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Patrick McGoohan | Ralph Smart | Brendan J. Stafford | Don Chaffey | Donald Jonson




§§ Danger Man (later, in the USA, Secret Agent)... two steps from Enid Blyton, one step from Dick Barton, Special Agent? Certainly the pedigree of the first 39 half-hour episodes has the raw semi-tone simplicity of a comic book thriller, embedded in the inter-war UK pulp fiction culture of writers such as Sapper McNeile, John Buchan, Leslie Charteris, Eric Ambler, Helen McInnes, Edgar Wallace... later, Ian Fleming and Graham Greene, so that you might be thinking it's pop-culture rubbish.

The character of John Drake owes a lot to Sapper's Bulldog Drummond -- a pared-down modernist version, hi-tech, moral, subtle... a Cold War version but a Drummond version nonetheless. In The English Lady Takes Lodgers (Series 3, 1965) agent John Drake (Patrick McGoohan) is posing as a penniless novelist in Portugal, when Commander Collinson (Howard Marion-Crawford) -- a criminal who is selling secret weapons technology -- asks him what sort of fiction he writes. Drake is modestly evasive. "I prefer Bulldog Drummond myself," says Collinson, in an amusing sub-textural dig at the character of his adversary.

The early episodes (1960-2) often have a back lot B movie look about them, with certain actors and props rotating through the stories like a travelling theatre troupe. The same 1956 Desoto... the same 1960 Thunderbird... the same German MP 40 sub-machine gun... the same pistol, the same helicopter, the same sandpit and the same old gray sky.

"The eternal quest for melodrama and romance"

If the hunter once rode a horse, in the 20th Century he drives a fast, nimble car. Drummond drives a M.G. sports, and John Drake drives a stable of models, starting with an Aston Martin in the series pilot, View From A Villa... later you see him in an Austin Healy, a Mercedes 190 SL (in his NATO guise), a MGA. and a Mini Cooper (in his "World Travel" London days)... and in The Prisoner, a Lotus 7.

Despite the rough drama of the early episodes, their budget exoticism is enhanced by a number of familiar actors early in their careers. Honor Blackman (James Bond, The Avengers) as Joan Bernard in Colonel Rodriguez (1960); Jackie Collins (Hollywood novelist, sister of Joan) as Lucia in The Contessa (1961); Robert Shaw (James Bond, A Man For All Seasons) as Tony Costello in Bury The Dead (1961); Howard Marion-Crawford (Fu Manchu, Lawrence of Arabia) as Archer in Yesterday's Enemies... Lois Maxwell (James Bond), Charles Gray (James Bond), Donald Pleasance (James Bond, The Night of the Generals), Peter Arne (The Pink Panther), Bill Nagy (Coronation Street, James Bond), Bernard Lee (James Bond, The Third Man), Yvonne Furneaux (La Dolce Vita, Repulsion)... and on and on. Fifty years later, there's a pleasant sense of deja vu when watching Danger Man.

Danger Man follows the conventions of live stage drama closely, favoring interior locations and dialogue-driven action. For example, while the later offshoot series The Prisoner adopted Theatre of the Absurd, Danger Man's absurdism/expressionism is muted by social realism, where the characters are often driven by class anxiety as much as Cold War ideology. The spy gadgets and femme fatales often distract you from the sociology, the post-colonial rapprochement and the new liberalism. Treason has become a crime of class revolt, legitimate for some, easy cash for others. While the class argument is never as full-blooded as in Look Back In Anger, it is often present in the clash between characters and countries. If George Orwell had been a secret agent, he would've been John Drake.

Danger Man: McGoohan as butler

§ One superb example is "No Marks For Servility" where Drake goes undercover as an English butler in a Roman villa rented by the sociopathic Balkan villain Grigori Benares (Howard Marion-Crawford). Benares is essentially a high-level swindler and misogynist, and unfortunately his manipulative charm has allowed him to bag a pretty young English wife. While his international graft is serious enough for M 9 to send in Drake to thwart his latest scam, all this becomes secondary to the clash between Benares and Drake, between master and servant, and the fate of Helen (Suzan Farmer).

Danger Man: No Marks For Servility

"Let's see what I'm paying $1500 a month for"

Benares obtains a short-term lease on a Roman villa from Sir Charles Fielding, a collector of antiquities who happens to be a friend of M (Peter Madden), Drake's boss. M decides to insert Drake into the Benares household as a butler to spy on Benares and if possible thwart his criminal activities. Drake has an immediate empathic relationship with the pretty but insecure Helen Benares, which does not go unnoticed by her domineering husband, who is always in a high state of alert... quite possibly because, like Drake, he too is an imposter. As M says, "Benares, nationality unknown... he carries many passports... a vulgarian who likes to display his wealth."

When Benares arrives at the villa and finds only Drake the butler there to greet him, he says to his naive wife, "I would've liked all the servants here to greet you." When she demurs, he says, "It's a civilized custom, honey." He turns to Drake, says, "Perhaps you haven't come across it, Drake."

Drake: Oh yes I have, sir -- in the cinema.
Benares: (stiffens) What exactly do you mean by that --
Drake: Forgive me, sir. I didn't wish to be facetious.
Benares: I'm glad to hear that, Drake. I'm the one who makes the cracks around here and you're the one who laughs.

Joe Orton? Not quite, although the menace and farce unfold in a similar manner. Benares left Athens in a hurry -- interrupting his honeymoon -- because he'd driven a compromised local politician to suicide. Predators have no conscience.

His character is brilliantly portrayed by Howard Marion-Crawford, an effortless UK actor well-known in the 30s, 40s and 50s for his radio drama work (he played Watson in Sherlock Holmes), and to a lesser extent as Dr. Petrie in the Fu Manchu films. Of passing interest is that one of his ancestors, the American sculptor Thomas Gibson Crawford, moved to Rome in 1830 where he lived and worked for a number of years in The Villa Negroni, which might have given Ralph Smart, the DD series creator and writer for No Marks For Servility, the idea for his Renaissance noir setting. Marion-Crawford was also a friend of Winston Churchill, and indeed they have similar intonations. There's a sense, too, that Benares might've understudied an American gangster. As a cunning bully, his characterization of Benares is a perfect foil for McGoohan's John Drake, and a true test of the agent's pragmatic self-discipline. When Drake hears Benares slapping his young wife around, he's only stopped from intervening (and blowing his cover) by the sound of the doorbell.

When the British financier Armstrong (Mervyn Johns) arrives with his pretty daughter Judy (Francesca Annis), the class-barrier once again dissolves as Judy, attracted to Drake, decides he's too hip to be a butler. It's as if she senses the masquerade, or recognizes the redundancy of the entire social convention. So now Drake has two women to protect, and protect them he does. After 40 or 50 or so episodes of Danger Man, you might be immune to the humour of his spy gadgets and techno subterfuges, yet is there anything as funny as Drake the stately butler descending into the wine cellar where he pours himself a tall glass of Primitivo red, lights a cigar, settles down in an armchair to watch and listen to Benares pitch his scam to Armstrong after dinner on the patio... or the two young women discussing whatever, all this over a retro CCTV unit of 4 monitors installed in a wine barrel? For the times, it was science fiction, yet credible and possible. Drake's unflappable manner becomes the epitome of cool. He is still in the thrall of the secret agent life-style, has not reached the Orwellian black hole that surveillance and counter-surveillance becomes in The Prisoner.

The Film Noir aspects of this episode become really apparent when Drake spots Benares using a semaphore lamp to signal to someone in an abandoned property several blocks away. Using a local street map and some basic triangulation, Drake determines the locale. The action is all moonlight and shadows. Drake scales the wall, drops into the ruined garden, gains entrance to the house, wearing his butler's black bowler hat and packing an umbrella (surely a model for Patrick McN in The Avengers). An owl cries. Like a well-dressed truant looking for someplace to kip, he cases the joint, moving stealthily through the noir geometrics. An unattended pot of soup simmers... an empty gun holster hangs from a peg... the stairs ascend into darkness... a dimly lit corridor, a sinister door... the house hangs in the void like a monument to cubism.

The chiaroscuro cine is superb. A lot of TV drama was shot in Super 16, but for Danger Man/Secret Agent it was all 35 mm (4:3 ratio) under the excellent direction of Brendan J. Stafford. In the 60s, watching this on a 21 inch vacuum tube television simply didn't reveal the true beauty of the cinematography, the monochromatic artistry that lies within every frame. Looking at Danger Man today on a 40+ LCD or plasma screen is like exchanging a postcard for the real thing.

Why is Drake here? When Armstrong rejected Benares' bribe of an easy stake in a Circassian coast real-estate development as a quid pro quo for an easy foreign aid loan, Benares reacted to this righteous snub by kidnapping Judy, Armstrong's nubile daughter, holding her captive, bound and gagged to a chair in this moldering den of shadows. The rescue is no problem for Drake -- he has done it before, will do it again. The two thugs are easily tricked, despite the fact they are armed. As usual, the fight choreography has the athletic simplicity of a circus routine, reinforces the anglican view that guns are seldom required for law enforcement. Patrick McGoohan had a Jesuit's insistence that guns rarely needed to be used, as if he feared television violence would imprint the next generation. In fact, "No Marks For Servility" is one of the few episodes in which he actually fires a shot, yet when he does, it's just a warning.

Strong characters, great dialogue, outstanding sets and art design, interesting story... No Marks For Servility was written by Ralph Smart -- the series creator and executive producer -- and directed by the accomplished Don Chaffey (who, in a later life, directed -- to his everlasting credit -- Raquel Welch in "One Million Years B.C.").

Dick Barton radio drama

Danger Man: Bulldog Drummond

Danger Man: A&E Complete Series

Danger Man: Howard Marion-Crawford

Danger Man: No Marks For Servility

Danger Man

Danger Man: Not So Jolly Roger

Danger Man modern gothic

Don Chaffey directed a few of the better DD episodes, including The Not-So-Jolly Roger, about a den of spies sending coded messages from a pirate radio station in the North Sea. As a set, the old off-shore WW II forts that house the station allow some excellent photographic imagery. Anchored on stilts and connected by suspended gangways, the minimalism of the architecture -- geometrics in modern gothic against a blended horizon of sea and sky -- is reinforced by the black and white cine. Much of the action takes place during a storm, and the cast of villains operate as an ensemble, complete with a fake drunken buffoon (Corrigan), a hulking goon (Mullins), a predatory wife, and a sexy DJ called Suzy. Drake pretends to be a DJ, replacing a dead jockey called Andy, who was shot because he'd tumbled the Blue Danube code. Better music would've helped, although the style fits the Swinging Sixties period and most likely the ITC Danger Man budget. You can easily imagine the power this episode would have if the sound track was refurbished with some A-list UK rock from the likes of The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Stones, Cream, etc.

Episode 1 of The Prisoner was directed by Don Chaffey, so his imprint on the style of this cult series is significant. Chaffey went on to direct four Mission Impossible episodes (a series that clearly owes a debt to DD), some Avengers, some Charlie's Angels, some B movies.

Danger Man: Not So Jolly Roger

In the Danger Man series, there's often a Somerset Maugham feel to many of the settings and characters, although the context is post-colonial. It's a Cold War world, a shrinking world -- Drake is often jetting to Bagdad or Beruit or Prague... Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain... Hong Kong, Tokyo... the Caribbean, Central America, Africa. He's like Graham Greene, slightly to the Left, a loyal loner, pedigree vague. You suspect his lineage is British SAS even though he now wears a jacket and tie. His diction is staccato, clipped and iambic as if trained in officer military speak. In the acting world, you might think of Burt Lancaster.

Modern English is a military-industrial diction as much as it is an aspirational upper-class nuance. Rhetoric disappears in favor of brevity, stacked syllables barked out in a drill yard or sketched out in a short-hand memo. Patrick McGoohan's John Drake is a master of brevity, the punchy iambic (where subjects disappear in favor of the predicated object). In close he might be a gentleman in a gentleman's suit, but in silhouette he's pure military. His adversaries are usually more obvious (as fascist enforcers are) even when masquerading as legitimate business men like Grigori Benares. Benares has rhetoric, but his arrogance is fuelled by sadism, so he longs to dominate, even when it would be in his best interest to be more subtle. While justice is served in the end when he's led away by the Roman police, you do (perhaps) long for a deeper humiliation with a truly ironic twist. But in Danger Man -- as in the post-modern world -- judgement is often left to the legal lottery of the faceless State.

Not all the damsels in distress are women -- it can be a trapped diplomat in a foreign embassy, a journalist falsely imprisoned for spying, abducted scientists or even a compromised British accountant working for a middle-eastern druglord as in the early 30 minute episode, "A Position of Trust". While inserted ostensibly to subvert the flow of raw opium, Drake is soon working on the rehabilitation of Captain Aldrich (Donald Pleasance) who works in "the Ministry of Health", which has become a conduit for the illegal trade. The locale could be Pakistan, and Mr. Big is in fact the Minister. Pleasance's portrayal of a colonial Englishman laid low by snobbery and cultural isolation is excellent. "More British than the British -- Anglo-Indian," says Sandi Lewis, a statuesque US operative. Manipulated by his employer and then by Drake, he nevertheless redeems himself by "doing the right thing", turns over a list of names associated with the drug trade. Lois Maxwell plays Sandi Lewis as a cool 440Hz flirt in much the same way she does later as Miss Moneypenny in James Bond. Pleasance as Captain Aldrich is excellent, and the depth of his character is remarkable for the few scenes he's in. Thanks to Drake, he's not thrown to the wolves, and his self-esteem is restored, and he can continue to wear his old Southminster school tie with pride.

Danger Man with Donald Pleasance

As has been well-documented, gays were often compromised for intelligence purposes during the Cold War. In "Don't Nail Him Yet" Drake masquerades as a lonely school teacher to trap an Admiralty clerk called Rawson (John Fraser) who has been selling submarine technology secrets via micro-dot film reduction. Here Drake mirrors his victim's enthusiasms -- soccer, records, music -- in yet another virtuoso double-role performance. Although left ambiguous, homosexuality is suggested through the loneliness of the characters, art, books, poetry... and the fake Canadian book dealer, Dian (Sheila Allen), whose masculine charm includes a secret radio transmitter and a pilot's license. When Drake confronts her and Rawson in an upstairs room at Eglington Rare Books, Rawson laughs bitterly at the idea that they might be lovers. When Dian angrily asks if he is a policeman, Drake replies, "I could never be a policeman... too many rules and regulations... I'm like you... I work outside the law."

Dian attempts to escape back to the east bloc (with Glasgow as a fake flight plan destination) in a De Havilland DH 104 Dove, abducting an unwilling Rawson and Drake at gun point. As usual, Danger Man thwarts the plan. Using the plane's fire extinguisher as a weapon, he escapes as the takeoff begins, then uses the spies' abandoned Zephyr 4 to block the runway. Dian, at the controls, screams as the plane collides with the car, explodes, and we're left with the latent satisfaction that butch Marxist traitors burn in hell, no matter how sensitive to micro dot poetry they might be. Written by Philip Broadley, directed by Michael Truman.

Blueprint for The Prisoner

"Once people enter Colony Three, they cease to exist" (Colony Three, writ. Donald Jonson, dir. Don Chaffey)

Fuller -- glasses, hat, raincoat -- exits a London terrace house, boards a double-decker bus, which is followed by secret agent John Drake (Patrick McGoohan) in his Mini. Fuller eventually gets off the bus, enters a building with a door plaque reading Citizen's Advice Bureau. In a room, he starts packing a black duffle bag; perhaps we notice his reading for the journey, a book called "The Theory of the Neutron Ray" by Boris Turgenev, a modest clue that perhaps he's heading for the Soviet bloc [Boris Turgenev was a Marvel comics Soviet super-villain who wore the Crimson Dynamo exoskeleton body armour for his fights with Iron Man]. Drake enters, surprises Fuller, says, "My Principals want to have a word with you before you leave, Mr. Fuller."

Cut To: Drake and his boss M watching a sweating, dishevelled Fuller, over a TV monitor in M's office. Fuller is denying that's he done anything wrong, reiterates his itinerary. M shuts off the monitor, tells Drake that over 400 UK citizens have disappeared "over there" since the war... why? "We're switching the records on Robert Fuller -- you're going out there to take his place."

So Drake becomes Fuller -- raincoat, glasses, doctored passport and resume. Drake takes a Comet 4C airliner from London to an unnamed location (perhaps Prague) behind the Iron Curtain. Drake/Fuller is met and hustled into a black van, which takes him to the loading dock of a bland railway station. Armed unfriendly soldiers check his credentials, and he is escorted quickly to the train. Drake -- inhabiting the Fuller persona -- blusters about his treatment, says, "This isn't what I was led to expect in London." The official replies, "Mr. Fuller, you are here to work for us and you must accept that there is a good reason for what we do."

Indeed. While it's no Nazi death train, Drake quickly discovers that the carriage windows have been blacked out and sealed, and that his fellow passengers have no idea where they are going. The totalitarian denial of freedom has been established. He shares a compartment with a chippy Australian communist called Randall, and a young female librarian called Janet Wells. As the train gets underway, Drake does a crossword and Randall does most of the talking. "They want me to work with a combat school... well, I was with the Special Brigade in Spain... I'm an electrician, well, really an engineer." Etc. You quickly get the idea that he didn't get the respect he felt he deserved in London. He speaks some Russian, is optimistic about the future. Drake nods towards the sleeping girl. "Her?" says Randall. "I think she made a mistake."

It turns out that Janet is looking for a boyfriend called Alan Bayliss, who used to work in the same library. When his letters stopped coming, she decided to follow. "I'm rather fond of Alan," she tells Drake [who, as per all Danger Man episodes, is always sympathetic to a damsel in distress, even if he never takes advantage].

The train arrives at a bleak wasteland, an east bloc prairie in pre-winter. As they disembark, a London double-decker bus approaches [similar to the one Fuller takes in the opening scene]. To everyone's surprise, the route sign says, "Hamden, New Town, 12." They board Number 12, and Randall tries to engage the driver, find out where they are going. He uses Russian, but the driver ignores him. Quickly they arrive in Hamden, New Town, and as they get off, Randall says, "We seem to be right back where we started."

The true absurdity of the situation is later reinforced by a brief appearance of a London bobby, none other than Constable George Dixon from another popular UK TV drama series of the mid sixties, Dixon of Dock Green. While it's just a moment, and to some extent an in-joke, this clever detail nonetheless helps reinforce the madness of the social paradigm that is Colony Three.

Their handler appears, says, "Welcome to Hamden. My name's Richardson. I do hope you had a comfortable journey." Richardson (Peter Arne) has the smooth manner of a born PR hack, yet with a hint of menace, a man with a hidden switch that can render him as an instant psychopath. When asked about the impossibility of this being an English village, he goes straight to the metaphysical nub of the situation: "Geography is a matter of physical illusion... lines on a map, words on a signpost." He clinches with: "Mr. Donovan says all countries are countries of the mind." This might be some hip Zen-think or self-serving Marxist propaganda, yet the facts are soon clear: Hamden New Town is a culture-simulator, a staged society for programming Soviet agents in "Englishness".

Incredible? This brilliant 1964 Danger Man script by Donald Jonson owes its genesis to the Cold War notion that Potemkin Spy Villages existed in the Soviet Union for training agents to infiltrate British and American institutions. Whether urban myth or Cold War fact, these life-style immersion locations took their name from Prince Grigory Alexander Potemkin (1739-1791), the favorite minister of Catherine the Great. He created a number of new towns and villages in the southern steppe regions and the Crimea, not all of which were entirely real. Painted facades were used to simulate real villages, perhaps to intimidate the ungovernable Cossacks or impress Catherine on her tour.

For those who know the cult McGoohan series that followed Danger Man/Secret Agent in the fall of 1967, the similarities between Colony Three and The Prisoner will be obvious. Patrick McGoohan has said that his idea for The Prisoner came primarily from its Port Mereirion (Wales) setting, as four or five Danger Man episodes were filmed there, starting with the pilot, View From the Villa. Villa is set in Rome, yet the Port Mereirion locales look legitimate enough, especially as most of the action is interior. The plasticity of the architecture -- which McGoohan described as looking like a holiday resort -- was a convenient passport to the surrealism that The Prisoner's raison d'etre required. Colony Three wasn't a Port Mereirion location, yet its closed-system world is the prototype for the Kafkaesque no-exit asylum that is The Prisoner. Colony Three is real, The Prisoner is surreal, yet both function as a metaphor for all that is incomprehensible about life in much the same way as Samuel Beckett's famous stage play Waiting For Godot does.

the season is winter

It should be noted that Don Chaffey, who directed Colony Three, also directed the first episode of The Prisoner. Don Chaffey also directed Such Men Are Dangerous (writ. Ralph Smart, DD series Producer), which also has some narrative similarities to The Prisoner, and especially to Colony Three. Here Drake masquerades as a con in Wormwood Scrubs, and when released, infiltrates a political assassination squad run by a rogue general from a gated estate somewhere outside London. Again, Drake gets there by train; again, the season is winter as if the Cold War is stuck permanently in one psychological season. Again, as in Colony Three, one of the inductees tries to escape after becoming paranoid about what is being asked of him i.e. be part of an illegal hit-squad to kill undesirable foreign heads-of-state. Drake is sent by "the General" to kill the defector -- Taylor, his roommate at the estate -- but through his usual secret agent modus is able to save Taylor and spoil the nefarious plans of Major Latour (Lee Montague) and the General (Jack Gwilliam). The General's pretty wife gads about the estate in a jeep, and always seems to intersect with Drake whenever he's dodging through the rhodos sending messages to M or spying on The Order. As usual, Drake's crafty charm keeps him one step ahead. As is often the case in Danger Man, the action is coolly satiric (the country estate, the duck hunting, the class system).

The acting in Colony Three is excellent, especially that of Peter Arne as Richardson (the prototype for "Number 2"). As his character is by training an act, the ambiguity of his actions are a perfect foil for those of Drake masquerading as "Fuller". The scene where he invites an overly curious Drake to sit in an interrogation chair, then tortures him with electric shocks (by way of a demonstration) is very good. He extracts a confession, yet the agile Drake is able to hold character, throw the confession into doubt. When he eventually tries to kill Drake to prevent his return to Section 1, but dies in the attempt, you have no sympathy... and of course it will come as no surprise that in real life Peter Arne -- who played villains in many TV dramas and feature films, including The Pink Panther -- was bludgeoned to death in his London flat in 1983 just like Joe Orton. His personal story is not a pretty one, yet he was a very good actor.

The character of Randall, the electrician, played by Owen Glyn is a morality tale onto itself. He doesn't like Fuller aka Drake, and eventually betrays him, although this can be excused as he thought he had no choice. He mistakenly thinks Fuller/Drake is a sycophant, cozying up to Donovan, the director of the village, and his capo Richardson, and an unfeeling swine when it concerns Janet Wells and her fiance, Bayliss, the man who died trying to escape Colony Three. However, the village is a big disappointment for him. His ideological arrogance is such that he thinks he can do what Bayliss couldn't, that is, successfully escape. When he finds a couple of English aristocrats who recently defected from the UK still living and acting as aristocrats, his pure socialist principles are absolutely compromised, and he has to escape. Janet knows and approves of his plan. "He speaks the language -- he stands a better chance," she tells Drake. Drake goes after Randall, catches up to him in a sandpit. They argue, they fight... and of course Danger Man wins any such fights. A helicopter patrol spots them, and both men are returned to the village. Randall denounces Fuller/Drake, Drake denounces Randall. "He's mad," says Fuller/Drake. Donovan, the Director, nods, says, "Certain English socialists are...." One is reminded of the paranoid hopeless of The Prisoner, the interrogations, the surveillance, the futile attempts at escape... Number 6 (McGoohan) being hunted and defeated by a meteorological balloon on a flat beach, measured by infinity as in a dream.

Virtually all of the Danger Man/Secret Agent dramas have no epilogue scene at the end, no summing up, no blanks filled. The action invariably ends on the climax, with Drake escaping towards home. Wrong Number by Ralph Smart would be a good example of mission accomplished, no explanation needed. A car, a boat, a plane... swimming with a beautiful woman, as in the atmospheric The English Lady Takes Boarders. Not so Colony Three. Successfully repatriated back to "Section 1", then to London, Drake confers with his boss M, asks if anything can be done for Janet Wells. "We've never even heard of her," says M. Indeed. "Once people enter Colony Three, they cease to exist."

Readers of British fiction from the 1960's will no doubt notice the similarities of Colony Three to some of the short stories by JG Ballard, as if Ballard and script writer Donald Jonson were drinking from the same well. Ballard's 1962 story The Watch Towers has an English village (or suburb) monitored by unseen watchers from concentration camp towers, yet the locals carry on oblivious to this fact as if it's just another day on Coronation Street. Surrealist stories such as Colony Three or The Watch Towers wherein spatiality is collapsed in favor of a global psychological landscape are an accurate bioptic of Cold War paranoia; you might live in England or America, but in your mind the Iron Curtain is just next door. "All countries are countries of the mind" --

Danger Man: Judgement Day

Jonson wrote several excellent Danger Man episodes, including The Outcast, which looks like a counter-espionage version of Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana... and Judgement Day, which anticipated today's more sober view of Israel's automatic right to justice. Here Drake goes to Jordan to save a German biochemist who did some experimental virus work for the Nazis using Jewish detainees as lab subjects. Drake intends to fly Garriga (Paul Deghy) to safety in Oman, but the small plane is hijacked by a beautiful Israeli-American called Jessica (Alexandra Stewart) who is posing as an archaeologist. When the plane crash-lands at an abandoned airstrip in the Sinai, Jessica is joined by three armed members of an Israeli Holocaust justice group. Before they can execute Garriga (who is pretending to be an innocent Spanish scientist), Drake demands that he be given a fair trial, and in a rough, quick court facsimile staged in some desert ruins, acts as Garriga's defence counsel. In a fit of self-righteous arrogance, Garriga admits his crimes (all for the higher good) but not before Drake exposes the fascist hypocrisy of execution without a fair trial. Nice visuals, good characters, and definitely going against the tide of western public opinion in 1966. And once again, directed by Don Chaffey.

The Outcast uses the exoticism of Gibralter and the Costa del Sol as its setting. Although it deals with espionage, it's essentially a study of character. A nice looking Wren officer involved in intelligence work is murdered and Drake flies in to investigate. The suspect is a navy cipher clerk called Leo Perrins (Bernard Bresslaw) who flees to the Costa del Sol, possibly Marbella or Torremolinos, finds a temporary sanctuary in the kitchen of a bar run by an Englishwoman and her teenage daughter. Drake poses as a tourist, observes the sordid love triangle involving the alcoholic Nora, the Lolitaesque Helen, and the Spanish waiter Xavier, a Latin opportunist of the most obvious sort. Meanwhile Drake befriends Leo, saves him from a Russian assassin, gains his confidence and a confession. Leo was part of a triangle himself, it seems. He was in love with the Wren, knew she was passing classified secrets to her lover, the guy in the Triumph sports car. She laughed at him, he lost it, he shot her. How Drake manipulates Leo into this confession is both credible and in the end, touching, because even though Drake deceives his new "friend" out of professional necessity, you know that he regrets the fact.

Again, as with many of the Danger Man/Secret Agent episodes, there's a stage feel to the action, which, rather than being a distraction, allows characterization to develop in real-time without cheating by montage.

Colony Three: Boris Turgenev

Danger Man: Colony Three

Danger Man: Colony Three

Colony Three

Danger Man: Peter Arne

Dangerman: Alexandra Stewart

Danger Man: Judgement Day

Danger Man

Sartre: Huis Clos (No Exit)

The Prisoner: "No Exit"

Despite Patrick McGoohan's denials, it's obvious that No. 6 in The Prisoner is John Drake... otherwise why repeat the same sort of Danger Man credits montage at the beginning of the first episode? The Danger Man series creator, producer and lead writer, Ralph Smart, had the copyright on the character "John Drake", so some sort of pretence had to be maintained in order for the producers of The Prisoner to proceed. The diction, the look, the attitude... these nuances show that McGoohan was still "in character" as he launched the new series. Danger Man's cool has snapped, and now he is condemned in perpetuity to a daily psycho-drama enacted in an Orwellian resort village.

In Jean-Paul Sartre's famous 1944 play "No Exit" a man is locked in a room with two women. They are all dead, and perhaps this room is an ante-chamber to hell. Occasionally they are visited by a valet, who is the son of the Head valet, therefore No. 2 in the scheme of things. McGoohan, who emerged from the Sheffield Repertory Theatre, would've been familiar with "No Exit", just as he would've been familiar with Beckett's "Waiting For Godot" or even Harold Pinter's derivative "The Caretaker", all symbolist dramas that set the intellectual standard for the dramatic arts.

And of course there was the seminal Danger Man episode "Colony Three" propelling the idea, whether McGoohan cared to admit it or not.

As McGoohan said in various interviews, his original concept for the series was for just seven episodes, but that Lew Grade the CEO of I.T.C. said that he couldn't market such a mini-series in the USA without more, so it ended up as seventeen. This was unfortunate, as the idea was diluted beyond its dramatic horizon, with many of the later episodes being mere game playing, repetitive without real tension... although, to be fair, a lot of absurdist theatre reduced human action to infantile game playing. Despite this, the series has a zany stylistic charm not unlike the 1965 Elio Petrie film The 10th Victim (La Decima Vittima). But the series was losing its narrative thread, falling further into parody and montage. Regarding the infamous Western (episode 14) "Living In Harmony" (which caused the series script editor George Markstein to quit), you wonder what -- if any -- influence it had on Michael Critcheon's 1973 seminal killer-robot western Westworld. As has been stated elsewhere and often, the influence of McGoohan's The Prisoner on TV and film drama was immense despite the fact that at the time its real audience was still in the future.

The 2009 US remake of The Prisoner is narrative by montage rather than episodic scene shifting in linear time. Eisenstein might dig it, not Aristotle. Claveizel's No. 6 spends a lot of his time reacting to his situation whereas McGoohan's 6 is nearly always setting the agenda. The metaphysics of the 2009 remake have been tailored to fit the post-911 American trauma, and has a parallel world version 1 Planet of the Apes feel. It has romance -- No. 6 gets to roll around with the English actresses Haley Atwell and Ruth Wilson -- and an uglier sense of violence, as if the American condition has been inserted into the original 1967 Village of quaint British cars and bicycles. The beach becomes a desert, and sink holes appear like magic in the empty lots. While the symbolism seems focused and effective, at times the narrative becomes a grim psychedelic soap opera, presenting a challenge to even the most hardened aficionados of the irrational. Why not, you say. Surely this was the purpose of McGoohan's 1967 original. Legend has it that the actor Leo McKern -- one of McGoohan's No. 2s -- had to be hospitalized after the stressful workout of his role, even though the action was a theatrical sendup. In the 09 version, Ian McKellen's No. 2 is cool, with the malignant benevolence of a grammar school principal who shares a smoke with the prefects as a devious act of good politics. In some ways the 09 remake is an improvement, but in others it's just American TV. The theme music -- at first mated beautifully with the landscape cine -- becomes an annoying distraction (you'll notice that the refrain sounds like Mark Knopfler's score for Local Hero).

the end

It's hardly to his credit, but Peter Yates -- famous as the director of Steve McQueen's Bullitt -- directed Shinda Shima, the ridiculous last episode of Danger Man/Secret Agent. You can suppose he was only following orders.

Patrick McGoohan: Koroshi

The last two episodes, written by Norman Hudris, were filmed in color and teamed into a feature for showing in theatres. The first of the two, Koroshi, had some potential. Set in Tokyo, with Drake investigating a murder cult (an ex-pat clique of mad Englishmen into "the poetry of death"), this episode is now remembered for its Kabuki version of Hamlet and the art props of Albert Witherick. The style of these Japanese episodes had clearly been infected by the pop fantasy burlesque of James Bond, so it's no surprise that Patrick McGoohan wanted to go in another direction. Judging by The Prisoner, he wanted to bring the intellectual poetry of live theatre into television drama, rather than play to the kids in the "scratchies" (front row matinee cinema).

So, obviously the real Series 4 of Danger Man/Secret Agent is/was The Prisoner.

No question, Patrick McGoohan had the mojo for the DD character of John Drake, Secret Agent, and his artistic determination drove the series beyond its medium cool espionage imagery. The Cold War kept people alert. The cultural anxiety bred deep insecurity and systemic madness. The notion that someone could maintain his composure and control desperate situations was appealing in the age of nuclear dreams and easy obliteration. Cultural brainwashing was just another television channel, and people, desperate for some tasteful sexual pacification, could easily identify with the ambiguous fantasy of "Danger Man".

Ironically, Patrick McGoohan ended up a prisoner of sorts in Hollywood, never able to completely escape his character of John Drake.

© Lawrence Russell / December 2012

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Danger Man: Koroshi

Secret Agent Man theme by Johnny Rivers

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