Alexis Kanner

Maverick actor in the cult Sixties television series 'The Prisoner'

Alexis Kanner, actor, writer, producer and director: born Bagnères de Luchon, France 2 May 1942; married; died 13 December 2003.

Two memorable appearances in the cult Sixties television series The Prisoner brought Alexis Kanner lifelong recognition and the admiration of the programme's star, Patrick McGoohan, who played the character Number Six.

McGoohan had conceived The Prisoner with the script editor George Markstein, but their ideas clashed as filming progressed. Markstein viewed it as a straightforward adventure, whereas McGoohan saw it as much more - a comment on the right of the individual to be individual (echoed in Number Six's cry "I am not a number - I am a free man"). Markstein eventually left. The Nineteen Eighty-Four-style, 17-part drama baffled and infuriated many viewers but became a legend celebrated by fans.

In the Wild West episode "Living in Harmony", Kanner was The Kid, who wore circus pants and a top hat, fought a duel with Number Six (McGoohan) and lost. Like McGoohan, Kanner was a maverick and rebel, and warmed to McGoohan's perfectionism. After receiving a telegram from McGoohan, two weeks before filming was due to begin, saying he was taking lessons on quick-draw from Sammy Davis Jnr and Steve McQueen, Kanner obtained a Colt 45 Pacemaker and practised day and night. He recalled:

On the day we finally shot it, a lot of bets had been placed on the set as to who would outdraw who. Well, we were both so adept at it that only one shot was heard, though both guns went off. It wasn't until the next day, when the film came back from the lab, that the editor was able to count the frames, and discovered that I got mine out and fired in nine and Patrick had done his in 11 or 12, about a sixth of a second difference, and everyone had to pay up.

So impressed was McGoohan with Kanner that he wrote him into the final episode, "Fall Out", as Number Forty-eight, who stands trial as the representative of youth rebellion.

Born in Bagnères de Luchon, France, in 1942, Kanner was brought up in Montreal, where he made his first impression as an actor in the role of Alex, among a French Canadian cast, in the television drama series Beau Temps, Mauvais Temps (1955-58). On moving to Britain, he acted in repertory theatre and went from Birmingham Rep to the Royal Court, then the Royal Shakespeare Company (1961-65), where he played Hamlet under the direction of Peter Brook.

He gained more screen experience in the films Reach for Glory (1962), about the brutal games of evacuated teenage boys during the Second World War, and The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965), as well as on television in The Saint (1964), before becoming a well-known face in the first series of Softly Softly (1966), the Z Cars spin-off about a regional crime squad in the West Country.

As Detective Constable Matt Stone, he sowed the seeds for the rebel image that would become his trademark but insisted that he was not the unusual one, saying

Real policeman don't act like TV policemen. I researched young cops and they took me to a pub to meet this guy dressed in suede and cashmere from top to bottom. He was a detective sergeant, the youngest in CID. A rebel who took no orders from anybody and did what he wanted.

But Kanner quit the role before he became typecast. He said:

I thought I could leave quite quietly, but it got out. The BBC had to arrange bodyguards and I had all my clothes ripped off in Baker Street Tube station by about 40 schoolgirls.

After returning to Montreal to take the title role in the film The Ernie Game (1967), Kanner welcomed the opportunity to join Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner (1967-68), just as the star was planning the final four episodes of that groundbreaking series.

Although there was some opposition to McGoohan's choice of Kanner, the young actor embodied everything that the star wanted. As well as guest- starring in two episodes, he appeared uncredited as a photographer in a third, "The Girl Who Was Death".

Kanner subsequently acted on television in UFO (1970) and in the films Crossplot (alongside Roger Moore, 1969), Connecting Rooms (as a rebellious youth, 1969) and Goodbye Gemini (as a gambler in Swinging London, 1970). He then returned to Canada to star as a wild man trying to settle down on a farm in Mahoney's Last Stand (also titled Mahoney's Estate, 1972), which he co-wrote and co-directed.

In 1975, Kanner moved to the United States. He was reunited with McGoohan when both starred in the Canadian film Kings and Desperate Men (1981), a thriller about a talk-show host (McGoohan) who is taken hostage in a radio studio. Kanner directed and co-wrote the picture, which also starred Margaret Trudeau, wife of the the Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau, as McGoohan's wife.

After returning to Britain in 1996, Kanner made plans for a new film, which never came to fruition, and this year was special guest at The Prisoner fan convention at Portmeirion, the north Wales village that was the scene of location filming for the series.

Anthony Hayward

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