By Craig Henderson


Now comes another classic British TV adventure series to DVD courtesy of A&E Home Video, one of the absolute best of the 1960s spy shows, Secret Agent. Or Danger Man as it's also known. Actually, A&E's packaging calls it Secret Agent AKA Danger Man. Patrick McGoohan starred in the show as British agent John Drake, just as he did in another series called Danger Man but not called Secret Agent, all before he became The Prisoner.

Confused? It's actually simple: Danger Man, a 30-minute show starring McGoohan as NATO undercover man Drake, was produced in 1960 and seen in America on CBS in the spring and summer of 1961 (as the summer replacement for Steve McQueen's series, Wanted Dead or Alive — that's how long ago that was).

The show was well received in England and elsewhere, so a new series of one-hour episodes was mounted in 1964, with Drake now a British agent. CBS also bought this version for a spring and summer 1965 run, but then started tinkering with the show. Someone at the network didn't like the minimalist opening titles which lasted less than 10 seconds (now, of course, minimizing or eliminating opening title sequences and theme music is the abhorrent vogue). CBS commissioned songwriters Phil Sloan and Steve Barri to create a theme song for the show that would incorporate a twanging guitar a la "The James Bond Theme" and a vocal since the theme song to the Bond film "Goldfinger" was then such a smash.

The result was the well-known song recorded by Johnny Rivers for the show and as a best-selling record — except it was called Danger Man. The "secret — agent man, secret — agent man" refrain was originally "look out — danger man, think fast — danger man." Then CBS programmers had another brainstorm. If the public wanted secret agent stories — and the record-breaking grosses for Goldfinger as well as the growing popularity of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on television indicated they did — then Danger Man seemed an inadequate title. Better to call it something that would make it clear the hero was a secret agent, something like, oh, Secret Agent.

Sloan and Barri were dumbfounded to be ordered to change their lyrics at the last minute. To match the melody, they had to leave the word "man" in the lyrics, resulting in the rather odd phrasing "secret agent man," which also led to three decades of ignoramuses referring to the series as Secret Agent Man. The bumbling UPN network even ran a dreadful show last year titled Secret Agent Man, complete with an execrable new version of the song.

Be all that as it may, Secret Agent debuted on CBS on April 3, 1965, replete with new 45-second opening title and theme song. The show returned for a second season in December 1965. A third season was planned but abruptly cancelled when McGoohan decided to pursue his new pet project, The Prisoner.


Now what's interesting about the DVDs is they are episodes of Danger Man, not Secret Agent, i.e., they are all British prints with the Danger Man open and close. This is both intriguing and annoying for fans of the show. It's nice to have the original British version but we're used to seeing the American version with the Secret Agent titles. The same problem exists on A&E's releases of the original Diana Rigg episodes of The Avengers — the narrated chessboard opening, seen only in American broadcasts, is not on the episodes on DVD.

Real fans have seen the Danger Man titles at some point because those prints have been mixed into the Secret Agent syndication package for years (the Danger Man theme, by the way, is that amazing staccato brass-and-harpsichord piece that plays over the credits at the beginning of act one in both versions of the show).

The Secret Agent opening title sequence appears on the disks as a separate "DVD Extra" but not in any of the shows themselves. The Secret Agent close, which features a slightly longer version of the song, is not on the disks.

By any name, this was an outstanding series. Secret Agent/Danger Man had a far more realistic approach to the dirty business of espionage than did the fantastical adventures on The Avengers or The Man From U.N.C.L.E. And McGoohan was a conscientious and hardheaded fellow who insisted that Drake not engage in the weekly shootouts and meaningless romances of the average TV hero. Drake solved his cases by outwitting his opponents. He escaped from tight spots through clever ruses and fisticuffs. He was very polite to the terribly attractive women he met, but he never laid a hand or a lip on them.

Despite this lack of the conventional kiss-kiss-bang-bang approach, Secret Agent was a great show — clever, witty, absorbing and insightful, with a hero who was a little too principled for his job and sometimes ended a case disgusted by the results. Watching Secret Agent makes it easy to believe that the unnamed protagonist of The Prisoner, angrily resigning from his intelligence post, is indeed John Drake.

The series also looks beautiful, its black-and-white photography shown off to great advantage by the crisp DVD image (yes, black-and-white, gorgeous old British black-and-white cinematography, a lost art now).

This first DVD set contains the first six episodes seen on CBS in April and May 1965. What's worrisome is there's only one set. A&E has always introduced new video series with two sets of DVDs. Only one Secret Agent set indicates doubts about the show's sales potential. There are only 45 episodes, a relatively small number for a popular series, so the entire run could be released on eight DVD sets. It would be a shame not to make every episode available.

It's also disappointing that A&E has not included the trailers, the "scenes from next week's show" that ran at the end of every episode, when they have been included on The Prisoner and The Saint DVDs. Extra features on the Secret Agent AKA Danger Man disks are minimal to say the least: the Secret Agent opening title, the usual biographical sketch and list of credits for McGoohan, and the customary stills from each episode are all there is.

Nevertheless, this DVD set is a must-have for fans of the show and a first-rate example for you young whippersnappers of just how great television used to be.

Secret Agent AKA Danger Man

From A&E Home Video



Black-and-white, original television aspect ratio (1.33:1),

two disks in keep cases in cardboard box set

Special Features

American opening title sequence

Production stills

Scene selection

Patrick McGoohan biography and filmography

SRP: $39.95 per two-disk set

Released September 2001