List of The Sandbaggers characters

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This is a list of the main and recurring fictional characters from the Yorkshire Television espionage series, The Sandbaggers.

Main characters[edit]

Neil Burnside[edit]

Neil D. Burnside[1] is a career intelligence officer, Director of Operations ("D-Ops") of SIS, and a former Sandbagger and Royal Marine commando.[2] Burnside is devious, manipulative, and by turns dour, brusque, aggressive and independent-minded; this combination of traits frequently puts him in conflict with others. He is fiercely patriotic and devoted to the preservation of Britain's national security and "the destruction of the KGB by any means necessary", but while the KGB makes life difficult enough, his main source of antagonism throughout the series are people supposedly on his side: superiors in SIS, whom he alternately considers too cautious or too reckless; the self-serving politicians who grant or withhold permission for the covert operations Burnside wants to execute; territory-hungry MI5 officers; and entrenched civil servants. Since becoming D-Ops, Burnside is a teetotaler, choosing to drink Coca-Cola rather than run the risk of having to make difficult professional decisions while under the influence of alcohol. The dedication to his job cost Burnside his marriage some time before the first episode, and he has trouble forming close relationships. Despite his divorce, he remains on close terms with his former father-in-law, Sir Geoffrey Wellingham, the Permanent Undersecretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which allows him to bypass both the Deputy Chief of SIS and C himself. His one attempt at a serious relationship is with Laura Dickens, a Sandbagger recruit in the first series. Burnside's subsequent attraction to her immediately becomes a source of tension between his usually non-existent personal life and his professional duties; this storyline fuels several episodes, and is resolved in a typically gritty fashion.

The series begins six months after Burnside has become Director of Operations, and one running theme is the relatively high casualty rate that his directorate suffers with him in charge. While fiercely protective of his agents, especially from what he views as his superiors' willingness to squander their lives on unwise missions, Burnside is himself willing to use the Sandbaggers as pawns if doing so will protect Britain's national security interests. Burnside is played by Roy Marsden.

Willie Caine[edit]

The senior Sandbagger (or "Sandbagger One") and head of the Special Operations Section, Caine is a former Paratrooper[3] and according to Burnside, possibly the best operative of his kind in the world. Grounded and straightforward where his boss is not, he is not afraid to speak his mind, but remains steadfastly loyal to Burnside despite the latter's maneuverings. Although he dislikes both violence and guns, he is prepared to use them when necessary. Besides Burnside, Caine is the only character who appears in every episode of the series. The character is played by Ray Lonnen.

Sir James Greenley[edit]

The Head of SIS when the series begins, code-named "C". A diplomat by training, Greenley is treated with suspicion by Burnside when he first becomes "C". Over the course of the first two series, Burnside comes to both trust and become fond of Greenley, who has the difficult task of balancing political as well as security concerns. Greenley is an almost paternal figure to Burnside, often protecting him from the consequences of his worst instincts and keeping the peace between Burnside and Matthew Peele, the deputy chief. Greenley retires at the end of the second series as a result of angina, and Burnside is disappointed to see him replaced, in "Operation Kingmaker," by the less benevolent John Tower Gibbs (Dennis Burgess), who remains C for the rest of the series. Greenley is played by Richard Vernon.

Sir Geoffrey Wellingham[edit]

Sir Geoffrey Wellingham, KCMG, DSC[4] is the Permanent Undersecretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that oversees SIS. As such, he represents the political side of things and is even more cynical and better-versed in realpolitik than Burnside, who is by no means an idealist. As Burnside's former father-in-law (the show often refers to Burnside's former wife Belinda, who is never seen other than via a photograph in Burnside's home), he is also Burnside's contact within Whitehall, and the two both share information and use each other. This avenue of communication is somewhat outside regular channels, and although it can be a useful one for both Burnside and the SIS, on occasion Burnside's superiors show signs of resenting his relationship with Wellingham. Burnside suggests in one episode that the reason the two get along so well is because Wellingham sees a younger version of himself in Burnside. Despite their relationship, the two men can occasionally become adversaries when their agendas differ. Due to his background, experience, and position, Wellingham can be a formidable opponent for Burnside and reminds him of that more than once. Wellingham appears in all but two episodes in the series and is played by Alan MacNaughtan.

Matthew Peele[edit]

The Deputy Head of SIS, the former Head of Hong Kong Station and, like Burnside, a career intelligence officer. Unlike Burnside, however, Peele has little field experience and is more concerned with going by the book, avoiding rocking the political boat, and furthering his own ambitions to higher rank. As a result, Peele often opposes what he sees as Burnside's recklessness, contempt for the proper chain of command, and lack of political tact. He is disliked by his subordinates and considered a tyrant with no opinions of his own, but he is a more complex character than he seems. He proves himself just as committed to the security of Britain as Burnside, in his own way, and their relationship evolves over the course of the series to one of mutual respect (if still antagonistic). Peele appears in all but two episodes and is played by Jerome Willis.

John Tower Gibbs[edit]

Introduced in the last episode of the second series ("Operation Kingmaker"), John Tower Gibbs replaces Sir James Greenley as C and remains in that capacity until the end of the series. Gibbs is a career intelligence officer, former head of the Washington and Bonn Stations and working with the Joint Intelligence Commission when he is appointed C. Unlike his predecessor, Gibbs disapproves of Burnside's methods and is suspicious of the special relationship with the CIA, preferring to see it phased out; for his part, Burnside views Gibbs as a tyrant who will stifle his (Burnside's) ability to run his directorate. They clash throughout the third series, but in one episode where Burnside is on leave and Caine is Acting D-Ops, Caine and Gibbs work very well together. He is played by Dennis Burgess.

Jeff Ross[edit]

The head of the CIA's London station, Ross is probably Burnside's closest friend. The two often have lunch and work together to preserve the "special relationship" between the two intelligence agencies. Ross also takes a keen interest in Burnside's personal life and often urges his friend to actually have one. The close relationship between the two, however, does not prevent Ross from using Burnside and the SIS on at least one occasion. In some episodes, Burnside and Ross are even working at cross-purposes. He is played by Bob Sherman.

Other characters[edit]

The junior Sandbaggers in series one are Jake Landy (David Glyder), Alan Denson (Steven Grives), and Laura Dickens (Diane Keen); series two introduces Tom Elliot (David Beames), and Mike Wallace (Michael Cashman); of these, only Wallace survives to the end of the series, while the rest are killed in the field. Burnside's capable and fiercely loyal personal assistant is Diane Lawler (Elizabeth Bennett), who retires and is replaced in "Operation Kingmaker" by Marianne Straker (Sue Holderness). Karen Milner (Jana Sheldon) is a CIA field officer who reports to Jeff Ross and sometimes works alongside one or more of Burnside's Sandbaggers on assignments; she is only seen in the second series.

For the second and first two episodes of the third series, Burnside enjoys a friendly relationship with Edward Tyler (Peter Laird), the SIS Director of Intelligence (D-Int), and considers him to be the finest D-Int he's ever seen. Tyler reveals himself to have been a double agent for 23 years in the third series episode "To Hell with Justice," and asks the KGB to lift him in Malta--after leaving a trail for SIS to follow and stop the lift, he commits suicide using a KGB-provided cyanide pill before Burnside can escort him back to the UK. He is replaced as D-Int by the less capable Paul Dalgetty (David Robb), who is rarely seen and has a completely antagonistic relationship with Burnside, openly maneuvering to replace the latter as D-Ops. At the conclusion of the series, Dalgetty remains D-Int.



  1. ^ Burnside's middle initial, D., is shown on an envelope in the opening credits sequence which reads, "N.D. Burnside, Esq."
  2. ^ Burnside's past as a Royal Marine is mentioned by his former father-in-law, Sir Geoffrey Wellingham, in the pilot episode, "First Principles".
  3. ^ Caine's past as a Paratrooper is mentioned by Burnside's former father-in-law, Sir Geoffrey Wellingham, in the pilot episode, "First Principles".
  4. ^ Sir Geoffrey is shown wearing his KCMG around his neck, and miniature medals of his lesser honours on the lapel of his tailcoat, in episode 1.07, "Special Relationship"