number Two makes it clear that he wants to smash Number Six and get his information any way possible. But it will be Number Two who ends up the wreck of a man.

Number Six’s actions in this episode are arguably triggered by seeing Number 73 (Hilary Dwyer) throw herself out of the hospital window. It’s just one thing too far for Number Six. We see him going about his way hereafter, doing some rather odd things. For Number Two, who is as usual watching Number Six’s every move, these actions are downright suspicious. In the village shop, Number Six asks for the Tally Ho and a copy of Bizet’s L’Arlésienne. He then asks for all the copies. Number Six listens to the opening few seconds of all six before returning them to the counter. He leaves his Tally Ho behind with the word ‘security’ circled on the front page. After Number Six leaves, the shopkeeper (Victor Woolf) immediately calls Number Two and reports what happened.

There are numerous other things. Number Six writes a message containing code words on a piece of paper and Number Two sends Number 14 (Basil Hoskins) to get the imprint on the notepaper underneath. Upon seeing the message, Number Two comments “Number Six – a plant.” Number Six takes an envelope to the stone boat. Number Two finds only blank pieces of paper inside and demands they be analysed. The results come back negative; they are just blank pieces of paper. Number Two is livid and turns on the lab assistant (Michael Segal) “Perhaps you’re in with him.” Number Two becomes jumpy and even more suspicious. Number Six puts an ad in the paper then rings the hospital, asking to speak to Psychiatric. “What’s the verdict on our friend?” “Friend? Friend? Who is this?” asks the doctor, Number 249, (Norman Scace). “Your report on Number Two, Doctor?” “Number Two? What are you talking about? Who is this speaking?” “I understand. You’d rather not talk on the telephone. Probably very wise. Never mind. I’ll be seeing you later on, hmm?” Later Number Two confronts Number 249 with a recording of  the conversation, who can’t explain it. Number Two insists there must have been a reason for Number Six to ring. A band plays on the village green and Number Six speaks to the band master (Victor Maddern). Later Number Two interrogates the man, who says Number Six requested a tune. “What else?” demands Number Two “What else did he say?” The poor conductor cannot add anything. “Number Six just asked you to play a tune… and then walked away?” Number Two says, as if this is the most ludicrous thing he has ever heard. “You’re lying, aren’t you? There’s something going on!

These events take place over several days and Number Two’s paranoia continues to mount as he gets increasingly frustrated, unable to discover any reasonable (to him) explanation for Number Six’s actions. Number Six puts something in the post and then a message is read out, presumably over the Village’s radio: “To Number Six from Number 113. Warmest greetings on your birthday. May the sun shine on you today and everyday.” Number Two storms into the Control Room “What is going on here?” and everyone stops and stares at him. The supervisor (Peter Swanwick) bares the brunt of Number Two’s anger as he shouts that it isn’t Number Six’s birthday and Number 113 died last month. “I’ll break this conspiracy!” cries Number Two as he leaves.

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Number Six’s ad appears in the paper “There is more harm in the Village than is dreamt of.”  Number Six turns up at Number Two’s house, saying he rang him. When Number Two denies it, Number Six says “Someone in the Village is impersonating you.” Number Six buys a cookoo clock from the shop. “He seemed to be searching for a specific box” the shopkeeper tells Number Two. Number Six puts the clock outside Number Two’s house. Number Two watches from the Control Room and cries “It must be a bomb!” but when the clock is taken apart there is nothing inside. Meanwhile, Number Six uses the box the clock came in to trap a pigeon, attaches a piece of paper to its leg and lets it go. Number Two has the pigeon brought down (No idea how. They shoot at it but when we see the pigeon later it is very much alive.) and the numbers on the paper deciphered. They read “Vital message tomorrow, 6am, by visual signal.” So next morning all eyes are on Number Six who goes to the beach and uses a mirror reflecting the sun to send out a Morse code message. The area is scanned but there are no ships, aircraft or submarines. “He must be signalling to someone!” says Number Two. The message is decoded “Patter cake, patter cake, baker’s man, bake me a cake as fast you can.

Number Two watches Number Six plant the ‘bomb’.

Now if you haven’t figured it out, Number Six has spent the entire episode messing with Number Two. Considering how little we know about Number Six, there is the chance he could have been signalling to someone. But really, we know Number Six is not a plant and we haven’t seen him in contact with anyone. He’s done little things in the past to annoy Number Two, to defy the Village and show that he refuses to obey their rules, but never before has he gone so out of his way like this. It’s impossible to know just how much of these things were planned, and how many were spur of the moment ideas. Number Six’s actions early on, like speaking to the bandmaster, could well have been a sudden idea but the later ones, like the Morse code on the beach, clearly included some planning.

Whilst I admire all of the things Number Six does to deceive Number Two this episode, sending codes to no one and placing fake messages are rather basic espionage tricks I feel. It is Number Six’s final deception that I think is the most inspired. Up until this point Number 14’s part in this episode has felt rather unnecessary. He is just another of Number Two’s goons. He takes the note imprint from Number Six’s house and goes with Number Two to retrieve the envelope from the stone boat. At one point he offers to kill Number Six, but Number Two says “Our masters would know something“, believing Six is working for them. Number 14 later challenges Number Six to a fight, an element of the episode that feels utterly pointless really. They knock each other around on trampolines for a bit, a sport last seen in ‘The Schizoid Man‘, but end it before anything significant happens as two other people appear for their turn. I suppose it might have been an attempt to increase Number 14’s role in the episode and the tension between he and Number Six. But to me this tension doesn’t seem necessary for what Number Six does later. It just feels like the writer has attempted to shoe in a fight sequence for this week.

Number Six’s final action occurs afters he spots Number 14 outside the cafe. Number Six goes over and speaks to him in a conspiratorial tone, about how he slept and about going to the beach. Number 14 is dumbfounded. The waiter sees this and later Number Two confronts Number 14 “You’re working with Number Six! I thought you were the one man I could trust!” “But you can! I’m loyal!” Number Two slaps him and screams “Traitor! Traitor! Traitor!” Number 14 leaves and Number Two goes after him, angrily shouting “You’ve lost, you and you’re friends! I’ll break the lot of you!” He spots the butler (Angelo Muscat). “You too! You’re in this plot, aren’t you?” I find Number Six’s actions so inspired because it produces this reaction. Unlike the phone call where the doctor can be heard denying any knowledge of the caller, Number Two cannot hear the conversation with Number 14. Number Six chooses someone incredibly close to Number Two and having built up Number Two’s paranoia sufficiently, needs no specific response or action from Number 14; their witnessed conversation will be enough.

Angry at having lost his boss, Number 14 goes round to Number Six’s to pick a fight with him. It ends rather dramatically and rather brilliantly with Number 14 going through the front window. I enjoyed the fight but as with the earlier one on the trampolines, it felt unnecessary.

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Number Six goes to see Number Two. “I’ve come to keep you company.” The butler has packed his suitcase and left. “It’s odd. All this power at your disposal and yet you’re alone. You do feel alone, don’t you?” Number Six’s tone here is part patronising and part authoritarian, reminding me a little of last week. He is in control and Number Two sits there, a husk of the man he was. “Where’s the strong man? The Hammer?” Number Six taunts him. “You have to be Hammer or Anvil, remember?” The Anvil sits there, weak. “You destroyed yourself. Character flaw. You were afraid of your masters.

A broken man.

The scene is played magnificently by Patrick Cargill as Number Two begs Number Six not to report him. “You are going to report yourself” Number Six tells him, leaving Number Two to turn himself in to his masters.

Watching Number Two crumble this week was magnificent. Although the Number Twos constantly change and sometimes this is due to their failures with Number Six, never before has Number Six set out to get rid of a Number Two. Ending it all by convincing Number Two that it was all his own fault is an extra stroke of brilliance.

We also get a small amount of information about the ‘masters’, although we have had odd bits earlier in the series. In ‘Arrival‘ Number Six asks “Who is Number One?” and Number Two answers “As far as you are concerned, I am in charge” but we have come to see that this is not entirely true. There are people over Number Two. At the end of the episode as he goes to leave, Cobb tells Number Two “Musn’t keep my new masters waiting.” I discussed this line in detail in the Arrival article. What I do think we can draw from that line is that the Village does have ‘masters’. The next insight we get is in ‘A. B. and C.‘ when a nervous Number Two speaks to a ‘Sir’ on the phone, as does ‘Hammer Into Anvil”s Number Two at one point. In ‘The Schizoid Man‘ Number Two tells Number Six (who is pretending to be Number 12) “You’re to return immediately to report your failure.” Number Six goes off in the helicopter and is of course brought back, having been found out. But where was he supposed to return to to report? More importantly, report to who? Number Six says the plan (see ‘The Schizoid Man‘) was Number Two’s, who replies “You know it wasn’t.” Number Six  says “Well you certainly didn’t resist” to which Number Two answers “Bearing in mind its origin, no I didn’t.” All this alludes to some higher power and reinforces the idea that Number Two is not the sole person in charge of the Village. He’s a middle manager, with guardians working under him. Whilst many Number Twos are confident and authoritarian, in ‘A. B. and C.‘ and ‘Hammer Into Anvil’ the respective Number Twos are both depicted as nervous men, who seem to carry out their actions due to fear alone. Both these Number Twos leave or are implied to leave immediately at the end of the episode. Their fear was their downfall, as it caused them to behave irrationally. As Number Six says, “You destroyed yourself. Character flaw. You were afraid of your masters.” An intriguing question is: why are they afraid of their masters? We don’t know what happens to a former Number Two when they have to leave the Village.

Be seeing you.


  1. Unknown

    I rather like this episode, in spite of its flaws.

    The metaphor of Hammer and Anvil is apt because everyone in the episode forgot how hammers and anvils work. The anvil wins every contest except the last one. Far more hammers shatter on anvils than anvils crack. And when an anvil cracks, it is useless. I have to wonder if Number 6 knew that. I have a feeling the scriptwriter did, even if he didn't explain it to anyone.

    I like the idea that the two more nervous Number 2's were in episodes that should run later in the series, indicating increasing pressure from their masters and increased dislike of the continued failures.

    I agree this episode shows the brilliance of Number 6 as an agent once more. We have to keep being reminded of it since he is required by the plot never to actually escape The Village. This time, he isn't trying to escape and he succeeds at his goal. He can analyze Number 2 nearly instantaneously, determine how to undo him, and then work out the details as he goes, using superior spycraft. That he uses the innate paranois of The Village as one of his tools was also wonderfully handled. He also uses a code that he knows The Village must already have, rather than something meaningless.

    But, speaking of meaningless, we have Kosho again. Worse than that, it's a clip from an earlier episode, which will become more frequent as we keep going. McGoohan was getting tired and the budgets were getting strained.

    Very good review, once more.

    Be seeing you.

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