Home small black AK small black

Cult TV, Season 2, Episode 2, February 1998

Alexis in Cult TV magazine

Not many people get to read early drafts of The Prisoner movie script, but Kanner's long-standing friendship with McGoohan has give him an insight denied to most of Hollywood. So, what's the verdict? "It was breathtaking... He's a very good writer."

Village People

It seems there are plans afoot to resurrect The Prisoner on the big screen. Alexis Kanner, aka Number 48, reveals all to Stephen O'Brien.

In its time, The Prisoner included many colourful figures. Few were as colourful as Alexis Kanner, though. Today it's literally so as he stands there, resplendent in a shellsuit and a shock of bright red hair. Age has clearly not mellowed this man.

Kanner was introduced during the fag end of The Prisoner's run on TV as a top-hat attired bundle of unrepressed energy and youthful vigour. The swinging 60s had finally infiltrated The Prisoner.

Kanner had been noticed by McGoohan after a long and popular stint in the BBC's cop show Softly, Softly. When he left the show questions were asked in parliament and the tabloids ran banner headlines, so much was the popularity of his character Matt Stone. His final appearance brought about audience figures of over 22 million. Not bad for a junvenile lead.

"I though I could leave quite quietly, but it got out. The BBC had to arrange bodyguards and I had all my clothes ripped off in Baker Street tube station by about 40 schoolgirls," Kanner admits timidly, but not without a little deserved pride.

At the same time Patrick McGoohan was scouting around for an actor to play 'The Kid' in the episode 'Living in Harmony', an ambitiously staged Western episode of the ever-perplexing The Prisoner.

"When we first started filming the episode Patrick was filming Ice Station Zebra and he was full of energy. David (Tomblin) had written this episode for me and him to have a shoot-out," he explains. "Parick sent me a telegram saying he hoped I was ready because he was taking lessons from Steve McQueen and Sammy Davis, Jr. Everything was a challenge for Patrick."

Very few people, apart from McGoohan himself, appeared in more than one episode of The Prisoner, which makes Kanner's three appearances more than noteworthy. He reappeared in 'The Girl Who Was Death' as an uncredited fashion photographer and then again as Number 48 in the series' big finale 'Fall Out', co-starring with LeoMcKern.

"At the end of the previous episode, 'Once Upon A Time', Leo was found in a fetal position in his dressing room and he couldn't do anymore," Kanner says of McKern's reluctance to come back for the final episode. "Patrick had to send me to convince him to come back. That's how bad it was."

"The final episode was incredibly arduous," he continues. "Patrick was incredibly stringent about what he wanted. It almost became a point of honour not to give up... In the mornings I'd be crawling up the stairs to my dressing room and he'd say, 'Are you ready?!' and I'd say, 'Yes', and then he'd say, 'Good! Because it's going to be another day of indescribable brutality', and he meant it."

"He allowed me total licence," Kanner recalls. "I went down to Carnaby Street and came back with all the gear I wear in 'Fall Out', and he said, 'Perfect.' I don't think anyone ever said no to me and that came from Patrick and Dave. They encouraged me to be all my wanton worst."

A puritanical liberal

Although The Prisoner is inextricably linked to the liberal, permissive 60s, not all of McGoohan's sympathies were with the students and free love advocates.

"He was very puritanical," Kanner explains. "In 'Living in Harmony' we had to put a shadow over some dead girl's tits. Patrick had come down and everybody knew he'd disapprove. I mean, he turned down James Bond. They offered him $10 million, and I happen to know this is true, just to come and talk to them about playing Bond."

Of course, being the final installment, 'Fall Out' had to wrap the story up and finally aswer the question posed since the very first episode - who is Number One? As McGoohan knew, the public were expecting a grand Blofeld-type mastermind. What they got was a denouement very much in keeping with the series. One that created many more questions than answers.

"It was obvious what it was going to be - I've seen the enemy and the enemy is me," Kanner shrugs. "Patrick had several options and he settled on that one because there was something inevitable about it. He was a Catholic and there was a terrible amount of guilt in his psyche - it only makes sense that he should be the guilty party as well as the victim. Of course, we also ended up blowing up the place in the final episode, which was a curious act for such a pacifist programme."

Not unsurprisingly this Kafka-esque finale was too bizarre for most viewers and there was a public outcry. This, coupled with the enormous physical strain of completing the last few episodes prompted McGoohan to flee Britain for good. Kanner understands why.

"He was incredibly tired," he explains. "Then his daugher went though a life-threatening illness which everyone said was incurable. She was going to be either a quadriplegic or dead and he devoted five years to becoming an expert in this and cured her."

Beyond The Village

Before 'Fall Out' aired there were provisional talks between McGoohan and Kanner about a sequel series that would follow the exploits in the outside world of No 48 and No 2's butler-of-restricted growth Angelo Muscat.

"The intention was at the time that Patrick wasn't going to do anymore," Kanner reveals. "He wanted me to do another 39 episodes for Lew Grade. The very next episode would open at the Tokyo Olympics. Patrick would have directed it, though he wouldn't have appeared again. Basically, they would continue being hunted fugitives around the world - the kid and thd dwarf - haunted by these nameless people and trying to help all the survivors of this massacre. Everything was official, but everyone was so screwed up by the end of it. People were having nervous breakdowns and really dying by the end and Patrick went to Switzerland and no-one had the strength to continue."

Since its demise the series has undergone a slight re-evaluation in the eyes of the public, and is now seen as a quant 60s curiosity. To more discerning viewers it is a reminder when television was as bold and innovative as cinema.

"The thing was originally made as a tax loss on a whim to indulge Patrick in retun for him doing another couple of dozen Danger Mans," Kanner says. "It's still making money for Polygram today. Recently I was in New York and this station was running it and much of Manhattan stayed home."

"At any given evening somewhere in the world The Prisoner is running," he continues. "I don't get attacked in bars anymore but at the time of its release you'd get people saying, 'Hey you, what's this thing about? You're in it, tell me!'"

Big screen breakout

Alexis Kanner is still friendly with the reclusive McGoohan and is able to elucidate on the various rumours of a Prisoner movie.

"Over the years he's produced a number of drafts of a Prisoner film which he's finally written into a real draft now," Kanner reveals. "It would be set in the modern day. One draft he produced eight or nine years ago was breathtaking. I read the first 40 pages and if you had never heard the words The Prisoner it wouldn't matter. He's a very good writer.

"I think it will be made and that Mel Gibson will play the part," he continues. "The last I heard from the horse's mouth was that he thought he could make it for $14 million. I think Mel would do it as a partner and not for salary, which would take the pressure off. You get a $21 million actor doing it for love and not for money and you have a lot more freedom."

Until the possible phone call from McGoohan asking him to reprise his role as 'The Kid', Kanner is working on his own movie, an urban thriller called JH Proffet.

"Patrick gave me a photograph on the last day's filming of 'Fall Out' of me holding a bell and he'd written on it, 'Twinkle twinkle little star'," Kanner smiles fondly. "He [also] gave me a huge poster of the first shot taken by, I think, Apollo 7 of the Earth and he wrote, 'Til Death Do It Part - Patrick.'"

I seems as though Alexis Kanner will get that call.

End page