Armchair Theatre (1956–1974)
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The Greatest Man in the World 

Just after a young unknown American becomes the first on the Moon returns, he dies in an accident. He's laid to rest with full honours, but only the president and a few high officials know just what sort of a man their hero was.


(as William Kotcheff)


, (short story)

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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
President of the USA
Wensley Pithey ...
Frank Evans
Jon Sullivan ...
Peter Hunter
William Hutt ...
General Galway
Gerry Wilmot ...
Robert P. Darrow
MacDonald Parke ...
Ludovic Kennedy ...
Himself / Newscaster
Alec Ross
Janet Brandes
Mark Baker
Cal McCord
Michael Balfour
Elaine Dundy


Just after a young unknown American becomes the first on the Moon returns, he dies in an accident. He's laid to rest with full honours, but only the president and a few high officials know just what sort of a man their hero was.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis






Release Date:

9 November 1958 (UK)  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


James Thurber's original short story had been published many years before this TV adaptation, long before the days of US space exploration. In the story, Jack Smurch has become famous as the first man ever to fly solo right around the world. This suggests very strongly that Thurber intended the story as a sharp satirical comment on the hero-worship extended to legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh, who, in the years following his famous solo flight from New York to Paris in 1927, was revealed as an extreme right-winger politically and even (before the Second World War) an admirer of Hitler's. See more »


Remade as The Greatest Man in the World (1980) See more »

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User Reviews

Living up to the Reputation
27 April 2013 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

It was delightful, after a gap of several years, to be able to review something new to me, even though it is a television play made over half a century ago. That it has survived to watch all these years later is even moor delightful.

A previous reviewer has offered a reasonable summation of the bare bones of the plot so I will not repeat what can already be read elsewhere.

Prior to watching this, I already knew the bare bones too, but had no idea of the structure. Coming at it as primarily a McGoohan fan, my perception was in some ways geared to how he would appear. He was to win a TV Actor of the Year Award in the UK in 1959 and this play was one of those quoted as justifying his coming top of the heap that year. Thus it was that, as I enjoyed Donald Pleasence and the other actors building the tension, I began to fear for McGoohan's performance. How was it going to come across all these years later? Most of all, I wondered how he could possibly meet the expectation being generated in the audience for a man so vile that even his own mother hoped he crashed and burned on re-entry?!

There was a huge plot-hole in all this build-up of course, since there were too many people who knew the real Jackie Smurch to have ever allowed his being presented to the public as an All American Hero. On the other hand, as the raucous muted trumpet sound emphasised, as each terrible anecdote was told about him, this play was very much intended as satirical Farce, so too much seeking of realism would be futile.

With that in mind, how COULD McGoohan possibly meet the expectations? He did it by simply letting go. Utilising the natural skill of an experienced theatre actor, he just 'went for it'. He didn't play the part as if Jackie was a monster; he just played him as the man Jackie was meant to be - an old-fashioned slob who compromised for nothing and nobody. He had flown to the moon to get Dames and Money, and Money and Dames would be all he would be interested in. McGoohan played him as exactly that simple. The wonder of McGoohan was that he could make us believe this character could be true. This is always what McGoohan does though - however bizarre or unlikely the character is, McGoohan always believes in himself - and so we believe in him. I can see why he won an Award for this (as well as other TV work back then) because it was just a brilliant piece of Going with the Flow.

There cannot be many other actors who could have done what McGoohan did with this role. Jackie wasn't remarkably horrid or repulsive or any other exaggeration. Jackie just refused to compromise what he was.

This isn't a quote but it just as easily could have been: "I done what I done, so how'd you like dat?!"

They didn't like it, and so the Secretary of State pushed him out of the skyscraper, to save the President's blushes. Another hero bit the dust.

McGoohan just went up another notch on my ladder of LIKE's .... Where's me thumbs-up icon hiding?

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