TV Mem­o­ries

Evergreen - - Contents - Ray Martin

Dan­ger Man was a hugely suc­cess­ful es­pi­onage drama which pre­miered in 1960 and in­tro­duced Pa­trick McGoohan as se­cret agent John Drake. Drake took on haz­ardous mis­sions all over the world, ini­tially for NATO and then the Bri­tish Se­cret Ser­vice.

The se­ries was made by the In­cor­po­rated Tele­vi­sion Com­pany ( ITC), led by Lew Grade. Dur­ing the late ’ 50s ITC pro­duced mostly his­tor­i­cal swash­buck­lers, such as The Ad­ven­tures of Robin Hood, aimed mainly at the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket, but they were also tele­vised across ITV’s network.

To boost sales to Amer­ica, Grade com­mis­sioned writer and direc­tor Ralph Smart to de­velop ideas for a mod­ern- day se­ries with an in­ter­na­tional look to it. Smart in­tended to make a James Bond tele­vi­sion se­ries and had dis­cus­sions with 007 cre­ator Ian Flem­ing. When this failed to ma­te­ri­alise, Smart, with the help of writer Ian Stu­art Black, cre­ated John Drake and based him on Bond. Smart’s idea re­flected Cold War ten­sion, growth of mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion, ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy, and bur­geon­ing in­ter­na­tional travel. Drake was a soli­tary, glo­be­trot­ting Amer­i­can NATO agent based in Wash­ing­ton. Ini­tially the se­ries was called “Lone Wolf”.

By 1959, when Dan­ger Man went into pro­duc­tion, 31- year- old Pa­trick McGoohan had ex­pe­ri­enced the­atri­cal suc­cess and ap­peared in a num­ber of films. How­ever, after read­ing the early scripts McGoohan, found the em­pha­sis on sex and vi­o­lence un­ac­cept­able for a tele­vi­sion au­di­ence that would in­clude mil­lions of chil­dren. He in­sisted that this type

of con­tent was re­moved be­fore he would com­mit to the se­ries. Tele­vi­sion ex­ec­u­tives were un­happy with his stance but McGoohan, a Catholic and the fa­ther of young daugh­ters, re­fused to back down on prin­ci­ple.

McGoohan’s own view of Drake was that he was in the heroic mould — like the clas­sic Western hero; a good man with a strong sense of moral­ity and fair play; who used his wits to out­smart op­po­nents, but was tough and fought clean; who would only use a gun in a des­per­ate sit­u­a­tion. He ap­pre­ci­ated at­trac­tive women and charmed them, but his job could not be ham­pered by ro­man­tic li­aisons. Speak­ing in 1965 he said: “For young chil­dren watch­ing Dan­ger Man, I’d rather they saw a hero rather than an anti- hero.”

The 25- minute for­mat meant episodes of the new ac­tion se­ries moved at a crack­ing pace, usu­ally build­ing up to a cli­mac­tic fist fight. The im­por­tant in­ter­na­tional fea­ture of Dan­ger Man was ac­com­plished by edit­ing to­gether the pro­duc­tion team’s lo­ca­tion film­ing in the UK, dressed stu­dio sets and li­brary footage of for­eign coun­tries. Drake’s “Wash­ing­ton” of­fice, seen in the open­ing ti­tle se­quence, was ac­tu­ally lo­cated in London’s Maryle­bone Road.

Dan­ger Man’s first episode, “View from the Villa”, fea­tured Drake in Italy in­ves­ti­gat­ing a mur­der and the dis­ap­pear­ance of mil­lions of dol­lars of gold bul­lion. The North Wales lo­ca­tion of Port­meirion dou­bled for an Ital­ian vil­lage and McGoohan later chose it to be The Vil­lage for his enig­matic master­piece The Pris­oner.

Drake’s con­tacts in­cluded Colonel Keller ( Lionel Mur­ton) in US In­tel­li­gence, and Hardy ( Richard Wat­tis) from the Bri­tish Se­cret Ser­vice. There was a stark con­trast be­tween Hardy and Drake; one a fussy, mid­dle- aged English­man who lived with his mother and the other a young, in­ge­nious, self- re­liant Amer­i­can.

Filmed at MGM stu­dios in El­stree the se­ries was pro­duced by Smart as­sisted by Aida Young — one of tele­vi­sion’s first fe­male pro­duc­ers. McGoohan, who was ex­tremely in­ter­ested in the pro­duc­tion process, went on to direct three episodes.

De­spite suc­cess­ful sales around the world, Dan­ger Man did not gen­er­ate the ex­pected level of in­ter­est from

the Amer­i­can net­works. A sec­ond se­ries was not com­mis­sioned so McGoohan pur­sued other projects for the next three years.

The im­mense pop­u­lar­ity of the James Bond films in the early ’ 60s no doubt prompted the de­ci­sion to re­vive Dan­ger Man in 1964, with ex­ten­sive changes to the orig­i­nal con­cept. From be­ing an Amer­i­can NATO agent, the new Drake spoke with a Bri­tish ac­cent and worked for M9 in the Bri­tish Se­cret Ser­vice. The char­ac­ter’s sports car from the ear­lier se­ries was re­placed by an in­con­spic­u­ous Austin Mini Cooper.

Dan­ger Man re­turned in Oc­to­ber 1964 and the mem­o­rable new open­ing se­quence fea­tured McGoohan’s fig­ure — shown briefly in neg­a­tive — walk­ing to­wards the cam­era. A sparkling harp­si­chord theme tune “High Wire”, writ­ten by Ed­win Ast­ley, ac­com­pa­nied both open­ing and clos­ing ti­tles.

In the new se­ries Drake’s ma­tu­rity had given him a greater un­der­stand­ing of peo­ple, and he re­belled against some of his as­sign­ments some­times clash­ing with his de­ceit­ful and ruth­less M9 boss, Ad­mi­ral Hobbs ( Peter Mad­den). Ar­guably the most im­por­tant change was the ex­pan­sion of episodes to 50 min­utes. This al­lowed for more com­plex sto­ry­lines and greater char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment.

In 1964 Grade suc­cess­fully sold Dan­ger Man to Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion re­put­edly for more than a mil­lion pounds. There, the se­ries was reti­tled Se­cret Agent and given an ad­di­tional theme called “Se­cret Agent Man” sung by Johnny Rivers.

The third and fi­nal se­ries, filmed mostly at Shep­per­ton stu­dios, be­gan in au­tumn 1965 and ended the fol­low­ing April. After com­plet­ing two colour episodes in spring 1966, McGoohan de­cided to quit his role as John Drake. Although Dan­ger Man had made him an in­ter­na­tional star and the high­est- paid ac­tor on Bri­tish tele­vi­sion, he wanted to move on.

Through­out his time at NATO and M9, Drake dealt with dou­ble agents, as­sas­sins and de­fec­tors. He was a highly skilled un­der­cover op­er­a­tive and to com­bat his en­e­mies he was an ex­pert in the use of

covert gadgets. These were Drake’s tools of the trade and sup­ported his acute ob­ser­va­tion and in­tu­ition on as­sign­ment. Two gadgets he of­ten used were his Philishave elec­tric ra­zor that dou­bled as a mini tape recorder and his lighter, which se­cretly snapped a pic­ture as the light­ing but­ton was pressed.

Be­hind the scenes, Dan­ger Man’s high pro­duc­tion stan­dards, ex­cel­lent di­rec­tors and sto­ry­lines con­trib­uted to its in­ter­na­tional suc­cess. Its writ­ers en­deav­oured to re­flect real events and ten­sions in the world. A popular theme was the in­de­pen­dence of Bri­tain’s colonies and a num­ber of episodes were set in Africa. Other episodes al­luded to the Pro­fumo scan­dal and the theme of com­pro­mised or cor­rupt­ible Es­tab­lish­ment fig­ures.

In­trigu­ingly two Dan­ger Man episodes ap­pear to have in­flu­enced McGoohan’s later se­ries The Pris­oner. In “Colony Three”, Drake was sent to a replica of an English vil­lage that in­structed com­mu­nist agents in the Bri­tish way of life. Res­i­dents were free to roam the vil­lage but no one could leave. “The Ubiq­ui­tous Mr. Love­grove” was a surreal visu­al­i­sa­tion of Drake’s night­mare in which he feared black­mail and ex­po­sure as an agent.

Dan­ger Man was one of the first tele­vi­sion se­ries in the ’ 60s to have tie- in mer­chan­dis­ing in­clud­ing a board game, jig­saws and books. In 1967 Lew Grade won the Queen’s Award for In­dus­try for earn­ing Bri­tain £ 35,700,000 in tele­vi­sion sales and with­out doubt it was Dan­ger Man that con­trib­uted largely to the fig­ure.

Dan­ger Man was Bri­tish tele­vi­sion’s first mod­ern se­cret agent and set the bar for the many spy se­ries that fol­lowed. It was truly a trail­blaz­ing se­ries — dom­i­nated by the com­pelling and inim­itable Pa­trick McGoohan.

Gadgets, such as the lighter which dou­bled as a cam­era, were es­sen­tial tools for Drake.

Pa­trick McGoohan starred as John Drake in Dan­ger Man.

John Drake with the traitor Raw­son, played by John Fraser, in an episode broad­cast in 1964.

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