Every government has its secret service branch. America, CIA; France, Deuxième Bureau; England, MI5. NATO also has its own. A messy job? Well that’s when they usually call on me or someone like me. Oh yes, my name is Drake, John Drake.
Called Secret Agent when it was broadcast in the USA, Danger Man stars Patrick McGoohan as John Drake.
From September of 1960 to January of 1962 the 39 episodes were made for a half-hour time slot. Drake was an agent for NATO, based out of Washington, D.C. The show was cancelled when American financing could not be obtained. Over the next two years, Danger Man had been resold in markets around the world, James Bond had become popular, as well as shows like The Avengers.
It returned in 1964 with double the running time and a transplant to London, where Drake now worked for “M9” doing the same sort of work. These one hour black and white shows aired from October, 1964 to April, 1966. After another gap, two final episodes were aired in January, 1968. These final two episodes were in color.
I preferred the theme song and incidental music from the first season over the rest. For the hour long shows, they changed to a main theme that sounds to me like a harpsichord. Over time, though, the theme grew on me, particularly the horn section in the middle. But the harpsichord sound always seemed odd to me.
I was familiar with McGoohan from The Prisoner, which was made after Danger Man. When I was about half way through viewing this series, I did a bit of reading about McGoohan. I didn’t realize that he was one of the actors considered for the role of James Bond in Dr. No. He was also offered the part of Simon Templar in The Saint, which he turned down. He again was offered James Bond in Live and Let Die, and again turned it down. Roger Moore took both these roles.
I’m having a hard time imagining McGoohan as either Templar or Bond. It’s not that I think he wouldn’t have done a fine job; it’s more a failure of my imagination. John Drake is not very much like either Templar or Bond. Drake is neither a womanizer nor a fan of guns. He’s serious, wholly lacking the humor Roger Moore brought to both Templar and Bond.
The series was developed by Ralph Smart, who remained involved with it for the entire run. Smart wrote or co-wrote 37 of the episodes and directed two others. McGoohan directed three episodes himself.
Like The Saint, John Drake is a multi-talented guy. Fisticuffs are a regular occurrence for characters of this nature, so Drake is an able fighter, often needing to outfight multiple foes who are typically armed. Drake can fly a plane and pick locks but, unlike Simon Templar, he cannot crack a safe.
His main talent is role playing. Simon Templar was a notorious public figure: everybody knew him. Drake is an undercover agent and relies on anonymity. As such, he goes on his missions with a cover. On multiple occasions he’s been a journalist or a lawyer. He’s been a butler twice, a disc jockey once and a radio reporter once, a mining engineer, traveling salesman, recently released ex-convict (twice), a merchant sailor, an artist, and so on.
Some of these identities require a certain amount of specialized knowledge and abilities. This implies that Drake regularly undergoes some extensive training. When posing as an artist, he bought the entire output of a painter because, presumably, Drake wasn’t much of an artist. But he passed as a highly competent butler and could work all the equipment when he was masquerading as a DJ. He once posed as a code-breaker, and while undercover was expected to build and configure a code breaking machine, which he accomplished.
He’s also quite competent at the usual tasks of the secret agent: breaking into homes, apartments, and offices; working radios, including sending and receiving Morse code; conducting surveillance.
And, as every other television character of the day, he smokes and drinks like there’s no tomorrow.
The influence of James Bond on the show is evident as time went on. In the beginning, Drake had no special gadgets. By the end, he had an entire electronics store concealed in his bed in his apartment: radio receivers, tape recorders, decoders, video monitors. None of this served the plot in any way; it seems it was thrown in just because it was expected.
Drake did make regular use of a number of handy gadgets. He often used an electric shaver that concealed a miniature reel-to-reel tape recorder. My favorite was a cigarette lighter that was a camera. These devices all looked to me like they could really exist in the time the story took place, unlike many of the things Q supplied James Bond.
I don’t think Drake ever failed in his job, but that doesn’t mean things always turned out “right”. For example, he was once told to bring a man in and that the man wouldn’t be arrested. He made this promise to the man and the man’s wife, but the man was arrested, angering Drake.
I found the entire run of shows entertaining, except for the last two episodes. I wouldn’t say that Danger Man ever “jumped the shark”, but those last two episodes were a mistake.
Although it would be natural for me to watch The Prisoner next (was #6 John Drake?), I’ll instead move on to Peter Gunn.