Andrew HamiltonEssays

Danger Man

Patrick-McGoohan-018by Andrew Hamilton

“Somewhere along the line I am going to meet with an arm of this octopus, and when I do it will lead me to a head, and when I find that I shall cut it off.” — John Drake in “You Are Not in Any Trouble, Are You?” (1965)

I RECENTLY watched the 1960s English television series Danger Man (1960–1962, 30 mins.; 1964–1968, 1 hour) starring Patrick McGoohan. It was a popular spy show that made McGoohan a star and enabled him to produce his cult television series The Prisoner (UK, 1967–1968). Danger Man is an exceptionally entertaining and well-made show. To my surprise, I had never seen a single episode. Prior to watching them, I thought I had. (ILLUSTRATION: Danger Man star Patrick McGoohan)

I’d confusedly associated McGoohan’s pre-Prisoner television work with two shows, Danger Man and Secret Agent. (Actually, both are Danger Man.) Danger Man was a British television series made and broadcast in the UK. However, it, or portions of it, were also sold into foreign markets. In the US some but not all of the episodes were broadcast on CBS under two different titles several years apart, Danger Man (1961) and Secret Agent (1965–1966) (hence the reason for my confusion), and in other countries as Destination Danger and John Drake.

All three of my reference books about TV, which are US-centric, list it as two programs, and contain two separate entries under the titles mentioned despite the fact that it is really a single series. Moreover, considering the program’s popularity and success, the entries are quite brief; it seems possible that the authors were not personally familiar with it. The online Encyclopedia of Television contains no entry for the show at all. And a DVD release of the first season by A&E Home Video in 2000 erroneously stated on the box that the half-hour episodes were never broadcast in the US.

Curious about all of this, I asked someone who’s a TV addict, but not an expert, whether he was familiar with the show. If typical American TV viewers know anything about it, he should. Yet he drew a blank. Only when I mentioned the Johnny Rivers song “Secret Agent Man,” the theme for the 1965–1966 US broadcasts, did he recognize the song (but not the show). This was my experience as well.

The half-hour British episodes (1960–1962) used “The Danger Man Theme” composed by Edwin Astley, and the later one-hour episodes (1964–1968), which were likewise broadcast in Britain under the Danger Man title, employed instrumental music also written by Astley called “High Wire,” notable for its use of the harpsichord.

Both Danger Man and The Prisoner were produced by Lew Grade’s Independent Television Company (ITC). Grade, a Ukrainian-born Jew whose real name was Lev Winogradsky, was the UK counterpart of Jewish-American TV monopolists William Paley (CBS), David Sarnoff (NBC), and Leonard Goldenson (ABC). Grade’s tentacles reached into every form of entertainment, including British motion pictures, theater, and music (he owned the Lennon-McCartney song catalogue). In 1966 The Sunday Times investigated the interconnected firms controlled by Grade and his two brothers, Bernard Delfont and Leslie Grade. The paper found that the corporations, which constituted a cartel, were agents for most of the major talents in British acting, controlled theaters in London and the rest of the UK, provided television programming through ITC and ATV, and produced motion pictures.

The high-quality series, shot on black and white 35mm film (except for the last two episodes in 1968, which were in color), has a spacious, open feel to it due to frequent outdoor location shooting. Set-up shots were done on-location around the world by second unit crews rather than using stock footage, further contributing to the high production standards. Many episodes open with shots of large passenger jets, usually, but not always, belonging to Pan American Airways, making an approach for a landing in the latest exotic locale. The whiff of late British colonialism, the last days of a white world, still lies heavy on the series, as it did on the first Bond film, Dr. No (1962 — British).

The Structure of the Series

It is easiest to divide the program into three parts, although conventionally the show is described as being made up of four series. For a complete list of episodes divided in the conventional manner see List of Danger Man Episodes.

The original Danger Man (UK, 1960–1962) consisted of 39 black and white half-hour episodes. Drake, operating from Washington DC, works as an international intelligence operative for NATO. As McGoohan’s voiceover during the opening sequence explains: “Every government has its secret service branch. America, CIA; France, Deuxième Bureau; England, MI5. [NATO also has its own.] A messy job? Well, that’s when they usually call on me or someone like me. Oh, yes. My name is Drake, John Drake.”

The reference to NATO is not always present. It is interesting, too, that Drake says “England,” rather than “Britain.” The distinctive statement “My name is Drake . . . John Drake,” frequently used within the shows as well, must certainly be the origin of James Bond’s famous reply whenever he’s asked his name: “Bond . . . James Bond.”

The opening credits for the series include the intertitle “Introducing Patrick McGoohan,” indicating that this was his breakthrough role.

The Washington DC title sequence employs a seamless film composite of London’s Castrol Building (today Marathon House, converted from offices to apartments in 1998) in the foreground, from which Drake emerges, and the United States Capitol building in the background. This modern glass office building, brightly lit at night, represents the NATO intelligence agency for which Drake works. In reality, such a building would not be permitted to exist in Washington DC due to its height.

In the US, CBS broadcast a portion of the first series as a summer replacement for Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958–1961), a TV western starring Steve McQueen as a bounty hunter, but did not air even half of the run.

The series was successful in Europe, making McGoohan a star. But after American financing for a second round failed to materialize, the program was cancelled. During the ensuing two years Danger Man was resold around the world, and repeat airings created a clamor for new programs. Several original Danger Man adventure novels and comic books were produced in the United States and Great Britain throughout the 1960s. By this time James Bond had become popular, as had the The Avengers (UK, 1961–1967).

By the time ITC was ready to resume production of the show, Danger Man’s creator and guiding light throughout its run, native Australian Ralph Smart, whose pervasive influence is tangible in virtually every episode as producer, writer, or director, had rethought the concept and made Drake a secret agent for Britain’s external intelligence agency “M9” (= MI6), rather than an American working for NATO. This is what Drake remained for the rest of the series.

This second segment of the show (UK, 1964–1968), also filmed in black and white, aired from 1964 to 1966. It is frequently referred to as “Series 2 and Series 3.” Its 45 episodes were each 50 minutes long (without commercials), and John Drake’s voiceover narration, present in the first series, was eliminated. Another popular television series of the era made a similar format change: the 30-minute Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955–1962) became The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962–1965).

The 2-year hiatus and accompanying changes did not hurt the show, which had had an assured, mature feel from episode one. From beginning to end it remained a highly unified, seamless series that remains great fun to watch.

Throughout the series Drake’s character occasionally identifies himself as Irish (which McGoohan actually was), despite his Anglo-Saxon surname, appearance, mannerisms, and identification in one episode, “Parallel Lines Sometimes Meet” (1965) (about an attempt to steal the atomic bomb for black Africa), with Drake’s Drum, an icon of English folklore that has mythical overtones: If England is ever threatened, someone is to beat the drum, and Sir Francis Drake will return to defend the land.

After the last black and white episode, “Not So Jolly Roger,” aired in 1966, there was another 2-year hiatus before the appearance of the final two episodes, “Koroshi” and “Shinda Shima,” which received limited release in January 1968. In fact, in the US and some parts of the UK they were not seen until their release on DVD decades later — further contributing to the confusion in people’s minds about the series.

These were the only entries to be shot in color, and were intended to transition the show to color production. Set in Japan, they are about a secret society devoted to the ancient Japanese “art of murder.” For some unexplained reason the secret brotherhood consisted almost entirely of white Europeans living in the Far East.

Then, abruptly, Danger Man was cancelled to make way for the production and broadcast of the star’s new series, The Prisoner. Like Danger Man, The Prisoner was made under the auspices of Lew Grade’s ITC, but with McGoohan as executive producer. As a consequence, “Koroshi” and “Shinda Shima” did not air in the UK until early 1968, when they were broadcast in some areas of the country as fill-ins for The Prisoner, which had fallen behind schedule.

In addition, ITC combined “Koroshi” and “Shinda Shima” with new linking shots and released the unified production as the European feature film Koroshi (1968), which made no reference to Danger Man.

It is often pointed out that McGoohan desired his hero not to use a gun, and this was usually the case. In an interview he stated: “I hardly ever use a gun in the series and any violence is as restrained as possible. I wanted Drake to be in the heroic mold — like a classic Western — which meant he had to be a good man.” Drake is a good man, a hero, which is his appeal. Nevertheless, as one fan humorously noted,

I have to wonder what “restrained violence” actually means, given that in “Koroshi/Shinda Shima” alone, there are deaths by poisonous gas, explosions, shooting with bow and arrows, booby-trapped cars, drowning and stabbing in the back. The hand-to-hand fighting includes every punch, jab and karate-chop you can think of, plus a good deal of kicking in the face, stomach and lumbar regions and not forgetting that good old standby, hurling your opponent through a closed window. Well, thank goodness the violence was restrained, I’d hate to think what mayhem might have ensued if they’d really got nasty!

In fact, one glaring feature of the vigorous fist and hand-to-hand fights that occurred in virtually every episode (the star, who was reportedly a boxer early in life, insisted each new fight be uniquely choreographed so that they would not look repetitive), is how Drake is able to dispose of his formidable foes, often several at one time, with a supposed knock-out punch or by hurling them through the air, after which they conveniently lie motionless, obviating any need for bullets. This detracts from realism, but not the sense of fun.

Ideological Tilt

Ideologically, Danger Man is reasonably conservative. A preponderance of the shows feature Drake battling Communist, East bloc foes. In “The Sanctuary” (1960) he foils the IRA. “The Contessa” (1961) has an anti-cocaine theme. One of the top entries in the series, “A Man to be Trusted” (1964), features a black racist (anti-white)/Communist villain who is also the leader of a sinister West Indian voodoo cult. This episode also has one of the most flamboyant allies Drake ever worked with. If you look closely at the books behind Drake’s head in “Someone is Liable to Get Hurt” (1966), you’ll see English ecologist John Seymour’s autobiography On My Own Terms (1963).

Drake’s miniature tape recorder concealed in the head of an electric shaver
Drake’s miniature tape recorder concealed in the head of an electric shaver

Other entries, though, have Drake assisting “democratic” (implicitly, Left-wing) non-white revolutionaries in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere. One of the weakest episodes in the series, “Two Birds with One Bullet” (1966), is of this type. It was written by Jesse Lasky, Jr. and his wife Pat Silver. Lasky was the son of the powerful Jewish producer who co-founded Paramount Pictures.

“Fish on the Hook” (1964) has as its villain an evil Arab leader and its surprise “heroine” his wife, a sleeper agent for the Israeli terrorist group Haganah, who works independently with British intelligence whenever it suits Jewish interests. Viewers are expected to admire her for sexually cozying up to her future husband years earlier when he was a college professor and she was his pupil, anticipating that she would eventually be able to weasel her way into the inner circles of power in the hapless Arab country. (No, the writers and producers were not being slyly ironic.)

Another Judeo-centric entry is “Judgement Day” (1965), in which a Jewish death squad, one of whose members is a beautiful woman, sanctimoniously “tries” and executes a hunted German scientist accused of conducting medical experiments in the camps. It is ultimately philo-Semitic, though Drake initially offers weak resistance to the group’s vigilantism.

“Such Men Are Dangerous” (1965) has Drake and the British government battling a sinister group of wealthy right-wingers known as “The Order,” whose members Drake contemptuously describes as “bigoted” men with “dangerous ideas” and “too much money.” The young wife of the leader, who the General has rescued from the Glasgow slums, is played by lovely actress Georgina Ward, a real-life English aristocrat. This was one of many episodes written by series creator Ralph Smart.

“Whatever Happened to George Foster?” (1965) is anti-capitalist.

Rarely, though, is ideological axe-grinding so intrusive as to interfere with the enjoyment of the story. One exceptional entry, again written by series creator Ralph Smart, is “No Marks for Servility” (1964), in which Drake, undercover, must play the part of an impeccable, restrained manservant to a wealthy, frightening, psychologically bullying thug superbly portrayed by Howard Marion Crawford.

John Drake never romanced or kissed any women, as McGoohan was determined to create a family-friendly show. The actor denounced the sexual promiscuity of James Bond and The Saint, roles he was reportedly offered but turned down. Rather than simple Catholic prudery, as is usually implied, his unusual attitude may have reflected an instinctive sense that the delicate human reproductive boundary comprised of sex, marriage, childbearing, and family, is too important to be radically altered by a small band of culture mulchers in control of an overly-centralized and powerful mass medium that daily enters millions of homes worldwide.

Patrick McGoohan was married once, for 58 years, until his death in 2009. He and his wife had three daughters, one of whom, actress Catherine McGoohan, apparently married a Jew.

Danger Man & The Prisoner

The cult TV show The Prisoner (UK, ITV, 1967–1968) was, of course, Patrick McGoohan’s most famous work. He created the series, starred as the unnamed prisoner Number Six, wrote three episodes, and directed two. The highly allegorical program was comprised of 17 50-minute episodes, each self-contained but carrying the overall story forward. It was intentionally designed by McGoohan to last for just a short run.

McGoohan plays a resigned spy similar to John Drake, who is kidnapped, presumably by the government, and held prisoner in what appears to be a resort community called the Village run by a totalitarian administration. He attempts both to escape and bring down the administration, while the mysterious powers-that-be, in turn, are determined to extract “information” from him.

Danger Man and The Prisoner overlap to a certain degree.

At least 56 ITC actors and actresses apart from McGoohan appeared in both Danger Man and The Prisoner. Portmeirion, North Wales, the setting used in the The Prisoner, was originally used for location shooting and second unit footage in six episodes of the first Danger Man series. Indeed, “View from the Villa” (1960), the very first episode of Danger Man, though set fictionally in Italy, was shot on location at Portmeirion.

There is some dispute over the role played by German-born Jew George Markstein in the creation of The Prisoner. He is often described as the series’ co-creator. I think McGoohan’s role was certainly primary and Markstein’s secondary.

Markstein had served as the story editor for the last two episodes of Danger Man. (He had had no involvement with the series prior to that.) During that period, when Danger Man was winding down and McGoohan was developing The Prisoner, Markstein suggested that John Drake suddenly resign and be kidnapped and sent to a resort-like prison modeled loosely on Inverlair Lodge near Inverness, Scotland. McGoohan added Markstein’s suggestion to his own material.

One of the half-hour episodes of Danger Man was titled “The Prisoner” (1960). Far more telling are two episodes that unquestionably anticipate the subsequent series.

The first is “Colony Three” (1964). British intelligence learns that English Communists are disappearing to the East. To find out what is happening, Drake is substituted for a man about to defect. He is taken with a group of English Communists far behind the Iron Curtain to an eerie, picture-perfect replica of an English village called Hamden New Town. There, Russians who learn perfect English are taught to dress, act, and live exactly like Englishmen before being infiltrated into the country with fake IDs to blend into the local populace as long-term sleeper agents. (This seems very similar to the way Jews, consciously or unconsciously, infiltrate and take over Gentile societies.)

The genuine Brits, once having learned of the existence of Colony Three, will never be permitted to leave, though they do not know this beforehand. This premise is alluded to a couple of other times in the series, including in one of the two episodes personally directed by McGoohan, “To Our Best Friend” (1965), in which it is again explicitly referred to as “Colony Three.” (The other McGoohan-directed episode is “Vacation” [1961].)

For then-and-now photos of South Hatfield, the real English town used in exterior location shots to represent Hamden New Town, see here.

The other anticipatory episode is “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” (1965). It is the only Danger Man episode that, like The Prisoner, is completely surreal — until the end, for Danger Man always ultimately makes sense. A disappointed contemporary viewer wrote to TV Times magazine: “I must say that I’ve never seen a programme so jumbled and difficult to follow in my life. This episode is far below the standard I normally expect.” My own note on the program read: “Didn’t like as much.” So I guess I agreed!

The door on the apartment here reads “#6”, and Drake owns a paperback copy of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel From Russia, with Love, which he removes from the shelf and flips through. Desmond Llewellyn, “Q” from the James Bond films, plays the casino door man. Viewers of Danger Man will notice many familiar faces from the early Bond films. Danger Man’s film editor, John Glen, later directed five James Bond movies, more than any other director to date.

George Markstein served as story editor for the first 13 episodes of The Prisoner, an influential position in any television series, co-wrote the first episode, and made a fleeting appearance in the opening credits of virtually every show as the balding, bespectacled “man behind the desk” to whom McGoohan angrily tenders his resignation. Markstein played the same non-speaking role in the episode “Many Happy Returns.”

Markstein’s view of The Prisoner was for a more-or-less conventional action/espionage story. However, because McGoohan, whose vision was radically different, controlled the series as Executive Producer and owner of Everyman Films, Markstein became increasingly dissatisfied and ultimately left the program. McGoohan and Markstein ended up with tremendous bad blood between them. Anyone interested in The Prisoner should read the online transcript of a television interview Markstein gave in 1984. He is very iconoclastic and perceptive, and by no means devoid of humor:

My feeling is that McGoohan wasn’t really very keen on doing any other series [after Danger Man]. What he really wanted to do I think was to play Brand. He’d had an enormous success some years previously on the stage with Ibsen’s “Brand” and Brand personifies everything I think McGoohan would like to be: God! He was very good as God, so he wanted to play Brand . . . again. He was very very keen to set up “Brand” as a film and I think that was really what he wanted to do.

I agree with many of Markstein’s observations, but not with his key notion of what the “deep” meaning of The Prisoner was: that “we’re all prisoners” in the sense he suggests, which is merely trite. The exploration of totalitarian themes that Markstein disparages is in fact the point of the series.

Nevertheless, Markstein was doubtless a steadying influence on McGoohan, keeping the allegorical series grounded. It is extremely easy for an experimental program like that to float off into space, buoyed by its own gas. It was after Markstein’s departure that McGoohan took the series to its most surreal levels in the final four episodes, including the bizarre and unsatisfying finale, “Fall Out.” Markstein contemptuously referred to later episodes as “the rubbish that happened later on.”

Also disputed is whether Number 6 is really John Drake of Danger Man. If the producers had explicitly used the Drake character they would have had to pay series creator Ralph Smart royalties, which they were loath to do. Given the different objectives of the two series, there is a sense in which Number Six clearly is not John Drake. On the other hand, it is not credible to suggest that there is no relationship whatsoever. At the very least Number Six is a Drake Doppelgänger. Indeed, as far as Danger Man and Prisoner story editor George Markstein was concerned, Number Six was John Drake. He said so explicitly.

Jane Merrow (real name Meirowsky, the daughter of a Jewish father and English mother), an actress who played a cute, dedicated Communist in two Danger Man episodes, assessed The Prisoner on her blog in 2009 as “a completely mystical series” that was “to a large extent incomprehensible.” “Patrick never fully explained the series and left it to so many ‘intellectuals’ to explain it. But they never did.”

Insofar as Danger Man is concerned, McGoohan was pleased with the result. During its run he told an interviewer:

I enjoy playing the role, though when it was put to me I was a little worried about doing it. It is very difficult on a TV series to maintain a high standard of production. But I’m sure we have done so. Teamwork is so obviously important in a series, and we do have a marvelous team. The scripts are of a very high standard. I think the impression we give is that we enjoy ourselves. Well, we do! Each story is filmed in fourteen days. The pressures are great, but we’ve survived!

And two months before his death in January 2009 he summed up his feelings in a letter to a fan: “In old age (80), there are many happy memories of those years with a wonderful crew working together on a series that turned out quite well.”

* * *

Source: Author and Counter-Currents

Previous post

The Torch Bearers

Next post

Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner

Notify of
Inline Feedback
View all comments