Rodney Marshall’s “Secret Agent: A fan’s guide to the Danger Man hour series” is a concise, no-nonsense, informative piece of work.
It neither presupposes the reader has knowledge of the background to the production of the TV show Danger Man, nor does it require one to have it; it simply presents an episode-by-episode exposition, broken down into helpful sub-sections.
In essence, the clue is in the title “A fan’s guide”, which to me has two meanings (though I’m not sure whether the author intends it that way).
A fan’s guide in one sense means a guide produced for a fan or fans, but in another could mean one written by a fan.
Clearly we have both here.
Marshall’s passion for the series is immediately obvious, “The original Danger Man show had sparkled, thanks largely to Patrick McGoohan’s magnetic performances…” he says in the preface and I will not contradict him.
Danger Man is one of those serendipitous examples of creative television drama where there is virtually no discernible dip in quality throughout the entire run, though Marshall provides his own subjective graded appraisal for each episode and clearly shows a preference for the black and white stories.
Luckily for him – and us – there were only ever two episodes filmed in colour anyway, right at the end and at this point it would indeed seem that the series had run its course.
“I felt that I had done an adequate amount of those” said McGoohan, years later, while discussing the origins of the project that would follow Danger Man, alternatively titled Secret Agent in the US.
I tend to overlook the last two instalments, entitled Koroshi and Shinda Shima and always assumed McGoohan had agreed to appear in them out of some contractual obligation or practical requirement while transitioning over to The Prisoner, though I could be wrong.
At any rate, for me the last ‘real’ episodes were the black and white gems The Paper Chase and Not So Jolly Roger, both of which are superb.
The helpful sub-sections are broadcast date, title, thematic concerns, a teaser, mission location, mission statement, relationship with superiors, Drake’s undercover role, interesting guest characters/actors, noteworthy sets/scenes, Drake seen with a gun, killings, fights, Drake quips, Drake’s transport, Drake’s gadgets, the moral code, interesting camerawork and episode grading.
This format will be familiar to those who have read Marshall’s other “fan guides”… I found the tally of cigarettes smoked by McGill per episode in his companion to Man In A Suitcase to be particularly amusing.
In the case of Drake, no such tally is given, but then it is not really needed for Danger Man, though McGoohan does enjoy a cigar or two across the series, I seem to recall.
I particularly like the moral code section in each episode as it provides a good opportunity for Marshall to editorialise and get us deeper into Drake’s world without having to bombard us with technical details.
That John Drake clearly had a moral code is not in doubt.
What makes him such a compelling character are the lengths to which he will go to maintain it and the conflict he must wrestle with internally.
This is what elevates the show above its contemporaries.
McGoohan provides the depth in his brilliantly nuanced performances, proving that style AND substance can coexist.
Marshall writes, “At times, Danger Man paints a bleak portrait of British espionage, politics, the corridors of power and even Western capitalism itself.”
This is the most perceptive statement in the whole book for me and highlights a quality in the soul of the show which would resonate through the years and is clearly visible in pretty much all serious espionage drama which followed it.
Fans will enjoy this guide or companion as I like to think of it, since I have already found it useful for the purposes of reappraisal of some of those episodes which I had perhaps overlooked in the past.
We all have our favourites of course and I still maintain the case for A Room In The Basement, I’m Afraid You Have The Wrong Number, Loyalty Always Pays and even The Man With The Foot… which are all largely fun ‘capers’, while Marshall’s work has compelled me to take another look at Sting In The Tail and No Marks For Servility.
I won’t spoil it for you by revealing Marshall’s take on what he calls the “Marmite” episode The Ubiquitous Mr Lovegrove… you’ll have to get the book and find out for yourselves!
As far as appraising the book itself goes, I’ll use Rodney Marshall’s own rating system and give it a resounding 5 out of 5!