There is so much going on that you can miss him on the downward leg of the guided introduction to Portmeirion. In a world of the strangely beautiful, one in which the normal laws of constructing a ‘village’ have been changed, there is simply too much to see to notice the quiet, deeply bronze head of Patrick McGoohan.
We stop to consider this dramatic bust – strangely overlooked when we made our rekkie trip a month prior. Then, our attention is drawn to a bee, exhausted from its work, standing in the middle of the tarmac of the roadway along which the group is walking. I stop to pick it up, using a leaf as stretcher, and relocate it beneath a laurel hedge. Later, I wonder at the world of that bee; at the intervention of a ‘higher power’ to create an alternate reality in which the little creature can have no notion of what just happened – even the fact that its life was probably saved. It is a metaphor that will return to my mind may times as this Silent Eye weekend unfolds.
And then, somewhat behind the rest of the group, we turn, again to study the bust of Patrick McGoohan, previously unseen. Amidst the splendour of Portmeirion – especially on a blazingly blue and golden summer day like this – you could be forgiven for thinking that it was just another wonderful art treasure, like so many others to be found in the village.
But it’s not…
Its a very good rendering of a man who had nothing to do with the creation of this gem of a village, just east of Porthmadog and sixteen miles south of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. It’s the head of a man–a British actor– who had a passion so strong that he turned down two separate offers to play James Bond in the early films, a role that would have brought him worldwide fame and fortune, rather than the lesser pickings from his (till then), most famous role as Danger Man in the hit British TV series.
Most of the tourists passing through the gate miss the bronze completely. And rightly so… They are here to see the architectural masterpiece created over a forty year period by Clough Williams-Ellis, whose own lifelong passion was the real village of Portmeirion. Even the official guide, leading our group, does not pause at the McGoohan statue, yet someone in power, here, viewed him important enough to justify the creation of it by Tiziano, and its donation to the village. Like the man and the bee, it occupies another, parallel realm, with a modern mythology so strong that a good proportion of Portmeirion’s visitors every year still arrive in search of its ‘McGoohan secrets’…
The two worlds co-exist very nicely. There is harmony in Portmeirion’s coffers, and who can blame them? The estate did give its permission for the filming of the famous TV series of The Prisoner in 1967 – a decision that greatly enhanced their own fortunes. Even today, fifty years after The Prisoner’s creation, people come in droves to see if they can further decode the enigmatic story of No 6, the British spy who resigned and then woke to find himself in the surreal landscape of a sugar-coated but deadly ‘Village’ – Portmeirion as it was and is, but viewed from a different consciousness.
Patrick McGoohan was close to Lew Grade, the head of ITV in that heady era of the late 1960s. McGoohan was a deeply religious man – and deplored any glorification of violence – which was why he had twice refused the Bond role. Later, he spoke in interviews of the ‘greatest enemy’ that mankind faced – himself. He had been determined to create a ground-breaking series in which this deadly relationship between worldly success and inner insanity was broken open. The result was The Prisoner, which ran for seventeen episodes before Lew Grade, fearing that McGoohan was so involved he would be unable to bring it to an end, pulled the plug and forced McGoohan to curtail it, prematurely, with a single anarchic episode.
McGoohan’s adoring public, unable to understand it, jammed ITV’s switchboard for hours. McGoohan and his family fled to a rented cottage in Wales where they locked themselves in and rode out the storm. McGoohan emigrated to the USA shortly after.
Our Friday night had begun gently at the Moorings Restaurant in Borth-y-Gest. During that evening, we had begun our consideration of the modern mythology of the Prisoner by discussion the idea of Resignation – what got No 6 in trouble, in the first place. We discussed whether it was ever valid to ‘resign’ from something or whether we were simply ducking what was before us, thereby judging ourselves ‘above it’. It’s a very complex issue – as McGoohan knew it would be for generations of people attempting to understand his creation.
Our Saturday morning had seen us taking coffee and, for some, breakfast, at the famous No 6 cafe, where, with the permission of the staff we got out a laptop and watched the opening minutes of the Prisoner series. This was a treat for the few who had never seen the original. Soon, though, the Guide was calling for those on the first tour to gather outside.
Now, only a few minutes later, but in another world, we turned, reluctantly away from the bronze. The Guide was getting ahead of us, and I could feel that strange sensation that signals the entry of something deeper into the moment. At the base of the hill, where Portmeirion meets the estuary, we were due to consider the next ‘seed-thought’: when your world changes, completely, do you accept it or take up resistance against it?
——- to be continued ——-
Other parts in this series: