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Brian Mitchell - Who Is No. 1? Interview

Following a sold-out extended season at Brighton Fringe 2023, The Foundry Group are delighted to stage the London debut of Who Is No.1? – a fascinating play that uncovers the unbelievable events behind the making of The Prisoner, the most popular series in the history of cult television.

It's 1966 and Patrick McGoohan, the world's highest-paid actor, having already turned down the opportunity to play James Bond, walks out of his hit series for a new project that seems to encapsulate all the paranoia, intrigue and psychedelic insanity of the swinging sixties. Backing him is Lew Grade, Britain's leading impresario, head of a legendary entertainment dynasty.

Together they make The Prisoner, a cult TV masterpiece - the most written-about TV series of all time. But, through all the tensions, strains, triumphs and controversies, there's one question that remains: "Who is No. 1?"

Brian Mitchell

The latest comedy play from the award-winning writing duo
Brian Mitchell (co-writer of The Ministry of Biscuits) and Joseph Nixon (co-writer of West-End and Broadway hit The Shark Is Broken) explores the age-old tensions between artist and patron, prophet and king, telling the truth and pleasing the crowd, and why artists sometimes risk everything for their vision.

Ahead of a run at The Courtyard Theatre in London from the 23rd until 27th January, we caught up with writer Brian Mitchell to discuss the piece in more detail.

Where did the inspiration for Who Is No. 1 come from?
Many years back I was thinking of a vehicle for an actor friend who was a big fan of The Prisoner and did a great impersonation of Patrick McGoohan. Another actor friend bore a passing resemblance to Lew Grade, so I thought about putting the two together to make a show and asked Joseph Nixon, my long-standing writing partner, to write it with me. Of course, it helped a great deal that the story of their relationship is so compelling. It lay around in a bottom drawer for years, but then, somehow, the time seemed right to bring it to the stage.

What research did you have to do whilst developing the idea and script?
We read and watched as much as we could find about the making of the show. (I heard somewhere that The Prisoner is the most written-about TV show of all time and a great many French intellectuals seem to have written exhaustively about it.) There are always conflicting accounts and sometimes you just have to guess at the truth. Our own experience of telly is there’s an enormous amount of confusion at all levels and so it’s no surprise to find people remember things differently.

Who Is No. 1? production shot.

Why do you think The Prisoner continues to enjoy such a cult status?
It’s a really cracking show – great writing, acting, and it’s enigmatic and open-ended so it remains relevant. And, of course, Patrick McGoohan is completely magnetic. Not every episode is golden – there are missteps – but the best are as good as TV gets. I must stress, though, that I don’t think you need to know the Prisoner to enjoy Who Is No. 1? – quite a few audience members who knew nothing at all about the series told us afterwards how much they enjoyed the play.

Having written for TV and theatre, do both require a similar style of writing?
We wrote this first as a treatment for a screenplay and had to adapt it considerably for the stage. But I think I prefer this version to whatever we would have written for the screen (if that makes sense). The limitations imposed on you by a medium always shape your writing. I guess with TV the limit is budget and in theatre, practicality. Of course, with the screen, you need to allow the images space, and editing accomplishes so much of the story-telling you need to get out of its way. In theatre, dialogue does all the heavy lifting.

If you were sitting down with the stars/writers of The Prisoner what would you like to ask them?
Why McGoohan never attempted anything on that scale again.

After a successful run at the Brighton Fringe the show now heads to London, have you reworked the show in any way?
Tweaks here and there. I’m a firm believer in “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

What keeps you inspired?
A notebook of ideas, mostly jotted down in my twenties. I’ve been slowly working my way through them, And, mostly, getting to write with such people as Joseph Nixon, Philip Reeve and Joanna Neary – they're all great friends, very funny and a joy to work with.

What do you hope an audience member takes away from seeing Who Is No. 1?
I hope they enjoy the story and want to rush back home to watch The Prisoner, while recognising how eerily prescient McGoohan’s vision was

Who Is No. 1? runs at The Courtyard Theatre in London from Tuesday 23rd until Saturday 27th January 2024. Tickets are available from

Who Is No. 1? production shot.

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