Popular American-born Irish actor Patrick McGoohan was born in New York City, the Astoria district on Long Island on March 19, 1928.
His parents had immigrated to the united States and, within a few months after his birth, decided to return to Ireland. They settled in County Leitrim, and by all accounts his early childhood was a financially impoverished one on a family farm that produced little on poor soil.
He went to a local school in Sheffield and recalls, 'We were evacuated during the war. During that time, I went to a private boys' school with four other boys from Sheffield all with pretty much the same background as myself. We had scholarships and evacuation allowances. After that, I went to work in the steel mills in Sheffield.' He got a school certificate, the equivalent of a diploma and passed the exams to go to Oxford, but then said he decided, 'I didn't want to go.'
In 1944, at age 16, he left school and held a series of jobs over the next few years. At this point he became ill with bronchial asthma and spent six months in bed. Once recovered, he applied for work at the Sheffield Repertory Company. He was still under 20. Patrick McGoohan took the job as stage manager at the Sheffield Repertory Theatre and for a while did every type of work needed to keep the company going. Within two years he was a leading player. By the mid-1950's, he had become established as a lead player on prestige stages at the West End in plays such as 'Moby Dick' (1955), 'Serious Charge' (1955) and Ring for Catty' (1956). At the same time he was also moving into television, taking feature roles in episodes of regular series, including 'The Vise', and 'You Are There', as well as a number of BBC-TV plays. Recognition was coming early, but not without considerable effort. McGoohan's first TV series 'Danger Man' was made in 1960 and 1961. The series established the direction and theme for what a few years later would become the highly successful 'Secret Agent' series.
Main character John Drake worked for NATO as a special security agent and was free to travel the world working on special problems for free world governments. The story lines set an early precedent for non-violence, preferring to have Drake use his wits and his fists rather than a gun. McGoohan influenced the program from the start.
The themes of morality and individuality fit in with his personal philosophy as well as his vision of what the character John Drake was supposed to be.
As both a moral and opinionated man, McGoohan held strong views and was forceful about seeing that they were carried out. He had insisted at the very first meeting on the script for the first episode that the bedroom scene be cut out. In fact, he stipulated that romantic involvements would have to be eliminated if he were to play the role, and consequently none appeared in either this series or the 'Secret Agent' series that followed.
Nor did any such relationships appear in 'The Prisoner' series. One episode of the series, 'Vacation' afforded McGoohan an early chance at directing, a skill he was to develop more fully on future projects.
Another episode, 'A View from the Villa', was filmed at Portmeirion in Wales and so impressed him that he made it the surreal location for 'The Prisoner' in 1966/67.
It should come as no surprise that when McGoohan was offered the role as the first James Bond, he turned it down - several times - as being incompatible with the type of role he wanted to play. He says it was a decision he has never regretted.
By the time 'Danger Man' resumed production in 1964, spy stories were all the rage and the series became a big hit. Shown in England under the previous title, it became 'Secret Agent' in the United States and debuted in 1965. John Drake was now a secret agent for England instead of NATO, and the series was expanded to an hour in length. It was recognized as being a show. It had original and good plots, a popular theme song and well-written background music, excellent production techniques, exceptional camera work, and it had McGoohan's strong and stylish performance.
As an actor, McGoohan had now carved out a voice and all his own. As before, John Drake was a loner, an individual, and a moral character.
By 1966 McGoohan had grown tired of 'Secret Agent' and felt the program was beginning to repeat itself.
He approached Lew Grade about doing something a little different and proposed to him a limited-episode series called 'The Prisoner'. McGoohan had the status and power he needed to get the backing for the series he really wanted to do, and the free rein to control its every aspect. He spoke of 'The Prisoner': "I believe passionately in the freedom of the individual, and 'The Prisoner' is basically about the dehumanizing, the loss of individuality, which is happening to us all. People are the prisoners of our society. The series is a comment about life. 'The Prisoner' idea was with me for many years before I put it together with Portmeirion and decided to do the series. The general theme of the man in isolation against authority and bureaucracy, the idea of being a rebel against suppression and stupid rules has been with me since I was able to start thinking about anything at all." 'The Prisoner' started production in 1966. I had directed before that. I had directed in the theatre, and I'd done some writing. And, of course, during the making of 'Secret Agent', I directed some of those. I liked the total involvement. I'm not very happy just doing peripheral tasks. So that one is working as near as one can get to 24 hours a day. I like that, the feeling of achievement. The working with new ideas. I think that's wonderful. But one can only do it in spurts or you burnout."
McGoohan was the star and executive producer, as well as a frequent director and writer; the creative force and controlling hand of a series that was in large part his concept. An able production team was assembled from the previous series. McGoohan wrote a number of the episodes, using several pseudonyms as well as his own name during the course of the work.
The series debuted in England in 1967 and in the United States in June, 1968. A two-year period of personal and professional transition followed the release of 'The Prisoner'.
He moved his family to Switzerland in an effort to find some privacy. There were a few trips back to England to deal with business regarding the production of eight African documentaries. He said, "Individuality was what 'The Prisoner' was all about... the right of the individual to lead his own life, a private life. The First Amendment, I passionately believe in it! We have to have a free press to be free, we HAVE to have it. But we also have the right to a private life, to not have our lives invaded."
He is a man whose career ranges over the world, in every medium and form. And a man whose marriage and family take priority over that career. One who stolidly insists on a private life, yet the most consistent thread throughout 35 years of interviews is his affection for his wife and the importance of his family.
He is currently at work planning the film version of his popular series, 'The Prisoner'.
He continues to be a man whose career ranges over the world, in every medium and form. One who stolidly insists on a private life. He is a man who lives in the present and is constantly moving quickly into his future through the pursuit of any number of ideas or projects he has under way.
And he puts a few more hours in his day than most of us do by only sleeping a couple of hours at night.
When he says he's an early riser, he means 3:00 a.m. Patrick McGoohan is an actor who has spent a lifetime playing roles of men in isolation, apart from the mainstream of society; loners who, for better or worse, rejected the rules and lived their own way. The public role, after all, may be the clearest insight to the enigma of the private person.
McGoohan died in New York on the 13th January, 2009 after a short illness. He was 80 years of age and left a wife Joan, and three daughters.