Thursday 15 January 2009

Patrick McGoohan---1928-2009

Patrick McGoohan (left) as "The Prisoner"
Photograph: AP

Patrick McGoohan was a talented actor noted for his lead role in the "Danger Man" (known as "Secret Agent Man") television series that began in London in 1960 and ran for six years, making him the highest-paid television actor in Britain. However, he is probably even more celebrated as the creator and lead character in "The Prisoner," which ran for seventeen episodes beginning in 1967 and remains one of the most fascinating and enigmatic television productions made.

Strolling in the Village
Photograph: ITV/Rex Features

Mr. McGoohan, who also wrote and directed many of the episodes himself, portrays an unnamed spy who resigns and is subsequently kidnapped, ending up in the Village, which appears to be a charming seaside resort but is actually a nasty high-tech prison, with constant surveillance and much mystery. The McGoohan character, known as "Number 6," has a constant battle of wills with the ever-changing head of the Village, "Number 2," as he is pressed as to the reason he resigned. Many questions are raised in the series about the role of the individual in society, the dangers of technology, trust and power. And what is intriguing (and perhaps frustrating) in a television series is that answers are not really given and you can easily take an opposite position. Spy series, psychological thriller, sci-fi program--it was whatever you wanted it to be. Of course, a lot of people didn't want it to be anything and the hostile public reaction to the last episode, the two-part "Fall Out," caused Mr. McGoohan to leave the UK, living first in Switzerland and then settling in the United States permanently. He passed away on January 13 in Los Angeles.

And of course since this is Travels with a Tin Donkey there is a cycling connection. The symbol of the Village is a highwheeler bicycle, with a canopy. It appears "in the metal" in the hyper-modern control centre of the Village but also is used in the closing credits as an animated highwheeler pieces itself together in time to the music. All of the inhabitants of the Village wear a large white badge with their number on it, superimposed on the image of the penny-farthing.

Patrick McGoohan was reputed to have turned down the role of James Bond in "Dr. No" but had a long career, acting in many films (including Mel Gibson's "Braveheart") and winning two Emmy awards for his appearances on the detective series "Columbo." But to many the high point of his career had to be "The Prisoner" and it bears viewing still today. It has acquired cult status, with a band of dedicated fans and an annual convention in the Village itself, the Welsh resort town of Portmeirion. In fact, a remake of the series is about to be released, incorporating some current events.

Thanks for all the entertainment, Mr. McGoohan. Be seeing you!

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