The Scottish Prisoner

Space Time Visualiser: 1st February 1968

Today we look back 43 years to when the final episode of The Prisoner received its premiere. Change your clothes, crank up All You Need is Love and go through the door marked WELL COME to find out more about this geographically unusual event.

Armando Iannucci has often said that his childhood was blighted by the dread announcement “Except for those viewers in Scotland, who have their own programming” and you can see his point when he lists the kind of shows he missed out on. But there’s a big exception. If you were lucky enough to live in the STV region 43 years ago, then you got to see Fall Out, the final episode of The Prisoner, a whole day before anyone else. Even ATV, the regional company that effectively made the show, didn’t transmit it until the next day and the luckless inhabitants of Anglia had to wait over a week before they could see it, riot, block the switchboard and chase Patrick McGoohan out of the country.

I wonder if this scheduling discrepancy was noticed by fans of The Prisoner at the time? I like to think that groups of them travelled up the A1 in a minibus and descended on hotels and boarding houses in search of a telly. Perhaps 1st February 1968 is still remembered fondly by veterans of the hospitality industry who benefited from the sudden upsurge in paying guests. For those that didn’t make the journey north, there must have been a tremendous worry that those lucky Scottish viewers would randomly ring them up and shout spoilers down the phone? Even though you’d be hard-pushed to explain Fall Out down the phone to someone who hadn’t seen it: “Yes and then they sing Dem Bones, and…er…Leo McKern is brought back to life after having a very severe shave. I think.”

After this brief bit of good fortune, Iannucci was born and Scottish Television thereafter devoted itself to ruining his life. But the Welsh were even worse. In the 1970s, a Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story called The Time Warrior was subject to terrrible tinkering by BBC Wales when they replaced it on Saturday nights with a Welsh language folk music show called Gwerin ’74. The good Doctor was shunted into a Tuesday evening slot, which ensured that all Welsh fans had a prophetic look at what life would be like in 1980s when, for a while, we endured the full horror of Saturday night without Doctor Who.

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