"Many Happy Returns" is a television episode of the British science fiction-allegorical series, The Prisoner. It was first broadcast on 10 November 1967.
Number Six awakens to find the Village completely deserted. He sees this as an opportunity to escape. He takes numerous photos before assembling a raft and taking flight by sea for 25 days. He takes careful notes as to headings and times as best he can, but has an unfriendly encounter with gun-runners who are of no assistance. He escapes them and ends up on a deserted beach. Wandering, he encounters a small band of Gypsies who speak no English.
He eludes what appears to be a police manhunt and stows away on a truck which takes him to what he now recognizes as London. A Mrs. Butterworth now occupies his old townhouse and drives his Lotus 7. She is unperturbed when he approaches her, seems intrigued by his plight, and feeds and clothes him. He mentions that the next day is his birthday. Receiving Number Six's promises that he will return, Mrs. Butterworth says she might even bake him a birthday cake. He returns to the underground carpark/office where he presents himself to his old boss. His photo (and other) evidence of The Village meets with considerable skepticism. Former colleagues "The Colonel" and "Thorpe" are not entirely convinced that Number Six has not defected and now returned as a double agent, but after verifying all the details of his escape and evasion story, they seem to be more reassured.
With the assistance of some military officers and a map, they determine the general vicinity of the Village ("Coast of Morocco, southwest of Portugal and Spain." "Might be an island."). He leads a jet fighter pilot in a sweep of the area and spots the Village from the air, but is unceremoniously ejected, parachutes in, and is greeted in his cottage by the new Number Two: Mrs. Butterworth. She offers him "Many happy returns!" and a birthday cake.
Additional guest cast
- Group Captain – Brian Worth
- Commander – Richard Caldicot
- Gunther – Dennis Chinnery
- Ernst – Jon Laurimore
- Mrs. Butterworth - Georgina Cookson
- Gypsy girl – Nike Arrighi
- Maid – Grace Arnold
- Gypsy man – Larry Taylor
This episode is unusual in that the entire first act, showing Number Six escaping from the Village and making his way to London, features no dialogue, save for some German spoken by the gunrunners on the boat Number Six finds himself aboard. Number Six himself says nothing until over twenty minutes into the episode.
The London scenes in this episode are set on 18 March 1967. Number Six mentions the next day is his birthday. 19 March 1967 was McGoohan's actual 39th birthday. Some of the stock footage used during the aerial search for the Village is the same used to depict Shinda Shima in the eponymous Danger Man episode.
The airfield used in this episode is the former RAF Chalgrove / Chalgrove Airfield in Oxfordshire, now privately owned by Martin-Baker.
Although Number Two in this episode is female, the opening credits sequence features the unidentified, "generic" (male) Number Two, voiced by Robert Rietti that appears in several other episodes. This was presumably to keep Ms. Butterworth's actual identity a surprise for the viewer. The sequence features an additional shot of Rover on the beach where Number Two would have been shown, to maintain their anonymity.
The Number Two in this episode is the only one in the entire series to wear a "negative" style identity badge. Usually the badges worn by Number Two have a white background with a black penny-farthing bicycle design on them; Ms. Butterworth's is reversed.
Other than Ms. Butterworth, it is left ambiguous as to who else may also be on the deception. When Number Six sets out to board the fighter jet, he precedes the pilot. Unaware because of his advance, the pilots are switched and the pilot is no longer the companion of the Colonel, but is the driver of the milk float. It is not shown exactly what happened to the pilot, and whether he was actually incapacitated by the milk float driver or that he was in on the switch. Additionally, the Colonel says, "You're a stubborn fellow, Number Six"; it is also left ambiguous whether he is genuinely joking or he is actually subtly hinting that he is also in on the deception.
In this episode Patrick Cargill plays the character of Thorpe. In the previous episode in production, Hammer into Anvil, he portrays a particularly cruel Number Two. It was common practice during production of The Prisoner to reuse actors to save time and because they were known to be reliable. In this case, it has been suggested by fans putting the episodes into some sort of logical order that "Many Happy Returns" should precede "Hammer into Anvil", supposing that Thorpe and Number Two are the same character. Thorpe is installed in The Village as Number Two, a role he clearly relishes, allowing his cruelty and paranoia to come through – a weakness that Number Six exploits in order to break him.
Number Six gives his name to Mrs. Butterworth when asked – Peter Smith. Given that he ponders over it before telling her, it is most likely an alias he thought up on the spot.
When Number Six asks his former boss "Anyone at home?", the man behind the desk, as in the opening credits, is George Markstein. Markstein co-created the series with Patrick McGoohan and was the script editor on the first 13 episodes which included "Many Happy Returns", the final one to be filmed.
- The Prisoner: The Original Scripts, foreword by Lewis Greifer, Reynolds & Hearn. ISBN 978-1-903111-76-5. OCLC 61145235. – script of episode