From the first series voice-over:
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.
The line "NATO also has its own" is not always present.
The first series of episodes ran to 24–25 minutes each and portrayed John Drake as working for a Washington, D.C.-based intelligence organization, apparently on behalf of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, whose assignments frequently took him to Africa, Latin America, and the Far East. In episode 9, "The Sanctuary", Drake declares he is an Irish-American.
He sometimes seemed at odds with his superiors about the ethics of the missions. Many of Drake's cases involved aiding democracy in foreign countries and he was also called upon to solve murders and crimes affecting the interests of either the U.S. or NATO or both.
Beginning with the second series, which aired several years after the first, the episode's length was increased to 48–49 minutes and Drake underwent retconning. His nationalty became British, and he was an agent working for a secret British government department, called M9 (analogous to Secret Intelligence Service), though his Mid-Atlantic English accent persists for the first few episodes in production.
Other than the largely nominal change of employer and nationality, Drake's mandate remains the same: "to undertake missions involving national and global security". In keeping with the episodic format of such series in the 1960s, there are no ongoing story arcs and there is no reference made to Drake's NATO adventures in the later M9 episodes.
The pilot was written by Brian Clemens, who later co-created The Avengers. In an interview Clemens said:
The pilot I wrote was called "View from the Villa" and it was set in Italy, but the production manager set the shoot on location in Portmeirion, which looked like Italy but which was much closer. And obviously the location stuck in Patrick McGoohan's mind, because that's where he shot his television series The Prisoner much later.
The second unit director on the pilot, according to Clemens:
... shot some location and background stuff and sent the dailies back to the editing room at Elstree. Ralph Smart looked at them, hated them, and called up the second unit director and said "Look, these are terrible, you'll never be a film director," and then he fired him. The name of the second unit director? John Schlesinger.
The series succeeded in Europe, making McGoohan famous. However, when American financing for a second series failed, the program was cancelled. The first season of the series aired on CBS from 5 April to 13 September 1961. A DVD release of the first season by A&E Home Video in 2000, erroneously states on its box that these episodes were never broadcast in the US.
After a two-year hiatus, two things had changed; Danger Man had subsequently been resold all around the world, whilst repeat showings had created a public clamour for new shows. Also, by this time James Bond had become popular, as had ABC's The Avengers. Danger Man's creator, Ralph Smart, re-thought the concept; the second series' (1964) episodes were 49 minutes long and had a new musical theme, "Highwire". Drake gained an English accent and did not clash with his bosses at first. The revived Danger Man was finally broadcast in the U.S., it was now re-titled Secret Agent, and first shown as a CBS summer replacement program, given the theme song "Secret Agent Man", sung by Johnny Rivers, which became a success in its own right. In other parts of the world, the show was titled Destination Danger or John Drake.
Unlike the James Bond films, Danger Man strove for realism, dramatising credible Cold War tensions. In the second series, Drake is an undercover agent of the British external intelligence agency. As in the earlier series, Drake finds himself in danger with not always happy outcomes; sometimes duty forces him to decisions which lead to good people suffering unfair consequences. Drake doesn't always do what his masters tell him.
Drake is rarely armed, though he engaged in fist fights, and the gadgets he uses are generally credible. In one episode (To Our Best Friend), Drake says; 'I never carry a gun. They're noisy, and they hurt people. Besides, I manage very well without.'
Agent Drake uses his intelligence, charm and quick thinking rather than force. He usually plays a role to infiltrate a situation, for example to scout for a travel agency, naive soldier, embittered ex-convict, brainless playboy, imperious physician, opportunistic journalist, bumbling tourist, cold-blooded mercenary, bland diplomat, smarmy pop disc jockey, precise clerk, compulsive gambler, or impeccable butler.
Unlike James Bond, Drake is often shown re-using gadgets from previous episodes. Among the more frequently seen are a small spy camera hidden in a cigarette lighter and activated by flicking the lighter, a miniature reel-to-reel tape recorder hidden inside the head of an electric shaver or a pack of cigarettes, and a microphone which could be embedded in a wall near the target via a shotgun-like apparatus, that used soda siphon cartridges containing CO2 as the propellant, allowing Drake to eavesdrop on conversations from a safe distance.
As Drake gets involved in a case, things are rarely as they seem. He is not infallible — he gets arrested, he makes mistakes, equipment fails, careful plans do not work; Drake often has to improvise an alternative plan. Sometimes investigation fails and he simply does something provocative to crack open the case. People he trusts can turn out to be untrustworthy or incompetent; he finds unexpected allies.
John Drake, unlike Bond, never romanced any of the women, as McGoohan was determined to create a family-friendly show. Drake uses his immense charm in his undercover work, and women are often very attracted to him, but the viewers are left to assume whatever they want about Drake's personal life. McGoohan denounced the sexual promiscuity of James Bond and The Saint, roles he had rejected, although he had played romantic roles before Danger Man.
The only exceptions to this rule were the two "linked" episodes of the series, "You're Not in Any Trouble, Are You?" and "Are You Going to be More Permanent?", in which Drake encounters two different women - both played by Susan Hampshire - and which contain numerous similarities in dialogue and set-pieces and both end with Drake in a pseudo-romantic circumstance with the Hampshire character.
Drake was also shown falling for the female lead in the episode "The Black Book" though nothing comes of it; this episode is also one of the only scripts to directly address Drake's loneliness in his chosen profession.
John Drake was not blind to the attraction of the opposite sex, often commenting on the prettiness of his latest associate. The implication is that it is impractical for him to launch any liaison. It was also the fact that many times the women in the show turned out to be femmes fatales, and heavily involved in the very plots Drake is fighting.
Although the villains are often killed, Drake himself rarely kills. An examination of all episodes indicates that, in the entire series, he only shoots one person dead, in one of the last half-hour episodes from the 1960 season.
While another shooting occurs in "The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove", it is revealed to be a dream.
Drake's uses of non-firearm deadly force during the series number less than a dozen. Yet The Encyclopedia of 20th-Century American Television by Ron Lackmann incorrectly claims Danger Man was one of the most violent series ever produced. Drake is almost never shown armed with a gun, and the episode "Time to Kill" centres on Drake's hesitancy and initial refusal to take an assassination mission (events transpire to prevent Drake from having to carry the task out).
In the second series, Drake displays an increased attitude towards his superiors at M9, first answering unwillingly to "Gorton" (Raymond Adamson) and later to "The Admiral" or Hobbs (Peter Madden), a sinister superior officer sometimes seen fiddling with a knife-like letter opener. This interaction with disagreeable London-based superiors was phased out over the course of the 50-minute series, a clever ploy that reduced plot explanations early on to leave more mystery with the viewer. In the first half-hour series he had an equally edgy, but more good-humoured relationship with his superior "Hardy", as played by Richard Wattis.
Most episodes had roles for guest stars such as Howard Marion Crawford, Donald Houston, Maurice Denham, Joan Greenwood, John Le Mesurier, Sylvia Syms and Burt Kwouk.
The idea for the Danger Man spy series originated with Ralph Smart, an associate of Lew Grade, the head of ITC Entertainment. Grade was looking for formats that could be exported.
According to Andrew Pixley's notes to the CD Danger Man Original Soundtrack, Ian Fleming was involved with Ralph Smart to bring James Bond to television. (Casino Royale had been a one-off live TV play in America a few years before). Fleming dropped out and was replaced by Ian Stuart Black, and a new format/character to be called "Lone Wolf" was developed. This evolved into Danger Man. Fleming, meanwhile, assisted in pre-production discussion on the American series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E..
After Patrick McGoohan was cast, he also impacted character development.
In the United States, CBS broadcast some of the original format's episodes of the program in 1961 under the Danger Man title as a summer replacement for the Western series Wanted: Dead or Alive. Under the Secret Agent title, the same network aired the entirety of the second and third series in 1965-1966.Series 1 The Danger Man Theme, composed by Edwin Astley
Series 2–4 High Wire, composed by Edwin Astley
Series 2–4 in the US as Secret Agent, "Secret Agent Man", theme composed by P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri, and recorded by Johnny Rivers.
Incidental music throughout all four series by Edwin Astley
The second "Danger Man" theme, "High Wire," developed during series 2-4. The original version features a subdued rhythm section with almost inaudible drums. This was replaced with a revised version with drums and bass pushed to the fore in the mix. The end credits theme tune was set to end in the same manner as the opening theme, ending on the held, questioning, lower "E". The two-note coda was added soon afterwards to make a definite ending. An audio clip from the recording session this comes from can be heard as an extra on the final disk of the DVD set from Network DVD. The revised theme featured this as a normal end to the tune. As series 4 was to be made in colour for the first time, a completely new arrangement was recorded which owed much to the arrangement on Astley's full-length version of "High Wire" (released on single the previous year - see below). The feature film "Koroshi" was created from the only two episodes made for series 4, "Koroshi" and "Shinda Shima", and uses this new arrangement over the closing titles only.1961 - Theme from Danger Man, the "Red Price Combo" (main theme used in the 1st Series) - Parlophone 45 R 4789
1964 - Danger Man "High Wire", the "Bob Leaper Orchestra" (alternative main theme, not used in any episodes. Features electric piano) - PYE 7N 15700
1965 - Danger Man "High Wire", the "Edwin Astley Orchestra" (not used in series, arrangement influenced series 4 theme arrangement) - RCA 1492
1965 - Danger Man "High Wire", the "Ivor Slaney Orchestra" (alternative arrangement, not used in any episodes) - HMV POP 1347
The original opening ID changed as the series progressed. The first series had McGoohan leaving a building and getting into a convertible under the opening narration reproduced earlier, and driving off.
The earlier of the two sequences for the hour-long series features a photograph of a benevolently-smiling McGoohan zooms partly out towards the right of the frame, then stops, adding the legend "Patrick McGoohan as". The three-ringed 'target' revolves round in time to the three-note orchestra hits to obscure McGoohan's photo as it reveals the programme logo on a pure black background.
The second version was in two segments. The first segment is filmed, comprising a full-length McGoohan in stark negative, menacingly taking a few paces towards the camera, then stops. In quick succession, the camera zooms-in fast onto his eyes, freeze-frames, then switches from negative to positive. The legend "Patrick McGoohan as" is added. This then switches to a different photo with McGoohan looking left out of picture. The familiar three-ringed 'target' then reveals the programme logo on a pure black background as before. The music was re-recorded for this version of the ident and lasted for the rest of the programme's run.
The fourth series consists of only two episodes, "Koroshi" and "Shinda Shima", the only two episodes of Danger Man to be filmed in colour and, as with two-parters from other ITC series such as The Baron and The Saint, these two separate but related episodes were recut together as a feature for cinemas in Europe. Whilst "Koroshi" retains a strong plot-line and sharp characterizations, "Shinda Shima" drew heavily on contemporary Bond movies, principally Dr. No. When the episodes were completed, McGoohan announced he was resigning from the series to create, produce, and star in a project titled The Prisoner, with David Tomblin as co-producer and George Markstein as script editor. Markstein was then the Danger Man script consultant. A number of behind-the-scenes personnel on Danger Man were subsequently hired for The Prisoner.
The two colour episodes aired (in black and white) in the UK in the time slot of The Prisoner, which had fallen behind schedule and could not make its airdates. The European cinema film feature version, Koroshi, did not receive theatrical release in the US but instead aired on network television as a TV movie in 1968.
Another, unused, fourth-series script was reworked as an episode of The Champions while, according to The Prisoner: The Official Companion by Robert Fairclough, the Prisoner episode "The Girl Who Was Death" was based upon a two-part Danger Man script that had been planned for the fourth series.
However, in an interview, it is stated that McGoohan did indeed approach Jack Shampan with the idea of a series continuing Danger Man entitled The Prisoner.
Prisoner fans frequently debate whether John Drake of Danger Man and Number Six in The Prisoner are the same person. Like John Drake, Number Six is evidently a secret agent, but one who has resigned from his job. Moreover, in the surreal Prisoner episode "The Girl Who Was Death", Number Six meets "Potter", John Drake's Danger Man contact. Christopher Benjamin portrayed the character in both series. As has been previously stated, "The Girl Who Was Death" was an adaptation of an unused Danger Man script. As well as guest-starring in this show, Paul Eddington played another spy and No.6's former colleague, Cobb, in the opening episode of the latter show.
The first Danger Man series includes four episodes which use footage filmed in the Welsh resort of Portmeirion, which later became the primary shooting location of the Village in The Prisoner. This dramatic overlapping is complicated by reference books such as Vincent Terrace's The Complete Encyclopedia of Television Programs 1947–1979 referring to The Prisoner as a Danger Man continuation. Terrace postulates that John Drake's resignation reason is revealed in the "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" episode, which is a follow-up to a mission assigned to Number Six before he was sent to The Village. Richard Meyers makes the same claim in his 1981 book, TV Detectives. He further states that this connects directly to "an episode of Secret Agent never shown in this country [i.e. the United States] with John Drake investigating the story of a brain transferral device in Europe", but no such episode of Danger Man was ever made. McGoohan stated in a 1985 interview that the two characters were not the same, and that he had originally wanted a different actor to play the role of Number Six.
Danger Man has remained part of pop culture consciousness. Author Stephen King alludes to John Drake's cool in his novel The Shining. The band Tears for Fears refer to the character in their song "Swords and Knives", and Dead Can Dance titled one of the songs on their Into the Labyrinth album "The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove" after a Danger Man episode, although the content of the song has no apparent relationship to the episode.
The American theme song has appeared in countless movies and TV shows, including during the climax of the first Austin Powers movie, and was covered by Devo.
In 2000, the UPN network aired a short-lived spy series entitled Secret Agent Man. Due to the similarities in titles between this series and the American edition of Danger Man, Secret Agent Man, a series with no relationship to the McGoohan program, is often erroneously referred to as a spin-off or remake of Danger Man.
The British animated series Danger Mouse was largely inspired by Danger Man and is a broad parody of both this series and secret agent films and television in general.
All four series are now available on DVD in Europe, Australasia and North America.
In Britain, Network DVD released a 13-disc "Special Edition" boxed set of the one-hour shows in June 2007. Extra features include the edited-together movie version of "Koroshi" and "Shinda Shima", the US Secret Agent opening and closing titles, image galleries for each episode, and a specially written 170-page book on the making of the one-hour series. Umbrella Entertainment has released the 24-minute series on DVD in Australia; the 49-minute series has been released by Madman.
Network DVD released the 1st (24 min) series in January 2010 on a 6 disc set with a commemorative booklet by Andrew Pixley. The Carlton 6 disc set is out of issue.
In North America, the three series of hour-long episodes were released by A&E Home Video under the title Secret Agent a.k.a. Danger Man in order to acknowledge the American broadcast and syndication title. However the episodes retain their original Danger Man opening credits (including the original theme by the Edwin Astley Orchestra), the first time these have been seen in the U.S., with the US "Secret Agent" credits included as an extra feature. The first series of half-hour episodes was issued by A&E sometime later as Danger Man. A&E subsequently released a single-set "megabox" containing all of the one-hour episodes; a revised megabox, released in 2007, added the half-hour episodes, and was released again in a modified slimline package in 2010.
On December 9, 2014, Timeless Media Group re-released the entire series on DVD in Region 1 in a 17-disc set entitled Secret Agent (Danger Man)- The Complete Series.
Several original novels based upon Danger Man were published in the UK and US, the majority during 1965 and 1966.Target for Tonight – Richard Telfair, 1962 (published in US only)
Departure Deferred – W. Howard Baker, 1965
Storm Over Rockall – W. Howard Baker, 1965
Hell for Tomorrow – Peter Leslie, 1965
The Exterminator – W.A. Balinger [W. Howard Baker], 1966
No Way Out – Wilfred McNeilly, 1966
Several of the above novels were translated into French and published in France, where the series was known as Destination Danger. An additional Destination Danger novel by John Long was published in French and not printed in the US or UK.
The adventures of John Drake have also been depicted in comic book form. In 1961, Dell Comics in the US published a one-shot Danger Man comic as part of its long-running Four Color series, based upon the first series format. It depicted Drake as having red hair, a trait shared with Patrick McGoohan, but which was unseen as Danger Man had been made only in monochrome at that time. In 1966, Gold Key Comics published two issues of a Secret Agent comic book based upon the series (this series should not be confused with Secret Agent, an unrelated comic book series published by Charlton Comics in 1967, formerly titled Sarge Steel). In Britain, a single Danger Man comic book subtitled "Trouble in Turkey" appeared in the mid-1960s and a number of comic strip adventures appeared in hardback annuals. French publishers also produced several issues of a Destination Danger comic book in the 1960s, although their Drake was blond. Spanish publishers produced a series titled 'Agent Secreto'. The Germans were particularly prolific, using 'John Drake' and a picture of McGoohan, as the cover for hundreds of "krimi" magazines.
The Australian rights are held by the Nine Network who, over many decades, have shown numerous repeats in non-peak viewing times. Since 2012 there have been numerous showings in the early hours of the morning on Gem, a Nine Network digital outlet, sometimes twice per morning. The Danger Man repeats alternate with re-screenings of another British series Gideon's Way, and of the Canadian program Seaway.