The 1960's, with all its colour and noise, was a true golden age for the secret agent - on the cinema screen James Bond was at the height of his popularity and TV reflected with spy craze with several fondly remembered and now cult classic shows. It was the era of the cold war mentality, a time when the CIA were still perceived as the good guys - Watergate was still to come with its laying out of the distasteful dealings of the various intelligence services and Britsh intelligence had not yet been revealed as being full of KGB moles - the secret agent was an heroic figure, looking over us, protecting us. Shit even President Kennedy was a James Bond fan.
In April of 1961, CBS aired for the first time a spy show called Dangerman which starred Patrick McGoohan (a man who would turn down the role of James Bond) however the show was not an instant stateside success and would take some time to build up its audience. NBC tried a spy series with Espionage with was an anthology series which featured a different World War II story each week. It was not until The Man from Uncle that spy shows really hit it big on the small screen. The show first aired in September 1964 and was a huge hit. The character of Napolean Solo was an American James Bond and Ian Fleming had even named the character. The Bond author had been involved in the early planning of the series. There was also a short lived spin off, The Girl from Uncle.
The period is notable as one of the few times when Brit TV dominated the US screens and several UK shows were rating winners for the American networks - The Saint, The Champions and Jason King were all huge hits.
Hints were dropped throughout the run to suggest that the character of Number 6 was indeed John Drake - in the sixth episode the character was briefly referred to as Drake. Another hint comes in the epsode, Living in Harmony in which Number 6 find himself the sheriff in a Wild West town and he decides not to carry a gun - John Drake never carried a gun.
Man in a Suitcase was made in the same year as The Prisoner, is yet another series that has withstood the test of time. Possible the least well known classic of the the shows of the sixties, starring Richard Bradford as ex CIA agent McGill. (His first name is never revealed) Thrown out of the CIA for something he did not do, he now works in London as a private investigator who will take care of your problems as long as the price is right. The show was a lot more straight forward then The Prisoner or The Avengers, relying simply on good stories and an action/ adventure format. Several episodes were directed by future James Bond director, John Glen.
And so the days of the TV spy has largely vanished but the old shows are still popular on DVD and several shows such as The Avengers and Mission Impossible have sprung out onto the big screen. None other than Quentin Tarantino has been linked with a big screen version of The Man from Uncle and the Prisoner was recently remade and then forgotten.
Today we live in a world where the government are not to be trusted and any spies that do make the small screen are usually sinister figures working for the man - a far cry from the fun filled adventures of the Sixties.