The General

Transmission Date:
Episode Length: 48'22m (DVD timing)/50'17m (Blu-Ray timing)
Est. Ratings: 9.8m
Written by: Lewis Greifer (Under the pseudonym Joshua Adam)
Directed by: Peter Graham Scott
DVD availability: Try

Production Commenced:
February 1967

Production Credits:
An ITC Production by Everyman Films Ltd. Executive Producer: Patrick McGoohan; Script Editor: George Markstein; Producer: David Tomblin; Production Manager: Bernard Williams; Director of Photography: Brendan J. Stafford B.S.C.; Art Director: Jack Shampan; Camera Operator: Jack Lowin; Editor: John S. Smith; Theme: Ron Grainer; Incidental Music: Albert Elms; Cameraman (2nd Unit): Robert Monks; Assistant Director: Gino Marotta; Sound Editor: Ken Rolls; Sound Recordist: John Bramall; Music Editor: Eric Mival; Casting Director: Rose Tobias-Shaw; Continuity: Doris Martin; Set Dresser: Kenneth Bridgeman; Make-Up: Eddie Knight; Hairdressing: Pat McDermot and Wardrobe: Masada Wilmot. Made on location and at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Borehamwood, England.

Patrick McGoohan (The Prisoner); Colin Gordon (Number Two); John Castle (Number Twelve); Peter Howell (Professor); Angelo Muscat (The Butler); Al Mancini (Announcer); Betty McDowall (Professor's Wife); Peter Swanwick (Supervisor); Conrad Phillips (Doctor); Michael Miller (Man In Buggy); Keith Pyott (Waiter); Ian Fleming (Man At Cafe and First Top Hat); Norman Mitchell (Mechanic); Peter Bourne (Projection Operator); George Leech (First Corridor Guard); Jackie Cooper (Second Corridor Guard) and Robert Rietty (Other Voices, uncredited)

Episode Order:
Although shot directly after A. B. and C., it's this episode that sees Colin Gordon introduce himself as "the new No.2", while the latter is simply "I am No.2". The latter episode also being, of course, the episode where No.6 appears to break his No.2 down. The very real implication being that while McGoohan enjoyed Gordon's performance enough to ask him to come back, the titles were arranged for a form of retroactive continuity in which this episode would be the build up to the earlier shot story. In the event, A. B. and C. was pushed out third in order, while The General was left till sixth. I maybe have reservations about the order of this one here, for it to feature a No.12 that's been in the Village for "quite a long time" so soon after The Schizoid Man. Maybe this is an irrelevant point though, as it's one that's also included in the original transmission order, with The General going out after Schizoid Man's fifth placing.

Is revealed as a gifted sketch artist, though history, he says, "isn't my strong point".

In The Village:
The Professor and his wife appear in the Village, a couple who claim they came there voluntarily and have "special privledges". The Professor has been teaching for thirty years, his wife a specialist in modern art. The Professor is using a new technique called "Speedlearn", which, when information is processed through a supercomputer called "The General" (which No.2 claims the Professor "gave birth to", yet the Professor claims to have been introduced to) can teach a university-level degree in three minutes. Information passes through a "sublimator" at a speed thousands of times faster than the eye can record. The information is imposed on the cortex of the brain and is, with occasional bursts, virtually indelible. Lectures are delivered via a tv screen on micro inserts. We see here the boardroom chambers, which have a podium with an eye on it, and, above that, a large black circle eblazoned with the image of a penny farthing bicycle.
The first course, a three-part history course, has a 72.4% enrolment, with hopes for more. As an example of the course, a 15-second demonstration is given on "Europe since Napoleon".
Coffee at the Village cafe costs 2 work units. Mention is made of a resistance organisation, "Dissidence".

No.6 is aided by an official from administration, No.12, who describes himself as "a cog in the machine". We learn that he has been with the authorities that run the Village for "quite a long time". He gives No.6 one of the Professor's real lectures - which urges prisoners to destroy the General before it's too late - and a small pass disc to enter the board chambers where the equipment is kept.

No.6 is knocked out by guards, so he never gets to transmit the real lecture. However, he does succeed in destroying the General - which No.2 confirms will eventually be used for brainwashing - by feeding it with an "insoluble question": Why? Attempting to stop the destruction of the General, the Professor and No.12 are electrocuted.

Writer Lewis Griefer (who actually introduced McGoohan and George Markstein to one another while filming Danger Man), came up with the idea for this episode from something as mundane as his two sons being bored with school homework. As a result he chose his writer's pseudonym after their two Christian names - Joshua and Adam.
The finale where No.12 and the Professor are electrocuted was to originally have resulted in No.2's death also. While this may have made for a slightly more powerful ending, McGoohan reportedly asked for the character to survive, presumably so the episode could fit before A. B. and C., as discussed in "Episode Order".

2017 Update:
The reviews on this site were written for the series' 40th anniversary and so, while the factual information in this guide might still be of value, opinions change. The General, in particular, is one of the hardest hit, an episode I once gave top marks to, and only marginally less for this 2007 write-up. Reviewing it for the series' 50th anniversary, I had very much a change of heart regarding the quality of this one. Please click the image below to read new reviews of all the episodes:

"Great man, the Professor. Treats lectures as though his life depended on it."

Okay, first things out of the way first: having a super computer the size of Mount Everest is a deeply dated concept. The "Why?" ending is maddeningly twee and silly. The pass key collectors are too gimmicky for such a thoughtful episode. No.6's "candle" could illuminate the entire Village. And Colin Gordon as good as he is at being No.2 is utterly rubbish at doing the "you are No.6" title voice over bits.

There. With that out of the way, the rest of this is a minor gem. Even the fact that there is no Portmerion filming (for McGoohan, anyway) is reasonably well disguised. A sly commentary on the subversion of television and education, this is one of the more cerebral episodes of The Prisoner. With what looks like military police patrolling the inner chambers and No.6 becoming increasingly more violent, it's not only political but also charts his gradual breakdown. It has to be said, though, that as much as I like the episode and its concept, maybe I've overrated it these last few years. When the ending concerns three gueststars overacting around an exploding computer, then perhaps the final impression of the episode is that despite good intentions - maybe it is all a little silly.