Danger Man a.k.a. Secret Agent
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Danger Man, or Secret Agent to U.S. audiences, is a British television program produced in the Sixties. Its main character John Drake is a special operative with clandestine talents frequently called upon to accomplish difficult tasks. Below is the voice-over to Season One’s title sequence. It cleanly outlines the theme of the show.
“Every government has its secret service branch. America, CIA; France, Deuxième Bureau; England, MI5. NATO also has its own. A messy job? Well, that’s when they usually call on me or someone like me. Oh yes, my name is Drake, John Drake.”
In the late fifty and early sixties, spies and espionage themes were popular. Danger Man was the first T.V. show to take advantage of this, with The Avengers close behind. The final line in Season One’s voice-over might sound a little familiar. Before Sean Connery uttered the words Bond, James Bond, there was Drake, John Drake. During the show’s development, Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond series, was attached to the project but soon left to produce the franchise’s first movie, “Dr. No,” leaving behind this yet unpopularized catchphrase. Unfortunately, the show’s introduction continues to evolve as Season one progresses until it’s completely replaced in Season Two.
Danger Man ran for four seasons, and it stars Patrick McGoohan, most known for the T.V. show The Prisoner. The first season ran from 1960 to 1962, producing 39 black and white 30-minute episodes. Season Two and Three ran from 1964 to 1966 and produced 45 more black and white episodes but with longer run times of 60 minutes. Season Four began in 1968 and only produced two episodes, both in color, before lead actor Patrick McGoohan left to pursue another project.
Danger Man revolves around the character, John Drake, who is called in by various governments, personalities, or agencies to help them with problems. His assignments tend to involve a lot of investigating and infiltration, primarily working alone. He does have a support network he can tap into. He’s a gentleman of sorts, preferring to throw a punch rather than pulling the trigger of a gun. He’s a handsome man but doesn’t push himself on the ladies like other the Don Juan secret agents of the times. He uses his intelligence to carefully plan his operations and adapts quickly when equipment fails, a plan comes apart, or becomes unexpectedly detained. He’s never afraid to take risks or to put himself in harm’s way to get the job done. He is a Danger Man.
As the series progress, so does the character story of John Drake. In Series One, John Drake is presumed to be an operative for NATO, as hinted in the show’s introduction. The line mentioning NATO is later dropped from the voice-over. Starting in Season Two, we get hints that he is now an agent for the British, but nothing is definitive. His affiliations are ambiguous throughout the series, with it often shifting without notice. It’s not of great importance to most of the stories since most of the plots don’t affect the global stage.
The stories throughout the series are simple. Drake is called in to fix a problem, investigate a disappearance or a murder. He often finds himself infiltrating an organization by inserting himself or taking over someone else’s identity. Since the show centers around Drake, an individual character, adapting the stories for game purposes is difficult unless it’s a one-GM-one-player situation. Instead of looking for stories to lift, I looked for other sources of inspiration to carry over to the gaming table.
In Season One, episode 28, “Sabotage,” demonstrates a very clever and simple way to test whether you can trust a courier. John Drake is sent to investigate an air bombing. He traces the bombers to a group of smugglers, which he then infiltrates. The smugglers test Drake’s loyalty by having him deliver a canister, which Drake believes holds another bomb. Unknown to Drake, taped inside to the bottom of the container’s lid is an undeveloped strip of 35mm film. Only the smugglers and its recipients know it’s there and what was exposed on it. When the container arrived at its destination, its handlers would carefully remove and develop the strip of the film. It’s a brilliant low-tech way to ensure the container remains unopened and its contents undisturbed during transport. En route to deliver his package, Drake opens the container exposing the film—time to improvise.
Lying unnoticed in plain sight is always regarded as a feat of great skill. In Season One, Episode 32, “The Actor,” John Drake discovers a hidden message in plain sight. Working undercover as a voice actor for a Hong Kong radio station, Drake discovers that certain words in the script for an English Conversation Lessons show are needlessly emphasized. It turns out each emphasized word is part of a coded message between an embedded spy and its handler. When each coded word was written in ascending order, the third letter was a letter in the code. Not groundbreaking by any means, but it’s creative.
I picked up some nifty tradecraft secrets throughout the series, and these are always useful for gaming. When Drake makes contact for the first time with a supporting member of his organization, the two use a special code to verify each other. The contact usually is undercover as a sales clerk or in a position to trade currency. Both have two halves of the same currency bill. When brought together, the bill is whole. In the scene where this exchange occurs, Drake purchases a small item like a pack of gum and presents his half of a bill. The sales clerk matches it to his half, and with the two identities confirmed, they openly begin their business together. It’s an alternative to using a secret password, or it could be used as another layer of authentication. In Danger Man, they kept it simple.
Season One, Episode 19, “Name, Date, and Place,” introduces an interesting plot twist that would be neat to try out. In this episode, Drake must capture an assassin who is part of a Murder Incorporated Ring—you name them, we’ll kill them for a price. The assassin always uses the same execution method, shot in the back through the heart with a .32 caliber from a range of four to five feet. To catch the assassin, Drake must locate and hire them to eliminate his undercover persona. Knowing that the other victims were shot in close quarters, in the back, and discretely, the assassin was someone the victim knew or trusted. Once the hit is in place, Drake must complete his mission before the assassin completes theirs. To me, this could be worked into an interesting adventure—catch an unknown killer by becoming its prey.
Out of all the episodes in the series, there was only one story that I felt I could easily lift without much work, Season Two, Episode Two, “A Room in the Basement.” A British spy is held captive in a foreign embassy next to a hospital in Switzerland. Drake is called upon by the spy’s wife to free him. To rescue the spy, Drake uses the aid of four other agents. They use the next-door hospital to plan and execute their rescue. The other agents have a good deal to do in this episode, making this episode particularly good for an adventure. With a little work and the supporting characters’ roles expanded, it could make for an exciting night at the gaming table.
If you are looking for new spy gadgets to use in your game, Danger Man has a few. The show’s gadgets don’t have the same “wow” factor as James Bond’s “Q” toys, but they are practical and repeatedly used throughout the series. There was a smoke bomb disguised as a cigar. A cigarette lighter with a hidden camera inside. Click to get a flame, and it takes a picture. A movable emblem on the side of the lighter conceals the camera lens. An air gun that uses a compact compressed air cartridge is cloaked as a fishing pool or cane. It shoots a dart embedded with a listening transmitter. Lastly, a mini reel-to-reel tape recorder is hidden inside the head of an electric shaver.
I originally discovered Danger Man after finishing watching Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner; it came up as a recommendation. I had never heard of this show, and as a lover of the James Bond series and espionage roleplaying games, I thought it would hold a wealth of inspiration to use in my own games. Sadly, it didn’t do as much as I hoped. I found the first season to be the most useful. Its shorter episodes delivered the plot quicker, and Drake’s ambiguous affiliation works better for me where players work for unaffiliated government agencies. Even though we see more spy gadgets in later seasons, I felt my attention span waning. For me, the stories weren’t as exciting as the first season. Danger Man is an entertaining show, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch every single episode again. If you’re are looking to pick up some inspiration, I’d stick to the 30-minute episodes of season one. They have interesting plots, and their ideas are more adaptable to table use with little work.
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2 Comments Add yours
A big fan of Danger Man and McGoohan, as well as the espionage genre overall. If you have not seen it, the NETFLIX series Spycraft has loads of other great material too. Great read. Do you have a preferred espionage RPG?
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I have Spycraft on my watch list. I find most espionage RPG focus more on black ops than tradecraft and espionage. Victory Games’ James Bond RPG is the closest to the flavor of espionage I prefer.
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