OK, question number one: who the hell is watching this?
At last count (this morning) I’d had over 47,000 hits. That’s treble the count of anything else I’ve done. In YouTube terms, of course, it’s chicken feed. The stats are gratifying, but it’s no Double Rainbow or Duck Song. There are days when I envy the creators of those videos and wish I could produce something that would genuinely go viral. And then I remember that YouTube is a big place and that everyone is shouting at once.
Still. It’s quite a lot for my little corner of the web. Laura – who works in my team – has a ready answer: “drunk students”. And she’s probably right. I don’t know why there is such a strong connection between attendance at an institution of higher education and a sudden urge to delve into the cupboards of nostalgia, or even contemporary viewing. Put another way, I have no idea why students went crazy for Teletubbies, except that to a certain extent the Teletubbies – who loafed in a communal household eating vast amounts of toast and custard (and apparently nothing else), sleeping excessively, watching too much TV, occasionally venturing outside for a spot of dancing or game of volleyball, babbling away in an indecipherable language and having to hire a cleaner to keep the premises tidy – were perhaps a better representation of student culture than anything from Ben Elton or even The Young Ones.
I actually asked Laura about this just now, and she associates it with being on the cusp of adulthood but not quite beyond adolescence, “which means you regress. It’s also about shared experiences with a new peer group, and finding those common bonds. Plus eighty per cent of the time you’re spending the morning sleeping off a hangover, so it’s that or Diagnosis Murder“. All of the above would explain why, some fifteen years ago (and still living at home, studying as I did in my home town) I had a Teletubbies poster on the study door. It would explain why Bagpuss is so enduringly popular. It would also explain the viewing figures for this particular concoction. Or perhaps it doesn’t. Either way, it’s odd.
For a good while, Joshua had a thing about Numberjacks. It stemmed from an episode where he saw Numbers 3 and 5 become trapped inside a puzzle bubble, and at the time he was experiencing something akin to claustrophobic reactions (becoming deeply uncomfortable at several points near the end of Finding Nemo, for example). By the time this had passed, Daniel – his youngest brother – was also finding it slightly unpleasant, happy to sit in the lounge armchair and watch pretty much anything on CBeebies until the opening credits rolled, whereupon he’d request that the channel be changed. I have no idea why this is, except that it probably stems from the fact that Numberjacks is quietly creepy. There is something frightening about it, for all the offbeat slapstick. For one thing, there are numerous periods of quiet and silence and several pregnant pauses – an almost languid pace in today’s heady world of fast cuts and rapid plot development. (Have you seen Postman Pat recently? It’s like an action movie. It’s like watching The Transporter in Cumbria.) There’s also a refreshing lack of background music, which is nice.
For another thing, the villains are downright sinister. There’s Spooky Spoon, a shrieking anthropomorphic baking implement; the slimy freshly-picked-bogey that is the Problem Blob, and the calm, Simon Pegg-like Puzzler. Then there’s the Numbertaker, who looks like Simon Day from The Fast Show, dressed up for a cult funeral where everyone wears white. Even the Numberjacks themselves are a little bit freakish. And yet it’s extremely popular and I have to admit I enjoy it very much: the central problem-solving concept is well-explored, the stories are structured without becoming dull, and the fourth-wall-breaking at the end of each episode is quite effective. I also think there’s a market for an adult version of Numberjacks, complete with Pi, differentials and the occasional quadratic equation.
Such was our familiarity with Numberjacks (when you have three boys you sort of have to learn these things), it’s probably no wonder that when Emily and I finally sat down to watch The Prisoner at the beginning of last year, the connections were made almost instantly. To create a society when everyone is referred to solely by numbers…well, let’s just say the mashup was inevitable. And it’s surprising that no one had thought of it before – I think it was Emily who said “I am not a Numberjack, I am a free man!” (I’d favoured the more predictable “I’m a Numberjack and I’m OK”), and it was one of those quips I was sure would have been made in abundance already, but I could find comparatively little connection between The Prisoner and the Numberjacks online, which is an ideal opportunity for flag-planting, if you get in quick.
Those of you who read this blog regularly will know my hang-ups with the overused ‘iconic’, but I am prepared to make a welcome exception for The Prisoner. It is wonderful, wonderful television – by turns baffling, captivating, innovative and groundbreaking. (It is impossible to truly appreciate the Austin Powers films without a working knowledge of the show.) It wasn’t afraid to deviate from its formula – see the western episode, for example – or resort to ridiculous plotlines for the sake of producing a decent hour of television (the bedtime story springs to mind). It was clever, funny, exciting (the first time we see Number Six trying to escape the Village is still extraordinary over forty years later) and decently performed. The final two episodes alone are extraordinary simply by virtue of being utterly different – a heavy-handed psychological war fought between Number Six and Number Two (and so horrible to film, apparently, that it gave poor Leo McKern a nervous breakdown, or a heart attack, depending on which version you read) – followed by the final instalment, which reveals absolutely nothing of any real value and which was received so negatively that Patrick McGoohan had to flee the country to avoid the mob. ‘Fallout’ is quite brilliant, in its own way, but I don’t pretend to understand it, and anyone who tells you he’s figured out what was going on is frankly telling you a whopping great lie.
Technically, this was an easy one to put together. It was just a question of matching the opening theme with a montage of the Numberjacks on their adventures (and synching the lightning with the ‘Brain Gain’ scenes). The trickiest part was sourcing enough wordless footage of Numberjack Six wandering around the suburban areas where the show’s action takes place. By sheer luck, I managed to find footage of him actually saying “Where am I?”, which matched up perfectly with McGoohan’s delivery in the much-quoted opening scene. The net result was quite satisfying, if a little off the wall. I played it to Gareth, who said that my only mistake was including Number One, “and he wasn’t even <massive spoiler>”. Which is a fair point.
Written feedback (i.e. user comments) has been scant and spam-like, and people generally seem to be confused. I can’t help thinking that the bulk of people viewing this are the folks looking up Numberjacks on YouTube, and then clicking on the related videos button and wondering what in the name of Holy Moses they’re watching. Which is fair enough. I think I had exactly the same reaction the first time I watched The Prisoner, and thus the world is as it should be. Be seeing you.