Mini Stories: Volume 5

Continuing 99pi’s year-end tradition of bringing you a collection of short stories our staff came across throughout the year, this installment includes a hodgepodge of European architecture, nearly useless gadgets, the power of blue light,  and a fiery holiday tradition.

Portmeirion by Avery Trufelman

There is one item of clothing that producer Avery Trufelman has been wearing since she was three years old. It’s a grey t-shirt featuring lines from a 1960s British television show called The Prisoner. It’s about a British spy who is abducted and brought to a mysterious village where everyone is suspiciously happy all the time. The village seems to be removed from all other societies. The buildings look like castles, villas, and townhouses all smashed together. All the people in the village are wearing bucket hats and Keds. No one has a name — everyone goes by a number.

As surreal as the plot of this show sounds, the actual location that the series was filmed at is even more interesting. In the 1920s, Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis was a Welsh architect who was enchanted with the Mediterranean.

After doing a lot of work rebuilding England after WWI, he realized that in the process of rebuilding, too many beautiful old buildings were facing the wrecking ball. He returned to his native Wales and decided to bring the beauty and the history of the whole of Europe to his homeland. Literally. From 1925 to 1975, Williams-Ellis hunted for crumbling remains of castles, houses, and villas across the continent , and rescued them by bringing them to this one spot. He named the site Portmeiron: “Port-” from its place on the coast; “-meirion” from the county of Merioneth (Meirionydd) in which it was sited.

Panorama of Portmeirion, designed by Clough Williams-Ellis during the 1920’s. Photo by Chris Jones (CC by 2.5)

Williams-Ellis layered different architectural styles on top of each other, and then painted them bright, fanciful colors. It was postmodernism before postmodernism. He built secret stairways and pathways connecting remnants of buildings from different eras, created fake windows that lead nowhere, and unaccessible verandas.

In 1964, Architecture critic Lewis Mumford wrote “Portmeiron is a gay, deliberately irresponsible reaction against the dull sterilities of so much that passes as modern architecture today.” Frank Lloyd Wright paid it a visit in 1956. Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul McCartney also came to see it. But The Prisoner is what put Portmeiron on the map. And that’s probably what it’s best known for today.

By popular request, here is a photo of “The Prisoner” t-shirt worn by Avery Trufelman.

  1. jschuh

    umm, a solar powered flashlight isn’t exactly useless you know…
    just in case Viv doesn’t get it, it charges when you don’t need it…

    1. AT

      I would agree, especially during natural disasters it can be a pretty handy tool when there’s a mad rush to stock up on batteries.

    2. Ankit Thakkar

      I agree, especially for those living in areas that are prone to natural disasters such as Hurricanes they can be of great use.

  2. Hello 99 PI,

    Articles or principles of a manifesto or a constitution are tenets. Unless these principles are only contract residents of the doctrine, then they may be tenants.

  3. Dan

    Re blue glass: I can’t see a window pane from the street view image, but there is a house in Berkeley that is clearly devoted to blue glass. The architecture looks old enough to me, but you’re the experts. You don’t even need to cross the bridge. Northeast corner of Milvia and Francisco.

  4. George from Brooklyn

    The original 1966 yule log footage was found in a can and restored in 2016. Please correct this error.

  5. Annie Eide

    Regarding the Yule Log segment: the Latin word for hearth is “focus”. Back in the old Roman days, I guess that’s about all there was to focus on sitting around your living room. So maybe it’s not such a stretch to think of a family staring into a fireplace.

  6. Jean Bickal

    Two of your stories in this episode made me feel my age. I watched The Prisoner when it was originally broadcast in the US in the 1960’s. I had seen Patrick McGoohan, the star, in another British series called, Secret Agent Man in the US and Danger Man in Britain. The Prisoner was very weird but I loved it.
    Since we lived in New Jersey, we got WPIX, channel 11 and we always watched the Yule Log on Christmas Eve. I probably didn’t see the original log video but we always tried to identify where the loop ended.

  7. Love the log. But WPIX wasn’t/isn’t a UHF station. It was Channel 11, home to local kids’ shows (Officer Joe Bolton, Captain Jack McCarthy, Chuck McCann). Home also to The Honeymooners, in years and years of late-night repeats.

  8. Cate

    Listening to the Yule Log story reminded me of my favorite Christmas music album that our family had when I was young — all the hits by Percy Faith, The Ray Conniff Singers, Mormon Tabernacle Choir…none of the Mariah Carey nonsense.
    Did Roman really not know what a Yule Log was?

  9. Kasia

    I totally sent you an email about Portmeirion :) Will shamelessly take the credit (pff Vaery’s ancient t-shirt :)) Love the show!

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