Jailhouse rockers: How The Prisoner inspired artists from The Beatles to Richard Hawley

The Prisoner, set in Portmeirion, north Wales, was cult viewing in the Sixties. Now, the village is the location for a pop festival.

In the 1960s, Britain not only ruled the world of pop but also produced some of the most enduring TV series of all time. The Avengers and The Saint have been referenced by The Rezillos and The Pretenders but no British programme has inspired as many musicians as The Prisoner.

The creation of maverick actor Patrick McGoohan, who had made his name portraying secret agent John Drake in Danger Man, and turned down the opportunity to play both James Bond and The Saint, The Prisoner first aired in the UK in 1967. Its premise of a spy who resigns and is transported to a mysterious village he can never leave intrigued viewers the world over, turned "I am not a number, I am a free man!" into a catchphrase, and put Portmeirion in north Wales, where much of it was filmed, on the map. It also planted a subversive seed that flowered in the minds of successive generations of British musicians including members of Dr. Feelgood, Iron Maiden, Colourbox, The Lightning Seeds and Muse.

Next month, Festival No.6, a new boutique luxury festival from the team that brought you Snowbombing, The Warehouse Project, Lounge on the Farm and Parklife, will welcome Richard Hawley, Jessie Ware, New Order, Primal Scream and Spiritualized to Portmeirion. Six of One, the official Prisoner appreciation society, will also be on hand to help festival-goers re-enact classic scenes from the series – the human chess game, the processions – and help write a new chapter in the rich history of McGoohan's hold over British rock and pop.

Singer-songwriter Roy Harper was the first to recognize a kindred spirit in The Prisoner. In 1969, he included the epic "McGoohan's Blues", "inspired by the actor's depiction of the establishment rebel," on his Folkjokeopus album. However, even if pub rockers Dr. Feelgood named their 1977 album Be Seeing You after the greeting used in The Village, and were photographed wearing piped blazers and scarves like the series' characters, it was the next generation who really embraced McGoohan's vision, starting with a nod by The Clash on the B-side of "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais" simply called 'The Prisoner', in 1978, and continuing with mod revivalists The Prisoners, whose formation in 1980 coincided with the release of the charming turntable hit and John Peel favourite "I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape" by Teenage Filmstars, Ed Ball's second indie band.

Ball's work with Television Personalities and Teenage Filmstars – who quickly morphed into The Times – his involvement with Alan McGee's Creation label in the Nineties, as well as the films he has made since, are steeped in references to Andy Warhol and Syd Barrett. Yet, as he admits, The Prisoner cast the longest shadow. "You grow out of most things you grew up with but I always come back to The Prisoner," says Ball who was born in 1959 and only has "a vague recollection of seeing the TV series in 1967. Just a very colourful parade. It made more of an impression when it was re-screened late at night on ITV in the early Seventies. I felt something deep and dark was happening there. It was shown again after the first wave of punk, as the whole Sex Pistols saga was unravelling, with Johnny Rotten being attacked on the street. It seemed to echo the way McGoohan had been treated when The Prisoner ended in February 1968," he expands, recalling the furore that greeted the first broadcast of "Fall Out", the 17th and final episode of the series – which failed to wrap things up neatly – and resulted in the actor's self-exile from the UK.

"McGoohan was a forerunner of punk. Like the very best works of art, The Prisoner has its own fatalism built into it. You can never escape. McGoohan seemed to have the compass right with his ideas about love, hate, good and evil. We wanted to deify him. 'I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape' was the ballad of The Prisoner in a three-minute pop song, short and sweet, and to the point. We knew how private he was but we heard whispers through Six of One. He seemed to benignly acknowledge the record's existence," recalls Ball. "Pre-internet, we were lucky that the Scala, the cinema in London's King's Cross, started screening episodes of The Prisoner and Danger Man. They used to play our record in between."

Ball hasn't heard "The Prisoner" or "Back in the Village" by Iron Maiden but I assure him both bassist Steve Harris and vocalist Bruce Dickinson are genuine fans of the series that left its cult status behind long ago. "The Prisoner is a force of nature which touches people. Once you have watched the whole series, you are never the same again. If you are a spiritual person, it becomes part of your belief system," stresses Ball who is currently overseeing a 12" vinyl reissue of the I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape album – credited to The Times – "incorporating a Monopoly board based on Portmeirion."

With its Italianate architecture and trompe-l'oeil features modelled on Portofino, Portmeirion gave The Prisoner an eerie, ominous sense of place, a constant in a pressure-cooker miniature world where ever-changing Number Two figures try to break McGoohan's character.

Designed by Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis, Portmeirion remains his crowning glory. "It's a folly on a grand scale, a fairytale place, where people like Beatles manager Brian Epstein used to go and relax. The cross-pollination between The Beatles and The Prisoner is fascinating," says Ball who, like many Sixties trainspotters, is well aware that the mad fanfare of "All You Need Is Love" was used to astounding effect during the cryptic "Fall Out" conclusion, the only time a Beatles song was licensed to a TV show. "George Harrison often namechecked The Prisoner."

Indeed, when he called his current band thenewno2, Dhani Harrison was undoubtedly thinking of his late father and the projected movie involving McGoohan that would have taken the place of Magical Mystery Tour in the Fab Four filmography.

Richard Hawley was only a few months old when The Prisoner first aired but caught up with it on Channel 4 in the Eighties. "I was totally fascinated by it. There is something universal about its themes, this concept of not knowing who exactly is controlling everything, and where you fit into the whole scheme of things. It's something that goes through the mind of every generation. In our school curriculum, we studied several existentialist writers and The Prisoner seemed to connect with that," says the singer who has also fallen under Portmeirion's spell. "I have visited many times with my wife, and with our kids too. I can't think of anywhere more amazing in Britain," he enthuses. "I have an architectural drawing of Portmeirion by Clough Williams-Ellis on my wall at home, a copy of one of his wonderful originals."

Hawley is looking forward to performing at Festival No.6. "I said yes immediately. It's a fantastic idea to have a musical event in that magical location. I think if you just stood there and played a banjo, it would be special. I hope I am not putting too much pressure on it, but it might actually become my favourite gig of the year."

Festival No.6 with Richard Hawley, Jessie Ware, New Order, Primal Scream and Spiritualized is at Portmeirion, north Wales, 14 to 16 September (festivalnumber6.com)

Village voices: Acts playing festival No.6

New Order

The Mancunian dance–indie legends reformed last year and this headline show is the only chance to see them at a UK festival other than Bestival. Expect yearning and memorable riffs in "Regret", "True Faith" and "Blue Monday".

Primal Scream

The Bobby Gillespie-fronted indie-dance heroes play their greatest, most accessible classics from across their career, bringing a party atmosphere to the festival.

Spiritualized

After undergoing hospitalisation for pneumonia as depicted in his 2008 album, 'Songs in A&E', Spiritualized frontman Jason Pierce found himself hospitalised again midway through creating his 2012 follow-up, 'Sweet Heart Sweet Light'. And the album turned out to be one of the band's most uplifting.

Richard Hawley

Hawley performs songs from the brilliant full-blown psychedelia of his newest album – one of this year's best – 'Standing at the Sky's Edge'. No doubt he'll dip into his earlier, retro rockabilly solo material, too.

Jessie Ware

The south London singer did her time doing backing vocals – she sang on post-dubstep producer SBTRKT's debut album last year – and is now garnering much attention for her own soulful dubstep-fuelled R&B music; her debut album, 'Devotion', is currently at No 5.

King Creosote

The Scottish singer-songwriter had a Mercury nomination for his gorgeous 'Diamond Mine' album last year. Catch him on the Estuary stage curated by Caught by the River.

Alt-J

One of the hottest bands of the moment, the Leeds art graduates have been attracting huge throngs to their shows. Hailed the "lifeblood of new music", their inventive, genre-defying songs meld reverb-drenched blues-soul vocals with playful percussion and dissonant melodies. See what all the fuss is about.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum