MANY HAPPY RETURNS
"I AM NOT
SCREENPLAY Anthony Skene
RANKED 9th For its non-verbal qualities in general. But also for the albeit predictable but nevertheless mean ending: "Be seeing you!" Now, which side is his former office on? And where is it really located, the Village?
Don't read any further
unless you know THE PRSIONER already
and you want to delve more indepth
into theoretical discussions and facts
around the history of the production.
- Be seeing you!
Möbius strip spellbounds. "Möbius strip, Möbius band or Möbius loop is a surface with only one side (when embedded in three-dimensional Euclidean space) and only one boundary. The Möbius strip has the mathematical property of being unorientable. It can be realized as a ruled surface. English Wikipedia (April 2020)
Odysseus of the Greek mythology practicises a wordplay of the special kind as to identify himself to Polyphemus, the one-eyed cyclops, as "Nobody". He is a thoroughly rational thinker who knows how to dupe the ancient Gods. An enlightened consciousness is witnessed taking advantage of the linguistic divergence between the sign (word) and its meaning: the signifier and the signified. And there is also a specific irony because the Greek "Oudys" points towards nothing else than to "Odysseus" - the meaning of which is like "without a name", thus "nobody".
Patrick McGoohan is "Everyman" (the name of his production company). One like everybody. Thus meaning nobody in particular. That, too, is a ruse.
Odysseus returns home. However, his trip does not lead him from A to B but from A to A'.
The place of his return isn't really his home, though. Paradoxically, it is his own private Troy, the place to battle prepotent adversaries. And more, his return does not come out of his own will. Also, not his wife Penelope is welcoming him, it is a sorceress, like the mythological Circe , who he had met before on his trip or - depending on one's perspective - who he is still about to meet. But arguably, it has been a perilous journey. A puzzling synchrony sees him and his companions escaping from Polyhemus' den (who himself is made to run away). On his way he overcomes the forces of nature as well as evil people, he runs ashore the soil of which place unknown to him, finds himself an impecunious refugee and has to be cautious of the siren sounds put forth by false friends.
Anthony Skene was the author of the "Many Happy Returns" script, he was also the only one able to provide three scripts to the series: apart from "Many Happy Returns" "A. B. and C." and "Dance Of The Dead". They all share a common spirit. And while "Dance Of The Dead" is a surreal torso, the series owing it the attribute prisoneresque, "A. B. and C." dealing with the psychology of dreams, "Many Happy Returns" is a highly symbolic paraphrase of the Homeric Osyssey.
Patrick McGoohan himself directed under the pseudonym Joseph Serf - "Joseph" being the Kafka character, "Serf" borrowed from the Latin word for the "servant".
"Many Happy Returns" was produced as episode 13, the last one of the first production period. It was shown in Great Britain as seventh. In his article "THE PRISONER Episode by Episode" Chris Gregory  writes: "Many Happy Returns is a crucial and often undervalued episode of The Prisoner. It comes at a point in the series where we have become accustomed to the set up in the Village, and the relationships within it. Now we are suddenly and unexpectedly transported outside our 'comfort zone'. ... It is as if we are somehow being ‘led backwards’ through a series of events that we are by now very familiar with."
As a little aside, back in Germany in 1969 people had a reason for a different perspective here. "Many Happy Returns" was shown as the second episode. Thus, after "Arrival" with no less than two failed escape attempts, first-time viewing might have led to a strange effect on reception: because one could have assumed there'd be a turn in the course of the series action and the Prisoner would actually escape. An intellectual pastime not without appeal.
In fact, Skene's script kind of repeats or cites striking scenes from the credit sequence such as Number Six driving through London in his own, now borrowed Super Seven to his former office, then striding along the dark corridor and into the room with the bureaucrat behind the desk. He does it not in order to deliver something, his letter of resignation, but in order to get something, and that is information. Here, more clearly than in the credit sequence, we can see the bureaucrat who is George Markstein, before his own resignation from the PRISONER production.
IT IS THE PLAN
to raise hope in the Prisoner and to shatter it right away; let him escape and get him back.
A lot of creativity and work had to be invested in it. The Village had to be evacuated over night in a joint effort. Number Six would find it empty the other day and reach his own conclusions. He would go and build a raft rather than use one of the Mini Mokes in order to get away because he'd have to calculate the risk of running out of petrol while trying to cross the high mountains.
However, allowing Number Six to set sail on the open sea, on a raft equipped only poorly with proper navigational devices was a risky endeavour. They would have to take care of him all the time and thereby save him in emergency.
Here the gun runner's barge comes into play. They arrive right on time when Number Six is in danger of falling victim to the forces of nature. But they would have to be and act quite tough in oder not to give the plan away. They would steer their vessel to the southern English coast from where there'd be a relatively short distance left for Number Six to London. The Village was prepared, he'd surely get on a search mission.
"The Prisoner's almost insane desire to re-visit the place that held him captive for months, instead of running in the opposite direction, indicates he either lets his obsession get the better of him or that he is becoming unbalanced."
Nicole Maggio, "The Whole World As Village" (Dissertation 2009)
The shooting of the raft scenes was achieved not far from Portmeirion at Abersoch. The gun runner's boat is the same vessel as that from the "Checkmate" episode, called MS Breda in her civilian life. The lighthouse seen next to the white cliffs, where Number Six is washed ashore, is that of Beachy Head in South England. And Number Six' gaze from the clifftop, wind in his hair, in its cinéma verité style, is reminiscent of that one on the Bell Tower in "Arrival".
A 1960's television series episode like "Many Happy Returns" is a true peculiarity (disregarding THE PRISONER as a whole).
Although there are spoken words in "Arrival"during the first nine minutes, the effect is one of being wordless. Here, after the credits, 16 minutes of time pass without dialogue; Patrick McGoohan does it alone. The Village's outward cheerfulness is gone and so are the colours. Even the weather appears to have become accustomed to the current situation, it is overcast and uncomfortable. This is an accidental effect. Shooting took place in early spring of 1967 when there was only little green around in Portmeirion. But yet, now, more than ever does one feel transposed to the place of the action, all the more if one has already spent time in the real Portmeirion [German language].
Just like in "Arrival" only natural, environmental sounds are heard, the wind and the seagull cries. But not quite, there are the mysterious as well as very atmospheric jungle drum sounds of Paul Bonneau's track "Forêt tropicale". It is a quintessential achievement by Eric Mival [German language] then music editor with the production team, rendering a good deal of mood to this otherwise silent episode parts.
Arrival and return - those episodes, "Arrival" and "Many Happy Returns", they are spiritual twins, their vigour is to be found right here.
The absence of dialogue in the era of sound film is an alienation, something unconventional for a TV series ( because according to a bonmot talk is cheap) but it isn't without a precursor. American TV viewing audiences in 1960 watched the strange episode "The Silent Caper" of the very popular 77 SUNSET STRIP series (the German title being aptly "Case Without Words"). The main plot vehicle has the characters permanently missing out on each other, so they'd leave written messages. Once again, it's the TWILIGHT ZONE that has left its imprint: another episode, "Reserved For Mr. Bailey" (1961), sees principal actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Stuart Bailey all alone (in a ghost town). Also in 1961 in the TWILIGHT ZONE episode "The Invaders" sole actor, the grand Agnes Moorehead silently battles aliens from space in her attic.
Quality television is all but a contemporary invention.
The first spoken phrases in "Many Happy Returns" are heard from the gun runners aboard their vessel but real expectable dialogue only after about 27 minutes when Number Six is harshly sent away from the entrance door by Mrs. Butterworth's housekeeper. Before that moment, when Number Six encounters the gypsies we hear snatches of words in an incomprehensible language thus
A GESTURE OF KINDNESS FOR
THE STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
stressing the notion of the stranger in a strange land which, by chance - or by script - happens to be England. We have come to experience this notion before in "Arrival". The shop owner talks to a lady in an unknown language. Odysseus either, back in his homeland, first has no idea where he has arrived.
In the German version these scenes are dubbed over. The shop owner in "Arrival" speaks nothing but German. In "Dance Of The Dead" [German language] the radio voice uttering pure gibberish is "properly translated" into some sort of meaning (about some mysterious insurgence). And the gypsy woman of "Many Happy Returns" speaks Spanish quite decently to be understood.
Continuity or contiguity? "Geography is a matter of physical illusion, lines on a map, words on a signpost. It's this that gives a place its identity. After all, you are where you recognize yourself to be. Mr. Donovan says, that all countries are countries of the mind."
"Many Happy Returns" conveys the impression of being a confirmation of the (above) lines from the DANGER MAN episode "Colony Three".
There seems to be no other clue as conclusive as here (near the Polish border in "The Chimes Of Big Ben"). Having arrived in his former London office the called-up Admiral calculates the geographical position of Number Six' place of imprisonment based only on scarce nautical data. Thus the Village, quite believably, is located off the Morrocan coast, southwest of Portugal and Spain.
THERE'S THE VILLLAGE. ISN'T IT?
But logical, logistical and physical facts, like the sea currents [Wikipedia map] heading southward, are hardly a match. On the side of Number Six there's not a trace of disbelief upon the Admiral's geographical assessment while actually he had not been washed ashore at the Spanish, Portuguese or Moroccan but on the southern English coast. Let alone the revelation in "Fall Out" according to which the Village is only 27 miles away from London.
Number Six himself had worked out the search mission route to be covered by aircraft. But the fake milk man on the airfield overpowers the regular pilot, manipulates the navigational devices and ejector-seats Number Six from the cockpit back to where he started from. We are also supposed to believe the search mission to have taken place stante pede, right away after the briefing with the Colonel and Thorpe. A true logistical challenge even if we were to assume his former office was in on the whole plot and thus well prepared. But this remains very vague to maintain.
Besides, if they weren't, it would mean the powers behind the Village could be acting autonomously und unfettered by national governments.
After all, what would gun runners be doing off the English coast, the time being the mid 1960s? Supposedly it will remain the secret of the script. For an unknown reason they speak German, their names being Gunther and Ernst respectively. But in the German version they are without names. Again, this is an editorial intervention by the German dubbing production, as if
NOT CIRCE - ENCHANTING MRS. BUTTERWORTH
something like gun runners of German nationality didn't have to be around. Is it (dubbing director) Joachim Brinkmann's work? If they carried and traded firearms for the illegal Irish Republican Army (unlikely) they'd be too early on the scene. In Northern Ireland the armed battle did not commence before 1969.
McGoohan's conception of the series is a-realistic. And as far as it applies to geography it applies to time as well. We experience an extreme temporal compression which is impertinent.
While Number Six' escape trip receives extended on-screen coverage his forced return is only a matter of image frames; a sorcerer's work perhaps? Number Six arrives in London on March 18th. He tells Mrs. Butterworth his name was "Peter Smith" and that the other day would be his birthday (same as McGoohan's). As is known, by then he's already back and imprisoned in the Village and welcomed by Mrs.Butterworth - now Number Two. She has the birthday cake that she had promised to give him. Where did he spend the night? In his former office, did Mrs. Butterworth grant him asylum? Is she also the new Number Two? The voice heard in the credit sequence is male. Anyway, unlike Circe who'd turn people into animals, she would have to transform Everyman Peter Smith back into the Prisoner, as quickly as possible.
As it happens, the action of this episode takes place during the very same period of time as in "The Schizoid Man", on Feburary 10th that is. Clearly a case of a continuity breech, an overlap but a coincidental thing because one and the same edition of the Tally Ho Village newspaper was used in both episodes.
The image of the black cat watching Number Six build his raft while sitting next to a broken cup or plate must have born bad forebodings for Britains. As we get to know later on the cat is Number Two's representative. "Scherben bringen glück" ('shards bring luck') - that German saying does not seem to have an English equivalent. It's a very nice shot that we have here, it could well be a quote from the iconic episode "Checkmate": the Butler seen high above the chess field lawn where the living chess match is going on, his own chessboard in front of him. Like the Butler the cat may appear to be observing what's going on or perhaps actually directing it; the shards forming a fragmented chessboard. But everything remains ambivalent and within the imaginary, and so is the presence of Polyphemus, the one-eyed ogre, in this episode. Much like THE PRISONER and the film LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD, they don't know about each other but they share a common atmosphere. Polyphemus' real revenant will be back not before "Fall Out".
"Many Happy Returns is a brilliantly audacious piece of televisual art, demonstrating clearly that McGoohan understood that the medium of television could be used in its own distinctive way to present a political and philosophical discourse on ‘the state of mankind’. By relying on our accumulated knowledge of and familiarity with various elements of the series, he lures the central character (and by implication the viewer) into an apparent ‘escape’ which only leads to a greater and more profound ‘imprisonment’. Many Happy Returns signifies that The Prisoner has become far more than a story about a secret agent, and its subtle use of the medium of television already points the more discerning viewer towards the kind of expansive, mind-boggling and (for a television series) utterly unprecedented directions that it will take in its concluding stages." 
PROXIMITY OF EVENTS, IMAGINARY, VIRTUAL, REAL
CONTINUITY: UNIDIMENSIONAL SERIES CORRIDOR,
EPISODES 1 - 17:
MOSTLY DISJOINTED SINGLE EVENTS, PLOTS
Now, how is it all linked-up? Answer: it isn't at all. It's the same topology as with Kafka. In THE PRISONER it isn't about what's coherent and continuity, it's about what's closely next to each other, the contiguous.
 Brought up by Roland Topor in his foreword of Alain Carrazé's and Hélène Oswald's book "THE PRISONER. A Televisionary Masterpiece", 1990/1995.
  Chris Gregory "THE PRISONER Episode by Episode" https://chrisgregory.org/blog/2009/09/09/the-prisoner-episode-by-episode/
Chris Gregory is the author of one standard work "Decoding THE PRISONER", published in 1997; not in German.