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Obituary: Patrick McGoohan

Patrick McGoohan
Favourite role: Patrick McGoohan in the 1959 BBC production of Ibsen's Brand

The Prisoner star Patrick McGoohan, who has died aged 80, was one of the leading British television stars of the 1950s and 1960s.

Born in New York, McGoohan was only a few months old when his immigrant parents returned to Ireland with him. When he was eight, the family moved again, this time to Sheffield.

He left school with full intentions of fulfilling his mother's ambition for him to become a priest.

But in 1948, during a temporary stint working as a stage manager at the Sheffield Repertory, McGoohan realised he was destined to tread the boards.

He quickly became one of its leading actors, appearing in more than 200 plays over the following four years.

With more repertory work taking him to Coventry and Bristol, McGoohan eventually moved to London.

Controversial issues

Patrick McGoohan
Danger Man was a big hit in the US under the title Secret Agent
It was here that he finally became a priest - on stage. He starred in a 1955 West End production of the play Serious Charge, which stirred controversial issues when his character was accused of homosexuality.

Orson Welles was certainly impressed and subsequently cast him as Starbuck in his production of Moby Dick Rehearsed.

McGoohan then moved into films, and as a signed contract player for the Rank Organisation. They cast him mostly playing heavies.

Through gritty films such as Hell Drivers, he perfected his bad boy persona on screen and began to make a name for himself. McGoohan eventually fell out with Rank and turned to television.

Ibsen's Brand became his favourite role and subsequently won him an award for best TV actor of the year.

It led him to the ITV series Danger Man, in which he played the lead role as spy John Drake.

No romantic scripts

By now, McGoohan had acquired the reputation of being a reclusive, sometimes difficult actor, and he stipulated that his scripts must not include any romantic involvements.

Patrick McGoohan
The Prisoner's final episode baffled many viewers
Drake also was not to carry a gun and throughout the first year of the series, he never killed anyone.

But the show still became highly successful in several countries, and after leaving to work on other projects, McGoohan later returned to do three more series.

Its successor, The Prisoner, produced by McGoohan himself and filmed in north Wales in 1967 and 1968 revolved around the efforts of a secret agent, who resigned early in his career, to clear his name.

His aim was to escape from a beautiful but psychologically brutal prison for people who know too much. The series is remembered for the line: "I am not a number, I am a free man!"

By the time the series ended, McGoohan was also contributing to the writing and directing of the series, which many critics found too philosophical and difficult for the average viewer to understand.

Nevertheless, like Danger Man it became a telelvision classic, and was still being shown around the world decades later.

Mysterious final episode

The series was as popular as it was surreal and the mysterious final episode - part of which featured no dialogue and was left deliberately ambiguous - was so controversial that McGoohan and his family left the UK for more than 20 years and seek relative anonymity in the USA.

His move to California led to appearances in a number of films, including Ice Station Zebra, and opposite Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz.

He also worked as an actor, director and writer on the hit 1970s TV series Columbo, which won him two Emmy awards.

Patrick McGoohan in 1991
McGoohan stayed out of the limelight in later years
To a later generation of fans, McGoohan became more recognised for his role as King Longshanks in Mel Gibson's 1995 production of Braveheart and, over the years, McGoohan made infrequent return visits to Britain to make television films.

He was offered prestigious roles in both Harry Potter, as Dumbledore, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, as Gandalf, but was forced to turn them down because of ill health.

McGoohan lived his last days in virtual retirement, living in Los Angeles with his wife of over 50 years, Joan Drummond McGoohan, whom he met and fell in love with back at the Sheffield Repertory.

Their marriage took place between a rehearsal and evening performance of The Taming of the Shrew, a production they were both cast in. They had three daughters, Catherine, Anne and Frances. Catherine and Anne both followed his footsteps into acting.

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