The Prisoner Episode by Episode
E11 It’s Your Funeral
8 December 1967
Written by Michael Cramoy
Directed by Robert Asher
Story: Number Six uncovers an assassination plot against Number Two, but who is playing who?
Who is Number Two? Derren Nesbitt, Andre Van Gyseghem, and two others.
Guest Cast: Annette Andre, Mark Eden, Wanda Ventham, Charles Lloyd Pack
Information: It’s the one where Joe 90 masquerades as Number Two, Jeannie Hopkirk plants the seeds of an assassination, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s mum helps track Number Six! Also, with Derren Nesbitt, Martin Miller, and Mark Eden there’s also half the cast of lost Doctor Who story Marco Polo (1964) here.
Seriously, what’s going on with Derren Nesbitt’s blonde do and NHS specs combo—it’s pure Joe 90, but this was made a year before that Gerry Anderson puppet series first appeared. Did Anderson take inspiration from this episode of The Prisoner for the look of his teen hero?
It’s Your Funeral is essentially an extension or reversal of Hammer Into Anvil, with misinformation (‘fake news!’) being used to manipulate Number Six into preventing the assassination of Number Two. His motivation is clear: he fears that if Number Two is assassinated, then the many residents of The Village will be made to suffer in retribution. Although he’d like to overthrow those who run The Village, in this case he is the one out to protect the figurehead of authority in order to save everyone else. What is not so clear is the motivation of the acting Number Two (Joe 90 lookalike Derren Nesbitt) in setting up the subterfuge (via Number 100, played by Mark Eden) in the first place.
Number Six is alerted to the plot by mystery blonde Number 50 (referred to in the credits only as ‘Watchmaker’s Daughter’). She’s been drugged and manipulated by Number Two to sow the seeds of the assassination plot with a clearly disbelieving Number Six (McGoohan’s performance is particularly spiky in this opening scene: it appears he’s like a bear with a sore head in the morning, especially when been woken by an intruding mystery blonde!).
Annette Andre plays Number 50 with a mix of vulnerability and steel, attributes she would later display in spades as Mrs. Hopkirk in Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (1969, or My Partner the Ghost—as it was retitled for America). Andre had just before appeared in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), and was a frequent guest star in The Saint between 1964 and 1968. She later starred in the Colin Baker and Kate O’Mara big business drama The Brothers (1972-76).
Her intervention leads Number Six to the watchmaker, who is apparently building a bomb aimed at killing the retiring Number Two (Andre Van Gyseghem) during the hand-over to his successor (apparently Joe 90). This raises all sorts of questions about the role of Number Two and the succession of seemingly temporary stand-ins we’ve seen in the series so far. The retiring Number Two makes a claim to be the ‘permanent’ figurehead who has been on vacation all the time Number Six has been in The Village. During the sequence where Number Six is shown warning a series of Number Twos about assassination plots we see two other occupants of the post we’ve never seen before (or will ever see again).
Is the suggestion that all the previous ‘new’ Number Twos we’ve seen have been stand-ins for this ‘permanent’ one? Were they all being tested as possible replacements by being put up against Number Six? Maybe their qualification for the ‘permanent’ job is to break Number Six, a task that none of them have ever managed. Is that what drives the acting Number Two to such a dangerous plot, involving Number Six in the assassination threat, knowing that his very involvement might blow the whole thing (as it actually does).
Shooting on this one took place in January 1967, and according to Robert Faircloughs’ The Prisoner: The Official Companion book, the shoot was a fraught one. This was the first episode that saw Patrick McGoohan step in for a director, in this case Robert Asher, whom he felt was not actually up to the task of making the episode in the way in which McGoohan wanted it done. Eighth in production order, It’s Your Funeral was the first episode where McGoohan began to take overall control of the series, something evident in some of the episodes broadcast before this one.
Interestingly, writer Michael Cramoy was an American who worked on The Saint on radio and had written for the US police procedural television series Dragnet. He’d come to the UK to work on ITC’s The Invisible Man in the 1950s and also later contributed episodes to their version of The Saint. His task here was to write an episode using some location footage already shot at Portmeirion combined with the standing sets at the Borehamwood MGM studio, supplemented by a later Portmeirion location shoot in March 1967 using stand-ins for both McGoohan and Andre.
What’s it All Mean? As in Hammer Into Anvil (to which this episode seems something of a companion piece, especially given its position in the running order), Number Six is seen to use some of the techniques of surrealism to confuse and confound Patrick Cargill’s Number Two, eventually driving him made. In It’s Your Funeral reference is made to the practice of ‘jamming’ which was also used by those resisting totalitarianism in Europe in the 1960s. It refers to creating and disseminating the details of false plots or hoaxes, usually in a political context, and served to confuse or occupy those spying upon supposed ‘revolutionaries’ or ‘threats to the state’. Those carrying out such activity were referred to as ‘jammers’. Surrealists the Situationists used the term ‘radio jamming’ to refer to the practice, while it evolved in the 1980s to take in the alteration of public billboard advertising to change the meaning under the title ‘culture jamming’, as used by the satirical band Negativland.
As well as picking up on political and cultural resistance practices of the 1960s, It’s Your Funeral directly plays off the spate of political assassinations or prominent political figures that took place in that decade, including US President John F. Kennedy and civil rights activist Martin Luther King. The plot put in place by the incoming Number Two appears to be intended to violently remove the outgoing Number Two (who is retiring anyway) as some kind of ‘false flag’ incident, in order that a more repressive regime might be enacted over The Village in response. The question comes as why risk it all by involving Number Six, unless (as speculated above) that’s a test that any prospective Number Two must engage in?
The final plot appears aimed at co-opting Number Six as a defender of The Village authorities, both bringing him onside to warn Number Two of the assassination and possibly to discredit him in the eyes of the other Villagers—after all he is ‘top of the list’ of malcontents. What better way to deal with him than make it appear that he is acting in defence of those who run The Village?
That’s Weird! That nutty kosho martial arts nonsense with the trampolines and a small pool of water is back. If it was out of place in Hammer Into Anvil, disrupting the flow of the plot, it is interminable here, used seemingly as padding to fill out the plot. It offers the opportunity for Number 100 to switch the watches, but the actual scene of rather obvious stunt doubles bouncing around in crash helmets on trampolines like a couple of kids doesn’t half drag. Additionally, the stunt doubles are painfully obvious in Number Six’s exercise montage and in his punch up with Number 100. Were standards slipping, or was McGoohan previous work as a director just more attuned to such things? Having said previously that the doubling was better than the usual slapdash ITC standard, this episode sinks to that level, unfortunately.
Punch Ups! Just the one, with Mark Eden’s Number 100 on a rather obvious fake hill, shot in the studio as a stand-in for the real Portmeirion. At a stretch, their previous bout of weird martial arts (kosho) might also count, where Number Six beats Number 100 for the first time.
Trivia: Much of the plot of It’s Your Funeral appears (wittingly or not) to mirror Richard Condon’s novel The Manchurian Candidate, as Robert Fairclough points out. He writes: ‘The structural similarities between It’s Your Funeral and The Machurian Candidate are very striking … the two stories both end as a political rally unfolds, with the architects of the schemes present at the ceremony and outwitted in the final scenes.’ Perhaps Cramoy was a fan of Condon’s work, or did the idea come from McGoohan?
Verdict: An enjoyable expansion of some of the ideas in Hammer Into Anvil, that perhaps lacks a final extra twist that might have made it a true classic…
Score (Out of Six): Four
Brian J. Robb