Not a Number – Patrick McGoohan 1928-2009

“I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. I am my own man.”

Patrick McGoohan was Danger Man John Drake, Dr. Syn (alias The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh), Edward Longshanks, Dr. Paul Ruth in Scanners, Agent David Jones in Ice Station Zebra and erstwhile nemesis to Columbo (he starred in four episodes – a record!) and many, many others in his long career, but to most of us he’s the creator and star of one of the most original and daring TV shows ever created. He was The Prisoner, the former British agent (John Drake, perhaps?) who left the service in an outrage (replayed in the opening sequence of every episode) and was subsequently sent to a kind of holiday colony for retired intelligence agents, a velvet prison created as a surreal mirror of the world. It’s an ingenious political allegory played as a conspiratorial mind-game. No other TV show dared be as enigmatic, as philosophically complex, or as genuinely suspicious view of global power politics.

Patrick McGoohan as John Drake, Danger Man
Patrick McGoohan as John Drake, Danger Man

If you’re looking for a proper tribute to McGoohan, you can’t do better than a Prisoner marathon, but also note that in late 2008, Walt Disney released Dr Syn, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. The two-disc set feature the complete three-part series as original broadcast on Disneyland in 1963 and the subsequent feature film version edited down from the series. McGoohan is Dr. Christopher Syn, alias The Scarecrow, a rural country priest in 18th century Britain who leads a double life as a masked smuggler and gangleader, a kind of Robin Hood by way of Batman.

There are tributes aplenty across the web and David Hudson has done a fine job of collecting them at The Daily @ Also be sure to see Jim Emerson’s video essay on the opening sequence of the series on his Scanners blog here, which he reposted in tribute to McGoohan here.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website ( I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View ( I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly,, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

One thought on “Not a Number – Patrick McGoohan 1928-2009”

  1. After 12 years I am back in the Army – rejoined as a chaplain no less. I am having a bit of a problem with my Bn commander (personality issues). I figured it out – I am free and he cannot control me and then the quote hit me “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, briefed, debriefed or numbered. I am my own man.” I am free in Christ and no one can control me but God.
    Man, being back in the Army really makes the Prisoner relevant.

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