A London Blog has featured The Prisoner before… the ‘Mountains’ play quite a big part in the series. Which summits could be seen? A look through the Prisoner episodes filmed in North Wales revealed surprises with regards to the Snowdonia (Eryri) mountains. Most of the area’s prominent summits including Snowdon itself can be spotted in the series!
During the making of Danger Man (1960-62/1964-68) Patrick Mc Goohan had the use of various locations in North Wales including Portmeirion. This led to its use as the mysterious village for the series that followed – The Prisoner and The Village, as it was known was used for much of the series. One notable feature of The Village was the fact it was surrounded by mountains making it difficult for our hero, Number Six, to escape.
The Prisoner -classic British TV – image from Pinterest
For the purposes of this article just the first 10 episodes were viewed as they include much footage of Portmeirion and the surrounding mountains. Episodes 11 to 17 were filmed mostly in studio or elsewhere so do not count.
‘The Mountains’ as shown on the map from The Prisoner. Source: Fantasy Handbook
The Mountains were a major part of the story of Number Six and The Village from the very first episode – even though we never really see much of them until ‘Free for All.’ When Number Six first arrives his one thought is to escape. His plans are spoiled when he finds maps of the Village showing it is surrounded by ‘The Mountains.’ This explains his several attempts to escape from the Village by sea.
There are some mountain shots not discussed in this feature – including scenes from Chimes of Big Ben/the Alternate Chimes of Big Ben and Many Happy Returns. The latter has some good mountain shots, however these are not related to Snowdonia.
The first in the series of seventeen episodes, which sets the scene. There are no mountains seen until the scene where No 6 and No 2 land after their aerial tour of the village. As they walk amongst the chess players by the hotel the hills on the far side of the Traeth Bach estuary can be briefly seen. Moel Goedog is to the left of No 6’s head is its summit. Its only 1211ft but marks our first Prisoner mountain to be sighted.
McGoohan & Doleman set the scene for the first mountain to be sighted
In the first escape attempt by Number Six (around 27 minutes into the episode) we see McGoohan frustrated in his various attempts to make a get away. Finally heading for the beach and prompting the supervisor to declare a yellow alert at the northern perimeter, we see McGoohan in a fight with two guards on a Mini moke. During these shots Moelwyn Mawr can be very quickly glimpsed. The first is at 29.50sec, however there’s a much better shot a few seconds later. Thats a second mountain identified!
Moelwyn Mawr seen at right as No 6 battles upon the sands
After the fight there is a general view of the estuary, but the other side is misty so is not included in this analysis. We are now getting into ‘orange alert’ as scenes show McGoohan in the mini moke with views across the wide expanse of sands towards Morfa Bychan (Black Rock) and the Lleyn peninsular. The second shot in this scene shows the Prisoner heading west as Rover is seen in the distance pursuing him, and the series’ first ‘orange alert’ is soon over.
The second chess scene showing the summit of Moel-y-Geifr at left
Moel-y-Geifr, another summit belong to the small hills along the south side of the Traeth Bach estaury, gets a sighting even though it is only 1382ft high. It can be seen in the scene where No.6 plays a game of chess with no.66. No.6 loses the game and tells No.66 he is not on form so gets up to follow No.9 (Virgina Maskell) onto the boat, in the background is a clear shot showing part of the Rhinogs whilst Ynys Gifftan island can be glimpsed to his right.
The Rhinogs and Ynys Gifftan island.
At 43 minutes into the video, where No.6 passes the Butler (Angelo Muscat) on his way to the helicopter, more of the heights on the far side of the Traeth Bach estauary can be seen, but there are no prominent heights to be seen as much of the Rhinog range is blocked by the nearer Moel-y-Geifr and Moel Goedog hills.
No.6’s electropass protects him from Rover and gives access to the helicopter. He boards the helicopter and shortly there is a side long view of Rover and the Alouette. The northern parts of the Rhinogs rise above Moel-y-Geifr and are shown to good effect in this shot. This is part of the Rhinogs, and I think that is Rhinog Fach at 2333ft just peering over the ridge of Moel-y-Gerddi (1246ft) whose summit is to the left and so our fourth and fifth Prisoner mountains to be sighted.
The northern part of the Rhinogs can be seen in this scene
What follows are scenes showing Virginia Maskell and No.66 with clear views of Ynys Gifftan island and the back end of the Rhinogs, though no major summits are visible in these shots. No.66 tells the woman “we are all pawns my dear.” At what is almost the last scene with the helicopter and Rover (different to the above scene) we see that a different day was used for filming for the surrounding hills & mountains are occluded.
Total mountains so far: FIVE
The two episodes following Arrival were Chimes of Big Ben, which was done mostly in studio or in village, just one brief mountain scene not really related to the area whilst A B & C was mostly shot in the studio.
Free for all
Free for All was written by Patrick Mc Goohan under the name Paddy Fitz. Clearly this has the best mountain bagging scenes of the entire series as virtually ALL the prominent surrounding mountains can be seen. We even have a glimpse of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) at roughly the half-way point in the episode.
Free for All features the exploits of No. 6 as he tries to stand for election in the Village. No doubt the Village authorities have other agendas on their mind as the bogus elections are part of their evil master plan to discover why No. 6 has resigned. As the episode progresses No. 6 becomes the target of the Village population and they try to chase him through the Village. It is at this point that we pick up on the mountain as No. 6 attempts to get away from the Village mob by stealing a patrol boat…
At 26.30 mins into the episode, having escaped the Village’s mob No.6 makes a getaway by one of the speedboats moored by the quay. Immediately at this point the mountains begin to make their presence, and a string of major summit sightings are made over the next two or three minutes.
The shots that follow give us excellent views of the estuary and its surrounding landscape. As No.6 makes his escape attempt by boat we see the familiar shot of the back end of the Rhinogs prevalent in Arrival. No.6 speeds away from the quay and to his rear a large mountain looms into view. These are the Moelwyns. Moelwyn Mawr was first seen in Arrival so has already been bagged. Moelwyn Fach is however visible so another sighting, the sixth.
Throughout the scenes we see various levels of clarity with the Moelwyns. Within a couple of minutes the range has gone from occluded summits right through to very clear conditions, and in one of the shots there is a sighting of Cnicht.
We now get good views of the speedboat and helicopter in pursuit with the Moelwyns as a backdrop. By the way the guy in a lot of these scenes is not McGoohan himself. Its Frank Maher, Mc Goohan’s stunt man.
The helicopter scene with the Moelwyns just as the 27.00 mins mark approaches. The lighting seems to indicate that this was a different day for shooting these scenes. The sequences appear to have been filmed over perhaps two or three days. The view of Moelwyn Mawr & Fach alternates between good and murky. Those taken on a clear day are nearer Portmeirion whilst those on the murky days are filmed nearer Borth-y-gest. The later shots showing Borth-y-Gest and Moel-y-Gest etc appear to be shot on a third day as the lighting again is different.
In the far distance are the Moelwyns, and what I think are a blend of the summits of Gylchedd and Arenig Fach
The struggle on the speedboat continunes and No.6 has beaten both guards back to the rear of the boat. As the guards struggle to regain balance we now see a new mountain in the far distance to the right of the Moelwyns. Another prominence, Manod Mawr, should be just visible but I expect the clouds have got to it. What was that which appeared to be one single mountain?
In the end I concluded, although not 100%, that these were the summits of Gylchedd (2059ft left summit) and Arenig Fach (2259ft right hand summit.) so this is our seventh and eighth mountain sightings. The picture below is a clip from a scene a bit later showing what I think is the separation between the two summits. Correct me if I am wrong.
The reason why I think these are Gylchedd & Arenig Fach.
Next the second guard falls in the estuary whilst most of the Rhinogs come into view. Thats a few summits there! Much of this is not visible from Portmeirion. The prominence on the left is Moel Ysgyfarnogod (2044ft) followed by Clip (1937ft) then Rhinog Fawr’s summit is visible to the left of the helicopter. Its 2362ft high summit means we have three sightings, now totalling eleven.
Moel Ysgyfarnogod (left) and Rhinog Fawr (centre) at 27.07mins. Rhinog Fach is blocked by the helicopter.
As the helicopter moves left towards Moel Ysgyfarnogod, it blocks Rhinog Fawr. Rhinog Fach (2333ft) comes into view.
As the first guard falls in the second guard clambers across the boat to apprehend No.6. This switches the shot to a view along the coast near Danger Rock at Borth-y-gest. Other mountain ranges further west in Snowdonia now come into view.
27.15mins: Moel-y-Gest left; Moel-Hebog (left) Moel Ddu (behind guard) Y Lliwedd, Y Lliwedd Bach (marked red) and Glyder Fach, Gallt yr Ogof, at right, making nineteen in total. Glyder Fawr is higher of course but cant be seen from this location. We’ve seen the peaks in this fight sequence getting higher and higher now that we have the Lliwedds and Moel Hebog – so where’s the mightiest of them all?
If one has been to the summit of Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) on one of those days when the peak is not in the clouds, they will know the Welsh coastline is very visible being only a few miles distant. The estuaries around Portmeirion, Traeth Mawr and Traeth Bach, can be seen from the summit of Wales’ highest mountain so the chances of it being spotted in the Prisoner are quite good.
A cursory glance probably wouldnt show up Yr Wyddfa, but its there. In the boat fight scenes the mountain is actually behind the guard’s head! If one looks at the picture above and then the next we can see the guard moves his head and reveals the summit of Wales’ highest mountain. (At this point Six is not McGoohan but Frank Maher who was the stunt man.)
Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa appears when the guard moves his head, at around 27.20mins, as well as Yr Arran, one of the five summits of the Snowdon massif for our 20th and 21st peaks.
As the filming at this point is now even further west, this sees Moel Hebog disappear. The red cross indicates Moel Hebog’s position behind Moel y Gest. Snowdon is the middle summit and Y Lliwedd the right most arrow.
The guard forces No.6 into the water but he is soon back on board and the guard finds himself seaborne. In that shot where the guard has just fallen in, a further range of mountains to the north of the Moelwyn range comes into view briefly.
Cefn y Capel, Moel y Dyniewyd, Yr Arddu (and what is possibly the ridge leading up to Moel Siabod although the summit Moel Siabod itself is behind Cnicht), Cnicht, Moel Drumman, Moel yr Hydd, and the north end of Moelwyn Mawr are seen when the guard has fallen into he water at 27.27mins into the episode. 26 peaks so far.
A few seconds later No.6 regains the speedboat after the sighting of Cnicht. As this shot is filmed further west, Moel Hebog is now behind Moel-y-Gest. A much clearer image than previously used shows Yr Arran and the ridge, Llechwedd y Hydd better known these days as Bwlch Maenderyn, leading up to Yr Wyddfa. In front of the Snowdon Massif is the bulk belonging to Moel Ddu.
At the end of these scenes we have a total of 21 summits. The remaining scenes show purely different aspects of what we have already bagged. When the helicopter chases the boat across the estuary the Moelwyns and Arenig Fach are shown to good effect, then a few seconds later we see a different view of the Moelwyns.
The total length of the estuary fight scenes is around five minutes. The set ends with No 6 being apprehended by Rover around 30 minutes into the video.
Total mountains/summits in Free for All: TWENTY-ONE
Total so far: TWENTY-SIX
Schizoid Man – Exterior scenes only show the village. The General – only one exterior shot features the beach and the Alouette helicopter.
Many Happy Returns
This has some shots of darkly lit mountains surrounded by swirling clouds. These are shown soon after No.6 has discovered the the village is deserted, save for the black cat. Six plans to leave. Looking at the mountains, he decides his best option is by sea.
The mountains of Many Happy Returns are mysterious. They have been shot using a close up zoom, with clouds swirling round their ridges and summits. None appear to be familar. However one scene does looks somewhat like a Welsh mountain pass shot on a zoom lens. As there is no identification, no bagging is possible. It is a long time since I read through the numerous back numbers of ‘Six of One’ and ‘In the Village’ so am not sure if any of its members have attempted to identify these mountains.
A view of the other side of the estuary including what I think may be a shot of Rhinog Fach (already bagged) through the mist.
The mysterious peak. Is it Rhinog Fach?
No.6 returns to London and tells the folks about the village. They agree to send No.6 on a quest to find the location of the village, and No.6 is soon on his way in a military jet. The hunt for the village is soon over. No.6 exclaims to the pilot that he has found it. The pilot says “Be seeing you” and ejects No.6, who then has to parachute back down into the village. Looking at this aerial scene, I often wonder why No.6 didnt ever think of escaping via the Ffestiniog railway or even the Cambrian Coast line!
This scene is certainly strange within the context of the original philosophy behind the Prisoner, as Clough Ellis requested the village location not be made public until the final episode. One it was to add mystery to the Village’s location (which was supposed to be somewhere in Lithuania – or when one considers the ‘POP’ in the original version of the series, some distant coast within the African continent.) Barely half way through the series we have this aerial sighting of Portmeirion, the Cob, Porthmadog and the Glaslyn estuary (Traeth Mawr)!
Portmeirion & the Cob heralds Six’s Many Happy Returns
Total bagged: NONE. Although this scene gives us the series’ one and only shot of Porthmadog.
The next two episodes do feature the mountains around Portmeirion although there are no new mountains to be sighted.
Dance of the Dead
The only full episode featuring a female No2, it has beach scenes showing Mary Morris (no 2), No.240 and no.6. She asks No.6 “You’re not thinking of jumping?” The estuary is clearly visible but the landforms beyond are shrouded by misty weather in the shots featuring No.2, No.6, No.240. The island near Talsarnau however makes a good impression as No.2 walking along the quay towards the village. Dance of the Dead features quite a few scenes of the beach itself and there’s one of interest where McGoohan’s double, Frank Maher, is filmed with Rover with a low sun setting, and the headland round onto the Llyn penisula can be seen.
No.2 wonders if there are any mountains to be bagged. But as usual it is misty where there are supposed to be mountains.
Total new mountains seen in Dance of the Dead: NONE
Checkmate does not have any shots at all of the mountains.
Hammer into Anvil
The episode has a good shot along the Talsarnau stretch and Ynys Gifftan island along with some mountains. The scene is shown when the pernicious Number 2 and his Supervisor’s temporary replacement are monitoring No 6’s movements in the Control Room. They watch No 6 cross the sands in order to transmit a false message in Morse code and there are good shots across the sands towards Talsarnau. Another scene shows the ship and the mountains on the opposite side inthe evening sunlight. No new mountains however.
No.6 on the sands preparing to send a fictious morse code signal. The scene shows Moel Ysgyfarnogod and Ynys Gifftan island
Total new mountains seen in Hammer into Anvil: NONE
Hammer into Anvil is the last in the series to feature the Welsh mountains. The series’ creativity was at its height when it came to on location shoots around Portmerion and these must have been expensive as it was still a rarity in sixties British TV. The beach, the sea and Rover were early casualities of budget cuts demanded by Lew Grade.
The remainder of the episodes were either concentrated within the village (Portmeirion) itself, or in the studio. The “second part” of the series, eg the second batch of episodes Lew Grade authorised to be filmed before pulling the plug, were filmed more economically, focusing on locations around London and the south-east, and used stock footage from Portmeirion where neccesary.
Grand total of mountains/summits sighted: TWENTY-SIX
LIST (in order of sighting)
1) Moel Goedog 2) Moelwyn Mawr 3) Moel-y-Geifr 4) Moel-y-Gerddi 5) Rhinog Fach 6) Moelwyn Fach 7) Glychedd 8) Arenig Fach 9) Moel Ysgyfarnogod 10) Clip 11) Rhinog Fawr 12) Moel-y-Gest 13) Moel Hebog 14) Moel Ddu 15) Y Lliwedd 16) Y Lliwedd Bach 17) Glyder Fach 18) Gallt yr Ogof 19) Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa 20) Yr Arran 21) Cefy y Capel 22) Moel y Dyniewyd 23) Yr Arddu 24) Cnicht 25) Moel Drumman 26) Moel yr Hydd
Other possible sightings: I am sure part of Moel Siabod (the ridge leading up to the summit) can be seen however the quality of the TV image is not sufficient to discern this. Other summits can most definitely be seen but are so far away that identification is hard.
This post is from an old blog of mine. The content has been updated.