The Prisoner – Many Happy Returns

Episode 7: Many Happy Returns

First ITV broadcast: Friday 10th November 1967, 7.30pm [ATV Midlands/Grampian]
Estimated first run ratings: 10.3 million
First CBS broadcast: Saturday 20th July 1968, 7.30pm

This episode goes for over 20 minutes without a single English word being spoken on screen. The episode is over half way through before we get a conversation in English. You would think that this could make some of the episode seem dull but it doesn’t at all. The writing (Anthony Skene) and the directing (Patrick McGoohan under the pseudonym Joseph Serf) are both fantastic for keeping the story interesting in a very different sort of episode. The ending is particularly wonderful.

Number Six wakes up to find the Village deserted. There is an eerie silence and the grey weather outside casts a darkness over the Village. This complete silence is very strange for a place where usually the speakers and radios are continually blaring out a happy voice or upbeat music. Number Six takes an abandoned taxi to Number Two’s house, where the door is open and no one is home. He drives to the edge of the Village and looks out at miles of mountains. Number Six can leave! But it is going to have to be by sea. He begins preparations for his voyage, which includes photographing the Village and building a boat/raft. There is a boat in the harbour but presumably it is no good for sailing else villagers could have taken off in it at any time.

Number Six – The Sailor!

In previous episodes we have already seen that Number Six can shoot, fence, box, create impressive woodwork, as well as several other things. Here we see his woodwork skills again as he uses trees, rope and empty oil barrels to build his vessel. Once he sets off he uses parts from a radio to make a compass. This guy has survival skills down to a tee and was probably a scout.

During his journey Number Six gets in a fight with some gunrunners before eventually swimming ashore and waking up on a beach. He finds some gypsies who, despite speaking no word of English, manage to point him in the direction of a road. We see a British policeman at the edge of the road and then a roadblock. Number Six climbs in the back of what looks like a horse van and later, upon hearing sirens, leaps up and dives out the back into the middle of a London road. In reality, he would probably have been immediately hit by a black cab. We know it’s London because a double decker red bus goes past, with an advert for Typhoo tea on the side. An Odeon cinema can be seen in the background. We also see Wellington Arch. These are rather odd choices to indicate Number Six’s arrival in London. I did recognise Wellington Arch, but I had to look up the name. Personally I would have liked a shot of the Clock Tower and Big Ben, a black cab and a telephone box. If they are trying to say he is in London, why not just go all out? Wellington Arch is hardly the most recognisable of landmarks and certainly wouldn’t have been for viewers overseas.

Wellington Arch. A recognisable London landmark?

Number Six walks to his house, 1 Buckingham Place, as seen in the opening credits. He knocks and a maid (Grace Arnold) answers the door, something I found very odd! She’s dressed in an old-fashioned black and white maid’s uniform. I am aware that people did, and do, still have housekeepers, but I didn’t think any domestic help would still be wearing such an old-style of clothes. Shortly afterwards the house’s new owner, Ms Butterworth (Georgina Cookson), arrives in Number Six’s old car. She looks Number Six up and down: “Terribly interesting.” He is not happy to see someone else driving his Lotus 7 and tells her “I know every nut and bolt and cog; I built it with my own hands.” “Then you’re just the man I want to see.” She says the car has been overheating in traffic and invites him in.

He asks her the date. “Saturday March 18th.” “Tomorrow’s my birthday.” Number Six then proceeds to scoff Ms Butterworth’s sandwiches and a fruit cake. He finds nothing to tell him anything at the house and leaves. Ms Butterworth insists he can change into some of her husband’s old clothes and lets him borrow the car. “Don’t forget to come back! “I’ll be back!” “I might even bake you a birthday cake!

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Rather dapper in his borrowed suit.

Number Six meets with two men who are either his former employers or colleagues. He shows them the photographs he took and a diary he wrote on the back of the Tally Ho during his voyage. “The evidence is there.” Thorpe (Patrick Cargill) is not convinced. “A set of photographs from ground level of a holiday resort. And a schoolboy navigational log on the back of what you call the village newspaper.” His objections are not unreasonable. He later adds “You resign. You disappear. You return. You spin a yarn that Hans Christian Anderson would reject for a fairy tale.” The Colonel (Donald Sinden) feels the same and his comments reflect the political situation at the time. “And we must be sure. People defect. An unhappy thought but a fact of life. They defect from one side to the other.” Then Number Six adds his thoughts “I also have a problem; I’m not sure which side runs this village.”

I also have a problem. As far as I was concerned, the question of who runs the Village was made more or less clear in ‘The Chimes of Big Ben‘. If Number Six’s superiors do not run the Village then they are at least happy to have him there. So why does he go to them in ‘Many Happy Returns’?

Number Six, the Colonel, Thorpe. Can Number Six trust them?

In the rest of the episode, Number Six works with some officials who attempt to locate where the Village is. They conclude it must be south west of Spain and Portugal and north west of Morocco. It is possibly on an island. They get a plane to sweep the area and as Number Six heads out his pilot hangs back. A milkman switches places with the pilot and when the plane reaches the Village, the new pilot says “Be seeing you!” and Number Six is shot out of an ejector seat with a parachute. The Village is still empty and Number Six walks back to his house. Mrs Butterworth enters with a cake. “Many happy returns.” She is wearing the Number Two badge. Number Six looks outside and music starts up as the Village is suddenly full of people again.

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Happy Birthday Number Six!

It is a magnificent twist. Similarly to ‘The Chimes of Big Ben‘, Number Six thought he had escaped but the Village was really still in control all along. This episode has several similarities to ‘The Chimes of Big Ben‘. In particular, Number Six’s meeting with the Colonel and Thorpe echoes his meeting with the Colonel in episode 2. In both meetings the men question the legitimacy of Number Six’s story about the Village. Both remark on him resigning, disappearing, then suddenly reappearing. Both bring up the possibility of defection. In both meetings Number Six gives a description of the Village. (‘Many Happy Returns’ – “Numbers in a village that is a complete unit of our society. A place to put people who can’t be left around; people who know too much or too little. A place with many means of breaking a man.“) Number Six meets a colonel who he believed he could trust but who turns out to be on the side of the Village. You could argue that the colonel in ‘Many Happy Returns’ might not have known about the plan to drop Number Six back in the Village. We don’t even see the milkman and pilot swop places, so the milkman may well have knocked out the pilot and taken his place by force. Unlike in ‘The Chimes of Big Ben‘ there is no clear indication that Number Six’s colleagues are working with the Village.

If ‘The Chimes of Big Ben came after ‘Many Happy Returns’ and Number Six believed it might only be the milkman who was working with the Village, then it would make sense for him to contact colleagues again in the future. However, I don’t think this works with ‘The Chimes of Big Ben‘ coming first as it seemed pretty clear that his colleagues and therefore presumably Number Six’s side were on the side of the Village. The West and/or the British were running the Village.

However there is another way of looking at this. In an interview in 1978, Patrick Cargill (Thorpe) said of the episode “I do not think that this was meant to imply that British security were running the Village, but rather that whoever was behind the Village had contacts everywhere.” If we apply this to ‘The Chimes of Big Ben‘ as well and Number Six assumed this, it would make sense that in ‘Many Happy Returns’ he again gets in touch with his colleagues, but chooses completely different ones to previously.

One final note: Number Six’s birthday is the same as Patrick McGoohan’s so I wonder how much that tells us about the leading man?

Be seeing you.


  1. Anonymous

    I'll post a full response later but I just wanted to note:

    "Number Six walks to his house, 1 Buckingham Place"

    Who is Number 1, indeed. This is the first place we actually SEE the number 1 on his door, I think. Foreshadowing, perhaps?

    Very good review. I'll be back later for a more detailed response.

    Be seeing you.

  2. Anonymous

    Sorry for the delay. I decided to rewatch in the same order as these reviews, to more closely follow the logic here.

    Some notes on the above review:

    The boat seen in the episode is the "Stone Boat." It is literally made of stone and is little more than a grown-up toy. There was a joke in episode 1 about people getting seasick on it.

    Georgina Cookson appeared in "A, B and C." I have to wonder if that means "A, B and C" should come after this episode, since his dreams used people he knew … or if she was recruited by The Village because he'd seen her and they knew she was an operative of some kind. Alternately, England is a very small island and there just aren't all that many actresses who could be hired so they tend to be resued several times in several roles in a TV series.

    Speaking of episode order, this episode is a good marker, since he now KNOWS approximately where The Village is, geographically. Any episode where he asks where The Village is located must be before this. We know this has to come after "Chimes of Big Ben" for that reason, because he would never believe a Baltic Sea location after this. This also explains why, instead of being brought blindly to his superiors, he physically goes there himself this time. It's the only way to be sure.

    Another reviewer elsewhere pointed out the colonel's final line, leading some to suspect he was part of the organization that runs The Village: "He's an old, old friend, who never gives up."

    Unanswered question: we know he was going to call his superiors but he also said he needed to make a call into the country. Whom was he going to call?

    As for how much Patrick McGoohan put of himself into the series, including his birthdate, I'll just mention that his car, the Lotus 7, really does have a problem with overheating. It's the details they put into the real-life touches of the show which make the surreal aspects that little bit more believable in the context of the show.

    Unanswered question #2: are we to believe that the male Number 2 in the opening credits is a real Number 2 or just a blank placeholder to hide the real Number 2 of the episode? I don't know.

    Just another Village mindgame, probably, this one played on the audience instead of Number 6. And isn't that a comforting thought?

    Be seeing you.
    JM of the Triskele Road

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