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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

One of the most innovative television programs of the 1960s was "The Prisoner." There weren't many episodes, but it became a cult classic, and the man who helped create it was actor Patrick McGoohan. He has died in Los Angeles at the age of 80, and NPR's Tom Cole has this look back at his most famous work.

TOM COLE: "The Prisoner" opens ominously on storm clouds and thunderclaps.

(Soundbite of thunder)

COLE: Behind the wheel of a racecar, Patrick McGoohan speeds across a barren landscape and into London. He stalks down a dark tunnel, throws open massive double doors, pounds on a desk, and slams down a piece of paper. Then he storms out. His photograph is X-ed out, and his file dumped into a drawer labeled "reassigned." He's then gassed and wakes up in a bucolic, empty village.

Mr. DAVID THOMSON (Author, "The New Biographical Dictionary of Film"): It was an extraordinary show which I think led the way, in many ways, in showing just how powerful, how profound a TV series could be.

COLE: David Thomson is the author of a biographical dictionary of film.

Mr. THOMSON: It's sort of as if James Bond material had been given to Harold Pinter to write, to some extraordinary surreal designer to design, and Hitchcock to direct.

(Soundbite of TV show "The Prisoner")

PATRICK MCGOOHAN (As Number Six): What's the name of this place?

Unidentified Woman: You're new here, aren't you?

PATRICK MCGOOHAN (As Number Six): Where?

Unidentified Woman: Do you want breakfast?

PATRICK MCGOOHAN (As Number Six): Where is this?

Unidentified Woman: The village?

PATRICK MCGOOHAN (As Number Six): Yes.

Unidentified Woman: I'll see if coffee's ready.

PATRICK MCGOOHAN (As Number Six): Where's the police station?

COLE: Patrick McGoohan was assigned the number six, and spent all 17 episodes of "The Prisoner" trying to escape the candy-colored village where everyone was watched by hidden cameras. The number was perhaps a reference to a line in the title song of the series that launched him as a secret agent.

(Soundbite of song "Secret Agent Man")

Unidentified Vocalist: Secret agent man, secret agent man, they've given you a number and taken away your name.

COLE: When Patrick McGoohan was approached to do a follow up, he insisted on setting his own terms. He co-created "The Prisoner" and wrote, directed, and produced a number of the episodes. McGoohan was also a noted stage actor and starred in the classic 1962 jazz film "All Night Long," and more recently opposite Mel Gibson in "Braveheart." The single-mindedness that produced a series about an individual resisting authority earned Patrick McGoohan an intensely devoted following. TV Guide once ranked "The Prisoner" as number seven in a list of the 25 top-rated cult shows ever. Too bad it couldn't make it to number six. Tom Cole, NPR News.

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