am not No 6. I am not a prisoner. I am a
free man. Er. woman. Nor am I. in fact. a
character from The Prisoner. It just feels like it. standing among the candy-coated confectionery buildings of Portmeirion. It was the location for the cult 60s TV series. popularly known as part sci-f1. part action- adventure. social satire. apocalyptic vision or simply a completely bafﬂing cult vehicle for Patrick McGoohan. As No 6 he played out the part of a spy trapped in a village. subjected to experiments and doomed. so it seemed. to spend eternity running away from a large weather-ballmin called Rover.
The Prisoner was filmed 35 years ago and made such an impact on beguiled audiences that ever since. fans have trooped here yearly to pay homage. But the majority of Portmeirion's 250.000 annual visitors come
It is more magical than Disneyland, more fantasy- like than Heidi’s Switzerland and more fitting than a pot of gold at the end of a leprechaun’s rainbow.
here for the place itself. and did so long before No 6 arrived. including Sir George Bernard Shaw. Noel Coward and John ()sborne.
No wonder. Nestled between the jagged peaks of Snowdonia‘s mountains and a placid estuary. and surrounded on three sides by a 70-acre sub-tropical woodland known as the Gwyllt — or the Wild — Portmeirion. the Xanadu of North Wales. looks more magical than Disneyland. more fantasy-like than
1 14 THE LIST 15-29 Mar 2001
Heidi‘s Switzerland and more fitting than a pot of gold at the end of a leprechaun’s rainbow.
In The Prisoner. there was no escape from the village. But this little isolated idyll — complete with an unusually mild climate — is a place that. once visited. is a place to escape to rather than from. It is a place somehow suspended in time - and space — a bubble in which a utopian architectural vision came true. the vision of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. Portmeirion‘s founder. guiding light. and a man as eccentric as any of his buildings. a classically oddball kind of British genius who said he “would rather be a little vulgar than be a bore‘.
Fun. beauty and vulgarity sum it up pretty well and yet come nowhere close. It‘s like entering another world from the start. Or should I say the car park. which was cunnineg built outwith the grounds. No cars. advertisements. frivolous notices and pets are allowed within the village. A short walk from the old tollgate down the lush tree-lined driveway and through the low castle-like arch of the gatehouse. where Brian Epstein used to stay in the l960s. and then the sun-baked red arch of Bridge House leads to Battery Square. the core and oldest part of the village. all cobblestones and Italian-style cottages with yellow. pink and blue pastel colour-washes.
The Belfry. with its clock from an old
London Brewery. the Pantheon. or Dome (home of No 2). built purely because of a ‘dome-deliciency‘ and the classically-styled Bristol Colonnade. dominate the village. yet depending where you stand. they appear to change places. In between are a mish—mash of styles. bits and pieces rescued from elsewhere and offbeat designed whims: life- size chess board. winding paths tip and down. buildings so close together they look like a Cubist jigsaw puzzle at one angle and then like a quaintly odd English village at another. Spooky craziness.
It's not all weird 'liri/iglii Zone-ness. though. Modern reality makes a subtle appearance in the form of shops. including the obligatory Prisoner shop. Prisoner cocktails at the hotel are a must. An art gallery. beauty parlour and swimming pool add to the amenities but inevitably you can‘t get away. like No (i. either from the peaceful beauty of the place or its many curiosities.
Depending on where you end up. there could be anything around the corner. A gold Buddha? A l920s petrol pump styled. for no obvious reason. like a ship's ligurehead'.’ A statue of a lion that looks like it dropped out of the sky‘.’ Hey. whatever. All too much for you. this hallucinogenic fairyland‘.’ Look. there‘s a boat. moored down at the quay in front of the hotel. But it’s not going anywhere. It‘s a stone boat. Another thing not as it seems. looking out on the vast stretch of beach that. at dawn. seems to stretch away forever but leads nowhere. There is no escape.