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Patrick Joseph McGoohan (March 19, 1928 – January 13, 2009) was an Americanmarker-born actor, raised in Irelandmarker and Englandmarker, with an extensive stage and film career, most notably in the 1960s television series Danger Man (renamed Secret Agent when exported to the USmarker), and The Prisoner. McGoohan wrote and directed several episodes of The Prisoner himself, occasionally using the pseudonyms Joseph Serf and Paddy Fitz. He subsequently appeared in David Cronenberg's Scanners, and in Mel Gibson's Braveheart as Edward Longshanks.

Early life

McGoohan was born in Astoria, Queensmarker, New York Citymarker, to Thomas McGoohan and Rose Fitzpatrick, who were living in the United Statesmarker after emigrating from Ireland to look for work. Shortly after he was born, McGoohan's parents moved back to Mullaghmore, County Leitrimmarker, Irelandmarker, and, seven years later, they moved to Sheffieldmarker, Englandmarker. McGoohan attended De La Salle school in Sheffield, but following the outbreak of World War II he was evacuated to Loughboroughmarker, Leicestershiremarker. There he attended Ratcliffe Collegemarker, where he excelled in mathematics and boxing.

Acting career

McGoohan left school aged sixteen and returned to Sheffield where he worked as a chicken farmer, a bank clerk and a lorry driver before getting a job as a stage manager at Sheffield Repertory Theatre. When one of the actors became ill, McGoohan filled in, launching his acting career.

He fell for an actress named Joan Drummond, to whom he reportedly wrote love notes every day. They were married on May 19, 1951. They had three daughters, Catherine (born 1952), Anne (born 1959) and Frances (born 1960).

In 1955, McGoohan starred in a West Endmarker production of a play called Serious Charge in the role of a priest accused of being gay. Orson Welles was so impressed by McGoohan's stage presence ("intimidated," Welles said later) that he cast him as Starbuck in his York theatre production of Moby Dick Rehearsed.

While working as a stand-in during actress screen tests, McGoohan was signed to a contract with the Rank Organisation, the largest European production company between 1930 and 1960. The producers may have been more interested in capitalizing on his boxing skill and appearance than his acting ability, casting him as the conniving bad boy in such films as the gritty Hell Drivers and the steamy potboiler The Gypsy and the Gentleman, and after a few films and some clashes with the management, the contract was dissolved.

Free of the contract, he did some TV work and continued on the stage in his favourite role, Ibsen's Brand, for which he received an award. Soon, producer Lew Grade approached him about a TV series in which he would play a spy named John Drake. Having learned from his experience at the Rank Organisation, McGoohan insisted on several conditions in his contract before agreeing to appear in the program: all the fistfights should be different, the character would always use his brain before using a gun, and, much to the horror of the executives, no kissing.

The first series, half-hour shows geared toward an American audience, did fairly well but not as well as hoped in the US. It lasted only one year but was rerun in several countries and gained cult status worldwide. After the series was over, one interviewer asked McGoohan if he would have liked the series to continue, to which he replied, "I would rather do twenty TV series than go through what I went through under that Rank contract I signed a few years ago for which I blame no one but myself."

McGoohan spent some time working for Disney on The Three Lives of Thomasina and The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. He had already turned down the roles of James Bond and Simon Templar (The Saint) when Lew Grade asked him if he would like to give John Drake another try. This time, McGoohan had even more say about the series; it was expanded to an hour and the writing was changed to allow McGoohan more acting range. The popularity of the series exploded. McGoohan became the highest paid actor in the UKmarker and the show lasted almost three more seasons.

After shooting the first two episodes for the fourth season in colour, McGoohan told Lew Grade he was going to quit. Grade asked if he would at least work on "something" for him, and McGoohan gave him a run-down of what would later be called a miniseries about a secret agent who resigns suddenly and wakes up to find himself in a prison disguised as a holiday resort. Grade asked for a budget, McGoohan had one ready, and they made a deal over a handshake early on a Saturday morning to produce The Prisoner.

McGoohan not only produced, but also wrote, directed and starred in the show. He used two pseudonyms, writing "Free for All" as Paddy Fitz and directing "Many Happy Returns" and "A Change of Mind" as Joseph Serf. He also wrote "Once Upon A Time" and "Fall Out" using his own name. The seven episodes were increased to seventeen.

The main character spends the entire series trying to escape from The Village and to learn the identity of his nemesis, Number One. The Prisoner was a completely new, cerebral kind of series, stretching the limits of the established television formulas. Its influence has been echoed in Lost, Babylon 5, Nowhere Man, I-man, The Truman Show, The Simpsons, ReBoot, even American Idol teaser ads.

The main character, the unnamed Number Six, became McGoohan's most recognisable character. Unfortunately, it also became his prison. Number Six was so obsessively pro-individual that whenever McGoohan later played someone who had something to say about individuality or freedom, the character was often compared to his previous incarnation; for example, his portrayal of the warden in Escape from Alcatraz. "Mel Gibson will always be Mad Max, and me, I will always be a Number," he was once quoted as saying.

The cult of The Prisoner spawned many books, college courses, a quarterly magazine and documentaries. There were several fan clubs - most notably "Six of One," which honours the show annually with a convention in Portmeirionmarker, Walesmarker, where the show's exteriors were shot. McGoohan was the honorary president. In the May 30, 2004 edition of TV Guide, The Prisoner was ranked seventh in a list of the "25 Top Rated Cult Shows Ever!" McGoohan's show outranked the likes of The Twilight Zone (#8) and Doctor Who (#18). TV Guide wrote, "Fans still puzzle over this weird, enigmatic drama, a Kafka allegory about the individual's struggle in the modern age."

McGoohan appeared in many films, including Howard Hughes's favourite, Ice Station Zebra, for which he was critically acclaimed, and Silver Streak, with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. In 1977, he starred in the TV series Rafferty playing a former army doctor who has retired and moved into private practice. Many people consider this series a forerunner to House, M.D.

McGoohan received two Emmy Awards for his work on Columbo with his long-time friend Peter Falk. He directed five Columbo episodes (including three of the four in which he played the murderer) and wrote and produced two (including one of these). He also appeared in the 1981 film Scanners, a science fiction/horror film by Canadian director David Cronenberg that has since attained cult movie status.

In 1991, he starred in Masterpiece Theatre's production of The Best of Friends for PBS, which told the story of the unlikely friendship between a museum curator, a nun and a playwright. McGoohan played George Bernard Shaw alongside Sir John Gielgud as Sydney Cockerell and Dame Wendy Hiller as Sister Laurentia McLachlan.

He was most recognized by a later generation of fans as the Machiavellian King Edward "Longshanks" from the 1995 Oscar-winning Braveheart. In 1996, he appeared as Judge Omar Noose in A Time to Kill. He directed Richie Havens in a rock-opera version of Othello called Catch My Soul.

In 1996, he appeared in Paramount's big budget cinema adaptation of The Phantom comic strip, playing the father of the title character (played by Billy Zane).

In 2000, he reprised his role as Number Six in an episode of The Simpsons, "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes". In it, Homer Simpson concocts a news story to make his website more popular, and he wakes up in a prison disguised as a holiday resort. Dubbed Number Five, he befriends Number Six and escapes with his boat.

McGoohan's last film was a voice role in the animated film Treasure Planet, released in 2002. That same year, he received the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award for The Prisoner.

McGoohan's name was linked to several aborted attempts at producing a new motion picture version of The Prisoner. In 2002, director Simon West (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) was signed to helm a version of the story. McGoohan was listed as executive producer on the project, which never came to fruition. More recently, director Christopher Nolan attached to a proposed film version. However, the source material remained difficult and elusive to adapt into a feature film. Ultimately, a reimagining of the series was filmed for the AMC network in late 2008, with broadcast taking place in November 2009; McGoohan was not involved in the project.

McGoohan was one of several actors considered for the role of James Bond in Dr. No (along with future Bond actor Roger Moore). Part of McGoohan's popular legend is that he turned down the role on moral grounds (the same grounds that would affect how he played John Drake). Ironically, the success of the Bond films is generally cited as the reason for Danger Man being revived in 1964, which led in turn to The Prisoner.

Despite his extensive British stage experience, he appeared on Broadway only once. In 1985, he starred opposite Rosemary Harris in Hugh Whitemore's Pack of Lies, in which he played a British intelligence agent. McGoohan was nominated for a Drama Desk Award as Best Actor.

A biography of the actor was published in 2007 by Tomahawk Press.


McGoohan died on January 13, 2009 at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, following a brief illness. His remains were cremated.


  1. Don't Knock Yourself Out, Network, 2007
  2. Rafferty
  3. [1]"Patrick McGoohan: Danger Man or Prisoner? by Roger Langley"

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