Tuesday, 9 June 2009

McGoohan on my Mind: Secrets, Agents, Ducks, Drakes and Get Smart

In my first blogjob I made my own arrogant comment about the arrogance of Fans. Nothing demonstrates their 'Day of the Locust' nature more than the conundrum they came up with, when they attempted to link fiction and fact, fed only by stupidity and ignorance.

Like me, many fans may be old enough to remember the character who made Patrick McGoohan so enormously popular with TV viewers in the early to mid 1960's. He was of course John Drake. Despite being enormously popular, by 1966 the writers were running out of stories and the the secret agent boom in America had led to so many competing programmes (such as Man from Uncle) that whilst the writers were struggling to write on their paper, the writing was clearly on the wall, so far as John Drake was concerned. CBS delayed renewing their contract with ITC as more and more American product came on-stream and judging by the final two episodes of 'Danger Man'/'Secret Agent' that were made, both budgets and production values were being sacrificed as ITC sought to find an economic way to continue the series. Ralph Smart left the reins of the show prior to the two colour episodes, and Patrick McGoohan, who by then had some considerable influence over Lew Grade, also abandoned the project. Sidney Cole went on to make 'Man in a Suitcase', the sequel to 'Danger Man'/'Secret Agent' ' in which poor production values were ever more apparent and mayhap contributed to it's failure to penetrate the US market. Meanwhile McGoohan of course (as we all know!) had obtained funding from ITC for the company he owned, along with colleague, David Tomblin, called 'Everyman'. The fact that McGoohan's name could by that time sell pretty much anything from hats to gravy powder, is evidenced by the opening titles to the show that his company Everyman, would produce. This is the first frame we see, after the famous 'resignation' sequence.

It was a guarantee of a significant television audience and 11,000,000 people in Britain and later, 25,000,000 in America duly tuned to watch 'Arrival'. Not surprisingly, many of us watching at the time saw John Drake resigning and being kidnapped and metamorphosing into Number Six. But metamorphose he did. The usually angry, constantly combative and often downright bloody-minded character who raged about the Village was no more like the calm, friendly, sympathetic John Drake, than the cynical, amoral David Jones (from Ice Station Zebra) was like the Danger man. However, as McGoohan once remarked himself, they all did look somewhat alike!! Well aware of the likely confusion and possibly anxious to resolve it, in the viewer's, and the media's minds, Patrick McGoohan's company made the situation very clear right from the beginning, as can be seen in this ITC Press Release from 1967.

In interviews McGoohan admitted that he retained the 'secret agent' milieu as a fundamental part of the plot of The Prisoner, as that was what he was known for at the time, and naturally he wanted to carry his audience with him. Perhaps he could be accused of wanting to have his cake and eat it but certainly he made no attempt to disguise what he was doing. He confronted the fact he was well-recognised as the agent of M9, and then explained, so far as he could without giving away any more of his plot than he had to, that his new character was not John Drake. There are magazine articles declaring "John Drake died in London....". One of them, from New Zealand, is here: http://www.danger-man.co.uk/docs/magazines/tvweekly/Aug1966/pdf.pdf
Fast forward to 1977 and of course, many in the fan society would naturally be ignorant of the history, and so, as they searched for the meanings they saw in the programmes and the allegories and hidden references, they naturally became entranced with the idea that the secret agent who resigned was John Drake. They seemed to know little of the character that was John Drake (a problem now resolved by the issue of the old shows on DVD) but of course they had seen the old press images of Drake, as used in the visuals of The Prisoner.It was obviously the same man. Then, in 1984 they had it confirmed for them by the Script Editor: "

Well, 'Who is No.6?" is no mystery - he was a secret agent called Drake who quit."

and so the fans, hungry for intrigue,mystery and conspiracy were off and running. Plainly, Mcgoohan's denial that Six was Drake was all part of:

"later myths built up about the series built up by McGoohan in his presentations before the North American college students. " see my previous blog

And so a curious amalgam of supposition was constructed. It goes something like this:
McGoohan denies Six was Drake. Six looks and sounds like Drake. There are pictures of Six, that are definitely Drake. Six seems to be a resigned secret agent. Drake was a secret agent. Markstein, who the Fan Dome tout as a creator of the show says Six was Drake. How do we resolve this conundrum? What could the reason be? Ralph Smart was the acknowledged creator of John Drake, so the reason must be that McGoohan would have had to pay Ralph Smart Royalties! Conundrum resolved!
In one fell swoop the Fan Dome label McGoohan as not only a tad deceitful, but mildy plagiaristic too and perhaps a little sneaky......... They seem generally oblivious to this character assassination however and so great is the enthusiasm for this myth/legend that you will find it detailed in many books on many web-sites to this day.

When I first read the *theory*, it caught in my personal craw, but for quite some time I ignored it (as with much else I read in the prisoner world). What did I know? Then, I realised that there was copious evidence from 1966/67, such as the articles I quoted above that demonstrate that McGoohan was totally open about the feasible Drake link and it's possibilities, from the beginning.

Then I began to wonder what the fans knew about Ralph Smart. I discovered that in fact nobody knew anything about Ralph Smart....not even the supposed *historians*. The whole 'Royalties' theory was a house of straw - sheer (uninspired) guess-work. Doing my own research suggests Ralph Smart was probably not the owner of any supposed copyright anyway. The brand 'John Drake' was in use all over the world, and there seems no suggestion that the money for this went anywhere other than ATV/ITC, to be no doubt divided between the likes of McGoohan and Smart as applicable in their contracts. Ralph Smart was directly employed as a Producer by Lew Grade. It is even unclear that the 'brand' was copyright to anyone. McGoohan's face and the John Drake name continued to be used for a pulp magazine in Germany right into the 1970's. I daresay nobody outside German pulp-fiction readers even noticed.

Whilst I had no more access than anyone else to any confidential, arcane, financial contracts, I could see no justification for the McGoohan/Drake/Smart Royalties myth and then I finally found something that linked Ralph Smart and The prisoner very directly, and quite personally........... I discovered the clearest possible evidence from The Prisoner show itself, that the whole legend was a pile of ripe cheese.

The very first person Number Six meets, after his arrival in the Village is the waitress, an actress familiar to McGoohan from his days in Danger Man.

The actress is Patsy Smart......... No coincidence.

Patsy was Ralph Smart's sister, with whom he was on good terms, all her life.

So, to revisit the grand Drake/Smart/Royalties theory: we are supposed to believe that McGoohan machinated to deceive/swindle Ralph Smart and apply deniability to any use of his *copyrighted* *licensing* entitlements

[sarcasm]................. Then, he took Ralph's sister with him for the long Location Shoot, to Portmeirion, where she could socialise with all his and her colleagues, and pick up all the gossip........... Not content with that, Patrick McGoohan was then so cold-blooded, that he deliberately made Ralph Smart's sister the very first character his new Number Six happens to meet ............. [/sarcasm]

Far more likely is that McGoohan was *waving goodbye* to his former mentor, in that quirky in-joke way he utilised throughout The Prisoner, a wave of thanks and appreciation. Thanks for the past, this is my little tribute to you, for the future........... But this last is a myth of my own making............

It does seem to me however to suggest - perhaps quite strongly - that whilst the viewer may enjoy making Six Drake and Drake Six, it is not six of one and half a dozen of the other. It is patently clear that no deception was intended or carried out. It was also patently clear by Patrick McGoohan's constant and strong denial of this *theory* that he was somewhat offended by the notion. The fact that fans come up with such specious and unresearched ideas/theories/myths seems to say more about their characters than the characters of Drake, Six....................or Patrick McGoohan.

Readers of my Blog can of course aver otherwise, in the relevant comments boxes....... If nothing else, it can be a Confessional............. But that would bring us to the supposed religious elements conflated into The Prisoner, from the actor's own fan-alleged opinions. Notwithstanding the Fan Dome insistence that he was *deeply religious* (an opinion expressed in even the most recent tomes) Patrick McGoohan explained in moor than one interview that he was, in fact, no such thing...............

But who was listening? Or reading?

Be seeing you............


  1. I've always assumed the Prisoner was McGoohan saying goodbye to Dangerman and his association with it for the benefit of the publics minds at least rather than a continuation of the role.. I think those who think the latter are just looking for another explanation for the unexplanable. Sure there are personal snippets McGoohan included about himself but you have to ask yourself why McGoohan would be attempting to make a programme about Dangerman if he resigned from the show to move on to other things..

  2. By my delusional figuring, The Village represented the series Danger Man. Number One was Drake. The cross-over actors from Danger Man to The Prisoner are reminders of the earlier series. Number Six is McGoohan as himself, trying to escape his identity with Danger Man. McGoohan, aka Six, escapes typecasting. He then puts a 180-degree exclamation point to that by starring as a prison warden later on, but that's another story...

    1. "The cross-over actors from Danger Man to The Prisoner are reminders of the earlier series"

      They also turn up in lots of other UK TV series of the period. They were the regular, reliable, familiar, jobbing, affordable, very able, character actors of the time.

      As a producer of such a series you need someone who can walk on to a set, know their character from the merest hints in the hurriedly-written script, know their lines and nail an interpretation on Take One - because there may not be another. Time is money and money was tight on those series.

      McGoohan, like anyone else would often want to work again with someone whose work he admired - there is more than one actor who appears as different unrelated characters within Danger Man.

      Also, look at most of these actor's IMDB listings. They may well have been on Danger Man but they were usually also on The Saint and/or Man in a Suitcase and/or Department S and any number of other ITC series. They also appeared in many of the 1950s low-budget thrillers made for the cinema which were the forerunners of the ITC series. These films were often made by the same people, like Robert S Baker, Monty Berman and Sydney Cole. They often had recurring themes and character types, not least because they were ideas out there in the ether. There were memes before the internet and these films and the later series were full of them.
      It is impossible to seriously examine any film or TV production without examining the context in which it was made, otherwise you end up ascribing uniqueness to something which was far from it.

  3. The type-casting schtick is interesting. Up until the 1990's,whenever he cropped up in the press in Bitain he would usually still be referred to as "Danger Man". Then, over the ensuing decade it gradually changed and now of course the vast majority of references will likely refer to him as "The Prisoner".

    Maybe, if Rafferty ever gets out on dvd, one day he will be referred to as "The Doctor" .... :-D

  4. Not replying, just trying to add a comment through a less than adequate browser and it wont let me.
    Lovely article, thank you, and well researched, however...
    Sorry - but Six IS Drake. I've just finished watching Dangerman right through (now it's out) - wonderful stuff.
    But McGoohan, flights of angels etc,, could deny till he was blue in the face: Six is Drake, and we all know why he resigned too. Even some of the bridging characters (or background characters I might say) are too similar to ignore, and honestly ... The General??
    Sometimes a mythos is much bigger than its creator. This is what has happened with DangerMan and The Prisoner.

    1. Hi Anonymous

      I know exactly what you mean. But perhaps one answer to this conundrum lies in WHO was Drake?

  5. I was about 12 years old when The Prisoner was first aired. I had a major crush on Patrick McGoohan and so waited anxiously for each episode . I have been watching all of the Danger Man episodes . ..since I was so young when they first aired. I remember the U.S. theme song and even at that age I was drawn to John Drake and the excitement of the show.
    I felt the same way about The Prisoner . ..even though I didn't know what to think about the last episode .
    Mr McGoohan was interviewed for a show in Canada . ..and there are a few other interviews that are online...and he said that The Prisoner could be interpreted many ways...and don't when you watched again . .you could get another meaning . ..as HE did.
    No one outside of the people who knew Mr McGoohan best will ever KNOW for sure what his real intent and meaning for the series was. He also said that "He got lucky" with some aspects of The Prisoner . ..what was he referring to ????
    I don't know much about Mr McGoohan ' s childhood . .other than that he was studying for the priesthood until the age of 15. . . had asthma...and the different types of jobs he had before deciding to be an actor and starting his career.
    I personally see religious symbolism in The Prisoner . ..and his enigmatic interview ending with , "Be seeing you . ...I hope."
    He had a great understanding of human nature . ..as his interview about why John Drake would NOT be chasing women . ..either as a wife or to get information . ..and that if he was portraying a character in a situation where sex made sense..he WOULD play the role. He also said that he didn't believe in having gratuitous sex and violence in a media access that came into one's home at all times .
    I believe that the Prisoner was showing that it's better to STAND for your beliefs when everyone else is trying to pressure you ...that YOU are your own worst enemy . ..and lastly . ..that HERE we are always a prisoner of something or someone ...but we make our own prison . ..be careful what . ..or WHO you choose.
    I will always regret not sending a letter to Mr McGoohan to tell him how much I enjoyed his work . ..and to thank him for all the hard work on The Prisoner .
    Be seeing you !

  6. Re the "getting lucky" comment. It really could have been nothing more than acknowledging that in producing a phenomenally complex enterprise like The Prisoner you need the breaks to go your way when things don't work out as planned. And many times they won't, however well planned a production may be.

    1. I also don't think that it's surprising that McGoohan's work might contain Christian imagery. Like it or not, and I'm not religious at all, it has had a vast influence on Western culture and is part of the shared vocabulary that artists can utilize, even subliminally. As for being on the reticent side about sex, we are all heavily influenced one way or another by our upbringing and McGoohan did grow up in the Catholic Ireland of the 1930s. No doubt that background also fed into his ideas about social control.