A&E Does It Again

‘Danger Man,’ Patrick McGoohan’s Forgotten Secret Agent Series, Comes to DVD

By Craig Henderson

Fans of Secret Agent know Danger Man, even if they’ve never actually seen it. It’s the first show that starred Patrick McGoohan as secret agent John Drake, just like the later Secret Agent series—which, in fact, was also called Danger Man everywhere but in America (CBS retitled the 1965-66 version of the show Secret Agent and added the famous Johnny Rivers theme song).

Danger Man was one of the earliest successes for Britain’s ITC distribution company, maker of most of the famous British TV adventure series of the 1960s. Danger Man premiered in England in the fall of 1960 and came to the United States the following April for a run on CBS (though the people who write A&E’s press releases think the show has never been seen in America, and even the DVD packaging makes the outrageously inaccurate claim “Never before seen in the US!”). That makes Danger Man the granddaddy of the entire 1960s spy craze, beating every other American and British TV show out of the gate and even getting a two-year jump on the James Bond movies.

CBS ran 24 episodes in the spring and summer of 1961, and to give you an idea of just how long ago that was, Danger Man was the summer replacement for Steve McQueen’s series Wanted Dead or Alive. All 39 episodes went into syndication after the CBS run but the show has rarely if ever been seen in the last 35 years, supplanted both in distribution and in memory by Secret Agent. The only previous video release was of four episodes on some hard-to-find videocassettes.

Both versions of Danger Man share a similar style, but there are key differences. In this first series, Drake is a global troubleshooter for NATO, an organization that’s sometimes mentioned and sometimes not in the alternating narration over the main titles. He is not an agent of the British Secret Service as in the second version. And oddly—for a British production and for the undeniable fact that he’s British in Secret Agent—here he’s an American, with an office in Washington and the U.S. Capitol dome prominently displayed in the opening titles. And yet he frequently reports to a British Intelligence chief named Hardy, who’s the only recurring character in the show. Drake is sent all over the world, invariably working for British and American interests but frequently turning up in places where NATO has no legitimate business.

The major difference between the two Danger Men was running time. The original was a half-hour show, making it long on plot twists and action, short on the nuanced characterization and moral ambiguity that made the hour-long Secret Agent so intriguing. Still, creator Ralph Smart, who was the producer and often the writer of both series, packed as many shades as possible into the shorter episodes (and the somewhat corny old device of Drake narrating his adventures helped move things along).

In the episode “Position of Trust,” for example, Donald Pleasence plays a self-important Briton who stayed on in a Middle Eastern country after independence. He tells anyone who will listen that he holds a very sensitive post but he’s really a minor government clerk. Drake befriends him, then tricks him into running up a huge gambling debt, all so Drake can blackmail him into stealing secret documents that will expose a government official as a dope smuggler.

Drake carries out his distasteful duty as efficiently as always, then rescues Pleasence from the situation he created. There’s a surprising amount of artful characterization crammed into 26 minutes, and the story plays like many a later episode of Secret Agent. For fans of that series, Danger Man is a treasure trove, like discovering 39 previously unseen episodes of Secret Agent, but in the abridged version.

A surprising range of actors appeared in the series. Pleasence (in two episodes), Robert Shaw, Lois Maxwell, Charles Gray, Hermione Baddely, Beverly Garland, William Marshall, Hazel Court, Sam Wanamaker, Alan Wheatley (the Sheriff of Nottingham in ITC’s Robin Hood series), Patrick Troughton (the second star of Doctor Who), Honor Blackman (two years before she joined The Avengers), and a very young and very obviously pre-rhinoplasty Judy Carne are some of the performers who played Drake’s friends and enemies.

As always, A&E’s source material and transfers (provided by the producers of the British DVD sets) are impeccable. That lovely old British black-and-white cinematography is polished to the highest sheen.

But also as usual with A&E’s cult TV sets, the so-called extras are largely worthless. A text biography of McGoohan, with a separate text filmography, both identical to those in A&E’s Secret Agent DVDs, are about it. But the set fulfills its real function flawlessly, serving up every episode of a landmark, undeservedly forgotten series in the best possible home video presentation.

Danger Man—The Complete First Season

From A&E Home Entertainment

Released December 2003


Dolby Digital mono
Five Discs, Keep Cases in Boxed Set
39 episodes each 26 minutes

Special Features

Patrick McGoohan biography and filmography, stills from each episode

Pricing and Availability

SRP: $99.95