Patrick McGoohan: ‘l am not a number. l am a free man.’

His work influenced countless television shows, writers and actors. But it was the late ’60s television series The Prisoner (in which he starred and co-created) that captured the attention of audiences around the world.

McGoohan played the lead character in The Prisoner, known only as Number 6, this role struck such a remarkable chord with audiences that it has continued to reverberate in re-runs, festivals, university courses, doctoral theses and even a quarterly magazine: All this after just a 17-episode run of the show. The show’s legions of interpreters have perceived elements of the cold war, mob mentality, mind control and more in the show.

Broadcast in 1968-69, The Prisoner tells the story of a nameless spy who resigns his position only to be kidnapped as he is about to walk away. He wakes up in the Village, a resort-like community that is actually a high-tech prison. He is dubbed Number 6 and often struggles with the camp authority figure, Number 2, who pressures him to say why he resigned. Number 2 was played by a different actor each time. A remake of the TV show has recently been filmed, with the US actor James Caviezel as Number Six, and Sir Ian McKellen as Number Two.

The Prisoner remains one of the most enigmatic and fascinating television series ever but McGoohan’s career was not limited to it. In fact, it ranged ranged from success on the stages of Londons West End to starring in a popular spy series called Secret Agent in the United States. It was however in the later stages of his life that he gained critical acclaim in motion pictures and other television shows. His portrayal of King Edward I in Mel Gibson’s 1995 film Braveheart was much talked about and he won Emmys as a guest star on Colombo in 1975 and 1990.

Colombos Peter Falk once described McGoohan, who also occasionally worked as a director and writer on the Columbo mysteries, as being “mesmerising” as an actor. “There are many very, very talented people in this business, but there are only a handful of genuinely original people,” Falk in 2004 during an interview. “I think Patrick McGoohan belongs in that small select group of truly original people.”

In 1977, he starred in the television series Rafferty as a retired Army doctor adjusting to civilian life. TV Critics and historians point out that this was probably the main inspiration for the current TV series, House M.D. McGoohan’s The Prisoner is also credited for giving inspiration to shows such as LOST, Heroes and 4400, shows which are multilayered and multifaceted.

McGoohan turned down an offer to be the big screen’s original James Bond, appeared in films such as The Three Lives of Thomasina, Mary, Queen of Scots, Silver Streak, Escape From Alcatraz, Scanners, Ice Station Zebra and Braveheart. He would usually play villains and almost menacingly so.

Patrick McGoohan, a two-time Emmy Award-winning actor, starring in television series, motion pictures and stage dramas, died on 13 January 2009 at St John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, following a brief illness
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