Social History Series: Lotus Cars, Popular Culture and Product Placement
NO1. THE PRISONER.
1.1.INTRODUCTION AND CONCEPT OF PRODUCT PLACEMENT
In this article we will examine:
The cult status that Lotus cars have achieved
The concept of Product Placement
An introduction to the Prisoner
A description of the anti hero
Examine and analyse the content of the programme
Examine the role of the Lotus Seven and Opening clips [see also A&R article on the aesthetics of the Seven]
Describe and evaluate the role of Portmerion as a location and treat subject as an extension of Long and winding Road series with route plan etc.
Provide a brief critique of the new version
List references etc.
The A&R attempts to explain the iconic status of some of the Lotus cars in the wider social context and events of their time.
The mass media has permitted products and services to reach a world audience and on occasions penetrate deep into a collective psyche.
Of course it is a mass market that manufactures pursue with the associated economy of scale. How to tap this mass audience becomes a very significant driving force.
The 1960’s were a rich and diverse decade of many contradictions but in some respects a Renaissance allied to new consumerism.
Britain its designs and culture sport, historic events, personalities, music, fashion etc.
Were particularly significant and have become indelible for many of the generation.
Not least amongst these are two television programmes: The Prisoner and The Avengers.
On the back of these programmes Lotus cars reached unparallel audiences that would not have been reached by conventional sales and marketing. Neither would the products have been given such powerful associations and identities.
In two articles the editor will examine these programmes and their significance and how by product placement and association two Lotus cars were to achieve worldwide renown and even today their reputations and legends have barely diminished.
The editor suggests that our readers might wish to further their appreciation of the subject by looking at our respective articles on the aesthetics of the two models in question .The Lotus Seven and Elan
Product Placement and Popular Culture
Of late there has been something of a reaction against the concept and seen not effective, as it once might have been.
However the principle is very powerful and stands to reach a mass audience it might not otherwise achieve. Product placement might under certain circumstances be considered more subtle and persuasive than conventional advertising.
The James Bond films have particularly embraced the concept. The primary products have been cars, watches, and alcohol. However the so-called soaps have attempted to introduce the idea in a range of household products and through fashion.
Manufacturers have provided pieces and even purchased involvement. They do so with the knowledge of demographics, the advertising potential, and a disciplined timetable, merchandising and related opportunities. This commitment is based on the persuasive identification element. In modern terminology it will be cool.
The appearance of two Lotus cars in the mid late 1960’s was an unbelievable coup of considerable magnitude. Two separate cars both totally and authentically caught the mood and imagination of a generation. This was achieved in a decade of youth and its spending power.
Perhaps what is special about the Prisoner and The Avengers is that the product placement might have been genuine and not merely cynically bought in an attempt to seek audiences. Both programmes were significant creatively in their own right and this ought be remembered. It in effect may have doubled the impact of the cars.
The appearance of classic cars has become almost obligatory in many films and TV programmes. To the extent that there is museum of the Cars a Star.
Some of the most memorable have been
Ford / Triumph
Lotus [again in James Bond]
In the case of “The Italian Job” the Mini was almost the outright star.
The appearances and impact of the Seven and Elan are unlikely to be exceeded in terms of identification and correctness as complementary extension of character.
In both cases the cases had unspoken scripts. They were companions and heroes / heroines alike. Some might argue they took the roles for them selves.
So powerful is the associated grafted imagery and symbolism that the cars become instant legends and indelible.
In our two articles we explore and evaluate the two programmes and tease out their importance and how the respective cars became icons.
Where related topics meet the editor attempts to cross reference readers to other related articles.
1.2.BRIEF INTODUCTION THE PROGRAMME.
The Prisoner is a significant phenomena that has acquired iconic status and a considerable cult following.
It also starred the Lotus Seven.
The Mail on Sunday once heralded that
“ One of the most admired television series of all time”
Its general critical acclaim has seen it estimated as one of the most original series ever on the TV.
Very much a programme of its time; access for some remained unfathomable, unintelligible, infuriatingly complex, oblique, ephemeral but highly watchable and engaging.
Even those who did not watch the actual programmes usually are aware of the concept of the endless enigma.
It posed more questions than it answered.
The author would suggest that both the success and indelible images engendered are based on the following components: which we will examine in turn.
The Concept as an expression of the era.
The Anti-hero as portrayed by Patrick McGoohan.
The opening clips featuring the Lotus Seven
Portmerion and location.
1.3.THE ANTI HERO.
The hero of the series is played by Patrick McGoohan [1928-2009]. He had previously played the agent in Danger Man. This had been successful both commercially and artistically.
In the opening sequence McGoohan the viewer extrapolates he a secret agent tendering his resignation; no full explanation is provided.
His appearance is that of a tall handsome athletic man in the 30-40 age group. He is clean-shaven and has short hair for the era.
In dress he is often seen in a formal suit, or black blazer with white trim and matching “pumps”. The overall impression is that of suave, intelligent and cultivated person.
He subsequently develops his character as enigmatic, resourceful, confident, honourable and moderately stiff upper lipped.
It emerges, and we might identify that he may be an anti-hero. His speech is rich in language, innuendo and double entendre.
He presents as a man of integrity and is encapsulated in his famous cri de Coeur
“I am not a number .I a free man …………I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered”
In the deliberate ambiguity of the programme were are allowed to make a construct that this man of principle and integrity may have been exploited, cynically used, an attempt to corrupt, manipulated, deceived or even made expendable.
The information direct and indirect that he holds along with his experience and resourcefulness make him dangerous, capable of subversion, sabotage anarchy and generally the enemy within. Its suggested he might be capable of exposing critical information or decisions that may be both secret and perhaps contrary to public and democratic interests.
In fact we are given little information and much is implied or remotely deduced. We learn of his character in his conduct and his fight for liberty. This is not so much a physical fight but mind games, psychological and mental chess.
What we actually see and know is his physique, dress, vocabulary, home, his Lotus Seven and his determination to gain his liberty.
How we “read” a person from this information is very human as is what we place importance on.
The Lotus Seven is an important piece of personality extension and mirroring. We have a dual reflection in one direction the known reputation of the car to which we can marry the personality of the owner.
Both of whose reputation and image is enlarged as a result of their identification and projection. It’s difficult to separate them out. Its possible too that in our mind association and the nature of indelible imagery one is more readily recovered than the other but none the less there was a dual existence or interdependency.
The Lotus Seven may have been heading for iconic status prior to The Prisoner. After which it was assured.