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Series / Danger Man

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They've given him a number. He will be angry later on.

"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."
— First season Opening Narration

Danger Man (known as Secret Agent in the United States) was a British down-to-earth spy series made in The '60s. Launched in 1960, it was originally going to bring none other than James Bond to the small screen, and Ian Fleming was involved at early stages. However, since the rights for Bond movies had been sold, Danger Man was became something quite different. It features a superagent named John Drake, played by Patrick McGoohan — also once a candidate to play Bond in the films — who doesn't like gunplay or violence and generally has morals way too strong to make him comfortable in his job. His gadgets and enemies are also rooted in reality.

Danger Man ran for 86 episodes spread across four seasons of uneven length. The first season aired in half-hour instalments in both the UK and on CBS in the US in 1960-61. In this version, Drake is an Irish-American agent working for NATO on jobs considered "too messy" for organizations such as the CIA. Lack of interest by CBS in further episodes resulted in its cancellation and McGoohan went on to sign a contract with Disney. In 1964, with the rise of Bondmania, a rebooted Danger Man series was launched in the UK; in this version, now running in higher-budgeted hour-long episodes, Drake is a British agent working for a secret agency called M9, though otherwise the character and storytelling remained the same as before. For US broadcast, the series was retitled Secret Agent (and given a new theme song, Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man", that became iconic).

Season 4 was supposed to start the show's transition into colour, but after completing only two episodes, McGoohan convinced the studio to cancel the series, so that he could instead produce a new series, The Prisoner, which is at least a Spiritual Successor and maybe even an outright continuation, depending on what you choose to believe. (Those last two episodes eventually aired on their own in the UK during a broadcast break for The Prisoner, and in the US edited together into a TV movie entitled Koroshi.)

Not to be confused with Secret Agent Man, a short-lived spy show that aired on UPN in 2000 that used the same theme song as the US version of Secret Agent but otherwise had no connection to the McGoohan series. (Some reference books and websites erroneously label it a remake.) Also not related to The '90s comic series Danger Girl, aside from the common espionage theme.

The series provides examples of:

  • Abandoned Catchphrase: Drake said "I'm obliged" in virtually every episode of the original series. The catchphrase did not return in the second series.
  • Batman Grabs a Gun: In "Time to Kill", the very same episode where it's established that Drake doesn't like shooting people no less. Drake's desire to capture and extradite a European assassin rather than killing him outright is curtailed by both the difficulty of getting him out of Cold War Austria alive and how he's told that they're probably going to give him the death penalty once he's in the hands of the NATO countries.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Inverted in the theme song for the US broadcast:
    Beware of pretty faces that you find.
    A pretty face can hide an evil mind.
  • Buccaneer Broadcaster: In "Not So Jolly Roger", Drake poses as a DJ at a pirate radio station on a World War II vintage offshore anti-aircraft fort, whose broadcast activities are the cover for anti-British espionage. Some location footage was actually shot on and around a real fort that was being used by Radio 390note , including a shot of McGoohan being winched up to one of the fort's towers. Other scenes were mocked up in the studio using location photos as backdrops.
  • Busman's Holiday: A running gag in the first season was Drake's inability to actually get the vacation he wanted.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Drake tells people to "Do exactly as he says" often enough for it to be noticeable.
    • Along with "I'm obliged" in the first series.
  • Celibate Hero: John Drake does not romance women, although many of the women in the series show an obvious interest in him (and he in them). There are three exceptions: an episode called "The Black Book" in which he finds himself attracted to a female spy, and two later episodes featuring his frequent Disney co-star Susan Hampshire playing different characters, both of whom appear to successfully romance Drake. Justified both in-universe (with Drake explaining in "The Black Book" why he can't get involved) and with McGoohan's often-stated rationale that a man in Drake's position can't afford to have emotional ties and still expect to be effective.
  • Chained Heat: "Time to Kill" sees Drake handcuffed to a female schoolteacher when they're both caught by a motorcycle cop.
  • The Charmer: Drake has a switch for it, and when he turns it on, just about anyone melts before his charming smile and suave, witty banter (which is to say it works on ordinary people or newbies to the spy game).
  • Chick Magnet: And who could blame them? Look at that face!
  • Cloak and Dagger: M9 is a perfect example of a Cloak and Dagger group.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Ocasionally happens to Drake or other secret agents. It’s Electric Torture in the episode "Colony Three."
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Dell Comics adapted the original-format Danger Man as a one-off issue of its long-running Four Color anthology series in 1961; in 1966, Gold Key Comics published 2 issues of Secret Agent, based upon the later version of the series.
  • Compilation Movie: Season four's "Koroshi" and "Shinda Shima", which were shot in colour, were broadcast in America as the European cinema movie version, Koroshi.
  • Cool Car: Drake drove several. In the opening credits, he hops into a 1959 Mercedes Benz 300 SL convertible. He was occasionally seen driving a 1958 Aston Martin DB Mark III convertible. In the later seasons, he drove a 1963 Austin Mini Cooper S. This was chosen because it was both British and inconspicuous.
  • Couch Gag: The series had a very brief opening credits sequence, and there were two types that would air randomly. The first consisted of the camera simply zooming out from a still image of the lead actor. The second was motion footage of the actor walking towards the camera, beginning with the image in "negative" before switching to normal with a closeup of his faces.
  • Darker and Edgier: The first two seasons were hardly happyfests, but the third was way more depressing. Inverted when the show moved to colour, which likely influenced McGoohan's decision to quit.
  • Determinator: Drake. This trait is probably most pronounced in "Whatever Happened to George Foster?" where he finds out that a very powerful British businessman is paying terrorists to terrorize a South American country just because they wouldn't sell him goods at the price he wanted. Despite orders, despite being thrown out of M9 and anyone free to kill him with impunity (not least the businessman), Drake doesn't stop until he forces the businessman into a position where he has to call off the terrorists.
  • Doesn't Like Guns: Stated explicitly. Drake rarely carries a gun as he prefers to use his wits first and violence secondarily and usually goes to great lengths to avoid killing people, not to mention that in many of the situations he goes in undercover a gun would be very suspicious.
    "I don't like guns; they're messy, and they kill people."
    • During the course of the series, he is shown directly shooting people a grand total of twice, and the second occasion was during a dream sequence.
  • Downer Ending: Regularly, especially in the third season. Drake doesn't always win a clear victory and even if he does, there are rarely any "high five" moments. Possibly epitomized by the ending of "Colony Three".
  • Early Instalment Weirdness: John Drake doesn't carry a gun and he never shoots anyone to death (we don't count a dream sequence/hallucination episode). The only exception was in one of the early 1960-61 series episodes. He used deadly force on rare occasions thereafter and trained guns on people to make them surrender, to be sure, but he never put a bullet into another (real) person. Qualifies for this trope as the series' lack of gunplay set it apart from other spy shows of the era.
  • Everybody Smokes: Even by early 1960s standards, the series had loads of smoking. Made more apparent when compared to the virtually smoke-free TheAvengers (at least later seasons) or even ThePrisoner where cigarettes are rarely seen. Furthermore, Smoking Is Cool.
  • Fake Town: In "Colony Three", British communists are disappearing behind the Iron Curtain. Drake follows their trail to a replica of a British town used to acquaint Russian infiltrators with British ways.
  • False Friend: Comes with doing The Infiltration but it tends to weigh very heavily on Drake's psyche, especially in "The Outcast" where Drake starts out pretending to be this fellow's friend and ends up honestly liking the fellow.
    Drake (sardonically): "With a friend like me, he won't need enemies."
  • Fedora of Asskicking: Drake has quite a few. There’s a invokedReality Subtext: They were all McGoohan's, and it was his idea to switch up the hats so Drake doesn't have the same one for each story.
  • Foreshadowing: In a meta sense. The US version's opening credits, using the song "Secret Agent Man", ends with the following lyric: "They've given you a number/and taken away your name", describing the set-up for ThePrisoner.
  • Friend to All Children: Children just sort of gravitate to Drake and he is very fond of hanging out and reading stories to the kids of friends or contacts.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: It is often pointed out that both sides in a cold war era spy game use the same kind of dirty tricks. He sardonically notes that the double agent he's asked to pursue in "Say It With Flowers" wasn't considered dangerous until he finally went all the way over to the Soviet side.
  • Guile Hero: Drake, while being able to handle himself quite well, first and foremost uses his razor-sharp wits and formidable manipulative skills.
  • I Owe You My Life: In "The Blue Veil", Drake takes a knife from a Muslim boy who was sent by the villain to kill him and tells him that he has given his life back to him. The grateful boy puts him in Drake's debt.
  • Icy Blue Eyes: McGoohan's very own, of course. The intensity of his gaze is lampshaded several times throughout the show by various characters and Drake himself (who says that an attempt to tone down the gaze is reason why he occasionally wears clunky Purely Aesthetic Glasses when going undercover).
  • IKEA Weaponry: In "Time to Kill", Drake uses a self assembly sighted rifle made from parts hidden in a car and other pieces baked inside a loaf of bread.
  • Implausible Deniability: A sort of inversion happened in one episode when John Drake was pretending to be a member of a certain organization in order to infiltrate their headquarters. In the middle of the episode, he's about to be introduced to a man who is Roger Smith's oldest friend. Knowing his cover's about to be blown, upon meeting him Drake immediately insists "You're not Peter Jones!"
  • Knight in Sour Armour: Drake, of course, and some of his fellow agents. He's a genuinely good guy doing a (frequently) nasty job; cynical and jaded about the whole business but trying to do it in the most ethical manner possible, often putting him in conflict with his pragmatic bosses or other more ruthless fellow agents who don't particularly care about casualties.
  • The Last DJ: While he has an incredible amount of influence, pull, and freedom in his job because he's so good at it, it is implied that Drake will never be promoted because he still has a sense of morality (and a tendency to snark at and call out his more pragmatic bosses).
  • Last Note Nightmare: The opening credits for the US broadcasts feature Johnny River's rock and roll hit "Secret Agent Man". Those familiar with the song are likely caught off-guard when the opening credits of the series end with the song being suddenly cut off mid-note by a loud gunshot! (The very first episode does not do this, only subsequent episodes.)
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Drake's bosses aren't above ordering this, but Drake regularly ignores such orders.
  • Master Actor: Drake, of course. For example, in "Time to Kill", Drake pretends to be a meek and nervous schoolteacher; he goes from the razor-eyed and leonine Drake we know to a slump-shouldered fellow with slightly unfocused eyes who sort of tries to huddle into the nearest corner, and back, at the drop of a hat.
  • Meta Casting: The last black and white episode "Not so Jolly Roger" guest-starred Patsy Ann Noble (later known as Trisha Noble), a popular singer just launching an acting career. Since the episode is set at a pirate radio station, it's not surprising that one of her songs is not only featured prominently, but Patsy Ann Noble gets a name-drop at the end of the episode as her song is introduced by John Drake while Noble is standing right next to him, smiling.
  • The Name Is Bond, James Bond: Or rather, of course, The Name Is Drake, John Drake — predating the Bond movies, but not the books. Generally heard only in the opening of the first 1960-61 season (half-hour episodes), but occasionally thereafter.
  • No Hugging, No Kissing: Drake does not get involved with women, period. He occasionally flirts with them, and they clearly find him attractive, but he is never shown romancing them. One episode, "The Black Book", has him attracted to a young woman, but he explains why he cannot get involved, which echoes McGoohan's attitude regarding why Drake has to remain chaste. The closest Drake comes is in two episodes guest starring Susan Hampshire (playing different, but similar characters in each), one of which ends with Drake and Hampshire's character leaving for a romantic rendezvous.
  • No Name Given: In numerous episodes, Drake is referred to on screen only by whatever alias he is using, or often by no name at all, or only by his surname; anyone unfamiliar with the show only learns his full name by watching the closing credits. (Note: this only applies to the one-hour version of the series; in the half-hour version, Drake states his name in the opening narration of each episode.)
  • Obfuscating Disability: In "The Lonely Chair", Drake impersonates a wealthy wheelchair-bound industrialist whose daughter has been kidnapped.
  • Purely Aesthetic Glasses: Drake occasionally wears these when he's undercover as some sort of clerk or academician to make him seem more harmless and tone down the intensity of his eyes.
  • Retcon: Drake becomes a British agent in the later seasons, after having been an Irish-American NATO agent in the first.
  • Rogue Agent: Drake goes rogue in the episodes "A Room in the Basement" to rescue a fellow agent against orders and "Whatever Happened to George Foster?" in order to stop an extremely powerful businessman messing in the affairs of a South American country for his own profit.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Drake frequently takes on this trope when the higher-ups are indifferent towards the fate of someone on their own side, would rather kill to be safe rather than sorry, or don't care about what the casualties will be.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Drake usually wears a nice suit, although at one point he is mocked for showing up at a crime scene in a tux. There's a invokedReality Subtext: McGoohan was voted "best dressed man" on a show, though this had more to do with the man than the clothes as all of the clothes were bought off the rack and none were tailor made for McGoohan.
  • Simulated Urban Combat Area: In "Colony Town", British communists are disappearing behind the Iron Curtain. Drake follows their trail to a replica of a British town used to acquaint Russian infiltrators with British ways.
  • Stock Footage: A standard ITC technique. Exotic locations were introduced by stock establishing shots, then faked in the studio or on location in England.
  • This Is My Story: The opening narration in the early half-hour episodes: "A messy job? That's when they call on me, or someone like me. Oh, yes — my name is Drake. John Drake."
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: To an extent. Most episodes of the series did not involve Drake using deadly force, and an early episode in fact featured him being assigned an assassination and accepting the mission only under protest (and he doesn't carry it out anyway). During the entire run of the series, Drake shoots a man only once (not counting a later episode where he shoots people in a dream/hallucination), and otherwise rarely carries a gun. That's not to say he won't avert the trope if necessary, including one episode where he kills two villains, one a woman, by causing their plane to crash.
  • Verbal Business Card: The series varies the order a bit: "A messy job? That's when they usually call on me or someone like me. Oh, yes — my name is Drake. John Drake."
  • Verbal Tic: For the first few of the one hour episodes, Patrick McGoohan still played John Drake with a mixture of an American and Irish accent. Not long afterward, his accent changed to being more English and being better read.
  • Wannabe Secret Agent: In one episode, a sacked ex-M9 agent with delusions of adequacy tries playing at industrial espionage. It doesn't end well for him.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Averted only once in an episode where Drake is forced to kill a female villain and her cohort by causing their plane to crash. Most other times, female characters in the series are either innocents, victims, or are apprehended peacefully and Drake is never shown manhandling females.