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The Italianate Job

In 1976 production of The Masque of Mandragora took Doctor Who to one of the United Kingdom’s most distinctive and celebrated filming locations.

The idea for Masque of Mandragora grew from a visit I made to Portmeirion,” recalled former Doctor Who producer Philip Hinchcliffe in the fanzine Ark in Space in 1983.

Before joining Associated TeleVision’s script unit at Elstree in 1968, Hinchcliffe had worked as a courier to Americans touring cathedral cities and other cultural locales. The Welsh leg of the itinerary included a visit to a grandiose hotel-cum-folly on the north-west coast – a venue that Hinchcliffe, preoccupied with his studies, hadn’t noticed was the setting for a recent ATV adventure series called The Prisoner.

Frederick Piper (as Number 66, left), Patrick McGoohan (as Number 6, centre) and director Don Chaffey prepare a scene for Arrival, the first episode of The Prisoner, on location at Portmeirion in September 1966. Photo © ITC Entertainment Group.

A private community of picturesque holiday cottages and strikingly eclectic architecture, Portmeirion was the dream project of renowned architect Clough Williams-Ellis, who in 1925 had purchased the overgrown peninsula of Aber Iâ from his uncle for around £20,000 and set about converting it into a hotel; it opened for business at Easter 1926. The village underwent expansion with new buildings through to 1939, with other distinctive constructions – inspired by the architect’s travels in Italy and Austria – forming what he called an architectural “light opera” amidst an array of exotic flora. In 1941 the surrounding woodlands of Y Gwyllt (The Wild Place) were also purchased from Williams-Ellis’ uncle. More construction followed from 1954 to 1966, with Williams-Ellis salvaging fascinating items from around the country and giving them a new life in his “home for fallen buildings”. Knighted in 1972, Williams-Ellis took an active role in adding further details to his creation right into his nineties.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

In its early days, Doctor Who was recorded on cumbersome cameras tethered to claustrophobic and often inadequate studios. The show rarely escaped these confines in the 1960s, but as technology improved, producers and directors became more adventurous. Location shooting has helped to create some of the most memorable episodes in the series’ long history. In this unique publication, new features, exclusive interviews and rare images tell the story of those episodes and the people who made them happen.