Photos: Dave Healey & Rick Davy. Location Info: Rick Davy, Martin Briscoe, Des Gorra, Kevin Ryerson. Report: Dave Healey.

LOCATION INFO : Part of the inspiration for The Village in The Prisoner was due to script-editor George Markstein's knowledge of Inverlair Lodge, near Inverness in Scotland. The building was used as a "safe haven" for secret agents during the Second World War (Markstein also claimed it was a "retirement home for spies").

Inverlair Lodge (photo left) was also the inspiration for one of Markstein's novels, "The Cooler" (review HERE).


It is widely known that The Prisoner, at least in part, was influenced by stories of secret institutions set up during World War II to house certain people who "knew too much" or were a risk to national security. For obvious reasons details of these establishments have received little publicity and the truth behind them is still en-shrouded in secrecy. George Markstein, the script editor on The Prisoner, is usually credited as revealing the existence of these clandestine operations to McGoohan. His association with British Intelligence would certainly have given him an awareness of these places and indeed he is often quoted as referring to the existence of a wartime "village" called Inverlair Lodge in Scotland. This wartime "prison" has often been referred to as "The Cooler" and George Markstein used this as the title for his 1974 novel. A legend on the book's dust cover stated "The secret that can only be told as fiction" and inside a short dedication read - "This story is fiction. But there was a Cooler. Those who know about it don't have to be told any more. Those who don't can't be told any more." Clearly the book was based on Inverlair Lodge, with the fictional establishment dubbed Inverloch.

In 2013 the book "George Markstein and The Prisoner" was published, which outlined much more of Markstein's knowledge and influence and beliefs. More information about the book HERE. The book is available to purchase HERE.

Other than the name no other details of the lodge seem to have come to light, so it was decided that we would set about the task of locating this illusive and inspirational building. The assignment did not prove too arduous as Inverlair is actually shown on the map of Scotland that we consulted, in Glen Spean in Inverness. Inverlair it-self is a very small hamlet a mile or so off the main road from Spean Bridge to Newtonmore. Once off the beaten track it became apparent almost immediately that the road was not a major thoroughfare and in fact it eventually peters out completely. Before reaching Inverlair, which incidentally consists only of a handful of buildings and is not signposted, a deep gorge must be crossed by means of a small bridge. Destruction of this would result in the small community being cut off from the outside world by road.
Pre-conceived ideas suggested that Inverlair lodge would be a large foreboding manor house surrounded by high walls in the middle of a wilderness. This did not prove to be the case at all. It is larger than the average family dwelling, but it is difficult to imagine more than a handful of "guests" being incarcerated there. The building itself, painted white with a slate roof, looked very much like any other in the locale and not much different from its nearest neighbour, a sheep farm about a hundred yards along the lane. In fact it was this farmer who confirmed that the building was indeed Inverlair Lodge as it had no identifying markings at all. Perhaps the most striking feature of building is its outlook. It faces a huge conical hill which can be climbed to obtain an almost aerial view of the property. From this vantage point can be seen the whole estate which consists of a number of outbuildings, a well tended garden and a small wooded area which shields part of the house from the roadway.

As a Portmeirion "Village" replacement Inverlair Lodge is a disappointment. However as a retirement home to get away from it all the lodge is in an idyllic, if remote spot. It is surrounded by beautiful unspoilt high-land scenery with undoubtedly many fine walks for those who wish explore the forests, rivers and mountains of the area.

TUW reader Martin Briscoe has passed on the following additional information regarding Inverlair Lodge:

Inverlair was also known as ISRB Workshops or No.6 Special Workshop School. The book below says that an officer from Arisaig was sent to set up a training school outside the restricted area (there was a group of SOE schools around Arisaig in the restricted area). It had all the usual assault course, weapons range with pop-up targets etc. I found this all a bit hard to understand why it was outside the area though I had heard
previously that people were detained there. Then someone suggested that anyone who dropped out of training for any reason, failure or injury perhaps, would be sent to Inverlair which they would think was just another training school. But their training would continue until it was considered safe to let them loose or perhaps they stayed for the duration of the war? Para-Military Training in Scotland During World War 2 (Land, Sea & Islands Centre, Arisaig 2001) An account of SOE training around the Arisaig area.

If someone had been there then you can see the similarities to The Prisoner where someone was held in limbo. There was mention in a book that I read many years ago to "a country house in the Highlands" being used when a RAF pilot was recovered from France with days of being shot down. But on the same flight was a Resistance leader so he had to be kept out of the way for some time. He was due to marry the following weekend so the marriage was allowed to go ahead and then he was sent a country house in Scotland. But it could have been elsewhere in the Highlands. Many of the officers in SOE came from land-owning families in Scotland so perhaps in that case they were just sent to one of their family's houses. I have seen also in one book a suggestion that Hess was held at Inverlair but I doubt it and perhaps it just came from locals knowing that something odd was going on there with a military presence.

The following link, provided by TUW reader Des Gorra, also has a lot of interesting information:



Here is some material from a book by a William J. Morgan a psychiatrist who worked for S.O.E./O.S.S. at Pemberley a training "school for spies" in WW2. This was the guy who could send you to "The Cooler". ;-))

By 1957 most of the O.S.S. stuff from WW2 was declassified and common knowledge.

The passages below relate to some students at Pemberley who couldn't keep their mouths shut on the train ride to Pemberley "school for spies" (thus the title "Train Test"). Next was what became of "spies" detected within the system in the chapter called The Road To The Isles.....

Here are some passages (the CAPS are mine for emphasis):

Chapter 3: Train Test

There was no need for more. He did not know it, but he has already flunked out of Pemberley. He was allowed to go through the four-day assessment, but immediately afterwards received orders for an “important assignment” to a paramilitary school. This school was really a holding area where indiscreet persons were allowed to COOL off their knowledge while they learned noncommittal facts about weapons and radio. I don’t suppose he ever learned why he was side tracked.

Then there was the American Lieutenant, a brazen young man with a loud voice and a hostile attitude. He hardly needed any any probing from me to get him to talk..

I tried to pipe him down but he was not even conscious of my wrinkled brow. He was a menace and the British asked O.S.S. to CHILL him out. I think he was sent to “Siberia” an isolated post on the rainy west coast of Scotland. pg. 17

Chapter 17: The Road To The Isles

EVERYONE in England knew that something mysterious was going on in the North West Highlands, that hilly, rain soaked chunk of Scotland cut off from the rest by the Caledonian Canal, a chain of lochs joined together...

The only persons allowed across were local residents, staff and students of the training schools, and subversive agents who had been caught working for the enemy. These subversives were ‘retained in a holding area” or in other words kept safely out of the way. Others were hand cuffed and guarded. Others did not even know they had been spotted, but crossed the Canal under the joyful delusion they were to undergo an intensive training course to prepare them for an important mission. At the training schools they would find the standards unexpectedly high. When they had learned to transmit sixteen words a minute on the radio they would be told to increase their speed to twenty-five words-” it will be a very delicate mission you know.” And so their training would stretch out and out, while the war went on without them. Among these were a number of high-ranking French officers who professed loyalty to the Allied cause but were really working for the
Germans. At General de Gaulle’s request they were billeted in North West Scotland where they could do no more harm. pg. 74-75.


"For instance, could a secret agent disappear ... you know, how could someone disappear in our society and be put away somewhere? And so I waffled on about "D" notices, how the authorities can ask the news media not to reveal something, as indeed happens in our time." (George Markstein 1984)

I thought that in light of the above quote from George Markstein the following link to an item in the London Times would be of interest:

In October 2009 Kevin also supplied this SOE-related link; and also a fascinating article HERE mentioning Markstein's The Cooler as a possible movie and HERE a review of The Cooler from the Hartford Courant, with further reviews of the book from the Chicago Tribune HERE.

November 2009 Des Gorra of Secret Scotland writes:

We just got advance warning in the Forum of a programme on Radio Scotland, due next week, but anyone can listen to it using the BBC's iPlayer, so it's not restricted by area any more.

We're told Richard Sidgwick lived in the house for many years, and got to know Major Fyffe well when he used to visit the area regularly up until his death. He will probably mention the Hess rumours, all the
experts and sources say it is untrue but the rumours persist locally.

I've researched the Hess story too, and as far as I'm concerned it's a myth, now perpetuated by people interested in drawing curious tourists to the area, and estate agents. Although, it has occurred to me that Inverlair is so far from where Hess can be shown to have been at the time, that it may have been a story leaked as deliberate mis-information, with the intention of diverting anyone who may have had an interest in him from his true location.

HERE'S advance notice of a radio programme on Friday, November 27, which will be of interest to a lot of locals. It's called The Spies Who Knew Too Much and it's on BBC Radio Scotland from 11.30am-noon. Mark Stephen will reveal some of the secrets of Inverlair Lodge, described as "one of the most mysterious homes in the Highlands". Inverlair inspired the long-running TV series The Prisoner and also the spy thriller The Cooler but, as Mark discovers, "truth is stranger than fiction". During the Second World War, Inverlair Lodge was used by the Special Operations Executive. It was given the name "No 6 Special Workshop School" but in London it was simply referred to as either "up North" or "The Cooler". Inverlair was a place where secret agents were sent, who had either failed their training or been recalled from operations. The Cooler was a very good description of the camp as the inmates were kept until the information they had been given had cooled - and, of course, a "cooler" is also a slang term for prison. Today the holes from bullets sprayed around the
staircase and one cell-like room hold some of the secrets that give clues to Inverlair's wartime past. Richard Sidgwick, who lived in the house from the 1970s, has spent more than 30 years unravelling the secrets, and he returns with Mark to share his remarkable discoveries. Richard reveals who might have been held in Room 13 with its sliding Judas hatch, and the infamous SOE trainer who left the bullet holes in the staircase. During the renovations of the house, Richard came across some notes and poems left behind by the wartime inhabitants. These give a moving insight into what life was like in The Cooler.

December 2009, Kevin Ryerson writes: I have traced what may be the first published mention, back to the source materials, of The Cooler ...... it is a historical work by an author called M.R.D. Foot who first reviewed the historical records and published a book called "The SOE In France" (c) 1966 .... the "cooler' and Inverlair are mentioned by name.

Here is the part of the text to mention Inverlair and 'cooler' from page 57:

Given the realities of political and military life of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, S.O.E. could not be reasonably, have been expected to do much better than it did; in fact the point where it’s training can be most seriously faulted is that agents the training staff could clearly recognise to be unsuitable never the less in some cases slipped through into the field. This was hardly the training staff’s mistake; yet even they were not infallible. They reported adversely on some of the best as well as some of the worst agents who all the same got through to France: this did not encourage trust in them. If at any stage in the training process an agent’s nerve did fail, or it became clear to the staff that it would fail in the field, or any other strong reason against his dispatch appeared, a nice problem in security was posed; for the agent was bound to know by sight at least the people on the course with him ( their names, with this
eventuality in mind, might well be false ones ) , and if he had reached Group B he might know dangerously much about clandestine techniques. ISRB maintained some workshops in the remotest Scottish highlands, at Inverlair; and to this ‘cooler’ refractory or unsuitable agents were sent, till the other agents they had known were out of harm’s way and it was safe to return them to the general man powered pool.

Here is George Markstein's quote about his SOE research from his interview:

"I had been doing some research into the Special Operations Executive and I had come across a curious establishment that existed in Scotland during the War into which they put recalcitrant agents - and who was more recalcitrant than McGoohan! - I thought it was an excellent idea to play around with." (George Markstein)

I have found a book review of "SOE In France" in the Chicago Tribune dated in April 1966 (click HERE).... this is about the time that Secret Agent was announced as cancelled in the U.S.... there are news accounts of McG making reference to his "new series" in April 1966.

Newspaper article on SOE HERE, and Cooler review HERE. Other review HERE.

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