Cult TV hero's city background

ACCORDING to Patrick McGoohan's biographer, there are many references in the actor's cult series, The Prisoner, to his early life in Sheffield.

“If you watch Chapter 6 of the Prisoner you realise how autobiographical it is,” says Roger Langley.

“The character talks about being stuck in a bank in the past and, of course, McGoohan worked for a bank in Rotherham. His own date of birth is given and the hobbies and work the character did corresponded with his own. In the story he regresses to his childhood and it all comes from his own childhood.”

The author of Patrick McGoohan: Danger Man or Prisoner?, published by Sheffield’s Tomahawk Press, should know. He has been principal organiser of the Appreciation Society for The Prisoner during its 30-year life.

Although born in America and from an Irish family, McGoohan lived in Sheffield from the age of 10 until he moved to London as an established actor and a married man.

“I chose Tomahawk Press because it was based in Sheffield and had this link,” explains Langley, an East Anglian solicitor. “Through the local press they asked for people’s memories of Patrick McGoohan. The people of Sheffield have been marvellous, I got so many stories.”

The book recounts how McGoohan went to St Vincent’s RC Catholic School in Solly Street and then was evacuated to Leicestershire during the Second World War.

Back in Sheffield he joined the amateur dramatic society at the Catholic youth club while pursuing a number of jobs – in a bank and on a chicken farm, for example – before becoming a professional actor at the old Sheffield Playhouse where he met his wife, Joan Drummond.

There seemed some confusion as to where the McGoohan family actually lived and since the book’s publication The Star’s Diary column elicited recollections from readers that placed them at different times at Clarkehouse Road, Broomhill and on Fulwood Road near Notre Dame School where his dad, Thomas, worked as a gardener.

Roger Langley traces his interest in Patrick McGoohan from boyhood watching Danger Man on TV. “When I was about 10 or 11 the area I lived in didn’t get ITV but part of Ipswich had piped television and I would visit my auntie and watch Danger Man,” he recalls.

“It was a new half-hour series and different from anything else around in 1959. Drake was an agent before James Bond. “When The Prisoner came along it was if the previous guy had been abducted.”

“To cap it all, there was an allegory in the final episode. People were either excited or enraged by it and the ITV network was deluged with angry callers.”

Viewers and the media at the time seemed baffled by the whole thing but to 20-year-old Langley “the fun was not getting what it all meant,” even though everyone around him was more interested in the Hit Parade.

“The series finished and in those days there were no videos or DVDs, it was a Patrick McGoohan desert,” he continues. “In 1976 all the ITV regions re-screened The Prisoner but there was still scarcely anything written about the series. The only way was to form a society.

"Six of One started in Cheltenham and I joined in early 1978. I had a Lotus 7 at the time and it was a good excuse to drive hell for leather across the country. I met my wife-to-be, Karen, at a convention," he reveals.

"McGoohan agreed to become honorary president and then a few years later it became international and now has 50,000 members worldwide. I have kept in touch with McGoohan and we still send him our magazine.

"I think he finds it useful in correcting stories that are put out about The Prisoner. He used to think people wanted to take more credit for it than they deserved."

Langley has written guides to the series, The Prisoner in Portmeirion, The Prisoner Series Guide and the latest US Prisoner DVD Megaset booklet, but he also followed McGoohan's whole acting career.

"The book derived from a collection of material collected over 15 years," he explains. "I decided it was time to put it in order and there had been no biography of him written. It was a huge undertaking for someone who had only written articles on various things before."

He had been in touch with McGoohan over the years, either by letter or phone call. "I did meet him once," he adds, "when ITV had a Greatest Hits series in 1983 when he appeared with members of the society. He was over here filming Jamaica Inn for HTV."

McGoohan, who will be 80 in March, has demonstrated an obsessive protection of his privacy, so did he approve of having a book written about him?

"He knew the book was being written and that it was being done as a tribute to him," says the writer, "and we have sent him a copy."

Patrick McGoohan: Danger Man or Prisoner? (Tomahawk Press, 19.99 or 15.49 via www.tomahawkpress.com).