The latest Danger Man episode had a cold open that promised an entirely different episode from the one we subsequently enjoyed. It came in two parts, each with their element of low comedy: an attractive woman, playing the part of a clumsy tea-lady at a French Atomic Establishment steals a Tres Secret document by spilling the tea tray over two scientists’ desk and walking off with the document in the confusion, and Admiral Hobbs summons an agent, played by the rotund and bumptious Patrick Newell, to head off the the Cote d’Azur to assist Drake, who’s very carefully laying a trap for the woman’s boss, Mr A J A Kent, an expert in selling secrets.
And the comedy continues at first in the portrayal by Patrick MacGoohan of one ‘Peter Simons’, a seemingly rich, idle playboy, smoking cigars non-stop, drinking, gambling and womanising. It’s a beautifully pitched performance, with John Drake’s native intelligence allowed, at the proper moment, to emerge from behind the clear facade that is Simons, but never until the very end in front of his chosen prey, Martine (Dawn Addams, looking charming and acting like a French cliche).
Martine was a clumsy tea lady. She’s Drake’s avenue of approach to Kent (Niall McGinnis, contrasting the melodrama of a leather mask worn across the right side of his face, almost entirely covering the effects of an acid attack that he ascribes to an old war wound, with an underplayed calmness). ‘Peter Simons’ – Martine doesn’t think he is a Peter, she sees him, and calls him, more as a John… – has the formula for F6, a new rocket fuel, that he’s out to sell to Kent, who is remarkably cautious. The whole episode is a fencing match in which Drake is not only ahead of Kent but makes it plain to the man that he is ahead of him.
The only weakness in the episode is Patrick MacGoohan. Peter Simons suggests the role Drake is playing: there’s a woman staying in the Villa adjoining his who sunbathes continually, usually in very short shorts, very short skirts and a length of leg unknown to television in 1964, and Simons constantly watches her. He’s flirtatious with Martine, as per his role, but despite several opportunities of a kind that a Simons would certainly take advantage of, his flirtatiousness remains entirely verbal. No kissing, a minimum of touch and, when Martine takes him back to her apartment and immediately ‘slips into something more comfortable’ but sadly not diaphonous, all he does is switch brandies so she gets the drugged one.
All this because MacGoohan had strong moral principles about the portrayal of ‘immorality’ on TV (and a couple of actresses who worked with him reported that he had issues about anything that brought him too close to them physically). He doesn’t do what a Simons would do because MacGoohan won’t, and can’t.
At least Dawn Addams gets a fair crack of the whip. After his build up in the open, Patrick Newell gets only two brief scenes, though the second of these is crucial in betraying Drake to Kent. in expecting a comedic performance, I was forward-projecting out of my knowlede of Newell’s most famous role, as Steed and Tara King’s chief, ‘Mother’ in the last series of The Avengers, and Newell did certainly play himself up appropriately at the start, only to be lost in the shuffle thereafter.
The plot itself is not much more than a par spy story: John Drake breaks spy ring. But it’s the performance of the three principals, plus Frederick Bartman as Kent’s judo-expert underling, with a haircut that’s just crying out to have a duffel coat attached to it,to distinguish it. That and Patrick MacGoohan coming the closest to dallying with a woman as I suppose we’ll ever get to see him.