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PortmeirionThe remake of The Prisoner will capture the imagination of a new generation of fans. Could the cult TV series help this North Wales neighbourhood escape the property slowdown?
     
First-time round: Patrick McGoohan and Virginia Maskell first episode of The Prisoner, which was set in Portmeirion; the village, hotel and estuary and the central square at Portmeirion.

The Prisoner's famous cri de coeur - plus his other catchphrases, "By hook or by crook" and "Be seeing you" - are set for a reprise in an ITV remake of the enigmatic show next year.

Sir Ian McKellen will play the sinister Number Two, who controls the mysterious place known as The Village, while Passion of the Christ star Jim Caviezel will be Number Six, who is trapped there.

Portmeirion, in North Wales, was the setting for The Village in the orginal 1960s series; estate agents hope the remake will bring fame and fortune back to the surrounding area.

It is 40 years since the final baffling episode of the allegorical production. Its cult status grew as puzzled viewers concocted their own theories about the meaning of the series; many rang ITV in fury, unable to make sense of it at all. But one thing they did like: the Italianate town of Portmeirion, the backdrop to the series, unknown to most Britons until The Prisoner's creator and original Number Six Patrick McGoohan put the Snowdownia coastal resort on the map.



While you cannot live permanently in Portmeirion (there are self-catering cottages and hotels for short-term stays), it is surrounded by attractive property -- and fabulous landscape.

"For a decade before the show we ticked over with 50,000 visitors a year. In 1968, the figure doubled, entirely because of The Prisoner. Now it is more than 225,000 a year, and we still host an annual reunion of Six Of One, the show's official fan club," says Robin Llywelyn, managing director of Portmeirion Village and grandson of Clough Williams-Ellis, the architect and designer who built the village in 1925.

Most Portmeirion houses are small, higgledy-piggledy, pastel-coloured and clustered around neat cobbled squares. There is also a central piazza, ornate gardens, a castle and a neatly maintained coastline - although there is no sign of the vast bouncing ball, seen so often when The Prisoner tried to escape in the 1960s.

The 170-acre site includes a hotel and 17 cottages, as well as woodland and farmland. The only residents today are guests staying at the hotel or those enjoying a taste of Patrick McGoohan's captivity by hiring one of the holiday cottages for a week.

The last long-term resident was Max Hora, a Prisoner devotee who has been writing articles about the show for 40 years. He lived in Portmeirion for 16 years while running a shop selling merchandise based on Number Six. He describes his status as "a former village inmate" - McGoohan would be proud of him.

The round house at Portmeirion, where fans can buy souvenirs of the show

"The oldest houses were not well built because Clough Williams-Ellis didn't have much money when he commissioned the village. Walls were thin and there was a cheapish feel. But later houses were much better," says Hora, who now lives in Herefordshire.

"Yet it was charming living somewhere unique. Williams-Ellis said he wanted Portmeirion to be 'a home for fallen buildings', rather like Victorian Britain had homes for fallen women.

And that is what it is, a collection of designs you won't see elsewhere.

"Around one corner you would find a Buddah, in another there were Mediterranean flourishes. I loved that eccentricity." The village has been spruced up extensively in recent years. The Williams-Ellis family has secured National Lottery funding to preserve the original design while bringing the hotel facilities and the newly renovated castle into the 21st century.

But while The Prisoner's popularity is evident - when you visit the village today you can occasionally spot a fan daring to walk around rather self-consciously in Number Six's trademark piped blazer - the wider neighbourhood reflects the problems of the real world.

"We are often asked by buyers if there are homes for sale near to or with views of The Village, although even The Prisoner probably couldn't immediately resuscitate the current market," says a spokesman for Bob Parry estate agency in nearby Porthmadog.

Other local estate agencies certainly hope the remake breathes new life into the area. One agency has just folded as a result of the slowdown, while another has had a property on sale for more than 18 months without finding a buyer. Gwynedd, the county in which Portmeirion sits, saw prices fall by 3.4 per cent in the three months to the end of May, according to the Land Registry.

More recent data for all of Wales, produced by the Nationwide building society, shows prices for the whole country have slumped by an average of 7.6 per cent over the past year. Nationwide says that this leaves its average home price lower than Scotland's for the first time since 2001, and makes it the cheapest of the UK's four home nations (see Edmund Conway's Word on the Street, right).

It is rumoured that the remake, which is due to be broadcast in 2009, will include scenes shot in Namibia and South Africa. But it is Portmeirion that will forever be identified with The Prisoner even if much of the remake is filmed elsewhere.

John Vaughan, now the head of public relations at Savills estate agency, was a teenage extra in one episode of the original show.

"My family knew the Williams-Ellis family and we lived close by. I had to drive a Mini Moke into a village square and then run away looking scared," he recalls.

"It was lovely being in Portmeirion, which is a very elegant, unusual, upmarket place. It was a thrill working with Patrick McGoohan.

"He was a real star," he adds, "but so very smooth, wearing types of suits you don't see any more."

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/main.jhtml?xml=/property/2008/07/12/pportmeirion112.xml&page=1


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