13 January 2009
Patrick Joseph McGoohan – the star, co-writer and sometimes director of one of British television’s most original and challenging series of the 1960s, The Prisoner – has died aged 80 after a short illness.
He was born to Irish parents in the Astoria section of Queens, New York, on 19 March 1928. Some months later, his family returned to Ireland, where he grew up on a farm before moving to Sheffield in England when he was seven.
In the late 1940s, he became a stage manager at Sheffield Repertory Theatre, where he soon launched his acting career.
By 1967 he was the highest-earning British TV star, earning £2,000 a week in the highly successful series, Danger Man, (known as Secret Agent in the US) in which he played John Drake, a spy man who – on McGoohan’s own insistence – never carried a gun or seduced a woman. But he was becoming disenchanted with the car chases, shoot-outs and sex scenes.
And so he pitched The Prisoner, produced by his own company and filmed in Portmeirion, Wales in 1967 and 1968 and revolving around the efforts of a secret agent – identified only as No. 6 – who resigned early in his career, to clear his name.
The Prisoner remains one of the most enigmatic and fascinating series ever produced for television.
His move to California led to appearances in a number of films, including Ice Station Zebra, and opposite Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz. He also worked as an actor, director and writer on the hit 1970s TV series Columbo, which won him two Emmy awards.
To a later generation of fans, McGoohan became more recognised for his role as King Longshanks in Mel Gibson’s 1996 production of Braveheart. In 2000, McGoohan reprised his role as No. 6, at least in voice, in an episode of The Simpsons. Homer Simpson, as No. 5, stole No. 6’s boat and escaped.