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]

As Director of Operations ("D-Ops") of SIS, a former Sandbagger and Royal Marine commando,[1] Neil D. Burnside[2] is a career intelligence officer — devious and manipulative and by turns also 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". While the KGB makes life difficult enough for Burnside, he also gets plenty of antagonism from people who are supposedly on his side: his 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 carry out; territory-hungry MI5 officers; and entrenched civil servants. 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 also cost Burnside his marriage some time before the first episode, and he has trouble forming close relationships. Despite his divorce, he remains quite friendly 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. The one major exception during the series involves Laura Dickens, whom he recruits as a Sandbagger. 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 apparently begins not long 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 was treated with suspicion by Burnside when he first became "C." But 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 almost a 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 head. Burnside is disappointed to see him replaced, in "Operation Kingmaker," by the less benevolent John Tower Gibbs (Dennis Burgess). 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 but we never see her on-screen 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 is played by Alan MacNaughtan.

Matthew Peele[edit]

The Deputy Head of SIS and, like Burnside, a career intelligence officer and a former Head of Station. Unlike Burnside, however, Peele has less field experience and is more concerned with going by the book 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 within the department and considered a tyrant with no opinions of his own. Peele, however, is a more complex character than he seems, and in his own way just as committed to the security of Britain as Burnside. Peele is played by Jerome Willis.

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 — many of whom are killed, and some of whom appear in just one or two episodes — are Jake Landy (David Glyder), Alan Denson (Steven Grives), Laura Dickens (Diane Keen), Tom Elliot (David Beames), and Mike Wallace (Michael Cashman). Burnside's capable personal assistant is Diane Lawler (Elizabeth Bennett), who 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.

For the second and first two episodes of the third series, Burnside enjoyed a friendly relationship with Edward Tyler (Peter Laird), the SIS Director of Intelligence (D-Int), and considered him to be the finest D-Int he'd ever seen. Tyler revealed himself to have been a double agent for 23 years in the third series episode "To Hell with Justice," and asked the KGB to lift him in Malta--after leaving a trail for SIS to follow and stop the lift, he committed suicide using a KGB-provided cyanide pill after confessing his regrets to Burnside, who had come to assassinate him. He was replaced as D-Int by 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 remained D-Int.



  1. ^ Burnside's past as a Royal Marine is mentioned by his former father-in-law, Sir Geoffrey Wellingham, in the pilot episode, "First Principles".
  2. ^ Burnside's middle initial, D., is shown on an envelope in the opening credits sequence which reads, "N.D. Burnside, Esq."
  3. ^ Caine's past as a Paratrooper is mentioned by his 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"