Saturday, May 3, 2014


McGoohan in Santa Monica
   That most unpredictable and unconventional TV star of the 60s Patrick McGoohan would have hated it but he was briefly in the limelight again when the Art Directors Guild Film Society kicked off its 2014 series at the American Cinemathque with an examination of his groundbreaking series The Prisoner.

   It is a safe bet that McGoohan, who died in 2009 at the age of 80, wouldn't have been there had he still been alive, although on the rare occasions he talked about it at all he always maintained---and rightly-- that The Prisoner was years ahead of its time.

   Filmed at the Welsh coastal village of Portmeirion, the psychedelically experimental series lasted 17 brilliant episodes with McGoohan as Number 6, a kidnapped secret agent, doing constant battle with No. 2.

   As well as starring in it, McGoohan wrote, produced and directed many of the episodes. 
McGoohan as The Prisoner

   Before that series he had already established himself with another cult spy series, Danger Man, which was the first British series to be a hit in America, where it was renamed Secret Agent.

    After moving to America he never quite hit the same creative heights, although he took to the lifestyle and climate immediately.

  For those of us who spent time in the bars of Santa Monica in the 1970s the eccentric McGoohan was a familiar figure, although a talk with him was always a dicey proposition because he was a man of many moods and not all of them were good. At the time he was not working regularly but was acting in and directing the occasional episode of Colombo for his good friend Peter Falk, so he had plenty of time on his hands.

  He used his early morning hours to visit the bars that opened at 6am ---and there were several of them in those days---where he was friendly with the oldtime regulars, mostly those from the Veterans Administration. One of his favourite haunts was Tom and Jerry's on Third Street where he would buy the locals drinks every morning and on the days he couldn't get there because of  work he would leave envelopes behind the bar containing money for their drinks while he was away.

   In other bars he wasn't always so friendly, often preferring to sit on his own reading a book or a script. One memorable day a visitor sitting on the next stool in the King's Head ventured to comment to him : "That looks like an interesting book you're reading." 

 The volatile McGoohan stood up, dropped the book on the floor and stamped on it, saying: "Not so interesting now, is it?"

  On another occasion he was in a reasonably good mood and talking with a group of us when  Phil Elwell, the owner of the King's Head, commenting on the fact that John Mills was to be knighted, said: "It's your turn next Patrick." The innocuous, well-meaning comment sent McGoohan into a fury and he stormed out.

  A curmudgeon, a creative genius, always interesting no matter what his mood----Patrick McGoohan was definitely a one-off.  

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