The Prisoner Episode by Episode
E10 Hammer Into Anvil
1 December 1967
Written by Roger Woddis
Directed by Pat Jackson
Story: Following the suicide of Number 73, a young woman, Number Six launches a psychological war against the new ‘hard man’ Number Two.
Who is Number Two? Patrick Cargill
Guest Cast: Victor Maddern, Basil Hoskins, Victor Woolf, Hilary Dwyer
Information: After a couple of arguably slightly lesser episodes, The Prisoner came back firing on all cylinders with Hammer Into Anvil, one of the series’ all-time greats. When he witnesses the suicide of Number 73, seemingly induced by the harsh approach of the new Number Two to interrogation, Number Six quietly resolves to take on this new ‘hard man’ figure at his own game.
Number Six enacts a series of seemingly random scenarios, inducing in Number Two a crisis of confidence. He begins by listening to six identical copies of a Bizet recording, seemingly timing them and apparently noting down some information in code. Meaningless messages and random actions follow, all of which Number Two ascribes some kind of hidden purpose—Number Six would never do anything to no end, after all…
It’s a brilliant scenario by writer Roger Woddis that effectively turns the tables at last, with Number Six going on the offensive against those who run The Village. He’s not trying to escape, he’s simply trying to frustrate his authoritarian controllers by using their own paranoid nature against them. This is also one of the few episodes across the series run where the main character self-identifies as Number Six (once more part of a ruse to upset Number Two), something he usually steadfastly refuses to do as a matter of principle.
In their early meeting, Number Two explains to Number Six that their relationship is like the hammer and the anvil, with Number Six asking if he is seen as the anvil in this scenario. Patrick Cargill’s new Number Two takes a different approach to running The Village. He increases the surveillance and sense of paranoia among the residents (‘New Number Two Calls For Increased Vigilance’ reads the headline in The Village newspaper, the Tally Ho), while representing himself as a new ‘strong man’ on the scene, a dictator essentially running a totalitarian regime.
It is this that spurs Number Six into his campaign of subtle resistance and overt confusion. By sowing the seeds of doubt and conspiracy in the mind of Number Two he sets out to overthrow the regime (albeit of one man, nothing fundamentally changes) without violence (except of the psychological kind). It’s an inspired plot line, and McGoohan rises to the challenge giving an especially cheeky and edgy performance as this newly motivated Number Six. Overall, he must know that his actions will not really change much, but causing the collapse of this particular Number Two serves as effective revenge for the untimely death of Number 73.
Woddis was a writer new to The Prisoner who had no experience working for any other ITC/Lew Grade shows, unlike several of the regular writers on the series. He was a leftist political writer and one time member of the Communist Party of Great Britain who was later known to audiences as the poet-in-residence for the listings magazine Radio Times and in Punch magazine. Before tackling The Prisoner, Woddis co-wrote an episode of now missing 1967 ABC paranormal series Haunted, as well as for Armchair Theatre (1968) and Churchill’s People (1975).
His most influential work was his poem ‘Ethics for Everyman’ (note the name of McGoohan’s production company, Everyman Films), that bears some relation to what McGoohan was trying to achieve with The Prisoner. Significant lines that no doubt resonated with the creator of the series include: ‘Terror, no need to add/Depends on who’s wearing the hood’ and ‘Social morality/Has a duality/One for each side of the tracks’. Of particular importance to the episode Hammer Into Anvil is the line: ‘Discipline by the strong/Is fair, if your collar is white’. Another of his political poems was entitled ‘Down With Fanatics’, a sentiment that no doubt had McGoohan nodding in agreement. Woddis died in 1993, aged 76.
Number Six weaves an imaginary conspiracy, in a mirror of his efforts to organise a mass breakout in the preceding episode Checkmate, by co-opting Number Two’s lieutenants—including Number 14 and the Controller—in apparent organised opposition to Number Two. They are unwilling ‘conspirators’, implicated by Number Six’s suspicious contacts with them or put in a position by Number Six’s actions to become functionaries that Number Two begins to suspect are acting against him.
Hammer Into Anvil is a great episode in its depiction of Number Six’s campaign against Number Two, driven by two great performances by McGoohan and Cargill, but it is also a highly amusing episode (especially the repeated ‘cuckoo’ motif as Number Six enters the shop!) as we watch Number Two unravelling, becoming ever more bamboozled by Number Six’s bizarre machinations.
It’s a fine performance by Cargill, later better known for comedy, like other past The Prisoner guest stars (some of them fellow Number Twos) such as Peter Bowles, Paul Eddington, Christopher Benjamin, Anton Rogers, and, arguably, Peter Wingarde. Cargill had previously appeared as Thorpe, one of Number Six’s real-world contacts in Many Happy Returns. Does his casting here confirm that the people who Number Six worked with in the outside world in whatever espionage he was involved with are the same people running The Village?
What’s it All Mean? In one way, Number Six is drawing upon history by attacking Totalitarianism with Surrealism. Throughout history, repressive regimes have faced resistance from writers and artists who adopted the modes of expression of surrealism to encode their opposition to the ruling hegemony. The movement has its roots in 1920s Europe, but in terms of The Prisoner was perhaps more relevant to Patrick McGoohan and his interests through events in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. Emerging filmmakers in particular (including Milos Foreman, Jiri Menzel, and, later, Jan Svankmajer) expressed their resistance to Soviet ideas through their films, using metaphor and nonsense to escape the attention of the state censor.
Each of Number Six’s moves is designed to sow confusion, from the Bizet recordings to hiding blank sheets of paper in the stone boat (as if dead-dropping a message), and so implicating the scientist who studies them, to the cuckoo clock ‘bomb’, the nonsense numerical message he sends out via pigeon, and the morse code transmitted from the beach to a non-existent recipient at sea. Convinced his own people are plotting against him, Number Two also comes to believe that Number Six may be a plant operating on behalf of those above him (Number One?), sent to evaluate his performance. McGoohan, in the form of one of The Prisoner’s most downright entertaining episodes, easily makes the point that those who build worlds based upon paranoia will live or die by their own paranoid natures. The final scene makes the theme clear: it was Number Two’s own fears that brought about his mental collapse.
That’s Weird! About two-thirds into the episode, Number Six takes on Number 14 in a bizarre Rollerball-style imaginary sport that seems to involve participants bouncing on trampolines over a pool of water while wearing red robes and motorcycles helmets. Called ‘kosho’, it was invented by Patrick McGoohan, and it will turn up again before the end of the series. Here, it’s a short scene, intended to show Number Six’s mastery over Number 14, but it disrupts the mood of the episode where the psychological pressure is relentlessly built up on a fractious Number Two. The scene is unnecessary, but very weird in the middle of the other, more psychological, action.
Punch-Ups! Almost immediately, Number Six gets into a tussle with three goons sent out to ensure his attendance for an audience with the latest Number Two. Towards the end of the episode, Number Six gets into a knockdown, drag-out fight with Number 14 in his own cottage, wrecking the place in the process.
Trivia: This was perhaps the most literary-minded or ‘high culture’ episode of The Prisoner, largely thanks to writer Roger Woddis. His script, from the title on through, incorporated references drawn from Goethe, Bizet, Cervantes, and Vivaldi. They are used to structure the story and to propel Number Six’s campaign of psychological warfare against Number Two. A planned closing scene, in which an exiting Number Six meets the new incoming Number Two (replacing the disgraced Cargill), would have reinforced the point that despite his efforts (and his victory), nothing about the bigger picture of The Village will really change. By cutting the scene, the episode leaves it to the viewers to draw that conclusion for themselves.
Verdict: A fantastic episode, and a fine example of McGoohan’s show at its very best, from the writing, the location filming and the performances right through to the inevitable conclusion.
Score (Out of Six): Six
Brian J. Robb