Patrick McGoohan

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Patrick McGoohan
McGoohan in All Night Long (1962)
Patrick Joseph McGoohan

(1928-03-19)19 March 1928
Died13 January 2009(2009-01-13) (aged 80)
CitizenshipIrish and American
Alma materRatcliffe College
OccupationActor, television writer, producer, director
Years active1955–2002
Home townMullaghmore, Carrigallen, County Leitrim, Ireland
Sheffield, England
Joan Drummond
m. 1951)
Children3, including Catherine McGoohan

Patrick Joseph McGoohan (19 March 1928 – 13 January 2009) was an Irish-American actor, screenwriter and director. He began his career in the United Kingdom in the 1950s, relocating to the United States in the 1970s. His career-defining roles were in the British television series Danger Man (US: Secret Agent) and the surreal psychological drama The Prisoner, which he co-created. During his career, he received two Primetime Emmy Awards and a BAFTA.

Early life[edit]

McGoohan was born in Astoria, Queens, New York City, the son of Rose (Fitzpatrick) and Thomas McGoohan, who were living in the United States after emigrating from Ireland to seek work. He was brought up as a Catholic.[1] Shortly after he was born, McGoohan's parents moved back to Mullaghmore, County Leitrim,[2][3] Ireland, and seven years later, they moved to Sheffield, England.

McGoohan attended St Vincent's School[4] and La Salle College[citation needed] in Sheffield. During World War II, he was evacuated to Loughborough, Leicestershire. There he attended Ratcliffe College, where he excelled in mathematics and boxing. McGoohan left school at the age of 16 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 was substituted for him, launching his acting career.


Early career[edit]

In 1955, McGoohan starred in a West End production of a play called Serious Charge in the role of a Church of England vicar accused of being homosexual.[5] 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.[6] 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",[7] and "with all the required attributes, looks, intensity, unquestionable acting ability and a twinkle in his eye."[1]

McGoohan's first television appearance was playing Charles Stewart Parnell in "The Fall of Parnell" for You Are There (1954).[8][9] He had an uncredited role in The Dam Busters (1955), standing guard outside the 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. On TV he was in "Margin for Error" in Terminus (1955), guest starred on The Adventures of Sir Lancelot and Assignment Foreign Legion, The Vise and The Adventures of Aggie, and played the lead in "The Makepeace Story" for BBC Sunday Night Theatre (1955). He also appeared in Welles' film of Moby Dick Rehearsed.

He did Ring for Catty on stage in 1956.[10]

Rank Organisation[edit]

While working as a stand-in during screen tests, McGoohan was signed to a contract with the Rank Organisation. Rank put him in mostly villainous parts: 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.[11]

He had good roles on TV in anthology series such as Television Playwright, Folio, Armchair Theatre, ITV Play of the Week and ITV Television Playhouse. McGoohan was given a leading role in Nor the Moon by Night (1958), shot in South Africa.[12]

After some clashes with the management, the contract was dissolved. Free of the contract, he did some TV work, winning a BAFTA in 1960.[13]

His favourite part for the stage was the lead in Ibsen's Brand, for which he received an award. He played the role in a (still extant) BBC television production in August 1959.[14] Michael Meyer thought that McGoohan's performance in Meyer's translation of Brand in 1959 was the best and most powerful performance he'd ever seen.[15] It was McGoohan's last appearance on stage for 28 years.

Danger Man[edit]

Soon, production executive Lew Grade approached McGoohan about a television 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 before agreeing to appear in the programme: 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 series debuted in 1960 as Danger Man,[16] a half-hour programme geared toward an American audience. It did fairly well, but not as well as hoped.[17][18]

Production lasted a year and 39 episodes. After this first series was over, one interviewer asked McGoohan if he would have liked the series to continue, to which 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."[19]

Post-Danger Man[edit]

McGoohan appeared in Two Living, One Dead (1961), shot in Sweden. He starred in two films directed by Basil Dearden: All Night Long, an updating of Othello, and Life for Ruth (both 1962). He also starred 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, turned down the role on moral grounds, the success of the Bond films 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 turned it down again.)

McGoohan spent some time working for Disney on The Three Lives of Thomasina (1963) and The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1963).

Return of Danger Man[edit]

After he had also turned down the role of Simon Templar in The Saint, Lew Grade asked him if he would like 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. The popularity of the series led to McGoohan's becoming the highest-paid actor in the UK,[20] and the show lasted almost three more years.[21]

After shooting the two episodes of Danger Man in colour, McGoohan told Lew Grade he was going to quit for another show.[22]

The Prisoner[edit]

In the face of 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 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.[16]

Apart from being the star of The Prisoner, McGoohan was the executive producer, forming Everyman Films with series producer David Tomblin, and also wrote and directed several episodes, in some cases using pseudonyms.[23][24] The originally commissioned seven episodes became seventeen.

The title character of The Prisoner (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 hard to force or trick him into revealing why he resigned from his previous job as a spy, which he refuses to divulge. The location used was the Italianate village of Portmeirion in North Wales, which had featured in occasional episodes of Danger Man.


During production of The Prisoner, MGM cast McGoohan in an action film, Ice Station Zebra (1968), for which his performance as a tightly-wound 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 star part of Dirk Struan in an expensive adaptation of the James Clavell best-seller Tai-Pan but the project was cancelled before filming.[25] Instead McGoohan made 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.[26]

McGoohan received two Emmy Awards for his work on Columbo, with his long-time friend Peter Falk. McGoohan had 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 his final 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 starred in the television series Rafferty, playing a former army doctor who has retired and moved into private practice.[27]

He had the lead in a Canadian film Kings and Desperate Men[28] then had support parts in Brass Target (1978) and the Clint Eastwood film Escape from Alcatraz (1979), portraying the prison's warden. He had the lead in a TV movie The Hard Way (1979).


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

In 1985 he appeared on Broadway for his only production there, starring opposite Rosemary Harris in Hugh Whitemore's Pack of Lies, in which he played another British spy.[29] He was nominated for a Drama Desk Award as Best Actor for his performance.

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


McGoohan starred 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 in 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), 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 film role was as the voice of Billy Bones 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 film 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 film, which never came to fruition. Later, Christopher Nolan was proposed as director for a film version. However, the source material remained difficult and elusive to adapt into a feature film. McGoohan was not involved in the project that was ultimately completed. A reimagining of the series was filmed for the AMC network in late 2008, with its broadcast taking place during November 2009.

Personal life[edit]

McGoohan married actress Joan Drummond on 19 May 1951. They had three daughters, Catherine (born 1952), Anne (born 1959) and Frances (born 1960). The McGoohans settled in the Pacific Palisades district of Los Angeles in the mid-1970s.[30][31]


McGoohan died on 13 January 2009 at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, following a brief illness.[32]


A biography of the actor was first published in 2007 by Tomahawk Press,[33] with a further biography published in 2011 by Supernova Books.[34]


Year Title Role Notes
1955 Passage Home McIsaacs
1955 The Dark Avenger English soldier Uncredited
1955 The Dam Busters RAF guard Uncredited
1955 I Am a Camera Swedish water therapist
1956 Zarak Moor Larkin
1957 High Tide at Noon Simon Breck
1957 Hell Drivers G. 'Red' Redman
1958 The Gypsy and the Gentleman Jess
1958 Nor the Moon by Night Andrew Miller
1961 Two Living, One Dead Erik Berger
1962 All Night Long Johnny Cousin
1962 Life for Ruth Doctor James 'Jim' Brown
1962 The Quare Fellow Thomas Crimmin
1963 The Three Lives of Thomasina Andrew McDhui
1963 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 N/A 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
1981 Scanners Doctor Paul Ruth
1981 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 Longshanks, King Edward I
1996 The Phantom Phantom's Dad
1996 A Time to Kill Judge Omar Noose
1997 Hysteria Dr. Harvey Langston
2002 Treasure Planet Billy Bones Voice, (final film role)
Year Title Role Notes
1955 The Vise Tony Mason 1 episode ("Gift from Heaven")
1958 The Vise Vance 1 episode ("Blood in the Sky")
1958 Armchair Theatre Jack 'Pal' Smurch 1 episode ("The Greatest Man in the World")
1959 Brand Priest Brand Henrik Ibsen play
1961 Armchair Theatre Nicholai Soloviov 1 episode ("The Man Out There")
Danger Man John Drake 39 + 47 episodes. Also directed three episodes.
1963 Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color Doctor Christopher Syn/
Scarecrow of Romney Marsh
3 episodes
1967–68 The Prisoner Number Six 17 episodes. Also directed five episodes.
1969 Journey into Darkness Host Made-for-TV film
1974 Columbo Colonel Lyle C. Rumford 1 episode ("By Dawn's Early Light")
1975 Columbo Nelson Brenner 1 episode ("Identity Crisis"). Also directed.
1976 Columbo N/A 1 episode ("Last Salute to the Commodore") – director
1977 Rafferty Doctor Sid Rafferty 13 episodes. Also directed one episode.
1979 The Hard Way John Connor Made-for-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 Columbo Eric Prince "Ashes to Ashes". Also directed.
2000 Columbo N/A 1 episode ("Murder with Too Many Notes") – director
2000 The Simpsons Number Six 1 episode ("The Computer Wore Menace Shoes")



  1. ^ a b "Patrick McGoohan". The Daily Telegraph. 15 January 2009. Retrieved 11 September 2010.
  2. ^ Langley, R: Patrick McGoohan. Tomahawk Press, 2007.
  3. ^ "BFI retrospective", The Irish Post, Retrieved 9 July 2016
  4. ^ Langley, R. Patrick McGoohan, pp. 12–13. Tomahawk Press, 2007.
  5. ^ Hope-Wallace, Philip (18 February 1955). "ANOTHER NEW PLAY IN LONDON: "Serious Charge"". The Manchester Guardian. p. 7.
  6. ^ Fay, Gerard (18 June 1955). "WELLESIAN VERSION OF "MOBY DICK": A Sea Charade". The Manchester Guardian. p. 5.
  7. ^ Jonathan Roenbaum (ed.), Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, This Is Orson Welles (Da Capo Press, New York, 1992 [rev. 1998 ed.]) p.4
  8. ^ Cassin, B. I Never Had a Proper Job. Liberties Press, 2012.
  9. ^ Langley, R. Patrick McGoohan, pp. 41-42. Tomahawk Press, 2007.
  10. ^ (Lyric, Hammersmith.)-RING FOR CATTY. By Patrick Cargill and Jack Beale. (Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue) Hartley, Anthony. The Spectator; London 196.6661 (Feb 24, 1956): 248.
  11. ^ PATRICK McGOOHAN Picture Show; London70.1823 (Mar 8, 1958): 8.
  12. ^ "Love under an African moon". The Australian Women's Weekly. 26 (21). 29 October 1958. p. 73. Retrieved 15 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  13. ^ "BAFTA award in 1960", BAFTA, Retrieved 1 February 2015
  14. ^ "World Theatre" Brand (TV Episode 1959) on IMDb
  15. ^ Michael Meyer, Not Prince Hamlet
  16. ^ a b ""Prisoner" Star Patrick McGoohan Dies". CBS News. 14 January 2009. Retrieved 15 January 2009.
  17. ^ Vincent Cosgrove, 2007. "Odds Are He Will Live on Disc Tomorrow," The New York Times, 15 April. Retrieved 4-7-10.
  18. ^ ""Danger Man"". The Australian Women's Weekly. 29 (7). 19 July 1961. p. 21. Retrieved 15 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  19. ^ "Why Danger Man scared me", Photoplay, April 1961, p. 14.
  20. ^ Time & Tide. 46. Time and Tide Publishing Company. January 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
  21. ^ "Dangerman". The Australian Women's Weekly. 33 (5). 30 June 1965. p. 17. Retrieved 15 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  22. ^ Martin Jackson "Danger Man To Quit", Daily Express, 16 April 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."
  23. ^ "The Prisoner Puzzle (with Patrick McGoohan)". Retrieved 23 January 2014.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ "MGM Won't Drop Plans for 'Tai-Pan'". Los Angeles Times. 29 July 1968. p. g15.
  26. ^ Katelan, Jean-Yves (October 1995). "Le Prisonnier au cinema". Premiere (223): 26. Retrieved 17 January 2009.
  27. ^ "Rafferty". Retrieved 26 November 2012.
  28. ^ "MARGARET TRUDEAU..." The Australian Women's Weekly. 46 (18). 4 October 1978. p. 12. Retrieved 15 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  29. ^ Pack of Lies (original Broadway play) at the Internet Broadway Database
  30. ^ Bennetts, Leslie (26 December 1984). "MCGOOHAN TO STAR IN 'PACK OF LIES'". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 2019. The McGoohans, who live in Pacific Palisades, Calif
  31. ^ Sellers, Robert (16 January 2009). "Patrick McGoohan: Actor who created and starred in the cult 1960s television series 'The Prisoner'". The Independent. Retrieved 20 July 2019.
  32. ^ Dalton, Andrew. "'Prisoner' actor Patrick McGoohan dies in LA". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 9 February 2009. Retrieved 7 January 2012 – via Internet Archive.
  33. ^ Langley, Roger; Falk, Peter (October 2007). Patrick McGoohan: Danger Man or Prisoner?. Tomahawk Press. ISBN 978-0-9531926-4-9.
  34. ^ Booth, Rupert (April 2001). Not a Number: A life. Supernova Books. ISBN 978-0-9566329-2-0.

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