Mini Moke from The Prisoner restored 50 years after starring in the TV series

Andrew Roberts
Patrick McGoohan, who starred as 'Number Six' in The Prisoner, with the 1965 Austin Mini Moke used in the cult TV series and which now has been restored - COPYRIGHT JAY WILLIAMS

A tall, grim-faced gentleman has found himself transported against his will from his London home in Buckingham Place to a brightly coloured realm where "local" appears to be the mantra - as in "'Oh, we're only the local service". The telephone exchange cannot connect him to the outside world and when he summons a taxi, an Austin Mini Moke can only transport him within the confines of "the Village". He subsequently steals one of these elaborately decorated cars to effect an escape, only to encounter a large and very irate beach ball named Rover...

These were the scenarios witnessed by countless startled television viewers when "Arrival", the first episode of The Prisoner, was transmitted on September 29, 1967. Fifty years later, that same Moke taxi has returned to Portmeirion to commemorate one of the few television series that can be fairly described as "iconic".

Taking part in the celebrations were several of the programme's stars and one of the highlights of the day was a school party, all seemingly engaged on a GCSE art project, reacting to Fenella Fielding's tannoy announcement that "Number Six has escaped". Their response described an arc from bemusement to mild terror - which was entirely in keeping with the spirit of Patrick McGoohan's masterpiece.

Several vehicles will forever be associated with The Prisoner, from the Princess 4-litre hearse of the opening credits to the Scammell Highwayman lorry of the final episode, but two cars have televisual legends.

The first is Number Six's personal transport - the Lotus Super Seven Series II that the character built "with my bare hands". McGoohan spurned the chance to drive an Elan on screen and most editions show him from behind the wheel of a factory demonstrator Seven. This car was subsequently sold to an Australian enthusiast and so a second Lotus was sourced from a private owner who lived near to the MGM-British studios at Borehamwood, while "Fall Out" featured a third Seven powered by a Ford 100E engine rather than a Cosworth-tuned 1.5-litre unit. One detail that truly dates KAR 120C is that it lacks direction indicators, but then our hero is not the sort of chap who believes in any form of decadent luxury.

The Mini Moke after restoration Credit: Jay Williams

And then there is the Moke, or rather four of them. Anyone watching The Prisoner gains the impression that Number Two had an endless fleet to assist his/her cunning plans, but this was due to the magic of editing. Just as the series combined location work with scenes shot in the studio, an overdubbed siren could turn a taxi into a police car or an ambulance.

The car that is now co-owned by Phil Caunt and Jeremy Guy was converted by Wood & Pickett in May of 1965, the year that the Moke's image underwent a sea change. The vehicle that British Motor Corporation originally intended as light utility transport for the military or for use by manly chaps to tour oil explorations or building sites was increasingly perceived as a "fun car". John Boorman used a customised Moke in the Dave Clark Five pop film Catch Us If You Can and by the mid-Sixties one of the cheapest four-wheel cars in Britain was increasingly favoured by dedicated followers of fashion.

The Moke as converted by Wood & Pickett in the Sixties with brightly striped PVC upholstery and mock-wood decoration Credit: Jay Williams

When HLT 709C was converted, the plan was apparently for it to be offered as a regular option, retailing at just £664 9s 2d. The Moke featured in the coachbuilder's publicity, being photographed at the Hilton Hotel and other fine venues. One theory as to how it came to be cast in The Prisoner is that a member of the production company saw it in the capital and realised that it was ideal for their latest project.

Three other cars were subsequently built although, in Phil's words, "they are similar but not identical", with a detachable canopy, brightly striped PVC upholstery, mock-wood decorations plus a more upright windshield to reduce camera reflections. The fiendish authorities were evidently too parsimonious to specify the optional seat belts, second windscreen wiper, heater or windscreen washers, but the Caunt-Guy Moke does boast one very useful modification.

The Moke before restoration, in a rather sorry state

Unlike its three sister models, there is a 998cc Cooper engine under the bonnet, which is more than sufficient to cope with an escapee from the Village. Filming ended in 1967 and, although many memories of The Prisoner are lost to time, it is believed that HLT 709C appeared at the programme's press conference.

Today, just two of the Village's fleet survives - one that was restored by Phil in the Nineties now lives in the USA, plus the only British-based model. The latter was acquired at auction by Messrs Guy and Caunt in 2015 and according to Phil, "Nobody knows what had happened to it until it was found in a barn in Holland in 2011." It is possible that a former member of the crew had privately exported it during the mid-Seventies and, 20 years later, ''the condition can best be described as 'poor'; it was structurally unsound and a non-runner. At least it did retain its number plate, the Village motif on the bonnet and the candy-striped roof."

The Moke at Portmeirion with its restorer Phil Caunt, who co-owns the car with Jeremy Guy Credit: Jay Williams

And so, Phil embarked on a mammoth restoration, possibly with the threat of an irate Rover and/or an even more irate Leo McKern serving as an extra incentive. He refers to the Moke's performance as "nippy" and when being transported through Portmeirion in a completely open car that is devoid of doors, one does indeed feel the sensation of speed.

Most importantly, to experience a car that has entered the lexicon of popular culture is beyond price.

KAR 120C was said to have been written off in an accident circa 1969, but rumour has it that the hearse now lives in France while the Mini Moke taxi looks primed and ready to reinforce the message of the Village - jollity with an iron fist.

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