EVENT | TV Times – The Prisoner: Schizoid Man

Photo: Number 2 (Anton Rodgers) and the real Number 6 (Patrick McGoohan) in Schizoid Man…

To count down to our special screening of Fall Out, the final episode of ace television show The Prisoner, PHIL KIRBY introduces a new episode every day in the order outlined by director Alex Cox in his book I Am (Not) A Number…

Tonight’s episode is Schizoid Man …

Following a particularly intensive course of aversion therapy, Number 6 awakens to discover a lookalike has replaced him. Reassigned the Number 12, his only hope of proving who is the real Number 6 lies with Number 24, the Village’s answer to Mystic Meg. Number 2 thinks he might finally have cracked it. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?

I’m not an object to be changed, I’m a person to be accepted.

This is from a book called The Divided Self, written by R. D. Laing, “a study of schizoid and schizophrenic persons.” It is still one of the biggest selling books on psychiatry ever written, and in the mid ‘60s no card carrying member of the counter-culture would have been without a copy of the 1965 Pelican edition in his back pocket.

Laing begins the book by defining what he means by “schizoid.”

The term schizoid refers to an individual the totality of whose experience is split in two main ways: in the first place, there is a rent in his relation with his world and, in the second, there is a disruption of his relation with himself. Such a person is not able to experience himself ‘together with’ others or ‘at home in’ the world, but, on the contrary, he experiences himself in despairing aloneness and isolation; moreover, he does not experience himself as a complete person but rather as ‘split’ in various ways, perhaps as a mind more or less tenuously linked to a body, as two or more selves, and so on.

And, in a justly famous passage quoting the inventor of the diagnosis (or discoverer, depending on your take on the philosophy of psychological science), Kraepelin’s account to a lecture-room of his students of a patient showing the signs of schizophrenia,

The patient sits with his eyes shut, and pays no attention to his surroundings. He does not look up even when he is spoken to, but he answers beginning in a low voice, and gradually screaming louder and louder. When asked where he is, he says, ‘You want to know that too? I tell you who is being measured and is measured and shall be measured. I know all that, and could tell you, but I do not want to.’ When asked his name, he screams, ‘What is your name? What does he shut? He shuts his eyes. What does he hear? He does not understand; he understands not. How? Who? Where? When ? What does he mean? When I tell him to look he does not look properly. You there, just look! What is it? What is the matter? Attend; he attends not. I say, what is it, then? Why do you give me no answer? Are you getting impudent again? How can you be so impudent? I’m coming! I’ll show you! You don’t whore for me. You mustn’t be smart either; you’re an impudent, lousy fellow, such an impudent, lousy fellow I’ve never met with. Is he beginning again? You understand nothing at all, nothing at all; nothing at all does he understand. If you follow now, he won’t follow, will not follow. Are you getting still more impudent? Are you getting impudent still more? How they attend, they do attend,’ and so on. At the end, he scolds in quite inarticulate sounds.

Laing points out that “Kraepelin notes here among other things the patient’s inaccessibility“:

Although he undoubtedly understood all the questions, he has not given us a single piece of useful information. His talk was.. . only a series of disconnected sentences having no relation whatever to the general situation.

In a later book , The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise (1967), Laing writes,

psychiatry can so easily be a technique of brainwashing, of inducing behaviour that is adjusted, by (preferably) non-injurious torture. In the best places, where straitjackets are abolished, doors are unlocked, leucotomies largely forgone, these can be replaced by more subtle lobotomies and tranquillizers that place the bars of Bedlam and the locked doors inside the patient. Thus I would wish to emphasize that our ‘normal’ ‘adjusted’ state is too often the abdication of ecstasy, the betrayal of our true potentialities, that many of us are only too successful in acquiring a false self to adapt to false realities.

Everyone was reading Laing when the idea for The Prisoner was starting to formulate. He was guru to the celebs. The Beatles were big fans (All You Need is Love sounds like the sort of thing the later Laing would declame in tiny books of pseudo-poetic profundity, such as Knots… I was a sucker for this sort of thing when I was in my teens. Probably still am.)

Laing had opened a therapeutic retreat in London in the early ‘60s, Kingsley Hall, a kind of polar opposite to The Village, with no locks, no guards, no forced medication or psychological experimentation. Just loads of LSD (not outlawed in the UK till 1966) in the fridge as a “sort of spiritual laxative”. No doubt the origin of the term, shits and giggles.

Sean Connery, one of Laing’s celebrity friends, went to a Kingsley Hall party one night and indulged in some Scottish bonding – a bout of Indian wrestling – with Laing in the games room to “see which Scotsman was tougher, James Bond or Ronnie Laing”. (I don’t think Danger Man was ever invited to test his Celtic credentials.) Connery, allegedly, was persuaded by Laing to drop a tab of acid with him in 1964 to relieve the stress of making Goldfinger; he had to go to bed for several days with “the terrors” to recover.

If you think what’s going on in This episode of The Prisoner is far fetched you really need to check out what was going on back then. Laing was a practising psychiatrist, trained in the NHS, working at some of the most prestigious medical institutions in the country.

Today’s moment of zen… er? Number Six has psychic abilities?

If you fancy discovering your own telepathic talents here’s an online Zener Cards test. If you score more than 20% get in touch with the CIA. If they don’t get in touch with you first, that is.

Has anyone else noticed the slight discrepancy in this set of Zener cards? It’s subtle but very curious… Mossad?

Read about previous episode Once Upon A Time here

theCV presents The Prisoner Fall Out plus a Q and A with Six of One’s Ant Brierly and Roy Stambrow moderated by Phil and Neil (God help us!) at The Courtroom, Leeds Town Hall at 19.00 on Friday 25th May 2018. Tickets are £5 (plus booking fee) and are available here.