Number Six Escapes

Patrick McGoohan dead at 80

The very embodiment of grace under pressure.
The very embodiment of grace under pressure.

American-born Irish actor Patrick McGoohan made television history in 1967 by reworking his character John Drake (Danger Man/Secret Agent) into the nameless protagonist of The Prisoner, a spectacularly ambitious, weird and angry TV show that both posed and refused to answer the question “Who is Number One?”. Each episode, former intelligence agent Number Six absolutely refused to be a good citizen in The Village, a cheerful dystopia populated by other former agents, fifth-columnists, candy-striped thugs, sinister undertakers, silent midgets and the nightmarish security weather balloon known as Rover.

“I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape” by The Times (1983).

McGoohan co-created the show, directed and wrote several episodes, and will forever be remembered as the uncooperative prisoner who kept his secrets to himself and never stopped trying to escape. Cable network AMC is producing a remake and kindly provides all 17 original episodes for your viewing pleasure at their web site. My faves? “Free For All” (written/directed by McGoohan), “The Schizoid Man,” “Checkmate” and “Many Happy Returns,” but you can’t go wrong with the first episode either.

McGoohan was also a former resident of Santa Fe, where he escaped with his family to avoid publicity after the last, maddeningly inconclusive episode of The Prisoner aired in 1968. During his brief stint as a New Mexican, he directed Richie Havens in Catch My Soul, a rock opera version of Othello shot in Santa Fe and Española which now qualifies as a lost film. Per McGoohan, the film was taken away from him and he disowned it.

Apart from his auteur turn on The Prisoner, McGoohan had some Number Six-ish roles in Scanners and Ice Station Zebra and made an impressively cruel Longshanks in Braveheart. NPR has a nice audio obit here.