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  Patrick Joseph McGoohan (1928–2009), by unknown photographer, 1967 Patrick Joseph McGoohan (1928–2009), by unknown photographer, 1967
McGoohan, Patrick Joseph (1928–2009), actor, television producer, and director, was born on 19 March 1928 in Astoria, Queens, New York, the first child of Irish Catholic immigrants, Thomas McGoohan and his wife, Rose, née Fitzpatrick. His parents returned to co. Leitrim shortly after his birth, and moved to Sheffield in the 1930s where McGoohan attended St Vincent's School. Evacuated to Leicester during the Second World War, McGoohan returned to Sheffield at the age of sixteen and worked in various jobs, including as a bank clerk and lorry driver, before becoming stage manager for the Sheffield Repertory Theatre. He married Effie Joan Maureen Stein, the actress Joan Drummond (b. 1931), on 19 May 1951 at St William's Roman Catholic Church in Ecclesall; she was the daughter of Walter Oscar Stein, solicitor. They had three daughters, Catherine (b. 1952), Anne (b. 1959), and Frances (b. 1960).

McGoohan's acting career began when he stepped in for an absent performer at the Repertory Theatre. He played numerous bit parts in British film and television from the mid-1950s, including a sentry in The Dam Busters (1955), and he was one of the stock company of supporting actors in the television series The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1956), but it was his starring role in the Garrick Theatre's production of Philip King's Serious Charge in 1955 that first brought him to critical attention. He scored a particular triumph with his portrayal of Ibsen's Brand at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1959. His tall, strong build and intense acting style led to his casting as heavy villains in several films in the late 1950s, most notably in Hell Drivers (1959) as the bully-boy trying to run Stanley Baker off the road, but good roles were scarce in the declining British film industry and McGoohan looked instead to stage and television.

McGoohan's breakthrough came when Lew Grade, whose Incorporated Television Company had pioneered the production of filmed series for the international market, cast him as the star of Danger Man, which ran initially for one series of thirty-nine half-hour episodes in 1960–61 and then, following a hiatus, for a further forty-five one-hour episodes between 1964 and 1967. McGoohan was ideally cast as secret agent John Drake, a no-nonsense, tough-as-nails enforcer who acted first on behalf of NATO and then as a roving ‘Mr Fix-It’ for British intelligence. McGoohan's Catholic upbringing influenced his characterization of Drake, a highly moral and principled character who was rather different from the sexually promiscuous James Bond of Ian Fleming's novels. According to the producer Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, McGoohan was considered for the Bond films but was deemed unsuitable because ‘he was strongly religious, and was uneasy about sex and violence’ (Broccoli, 64).

The international success of Danger Man, which was sold to the American CBS network in 1965 (it was known as Secret Agent in the United States), enabled McGoohan to persuade Grade to back another television series of his own devising, The Prisoner (1967–8). McGoohan played a man known only as Number Six, a former secret agent who resigns in a fit of pique and finds himself held in a mysterious resort (filmed on location at Portmeirion in north Wales) from which he cannot escape and where, in each episode, a different Number Two attempts to discover the reason for his resignation. As one of the most enigmatic series ever produced for television The Prisoner immediately acquired a cult following, with fans and academics debating its ‘meaning’ long after it was first broadcast. It was also an early example of ‘authored’ television. As well as starring in the series, McGoohan was an executive producer (uncredited), wrote four of the seventeen episodes, and directed two.

McGoohan and his family moved to California in the 1970s, where they settled in the exclusive community of Pacific Palisades. Much of the rest of his career was spent as a guest star in films and television. His film roles included a Russian agent in the cold war thriller Ice Station Zebra (1968), a suave villain in the action-comedy Silver Streak (1976), and the prison warden in Escape from Alcatraz (1978). He continued his interest in directing with five episodes of Columbo between 1975 and 2000, starring his friend Peter Falk, and also picked up Emmy awards for two of his four appearances as the ‘murderer-of-the-week’. In 1977 he starred in another television series, Rafferty, about an irascible doctor—a role written especially for McGoohan, whose serious, earnest outlook sometimes earned him a reputation for being ‘difficult’ on set. Later film roles included Dr Paul Ruth in the cult science fiction-horror Scanners (1981) and Edward I in Braveheart (1995).

McGoohan's career might be summarized as that of an actor who was overtaken by stardom. Most of his films were undistinguished, while The Prisoner cast a long shadow over his later career. His attitude towards his most famous role was mixed. In later life he was fond of saying ‘I am a prisoner of The Prisoner’ (Mail on Sunday, 1 Oct 1995), but in 2000 he spoofed it in an episode of The Simpsons. He died on 13 January 2009 at St John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, following a short illness. He was survived by his wife and three daughters. His remains were cremated.

James Chapman


C. Gregory, Be seeing you: decoding The Prisoner (1997) · C. Broccoli and D. Zec, When the snow melts: the autobiography of Cubby Broccoli (1998) · J. Chapman, Saints and avengers: British adventure series of the 1960s (2002) · R. Langley, Patick McGoohan (2007) · The Guardian (14 Jan 2009); (19 Jan 2009) · The Times (15 Jan 2009); (19 Jan 2009); (23 Jan 2009) · New York Times (15 Jan 2009) · Daily Telegraph (16 Jan 2009) · The Independent (16 Jan 2009) · The Herald [Glasgow] (17 Jan 2009) · m. cert.





BFI NFTVA, performance footage




BL NSA, performance recordings


photographs, 1955–90, PA Images, London · photographs, 1957–85, Rex Features, London [see illus.] · photographs, 1960–78, Getty Images, London · photographs, 2000–04, Photoshot, London · photographs, Camera Press, London