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For most people Patrick McGoohan is best known for starring and being the main creative force behind the cult 60s series The Prisoner and a few may also remember him playing the baddie if films such as Scanners, Escape From Alcatraz and Braveheart. What many will not know is that in the mid 60s before The Prisoner was made Patrick McGoohan was the most highly paid actor on British TV and was one of the first actor to be considered for the role of James Bond in the first Bond film Dr No made in 1962. What gained McGoohan this status that eventually allowed him to make such a leftfield project as The Prisoner? Well the answer is Danger Man a mould breaking and genre defining spy thriller series that ran on British TV in various guises from 1960 to 1966.
Danger Man was truly groundbreaking it became the blueprint for many espionage thrillers to follow like The Avengers, Man In A Suitcase, The Man From UNCLE, more recently Danger Mouse and predated the huge success of the James Bond franchise.
The hero of the series our Danger Man was John Drake an Irish American (like McGoohan in real life) NATO spy working for the UN in New York. In later series in 1964 the character suddenly became British and worked not for NATO but British intelligence department M9 under the cover of a travel agency, maybe to cash in on the Bond-mania that by then had erupted on the big and small screen. The stories dealt very much with the cold war politics of the time and featured a lot of high tech but believable gadgets miniature cameras hidden in different places, radio watched and a variety of weapons. The plots well cleverly drafted invariably included surprises and twist endings and were filled with inventive action sequences considering the constraints of the budget and the locations often a studio.
Unlike most shows of this type today the original series 1960 1961 was made up of 39 half hour black and white episodes as opposed to the more usual one-hour format of today. This however was not the drawback we might think in fact by being so short the writer really has to focus on more on the main theme in each story and it led to a fast paced and sharp storytelling. Its interesting to see how some idea regarding programme making seem to come full circle, in the 60s we had half hour TV shows the trend then turned to longer formats which eventually led to the two hour format of the typical cop show but there seems to be a trend now to reduce the programme time thus we get cops shows becoming more often than not one hour or one and half hour and some of the newest shows like Doctor Who and Torchwood are only 45 minutes long, maybe the days of the half hour thriller are due to make a comeback
Despite its groundbreaking appeal and it considerable following the show was surprisingly axed after the first series but soon the makers discovered that they had had a format a little before its time and in the spy mad 60s TV schedules a new series was made in 1964. This time the episodes were an hour long allowing a little more complex stories to be featured and a little more character development. Series two and three consisted of 45 one hour black and white episodes but two colour ones were made in 1966 largely on the back to the shows success in the US and as a prelude to a fourth series that was never made.
McGoohan had by now had enough of playing John Drake and was ready to make his pet project of some time the more left field spy series The Prisoner. In fact the early beginnings of The Prisoner can be already seen in the Danger Man series. The very first episode of the first series is set in Port Merrion in North Wales, which would later be the setting for the village in The Prisoner and an episode called Colony Three from the second series featured a plot about a mysterious village being used by enemy spies as a sort of spy school, which mirror many of the aspects of The Prisoner.
Other episodes feature Drake in exotic locations such as the West Indies, the Cote dazure and Japan. The stories often involved a fair amount of intrigue and also the staples for any good spy series of truth drugs amnesia, terrible scientific inventions and fiendish plots by evil villains to conquer the world. Over the years the series featured some of the best known faces in British TV and Cinema; the likes of Sylvia Syms, Kate O'Mara, Peter Butterworth, Francesca Annis, Susan Hampshire, Wendy Richard, Burt Kwouk, Honor Blackman, Ian Hendry and Denholm Elliot, Robert Shaw and Charles Gray to name just a few.
Series had that slight camp appeal that would be more evident and exploited in later shows like The Avengers and you felt that although all the performers played it straight they didnt take themselves too seriously. McGoohan is brilliant in it emanating an early form of sixties cool and a hint of danger and suppressed anger just below the suave charming persona. He was certainly a ladies man but the show always remained family friendly so his liaisons were never consummated on screen at least. Despite his charm Drake had no qualms about dishing out some rough treatment if the mission required it and each episode invariably featured an exciting fight scene where McGoohans real life skills as a boxer in his youth were put to good use.
In the later Prisoner McGoohan had a catchphrase Be seeing you that he uttered in most episodes, the idea of having a catchphrase also predated The Prisoner and in Danger Man, John Drake can be heard to say Im Obliged in almost every episode.
I didnt see the original series when it was aired (I wasnt born yet!) but I do remember the repeats of the show being shown in the mid seventies and as a youngster I was intrigued by the character and strange storylines. The first series certainly hasnt been repeated very often recently, surely with the popularity of other cult shows from that period this is a missed opportunity for whoever owned the rights and surprisingly only the first series of 39 half hour B/w episodes is currently available on DVD as a box set.
Finally any self-respecting spy series of the time had to have a great signature tune and Danger Man did not disappoint just thinking about it now I cant get out of my head.
The DVD boxed collection contains the whole of the first series on 6 discs. There isnt much in the way of extras on this collection, which is a pity since Im sure plenty of archive behind the scenes material must exist to edit together in some sort of mini featurette package and there must also be some interviews with Patrick McGoohan from the period which could have been included. It seems the putting together of the package was rather lazy. What you do get is some original publicity material, trailers etc. and some stills from the show and biographies.
On the plus side the picture transfer is excellent, the episodes have been restored to crystal clear clarity and the sound too is excellent despite being in mono. The overall package is well presented and would make a great gift for any old fans of the series. At just under £50.00 its not cheap but you do get almost 15 hours of viewing
Format: Black & White, PAL
Region: Region 2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
DVD Release Date: 5 April 2004
Run Time: 858 minutes
Hearing Impaired: English
This is a good collection for fans on 60s TV to own. If youre a fan of the The Prisoner you will want to see this just to get a hint of where some of the ideas behind that series came from, it could even be said that the character in The Prisoner a secret agent that tries to resign from his job could be an updated disillusioned version of John Drake aka Danger Man. For many who vaguely remember seeing the series on TV in their youth the danger is that those rose tinted memories will be dashed on viewing the Show after all these year in many cases with classic series this can happen and the memories are best left as they are but not in this case the episodes seemed fresh after all these years and I was impressed at how entertaining the storylines were Spooks eat you heart out!
© Mauri 2006