Patrick McGoohan

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Patrick McGoohan
McGoohan in All Night Long (1962)
Born(1928-03-19)March 19, 1928
DiedJanuary 13, 2009(2009-01-13) (aged 80)
  • Ireland
  • United States[a]
  • Actor
  • screenwriter
  • producer
  • director
Years active1948–2002
Joan Drummond
(m. 1951)
Children3, including Catherine

Patrick Joseph McGoohan (/məˈɡ.ən/; March 19, 1928 – January 13, 2009) was an American-born Irish actor, director, screenwriter, and producer of film, television, and theatre. Born in New York City to Irish parents, he was raised in Ireland and England, began his career in England during the 1950s and became well known for the titular role, secret agent John Drake in the ITC espionage programme Danger Man (1960–1968). He then produced and created The Prisoner (1967–1968), a surrealistic television series in which he featured as Number Six, an unnamed British intelligence agent who is abducted and imprisoned in a mysterious coastal village.

Beginning in the 1970s, McGoohan maintained a long-running association with the television series Columbo, writing, directing, producing and appearing in several episodes. His notable film roles included David Jones in Ice Station Zebra (1968), James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), the Warden in Escape from Alcatraz (1979), Dr. Paul Ruth in Scanners (1981), King Edward I in Braveheart (1995), Judge Omar Noose in A Time to Kill (1996), and the voice of Billy Bones in Treasure Planet (2002).

During the height of Danger Man's fame in the 1960s, McGoohan was the highest-paid actor on British television.[1] McGoohan won the 1960 BAFTA Television Award for Best Actor for his work on Danger Man, and twice won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series (including its inaugural 1975 entry) for Columbo.

Early life[edit]

Patrick Joseph McGoohan was born in the Astoria neighbourhood of New York City's Queens borough on March 19, 1928, the son of Irish Catholic, immigrant parents Thomas McGoohan and Rose McGoohan (née Fitzpatrick).[2] Soon after he was born, the family relocated back to Ireland, where they lived in the Mullaghmore area of Carrigallen in the south-east of County Leitrim.[3][4]

Seven years later, they relocated to England and settled in Sheffield. McGoohan attended St Marie's School, then St Vincent's School,[5] and De La Salle College, all in Sheffield.[citation needed] During World War II, he was evacuated to Loughborough, where he attended Ratcliffe College at the same time as future actor Ian Bannen. McGoohan excelled in mathematics and boxing, and left school at the age of 16 to return to Sheffield, where he worked as a chicken farmer, bank clerk, and lorry driver before getting a job as a stage manager for Sheffield Repertory Theatre. When one of the actors became ill, McGoohan substituted for him, which began his acting career.[6]


Early career[edit]

In 1955, McGoohan featured in a West End stage production of Serious Charge, as a Church of England vicar accused of being homosexual.[7]

Orson Welles was so impressed by McGoohan's stage presence ("intimidated", Welles would later say) that he cast him as Starbuck in his York theatre production of Moby Dick—Rehearsed.[8] Welles said in 1969 that he believed McGoohan "would now be, I think, one of the big actors of our generation if TV hadn't grabbed him. He can still make it. He was tremendous as Starbuck",[9] and "with all the required attributes, looks, intensity, unquestionable acting ability and a twinkle in his eye."[2]

McGoohan's first television appearance was as Charles Stewart Parnell in "The Fall of Parnell" for the series You Are There (1954).[10][11] He had an uncredited role in the movie The Dam Busters (1955), standing guard outside a briefing room. He delivered the line, "Sorry, old boy, it's secret—you can't go in. Now, c'mon, hop it!", which was cut from some prints of the movie.[citation needed]

He also had small roles in Passage Home (1955), The Dark Avenger (1955) and I Am A Camera (1955). He could also be seen in Zarak (1956) for Warwick Films. For television he was in "Margin for Error" in Terminus (1955), guest featured on The Adventures of Sir Lancelot and Assignment Foreign Legion, and The Adventures of Aggie. He played the lead in "The Makepeace Story" for BBC Sunday Night Theatre (1955). He also appeared in Welles' movie version of Moby Dick Rehearsed.

He did Ring for Catty on stage in 1956.[12]

Rank Organisation[edit]

While working as a stand-in during screen tests, McGoohan was signed to a contract with the Rank Organisation. They gave him mostly villainous parts in various movies: High Tide at Noon (1957), directed by Philip Leacock; Hell Drivers (1957), directed by Cy Endfield, as a violent bully; and the steamy potboiler The Gypsy and the Gentleman (1958), directed by Joseph Losey.[13]

He had good roles in television anthology series such as Television Playwright, Folio, Armchair Theatre, ITV Play of the Week and ITV Television Playhouse. He was given a leading role in Nor the Moon by Night (1958), filmed in South Africa.[14] After some disputes with the management, the contract was dissolved. He then did some TV work, winning a BAFTA in 1960.[15]

His favourite part for stage acting was the lead for Ibsen's play Brand, for which he received an award. He also played the role in a (still extant) BBC television production in August 1959.[16] Michael Meyer, who translated the stage version, thought McGoohan's performance was the best and most powerful he'd ever seen.[17] It was McGoohan's last stage appearance for 28 years.

Danger Man[edit]

Production executive Lew Grade soon approached McGoohan about a television series where he would play a spy named John Drake. Having learned from his experience at Rank, McGoohan insisted on several conditions: All the fistfights should be different; the character would always use his brain before using a gun; and—much to the executives' horror—no kissing. The show debuted in 1960 as Danger Man,[18] a half-hour programme intended for American audiences. It did fairly well, but not as well as hoped.[19][20]

Production lasted a year and 39 episodes. After the first series was over, an interviewer asked McGoohan if he would have liked it to continue. He replied, "Perhaps, but let me tell you this: I would rather do twenty TV series than go through what I went through under that Rank contract I signed a few years ago and for which I blame no one but myself."[21]

Post-Danger Man[edit]

McGoohan appeared in the movie Two Living, One Dead (1961), filmed in Sweden. He featured in two movies directed by Basil Dearden: All Night Long, an updating of Othello, and Life for Ruth (both 1962). He also featured in an adaptation of The Quare Fellow (1962) by Brendan Behan.

McGoohan was one of several actors considered for the role of James Bond in Dr. No. While McGoohan, a Catholic, refused the role on moral grounds,[22] the success of the Bond movies is generally cited as the reason for Danger Man being revived. (He was later considered for the same role in Live and Let Die, but refused again.)[23]

McGoohan spent some time working for The Walt Disney Company on The Three Lives of Thomasina (1963) and The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1963). A staid English vicar, Dr. Christopher Syn (a reformed pirate captain - played by McGoohan) disguised as a scarecrow and mounted on a magnificent black stallion thwarts King George III's Revenue officers in daring night-time smuggling adventures on the remote Kent coast.

Return of Danger Man[edit]

After he had also refused the role of Simon Templar in The Saint,[23] Lew Grade asked McGoohan if he wanted to give John Drake another try. This time, McGoohan had even more say about the series. Danger Man (US: Secret Agent) was resurrected in 1964 as a one-hour programme. The scripts now allowed McGoohan more range in his acting. Because of the popularity of the series, he became the highest-paid actor in the UK,[24] and the show lasted almost three more years.[25]

After shooting the only two episodes of Danger Man to be filmed in colour, McGoohan told Lew Grade he was going to quit for another show.[26]

The Prisoner[edit]

Knowing McGoohan's intention to quit Danger Man, Grade asked if he would at least work on "something" for him. McGoohan gave him a run-down of what would later be termed a miniseries, about a secret agent who angrily quits and is abducted hours later. He awakens to find himself imprisoned in a surreal, cheerful holiday resort village. 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.[18]

In addition to being the series's protagonist, McGoohan was its executive producer, forming Everyman Films with producer David Tomblin, and also wrote and directed several episodes, in some cases using pseudonyms.[27][28] The originally commissioned seven episodes became seventeen.

The title character, the otherwise-unnamed "Number Six", spends the entire series trying to escape from a mysterious prison community called "The Village", and to learn the identity of his nemesis, Number One. The Village's administrators try just as much to force or trick him into revealing why he resigned as a spy, which he refuses to divulge. The filming location was the Italianate village of Portmeirion in North Wales, which was featured in some episodes of Danger Man.


During production of The Prisoner, MGM cast McGoohan in an action movie, Ice Station Zebra (1968), for which his performance as a British spy drew critical praise.

After the end of The Prisoner, he presented a TV show, Journey into Darkness (1968–69). He was meant to follow it with the lead role of Dirk Struan in an expensive adaptation of the James Clavell best-seller Tai-Pan but the project was cancelled before filming.[29] Instead he made the movie The Moonshine War (1970) for MGM.


McGoohan played James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971). He directed Richie Havens in a rock-opera version of Othello, titled Catch My Soul (1974), but disliked the experience.[30]

McGoohan received two Emmy Awards for his work for the television series Columbo, with his long-time friend Peter Falk. McGoohan said that his first appearance on Columbo (episode: "By Dawn's Early Light", 1974) was probably his favourite American role. He directed five Columbo episodes (including three of the four in which he appeared), one of which he also wrote and two of which he also produced. McGoohan was involved with the Columbo series in some capacity from 1974 to 2000; his daughter Catherine McGoohan appeared with him in the episode "Ashes To Ashes" (1998). The other two Columbo episodes in which he appeared are "Identity Crisis" (1975) and "Agenda For Murder" (1990).

As he had done early in his career with the Rank Organisation, McGoohan began to specialise in villains, appearing in A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe (1975), Silver Streak (1976) and The Man in the Iron Mask (1977).

In 1977, he had the main role of the television series Rafferty as a retired army doctor who moves into private practice.[31]

He had the lead in a Canadian movie, Kings and Desperate Men;[32] then had supporting parts in Brass Target (1978) and the Clint Eastwood movie Escape from Alcatraz (1979), portraying the prison's warden.


In 1980 he appeared in the UK TV movie The Hard Way.

In 1981 he appeared in the science fiction/horror movie Scanners, and in Jamaica Inn (1983) and Trespasses (1984).

In 1985 he appeared in his only Broadway production, featuring opposite Rosemary Harris in Hugh Whitemore's Pack of Lies, in which he played another British spy.[33] He was nominated for a Drama Desk Award as Best Actor for his performance.

He could also be seen in the movies Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985), Of Pure Blood (1986) and an episode of Murder, She Wrote.


McGoohan featured in The Best of Friends (1991) for Channel 4, 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. In the United States, the drama was shown by PBS as part of Masterpiece Theatre.

Also during this period he featured as King Edward I in Braveheart (1995), which won five Academy Awards. It seemed to revitalise McGoohan's career: he was then seen as Judge Omar Noose in A Time to Kill (1996) and in The Phantom (also 1996),[23] a cinema adaptation of the comic strip.


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 meets Number Six, and later betrays him and escapes with his boat; referencing his numerous attempts to escape on a raft in The Prisoner, Number Six splutters "That's the third time that's happened!"

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

McGoohan's name was associated with several aborted attempts at producing a new movie version of The Prisoner. In 2002, Simon West was signed to direct a version of the story. McGoohan was listed as executive producer for the movie, which never came to fruition. Later, Christopher Nolan was proposed as director for a movie version. However, the source material remained difficult and elusive to adapt into a feature movie. McGoohan was not involved with the project that was ultimately completed. A miniseries was filmed for the AMC network in late 2008, with its broadcast occurring during November 2009.

Personal life[edit]

McGoohan married actress Joan Drummond on May 19, 1951. They had three children including Catherine McGoohan.[34]

For most of the 1960s they lived in a secluded detached house on the Ridgeway, Mill Hill, London. They settled in the Pacific Palisades district of Los Angeles during the mid-1970s.[35]


McGoohan died at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, on January 13, 2009; he was 80 years old. His family did not make the cause of death public, referring only to a "short illness."[36]

A biography of McGoohan was published in 2007 by Tomahawk Press,[37] and another followed in 2011 by Supernova Books.[38]


Year Title Role Notes
1955 Passage Home McIsaacs
The Dark Avenger a.k.a. The Warriors English soldier Uncredited
The Dam Busters RAF guard
I Am a Camera Swedish water therapist
1956 Zarak Moor Larkin
1957 High Tide at Noon Simon Breck
Hell Drivers G. 'Red' Redman
1958 The Gypsy and the Gentleman Jess
Nor the Moon by Night a.k.a. Elephant Gun Andrew Miller
1961 Two Living, One Dead Erik Berger
1962 All Night Long Johnny Cousin
Life for Ruth a.k.a. Walk in the Shadow Doctor James 'Jim' Brown
The Quare Fellow Thomas Crimmin
1963 The Three Lives of Thomasina Andrew McDhui
Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow Dr. Christopher Syn
1968 Ice Station Zebra David Jones
1970 The Moonshine War Frank Long
1971 Mary, Queen of Scots James Stuart
1974 Catch My Soul Director
1975 A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe Major Cabot
1976 Silver Streak Roger Devereau
1977 The Man in the Iron Mask Fouquet
1978 Brass Target Colonel Mike McCauley
1979 Escape from Alcatraz Warden Arthur Dollison
1981 Scanners Doctor Paul Ruth
Kings and Desperate Men John Kingsley Filmed in 1977
1984 Trespasses Fred Wells
1985 Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend Doctor Eric Kiviat
1995 Braveheart King Edward Longshanks
1996 The Phantom Phantom's Dad
A Time to Kill Judge Omar Noose
1997 Hysteria Dr. Harvey Langston
2002 Treasure Planet Billy Bones Voice (final film role)

Television roles[edit]

  Year   Title Role Notes
1954 You Are There 2 episodes: "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and "The Fall of Parnell"
1955 The Vise Tony Mason 1 episode ("Gift from Heaven")
Terminus James Hartley 1 episode ("Margin for Error")
BBC Sunday Night Theatre Presents: The Makepeace Story Seth Makepeace 1 episode ("The Ruthless Destiny")
1956 The Adventures of Sir Lancelot Sir Glavin 1 episode ("The Outcast", S1,E4)
1957 Assignment Foreign Legion Captain Valadon 1 episode ("The Coward", S1,E23)
1956–57 The Adventures of Aggie Migual 1 episode ("Spanish Sauce", S1,E3)
1958 The Vise Vance 1 episode ("Blood in the Sky")
Armchair Theatre Jack 'Pal' Smurch 1 episode ("The Greatest Man in the World")
Television Playwright Presents James Coogan 1 episode ("This Day in Fear")
ITV Television Playhouse Mat Galvin 1 episode ("Rest in Violence")
1959 Brand Brand Henrik Ibsen play
1961 Armchair Theatre Nicholai Soloviov 1 episode ("The Man Out There")
Danger Man John Drake 86 episodes. Also directed 3 episodes.
1963 Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color Doctor Christopher Syn/
Scarecrow of Romney Marsh
3 episodes
1963 Sunday Night Play The Interrogator 1 episode ("The Prisoner")
1967–68 The Prisoner Number Six 17 episodes. Also directed 5 episodes.
1969 Journey into Darkness Host TV film
1974 Columbo Colonel Lyle C. Rumford 1 episode ("By Dawn's Early Light")
1975 Nelson Brenner 1 episode ("Identity Crisis"). Also directed.
1976 1 episode ("Last Salute to the Commodore") – director
1977 Rafferty Doctor Sid Rafferty 13 episodes. Also directed 1 episode.
1980 The Hard Way John Connor TV film
1983 Jamaica Inn Joss Merlyn
1985 American Playhouse Chief magistrate 3 episodes ("Three Sovereigns for Sarah" parts I, II & III)
1987 Murder, She Wrote Oliver Quayle 1 episode ("Witness for the Defense")
1990 Columbo Oscar Finch 1 episode ("Agenda for Murder"). Also directed.
1998 Eric Prince "Ashes to Ashes". Also directed.
2000 1 episode ("Murder with Too Many Notes") – director
The Simpsons Number Six 1 episode ("The Computer Wore Menace Shoes")

Theatre roles[edit]

This is an incomplete list. Sources include[39] and.[40]

  Year   Title Role Notes
1945 Pride and Prejudice Mr D'Arcy Vincent's Youth Club, Sheffield (amateur production)
195051 The Rivals Theatre Royal, Bath
1951 The Little Foxes Oscar Hubbard Sheffield Playhouse
Man and Superman John Tanner
195152 Hobson's Choice Albert Prosser Grand Theatre, Blackpool, then The Arts Theatre Club, London
195253 Henry V Bristol Old Vic and The Old Vic, London
1952 The Taming of the Shrew Petruchio Sheffield Playhouse
Cupid and Psyche Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool
1953 Spring Model Roy Mawson Theatre Royal, Windsor
The Castiglioni Brothers Camillo Castiglioni Bristol Old Vic
The Cherry Orchard Peter Trofimov
Antony and Cleopatra Pompey / a schoolmaster
Old Bailey Robert Bailey II
The River Line Philip Sturgess Theatre Royal, Windsor
Time on Their Hands Leonard White Q Theatre, London
1954 Burning Bright
Spring Model
Grace and Favour Producer and director
1955 Serious Charge Howard Phillips Garrick Theatre, London and Winter Gardens, Morecambe
Moby Dick – Rehearsed A Serious Actor / Starbuck Duke of York's Theatre, London
Ring For Catty Leonard White Coliseum Theatre, Harrow, Lyric Theatre, London
Brand Brand Lyric Theatre, London
1959 Danton's Death St. Just
1985 Pack of Lies Stewart Royale Theater, New York



  1. ^ McGoohan was a citizen of Ireland via Jus sanguinis and the United States via Jus soli


  1. ^ Barker, Dennis (January 15, 2009). "Obituary: Patrick McGoohan". The Guardian. Retrieved November 13, 2023.
  2. ^ a b "Patrick McGoohan". The Daily Telegraph. January 15, 2009. Archived from the original on January 12, 2022. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  3. ^ Langley, R: Patrick McGoohan. Tomahawk Press, 2007.
  4. ^ "BFI retrospective" Archived February 5, 2018, at the Wayback Machine, The Irish Post; retrieved July 9, 2016.
  5. ^ Langley, Roger Patrick McGoohan: Danger Man or Prisoner?, pp. 12–13. Tomahawk Press, 2007. Second revised updated edition, Escape Books, 2017.
  6. ^ "BFI Screenonline: McGoohan, Patrick (1928–2009) Biography".
  7. ^ Hope-Wallace, Philip (February 18, 1955). "Another New Play in London: 'Serious Charge'". The Manchester Guardian. p. 7.
  8. ^ Fay, Gerard (June 18, 1955). "Wellesian Version of 'Moby Dick': A Sea Charade". The Manchester Guardian. p. 5.
  9. ^ Jonathan Roenbaum (ed.), Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, This Is Orson Welles (Da Capo Press, New York, 1992 [rev. 1998 ed.]) p. 4
  10. ^ Cassin, B. I Never Had a Proper Job. Liberties Press, 2012.
  11. ^ Langley, R. Patrick McGoohan, pp. 41–42. Tomahawk Press, 2007.
  12. ^ (Lyric, Hammersmith.) Ring for Catty by Patrick Cargill and Jack Beale. (Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue) Hartley, Anthony. The Spectator; London 196.6661 (24 February 1956): p. 248.
  13. ^ Patrick McGoohan Picture Show; London 70.1823 (March 8, 1958): 8.
  14. ^ "Love under an African moon". The Australian Women's Weekly. Vol. 26, no. 21. October 29, 1958. p. 73. Retrieved October 15, 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  15. ^ "BAFTA award in 1960", BAFTA, Retrieved February 1, 2015
  16. ^ ""World Theatre" Brand (TV Episode 1959)". Internet Movie Database.
  17. ^ Michael Meyer, Not Prince Hamlet
  18. ^ a b "'Prisoner' Star Patrick McGoohan Dies". CBS News. January 14, 2009. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
  19. ^ Vincent Cosgrove, 2007. "Odds Are He Will Live on Disc Tomorrow," The New York Times, April 15. Retrieved 4-7-10.
  20. ^ "'Danger Man'". The Australian Women's Weekly. Vol. 29, no. 7. July 19, 1961. p. 21. Retrieved October 15, 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  21. ^ "Why Danger Man scared me", Photoplay, April 1961, p. 14.
  22. ^ "The Actors Who Almost Played James Bond". November 17, 2022.
  23. ^ a b c "20 Actors That Were Almost Cast in the Lord of the Rings". February 27, 2015.
  24. ^ Time & Tide. Vol. 46. Time and Tide Publishing Company. 1965. p. 66. Danger Man, McGoohan put a new spin on the secret agent formula by refusing to allow his character, John Drake, ... The show's success made McGoohan Britain's highest-paid TV actor
  25. ^ "Dangerman". The Australian Women's Weekly. Vol. 33, no. 5. June 30, 1965. p. 17. Retrieved October 15, 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  26. ^ Martin Jackson "Danger Man To Quit", Daily Express, April 16, 1966, p. 12. Jackson states: "Now McGoohan has put up a new TV idea to ATV's managing director Lew Grade." He said: "It is another adventure series but a very different sort of character. It promises to be very exciting. Mr. Grade said: Mr. McGoohan is coming to see me tomorrow to discuss the details. We hope to start work on the new series in October."
  27. ^ "The Prisoner Puzzle (with Patrick McGoohan)". YouTube. Retrieved January 23, 2014.[dead YouTube link]
  28. ^ McGoohan wrote "Free for All" as Paddy Fitz, and directed "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.
  29. ^ "MGM Won't Drop Plans for 'Tai-Pan'". Los Angeles Times. July 29, 1968. p. g15.
  30. ^ Katelan, Jean-Yves (October 1995). "Le Prisonnier au cinema". Premiere (223): 26. Archived from the original on November 7, 2012. Retrieved January 17, 2009.
  31. ^ "Rafferty". Archived from the original on May 3, 2009. Retrieved November 26, 2012.
  32. ^ "Margaret Trudeau ..." The Australian Women's Weekly. Vol. 46, no. 18. October 4, 1978. p. 12. Retrieved October 15, 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  33. ^ "Pack of Lies (original Broadway play)". Internet Broadway Database.
  34. ^ Sellers, Robert (January 16, 2009). "Patrick McGoohan: Actor who created and starred in the cult 1960s television series 'The Prisoner'". The Independent. Archived from the original on May 25, 2022. Retrieved July 20, 2019.
  35. ^ Bennetts, Leslie (December 26, 1984). "McGoohan to Star in 'Pack of Lies'". The New York Times. Retrieved July 20, 2019. The McGoohans, who live in Pacific Palisades, Calif
  36. ^ Dalton, Andrew. "'Prisoner' actor Patrick McGoohan dies in LA". Associated Press. Archived from the original on February 9, 2009. Retrieved January 7, 2012 – via Internet Archive.
  37. ^ Langley, Roger; Falk, Peter (2007). Patrick McGoohan: Danger Man or Prisoner?. Tomahawk Press. ISBN 978-0-9531926-4-9.
  38. ^ Booth, Rupert (2011). Not a Number: A life. Supernova Books. ISBN 978-0-9566329-2-0.
  39. ^ "Patrick McGoohan". Theatricalia. Retrieved September 1, 2023.
  40. ^ "Patrick McGoohan". Sheffielder. February 8, 2020. Retrieved September 2, 2023.

External links[edit]