Danger Man - The Basics [Back to the homepage]
A tall athletic figure emerges from a federal building in Washington DC, crosses to his sleek white sports car, throws his mackintosh casually onto a seat and drives away at speed. Cue the title music; Introducing Patrick McGoohan.
Throughout this sequence McGoohan's voice-over narration informs the viewer that:
'Every government has its secret service branch. America it's CIA; France Deuxieme Bureau; England MI5. NATO also has it's own. A messy job? Well that's when they call on me. Or someone like me. Oh yes by the way, my name is Drake, John Drake'.
This was how British television viewers were first introduced to the man whose job was of 'international importance' - John Drake - the latest in a long line of small screen super sleuths. The date, 12 September 1960. The programme, Danger Man, a series of 30-minute intrigue and espionage thrillers that were destined to makes its star a household name across the world. Not that McGoohan needed or craved such adulation McGoohan had a heritage of meritorious film and stage appearances to his name, as well as two prestigious acting awards in his pocket. He had been nominated as the theatre's best actor of the year for his performance in Brand (BBC television 1959) and, barely weeks before beginning his role as John Drake, had pocketed a second honour as television's best actor of the year for his role as the first man on the moon in 'The Greatest Man in the World'. His stardom was already well assured. However, although McGoohan had notched up a string of live television appearances, Danger Man would be his first starring role in a major television series. A vast new public would now be able to see the man who several noted newspaper theatre critics had dubbed 'the most stimulating actor of the day'. Whether he knew it or not, McGoohan was plunging headlong into television's Hall of Fame and his newly-found role would eventually lead to him producing what is now regarded as a television classic - the enigmatic 'The Prisoner', a series that would have viewers and critics alike scratching their heads in an attempt to unravel its controversial mix of bizarre element.
The role of John Drake, the Danger Man, was created in the fertile mind of Australian born film director/producer, Ralph Smart. While working in England, Smart had heard that Lew Grade was looking for film technicians who were interested in creating British-produced television films for the export market. Smart took up the challenge, offering his services to Sapphire Films (a company owned by American emigrate, Hannah Weinstein, and set up to produce television films for Lew Grade's infant ITC company), Smart turned his hand to television film writing and direction. After several years of working on such programmes as 'The adventures of Robin Hood', 'The Adventures of Sir Lancelot' and 'The Buccaneers', to name three, he was asked to suggest a new subject for filming and, out of several ideas and outlines emerged John Drake, the Danger Man At this time, Smart had no particular actor in mind. Then he saw McGoohan in the television production of 'The Big Knife'. McGoohan was offered the role, the rest is history.
Drake was to be a special undercover security operator for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). A man who worked alone and was free to go wherever duty called. A handsome, athletic, fearless figure he met danger every day of his life. He attracted beautiful women, detested physical violence (but had to fight his unscrupulous enemies by any means available to him) and had danger hurled at him from both sources. He was a man of ideals, with a passionate belief in the dignity of mankind, who risked his life in the cause of international peace and understanding.
The stories themselves depicted Drake as a lone wolf undercover man in a post-war world of international tension and intrigue, whose adventures were played out against a panoramic view of the world's trouble spots. Working only at top government level, he attempted to rid the world of subversive elements and to resolve and situation that jepordised his objective. Drake took risks, but they were calculated risks in the cause of world peace.
A man who believed in the sanctity of human life, he was the only permanent character in the series. McGoohan saw him as 'A man who has done lots of jobs in his time. He doesn't come from a well-off family. He's had to struggle for an education, and has gained an interest in science, going on to university to study science and it's effects on world affairs. He has seen a lot of the world and has studied people. He is also an athlete, who has reached the stage of wanting to do something exciting, but also something that will do good. When he comes into contact with international politics, he finds himself embarking on this new career.'
International in both outlook, and setting, no two stories found Drake in the same location. One week he could be in Rome; the next in Paris. A week later he would be dropped by helicopter in the middle of a sun drenched Arabian desert, or be gazing down from a cable car swinging high above the Austrian Alps. Or perhaps in a small village market, not far from Kashmir. Colourful backgrounds were used that provided the series with exciting locales. Authentic location shots were skilfully intercut with realistic studio reproductions. One such location, this time much closer to home, was used as the background for the story 'View from the villa' - Portmeirion a quaint Italianate village situated near to Penrhyndeudraeth, in North Wales. Impressed by its remarkable architecture, McGoohan made a mental note to use the atmospheric locale again - one day! True to his belief, Drake travelled to wherever his own particular brand of justice could be used to best effect. Producer Ralph Smart said at the time 'Our aim is to present pictorially interesting backgrounds as well as exciting stories. Today, television can bring the whole world into every viewer's home, and the popularity of travelogues proves how much interest there still is in faraway places. We have literally scoured the world in our search for Danger Man settings. Our hero is the most travelled character yet seen on television'.
McGoohan, a man respected for his integrity in refusing to appear in anything he considered second rate, swiftly brought his star status to bear by laying down ground rules for the character. While accepting the physical canvas painted for Drake by the producers, the actor, never a man to mince words, insisted that any 'rough stuff' the series contained had to be treated in the Boy's Own adventure comic fashion. Sadism was out. Good old-fashioned fisticuffs was in. 'He is not a thick-ear specialist, a puppet muscle man,' he said at the time. 'There will be action, plenty of it, but no brutal violence. If a man dies, it is not just another cherry off the tree. When Drake fights, he fights clean. He abhors bloodshed. He carries a gun, but doesn't use it unless necessary - then he doesn't shoot to kill. He prefers to use his wits. He is a person with a sophisticated background and a philosophy. I want Drake to be the heroic mould - like the classic Western hero - which means he has to be a good man.' Nevertheless, the fights (at least one per story), remained exciting and full of suspense.
Having set Drake's attitude to violence, McGoohan, ever the perfectionist, turned his attention to the action sequences and insisted that they were planned in minute detail from the first swing of the hero's fist, to the coup de grace. Peter Perkins, who served as fight arranger on the series, recalled that 'Although there are clichés in the screen fights, just as there are in dialogue and story action, McGoohan wouldn't have anything to do with them. Every fight had to be scripted on paper first, then approved by McGoohan himself. He would never repeat anything and everything had to be possible. He wouldn't let doubles take the risks and did everything himself. In McGoohan's words, 'Drake fights had to be as virtuous as his cause.' Further concessions were gained when the star insisted that the hero should only win against overwhelming odds if he deserved to do so.
One thing the viewer did not find in the series was slaphappy sex on the part of its husky hero. Believing that promiscuity should not be encouraged on television, McGoohan suggested further changes to the character's romantic interests. The producers acceded to the star's request. Drake's encounters with the fair sex were given a similar treatment with his adversaries. The first script he received contained a romantic sequence between Drake and a beautiful girl in a hotel bedroom - McGoohan called for the scene to be exorcised and any further scenes of that nature to be eliminated from the scripts.
Although Drake was not prevented from having an appreciative eye for the ladies, not once during the entire series did he fall for, or find himself entangled with, an on-going love affair. The character could obviously appeal to women, but he carefully avoided any romantic entanglements and tempered his reactions with the opposite sex with knowledge that his career was far too perilous to allow him to let his heart rule his head. The handsome hero would not - could not - fall in love. Sex would not be introduced into the series just for its own sake. 'When the character logically indulges in torrid scenes,' said the star, ' then I'll play them, I don't believe for one moment, though, that Drake would chase any of the girls he meets. He is the sort of man who has a healthy enough respect for women to realise that it would not be fair on a girl to ask her to marry him while he is away on dangerous missions nearly all the time. His life is too full of risks, too insecure, too roving for Drake to ever fall in love. To do so would interfere with the life of adventure he has chosen. He would like to marry, and he has it at the back of his mind all the time - but it is something he has no intention of doing while risking his life so often. The fact that he is taking such risks is a vital element of the stories. With a wife in the background - and probably children as well - he would be tempted to cut down on the risks. Therefore it would affect his work. This doesn't mean that he avoids women. He enjoys the company of pretty girls. And there are plenty of stories in the series showing him closely involved - with women. But only when the job calls for him to do so. The fact the John Drake was so unattainable, he believed made him, in a perverse sort of way, all the more popular with women viewers; a man who kept women at arms length being a very different matter to a man who chased a girl, only to give her the cold shoulder when the going got tough.
In variably, each story began with a pre-title credit crime (an assassination, a murder, someone suspected of selling secrets to the enemy fleeing the country, as examples) leading to the hero being assigned to the case by some highly-placed government official or, as seen in several episodes, by Drakes immediate superiors, Hardy and Keller. The undercover man would then board a plane in pursuit of the baddies, emerging - several fistfights later - as the victor, to hand the culprits over to the authorities. Bearing in mind the helter-skelter production schedule which dictated that studio sets were re-used time and time again, and the four-day turn around which left little room for character development, the stories managed to pack in enough thrills and excitement to sate the appetite of the most ardent thrill-seeker. Possibly best described as 'the thinking mans hero', in the time honoured tradition of Richard Hannay and Bulldog Drummond, the stories remained logical and never insulted the viewer's intelligence.
A further distinction held by the series, was that Drake preceded the film/television spy craze for software/gadgets by several years - Sean Connery's gimmick-ridden attaché case used in 'From Russia with love' was still almost three years away. John Drake was possibly the first theatrical secret agent to be equipped with a plethora of gadgets. Tie-pins that doubled for cameras, cherries containing miniature microphones and an electric razor that doubled as a tape recorder and transmitter were just a few of the many devices invented by the scriptwriters. Together with McGoohan, the writing team left no stone unturned in their search for Drake's outrageous - but practical spy kit. As we will learn when the series adapted it's hour-long format, the gadgets became more ingenious - and more useful than ever.
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