The Sandbaggers

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The Sandbaggers
Genre Espionage
Created by Ian Mackintosh
Developed by Ian Mackintosh
Starring Roy Marsden
Richard Vernon
Ray Lonnen
Alan MacNaughtan
Elizabeth Bennett
Jerome Willis
Bob Sherman
Diane Keen
Dennis Burgess
Michael Cashman
Theme music composer Roy Budd
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 3
No. of episodes 20
Executive producer(s) David Cunliffe
Producer(s) Michael Ferguson
Running time approx. 50 minutes
Production company(s) Yorkshire Television
Original network ITV
Original release 18 September 1978 (1978-09-18) – 28 July 1980 (1980-07-28)

The Sandbaggers is a British television drama series about men and women on the front lines of the Cold War. Set contemporaneously with its original broadcast on ITV in 1978 and 1980, The Sandbaggers examines the effect of the espionage game on the personal and professional lives of British and American intelligence specialists.


The protagonist is Neil D. Burnside[1] (played by Roy Marsden), Director of Operations in Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (also known as MI6, although the name "MI6" is never uttered in the series). Burnside oversees, among others, a small, elite group of British intelligence officers: the Special Operations Section nicknamed the "Sandbaggers". This group is composed of highly trained officers whose work includes dangerous missions that tend to be politically sensitive or especially vital, such as escorting defectors across borders, carrying out assassinations (sandbagging), or rescuing other operatives who are in trouble behind the Iron Curtain.

In the series, the Central Intelligence Agency and SIS have a co-operative agreement to share intelligence. The Sandbaggers depicts SIS as so under-funded that it has become dependent on the CIA. Burnside consequently goes to great lengths to preserve the "Special Relationship" between the CIA and SIS—most notably in the episode of the same name. The personal price he pays in that episode sparks an obsession with the safety of his Sandbaggers and the survival of the special section in subsequent episodes, contributing to Burnside's gradual psychological unravelling and the series' unresolved cliffhanger ending.

Series creator[edit]

The Sandbaggers was created by Ian Mackintosh, a Scottish former naval officer turned television writer, who had previously achieved success with the acclaimed Warship BBC television series. He wrote all the episodes of the first two series. However, during the shooting of the third series in July 1979, Mackintosh and his girlfriend, a British Airways stewardess, were declared lost at sea after their single-engine aircraft mysteriously went missing over the Pacific Ocean near Alaska following a radioed call for help. Some of the details surrounding their disappearance have caused speculation about what actually occurred, including their stop at an abandoned United States Air Force base and the fact that the plane happened to crash in the one small area that was not covered by either US or USSR radar.[2]

Mackintosh disappeared after he had written just four of the scripts for Series Three, so other writers were called in to bring the episode count up to seven. The Sandbaggers ends on an unresolved cliffhanger because the producers decided that no one else could write the series as well as Mackintosh, and they chose not to continue with it in his absence. Actor Ray Lonnen, who played Sandbagger Willie Caine, has indicated in correspondence with fans that there were plans for a follow-up season in which his character, using a wheelchair, had taken over Burnside's role as Director of Special Operations.

Because of the atmosphere of authenticity that the scripts evoked and the liberal use of "spook" jargon, there has been speculation that Mackintosh might have been a former operative of SIS or had, at least, contact with the espionage community.[2][3] This has extended to speculation that his disappearance was no accident or had to do with a secret mission he was undertaking. There is a possibility that Mackintosh may have been involved in intelligence operations during his time in the Royal Navy, but no conclusive evidence has surfaced.[4] When asked, Mackintosh himself was always coy about whether he had been a spy.

However, even if Mackintosh may have had experience in the world of real-life espionage, the organisational structure of SIS depicted in The Sandbaggers is actually closer to that of the CIA than the real-life SIS. There is no formal section of SIS known as the Special Operations Section (as far as is publicly known), and there is no intelligence unit known as "Sandbaggers". This may have been deliberate, so as to avoid problems with SIS and the Official Secrets Act. For example, Ray Lonnen mentioned in an interview that a second series episode was apparently vetoed by censors because it dealt with sensitive information, explaining why Series Two has only six episodes.

Production and story style[edit]

The series was produced by Yorkshire Television, based in Leeds. Though the Sandbaggers' missions took them to various places around the world, most of the exterior filming was done in the city of Leeds and the surrounding Yorkshire countryside. Additional exterior scenes were filmed in London and Malta. Interior studio scenes were shot on videotape.

The overall style is gritty realism. The series is particularly grim (though laced with black humour), depicting the high emotional toll taken on espionage professionals who operate in a world of moral ambiguity. The Sandbaggers aimed to invert most of the accepted conventions of the spy thriller genre. In direct contrast to the "girls, guns, and gadgets" motif established by the James Bond movies, The Sandbaggers features ordinary people in extraordinary jobs of work. In keeping with the sense of reality there are very few action sequences and the equipment available to the operatives are standard vehicles and regular issue tools.

On a number of occasions through the series, the characters engage in explicitly disparaging the fictitious world of James Bond and with it the romanticized view that some amateurs and outsiders have of the intelligence business. In contrast to that entertainment-focused vision, Neil Burnside is a harried spymaster who doesn't drink; Willie Caine is a secret agent who abhors guns and violence; and no character is seen to have sex over the course of the series (the first series' romantic sub-plot explicitly refers to its sexless nature). The bureaucratic infighting is reminiscent of John le Carré's George Smiley novels. The lack of funding enforces more borderline judgment calls to be made and with them (as often as not made under political pressure) the risks increase.

The plots are complex, multi-layered, and unpredictable: regular characters are killed off abruptly, and surprise twists abound. The dialogue is intelligent and frequently witty. Most of what happens in The Sandbaggers is conversation which drives the plot along - it wasn't necessary for the audience to see everything in minute detail. In a typical episode, Burnside moves from office to office having conversations (and heated arguments) with his colleagues in Whitehall and in the intelligence community. Sometimes his conversations are intercut with scenes of the Sandbaggers operating in the field; other times the audience sees more of the buzzing "Ops Room," where missions are coordinated and controlled, than of the Sandbaggers' actual field activities. The way events and their consequences were revealed via talk created interest as the audience worked out how each denouement completed further the picture as each episode progressed..

Theme music[edit]

The title theme music, composed by jazz pianist Roy Budd, establishes its rhythmic undertone with the cimbalom, an instrument often associated with spy thrillers (John Barry, for example, used the cimbalom in his scores for The Ipcress File and The Quiller Memorandum). From series 2 onwards, the theme contains an additional organ playing the same melody line. This version (or 'mix') was also used in the opening titles of episode 2 and episode 7 of series 1).

Unusually for an episodic drama, The Sandbaggers is almost entirely devoid of incidental music. One notable exception is the last episode of series 1 (episode 7) where Burnside's feelings get the better of him for reasons the audience (by then) fully understand.


From left to right: Jeff Ross (Sherman), Willie Caine (Lonnen) and Neil Burnside (Marsden) in Burnside's office.

Neil Burnside (Roy Marsden)

The Sandbaggers stars Roy Marsden as Neil D. Burnside, who is the Director of Operations (D-Ops) of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, also known as MI6). Himself a former Sandbagger and a former Marine,[5] Burnside has been D-Ops for only a short time at the start of the series. He is arrogant and regularly finds himself at odds with his superiors.

Sir James Greenley (Richard Vernon), "C" (series 1 and 2)

Burnside's chief superior (for the first two series) is Sir James Greenley, code-named "C" and head of SIS. Because of Greenley's diplomatic background, Burnside is initially wary of him, but over the course of the show, they develop a friendly relationship.

John Tower Gibbs (Dennis Burgess), "C" (series 3 only)

In the third season, Greenly is replaced as the head of SIS by John Gibbs, who openly disapproves of Burnside and his method of operating. His appointment (along with a continued lack of funding) leads to increased tension amongst the teams' management.

Matthew Peele (Jerome Willis), Deputy Head of SIS

Burnside is often mistrusted by Peele, his immediate superior, towards whom Burnside's demeanour is insubordinate and sometimes even hostile. Peele is generally considered a nuisance by most characters, although he is briefly a candidate to succeed Greenley as "C" (because Burnside hates Gibbs more than Peele).

Sir Geoffrey Wellingham (Alan MacNaughtan)

Burnside's personal and professional life come together in Sir Geoffrey Wellingham, who is both Burnside's former father-in-law and the Permanent Undersecretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that oversees SIS. They share an informal but sometimes antagonistic relationship which on occasion is tested to the very limit, but also maintain an unspoken fondness and have respect for each other.

Willie Caine (Ray Lonnen), "Sandbagger One"

Caine, a former Paratrooper, is head of the Special Operations Section. He shares a bond of friendship and trust with Burnside, although they are occasionally at odds with each other. Caine is occasionally ribbed for his working-class background. In "A Feasible Solution", Burnside describes Willie as "the best operative currently operating anywhere in the world". He is the only Sandbagger to appear from the series' beginning to its end.

Jeff Ross (Bob Sherman), head of London station, CIA

Serving as Head of the London Station of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is Jeff Ross. The relationship between the CIA (which has more resources) and the SIS (which has more freedom of action) is considered a special one, pivotal to multiple episodes. Ross and Burnside are friends, but are forced to work against one another on occasion; in one episode, Ross sends his wife, a former CIA field agent, to seduce a British official. During the second series Ross is assisted by Karen Milner (Jana Shelden), a CIA field officer who works with SIS from time to time and is romantically interested in Burnside.

Other characters

Burnside's personal assistant Diane Lawler (Elizabeth Bennett) has regular clashes with her boss but is fiercely loyal to him. She retires at the end of the second series, hand-picking her replacement, Marianne Straker (Sue Holderness).

In the beginning of the series, there are two other Sandbaggers: Sandbagger Two Jake Landy (David Glyder) and Sandbagger Three Alan Denson (Steven Grives). They are both killed and replaced for the first series by Laura Dickens (Diane Keen), the only female Sandbagger, killed at the end of the first series.

The second series opens with two new Sandbaggers: Tom Elliot (David Beames), who is soon killed, and Mike Wallace (Michael Cashman), who survives as Sandbagger Two as of the end of the third series. Another recurring character is Edward Tyler (Peter Laird), the SIS Director of Intelligence (D-Int), introduced in the first episode of the second series. Tyler and Burnside share a friendly relationship, but Tyler dies early in the third series and is replaced by Paul Dalgetty (David Robb). Dalgetty, who appears in only two episodes, is openly antagonistic towards Burnside and is briefly scheduled to replace Burnside as D-Ops owing to a KGB plot in "Who Needs Enemies" (S03E06).

Sam Lawes (Brian Osborne), Brian Milton (Barkley Johnson) and Bruce (Paul Haley) are often on duty in the ops room.


Each of the 20 episodes of The Sandbaggers runs just under 50 minutes without commercials. Each episode did, however, originally air with commercial breaks which divided the episode into three acts.

Animated bumpers similar to the end credits lead into and out of the commercial breaks. They read: "End of Part One," "Part Two," "End of Part Two," and "Part Three." These bumpers are intact on the R2 DVD releases, although absent from the R0, and also the Series Two NTSC videotape release.

No. Title Directed by Written by Original air date Guest cast
1-01 "First Principles" Michael Ferguson Ian Mackintosh 18 September 1978 (1978-09-18) Olaf Pooley, Richard Shaw, Brian Haines, Roger Kemp
Norway uses the political leverage of purchase of a British missile system to force Burnside to mount a recovery operation for an aircraft which has crash-landed in the Kola Peninsula. However while Burnside is gathering data and planning the operation, which is generally considered insane, the Norwegians become impatient and request help from the CIA. When Caine and Landy arrive at the aircraft, they find its crew has already been led out. They try to catch up with the party, which is inadvertently heading for a Russian military base, but can not prevent their capture. They escape unharmed via a safer route.
1-02 "A Proper Function of Government" Michael Ferguson Ian Mackintosh 25 September 1978 (1978-09-25) Laurence Payne, Michael O'Hagan
When Sir Donald Hopkins, a top government advisor, is unexpectedly seen in Vienna, it is suspected that he intends to defect. Meanwhile, President Lutara in East Africa has been executing British citizens, including the last Sandbagger lost in the field, and the SIS has put together a proposal for his assassination. Burnside sends Caine and Denson to Vienna, and with the third Sandbagger already in Iran, proposes that if the assassination is to take place, he should do it himself. The proposal gets no support from his superiors, but he tries to get Wellingham onside by suggesting he will get back together with Belinda Wellingham in exchange. The assassination is rejected by the Prime Minister, on the grounds that the taking of human life is abhorrent and that it's not a proper function of government. The government is initially unconcerned about Hopkins, even though his defection would be a scandal that would probably lead to its fall. But when a top KGB agent is also spotted in Vienna, it urgently requests that Hopkins be brought back to the UK, or if he won't come quietly, that he be killed. Wellingham asks Burnside to go to Vienna and handle the operation himself, saying that he wants the government to stay in power. Burnside refuses; in Vienna, Denson takes out the KGB agent by forcing his car to crash, while Caine meets Hopkins and escorts him back to the UK.
1-03 "Is Your Journey Really Necessary?" Derek Bennett Ian Mackintosh 2 October 1978 (1978-10-02) Brenda Cavendish, Andrew Bradford, Michael O'Hagan
Burnside sends Landy into foreign territory to assassinate a Soviet general, on request of the CIA, without obtaining clearance. Landy is wounded while returning and can't get across the border. To prevent his capture, he is shot dead by Denson, under orders from Burnside. Denson announces that he intends to resign, so that he can marry Sally Graham, but Burnside doesn't want to lose him on account of the difficulty of recruiting sandbaggers. He assigns Caine to investigate Graham, ignoring a lack of authorisation to operate in the UK, in the hope of finding something to break up the relationship. He then attempts to blackmail her into ending the relationship herself. Graham, after drinking, has a distraught phone call with Denson, after which Denson is killed by a taxi when crossing a street. Burnside and Caine visit Graham with the news, to find that she has killed herself with an overdose of pills. Meanwhile, a British diplomat in Paris, Charles Rumney, has been seen having a secret homosexual affair and is considered a security risk. To avoid dismissing him and causing political problems for his brother, a promising opposition politician, Burnside asks Wellingham to deal with it quietly. However, Wellingham, as a supporter of the current government, instead uses the situation to force the resignation of Rumney's brother.
1-04 "The Most Suitable Person" David Reynolds Ian Mackintosh 9 October 1978 (1978-10-09) Stephen Greif, Christopher Benjamin, John F. Landry, Hubert Rees, David McAlister, Jonathan Coy
Burnside is considering two candidates for the open sandbagger positions, Colin Grove and Laura Dickens. Dickens is not interested initially, but she agrees to join on a temporary basis. Grove is very keen, but Jeff Ross reveals that the CIA have observed him visiting a private psychiatrist. They are concerned that their secrets may have been leaked, which would jeopardize the special relationship. Meanwhile in Gibraltar, a British agent based in Morocco is found dead and Caine is sent to investigate. He lures the opponents into attempting to kill him as well, and later argues with an MI5 agent. Dickens is sent to Morocco to examine the dead agent's documents, which reveal that he was following somebody intent on revenge against Gibraltar. Caine and the local police foil an attempt to kill the Governor of Gibraltar by firing a rocket at his plane. Back in London, further investigation of the psychiatrist uncovers a spy ring in which the psychiatrist is collecting information from various government personnel. When confronted, Grove says he was investigating it unofficially himself, and had notified a friend in MI5 8 months earlier. Burnside kicks him out of the division, but is happy to take political advantage of MI5's failure to uncover the spy ring itself.
1-05 "Always Glad to Help" David Reynolds Ian Mackintosh 16 October 1978 (1978-10-16) Peter Miles, Gerald James, Terence Longdon, Alan Thompson, Malcolm Hebden, Peter Ivatts
Peele annoys Burnside by asking him to reduce spending. Ministry of Defence Intelligence asks Burnside to send divers to examine a Russian commercial ship, which Burnside resists. Wellingham asks Burnside to help plan a coup to allow Sheikh Hamad to replace his Soviet-aligned father, but Burnside wants to investigate Hamad first. Peele supports Wellingham, but C gives Burnside a short time for investigation. Peele tries to get support for the coup from the Ministry of Defence, but they won't cooperate unless the Russian ship is examined. Peele gets the ship operation approved by the Foreign Office after Burnside attempts to kill it. Burnside assigns Dickens to get close to Hamad. Dickens crashes an office Mini to attract Hamad's attention, causing much paperwork back at the office. She is wildly successful with Hamad and he asks her for marriage. She discovers that he doesn't intend to return to the Middle East, but is going to Texas to study the oil business. Burnside and the sandbaggers conclude that the coup is a trap; the pro-Arab Hamad would allow the British SAS to defeat the Russian palace guard, but allow Arab forces to win the day, in the hope of turning his father away from the Russians. Burnside is proved right over Peele and Wellingham. The operation on the Russian ship is carried out successfully and reveals that the hull is equipped with a secret underwater hatch for divers, proving Burnside wrong.
1-06 "A Feasible Solution" Michael Ferguson Ian Mackintosh 23 October 1978 (1978-10-23) Sarah Bullen, Kenneth Watson, Richard Cornish, Donald Churchill, Peter Cassell
British and Russian missile engineers go missing, and it is suspected that the Greek Cypriot National Front wants to build missiles for an attack on Northern Cyprus. When the No. 2 at the Nicosia station is assassinated, Burnside sends Caine to Cyprus with the replacement No. 2, Jill Ferris from the training school. When Caine and Ferris are attacked on the road, Ferris' competence and demeanor lead Caine to conclude that she is an experienced agent: an imposter planted by the KGB to recover the Russian engineer. Burnside decides to continue working with "Ferris" until the operation is complete. He resists sending Dickens to Cyprus, and has examined Dickens' psychiatric evaluations regarding relationships. He invites her out to dinner, after which they have an intimate conversation at his house. After discovering that the engineers are being held in a fortified building near the Northern Cyprus border, Burnside attempts to get backup from the CIA or British military, without success. Caine and Ferris assault the building alone, successfully rescuing the two engineers although Caine is shot in the shoulder. He reveals to Ferris that he knows she is KGB, and allows her to take the Russian engineer, who she executes as a traitor. Back in London, Burnside is furious at Caine for this action, since he would have preferred Ferris to be left in place in the Nicosia station to be supplied with false information.
1-07 "Special Relationship" Michael Ferguson Ian Mackintosh 30 October 1978 (1978-10-30) Alan Downer, Richard Shaw, Cyril Varley, Brian Ashley
Burnside and Dickens are now in a relationship. When photographs need to be collected from an informant in East Berlin, a risky operation, Burnside can find no other options but to send Dickens. She collects the photos but is arrested by the SSD. Burnside tries to arrange an exchange of agents. C is reluctant, but Burnside points out that Dickens was recently briefed on the Hungarian underground network and must be returned before she breaks down under interrogation. The only available swap is a KGB agent held by the French. Burnside travels to Paris to negotiate the exchange, but the French demand in exchange a copy of all intelligence received from the Americans for a period of one year. Burnside reluctantly agrees, but realising it could never be kept secret from the Americans, he informs Jeff Ross of the CIA. Instead of exchanging prisoners, Dickens is shot dead at the border checkpoint by a CIA agent. Caine is furious, Burnside explains that he had no other options, he couldn't leave Dickens in East Berlin to talk, nor could he allow the end of the special relationship.
2-01 "At All Costs" Michael Ferguson Ian Mackintosh 28 January 1980 (1980-01-28) Gwyn Gray, Joan Peters
Two new sandbaggers have been recruited, Tom Elliot and Mike Wallace. On the first anniversary of Dickens' death, a message is received from Vladimir Galabov, the head of the Bulgarian secret service, who is willing to provide valuable information provided it is collected in person by Elliot at 11:15pm in Sofia on the same day. The SIS and Wellingham suspect a setup, but no motive can be discovered. Burnside is particularly reluctant to risk losing another sandbagger, but C points out that they need successful operations to avoid cutbacks and perhaps elimination of the sandbagger program. Elliot travels to Sofia and receives the documents from Galabov, which turn out to be genuine, but they are interrupted by armed police. Elliot escapes over a wall, but is shot in the back. He manages to get to a bolthole, an empty apartment, and collapse on the bed. Burnside insists on going with Caine to Sofia, where they are armed by Ross, and they reach Elliot but they have no way to help him. Burnside initially wants to ask the Bulgarians for help. Caine convinces him to finish him off instead, but Elliot has already killed himself.
2-02 "Enough of Ghosts" Peter Cregeen Ian Mackintosh 4 February 1980 (1980-02-04) Edith MacArthur, Anthony Higgins, Wolf Kahler, Donald Pelmear, Barbara Lott, Matthew Long, Jurgen Anderson, Hugo Bower, Allyson Rees
After visiting Elliot's parents and telling them lies about the way he died, Caine says he is thinking of leaving the sandbaggers. Wellingham is abducted in Brussels. Burnside particularly wants to get him back because Wellingham has a document that would be damaging to the SIS in his safe. He sends Caine and Wallace to Brussels, ignoring an order from Peele to send only one. Peele is furious when he finds out. Information from Tyler's section and the CIA points to the Boulin terrorist group as the kidnappers. They moved from Germany to Brussels but have been ignored by the Belgian police. The kidnappers are actually GSG 9, a German counter-terrorism unit, who want Britain to put pressure on Belgium to round up the Boulin group. When Caine and Wallace make a lucky guess and search near the kidnapping site, Lincke from GSG 9 arrives to "help" with the investigation. They also make a fake ransom demand in which all Nato countries are threatened, to put more pressure on Belgium. The Boulin group itself issues a denial that they were behind the kidnapping, but the Belgian police round them up. Wellingham is not found, but is released by GSG 9. Burnside travels to Brussels, and realising what has happened, confronts Lincke over their operation. Caine decides to remain in the sandbaggers.
2-03 "Decision by Committee" Michael Ferguson Ian Mackintosh 11 February 1980 (1980-02-11) Andrew Lodge, David Beale, Yashar Adem, David Freedman, Stephanie Fayerman, Timothy Stetson, Kim Fortune, Marta Gillot, Rosalie Williams, Edwin Brown
Peele gives Burnside a bad annual report, for acting on his own initiative instead of following the rule of decision by committee. Burnside thinks his career is doomed and considers resigning. Caine and Milner are on board a plane when it is hijacked. The hijackers direct it to Istanbul and demand the release of recently arrested Iraqi terrorists. They threaten to kill two British defense chiefs on board and blow up the aircraft. Burnside pushes for an SAS rescue mission, saying that the Sandbaggers need to know that everything possible will be done when they are in trouble. The Cabinet, after long discussion, decides not to give in to the hijackers' demand, and reject a rescue mission because of the political consequences if it failed. Burnside orders the head of his Special Projects Team, Colonel Ben Gaines, to prepare the team for the rescue operation, despite objections that they don't have the training or equipment for such a task. He suggests Wallace can train them on the flight over. He also asks Wellingham for an aircraft. However, Gaines goes to Peele to get the order revoked, and Wellingham refuses to help. When the time arrives for the hijackers to kill the first chief, Caine and Milner overpower them, seizing their guns to shoot them dead. Burnside tells Peele that decision by committee achieved nothing, while officers making their own rules saved the day. He assures Caine that an SAS rescue was ready to go.
2-04 "A Question of Loyalty" Michael Ferguson Ian Mackintosh 18 February 1980 (1980-02-18) Patrick Godfrey, Charles Hodgson, Philip Blaine, Igor Gridneff
Wallace blames embassy staff in Warsaw for botching an operation to pick up a defecting scientist, but the embassy blames Wallace. Burnside believes Wallace, but Peele supports the embassy. Burnside can only avoid the suspension of Wallace by staking his own job on the outcome of an investigation by Peele. Meanwhile in Stockholm, the station No. 2 Pat Bishop is suspected of passing information to the KGB. Burnside sends Wallace and asks Ross for backup. Ross insists that he take Milner out for dinner first, where she tries to talk with him about his troubles. Burnside is upset that Ross has revealed so much to her, and is hostile. When Ross says he couldn't get approval to send Milner to Stockholm, Burnside sends Caine instead. Milner intercepts Burnside and tells him the CIA have monitored Caine, and she was speaking without approval from Ross. Caine and Wallace surveil Bishop, but when it appears he has been tipped off, they return to London. Burnside reads Bishop's file, and combined with the CIA and Milner's actions deduces that he had been recruited by the CIA to infiltrate SIS, and was passing misinformation to the KGB. He meets Ross and blames the Canadians, to avoid damaging the special relationship. Peele's investigation comes out in favour of Wallace. When Caine asks Burnside why he resents Milner so much, he says "Because she is alive."
2-05 "It Couldn't Happen Here" Peter Cregeen Ian Mackintosh 25 February 1980 (1980-02-25) Daphne Anderson, Norman Ettlinger, Weston Garvin, Tony Church, Don Fellows, John Crosse
When Senator Herron, a prominent civil rights supporter, is assassinated in the United States, Ross suspects the FBI, who he also believes was responsible for the murders of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The US Secret Service requests backup from both Sandbaggers at Herron's funeral to protect his replacement, Senator O'Shea, as they apparently trust neither the FBI or CIA. Burnside tells Ross about it, against instructions, although Ross already knows. Burnside takes Milner out for dinner, where they discuss political assassinations, but Burnside rejects any attempt to get personal. At Herron's funeral, O'Shea gives a speech but ignores Caine's instructions and is also assassinated. The assassin turns out to be a lone madman. Meanwhile in West Germany, an officer of the SIS is killed in a car crash while on holiday with the driver, a prominent British politician named George Stratford-Baker. He covers up his involvement and returns to the UK, but although he is soon identified by the police, they drop the investigation after political pressure. Burnside investigates Stratford-Baker further, initially thinking it would be useful to have a hold over a cabinet minister, despite Peele wanting to call him off. He asks Ross about him and learns that he was a Marxist activist before going into politics. He has Milner search his apartment and she finds suspicious equipment. Wellingham says that the MI5 have known for years that he was a KGB agent, but the Prime Minister has refused to act. Burnside confronts Stratford-Baker in a park, but he refuses to yield, saying that there's no solid evidence against him. Burnside ponders the ethics of the SIS assassinating him, discussing it with Wellingham, who asks him not to bother C because he is suffering from angina and will be leaving soon. Burnside says assassination would be unethical and lead to more of the same. However, on learning that Stratford-Baker will soon be visiting Singapore, he asks Caine to visit their friends in the Singaporean government and arrange a traffic accident.
2-06 "Operation Kingmaker" Alan Grint Ian Mackintosh 3 March 1980 (1980-03-03) NA
Greenley departs due to ill health, and Lawler is resigning to get married. Wellingham is leading a committee to find a replacement C, and the leading candidate is John Tower Gibbs, an SIS officer who has been seconded to the Joint Intelligence Committee for the last three years. Gibbs is competent but abrasive, and has a particular dislike for Burnside. Burnside launches "Operation Kingmaker", using the two Sandbaggers in an attempt to convince Wellingham to chose Peele instead. Caine discovers that Wellingham is concerned about Libyan influence in Malta, so Burnside tutors Peele on the subject before taking him to lunch with Wellingham, where he is suitably impressive. A tip from Tyler leads to Gibbs' personal records, which Caine accesses by forging authorisation from Greenley. He finds that Gibbs' first assignment in Copenhagen was cut short. Burnside uses Lawler's replacement, Marrianne Straker, to access the security files, revealing that Gibbs was sent home after an affair with a Danish politician's wife. Burnside tells Wellingham about it, saying it's a standing joke in the office. Wellingham appears to come out in favour of Peele, and Burnside returns to his office triumphant. He is then shocked to find a new document from Peele, proposing the amalgamation of MI5 and SIS. He returns to Wellingham and confesses his schemes, and admits that Peele wouldn't be a suitable C. Wellingham reveals that he had already chosen Gibbs, knew what Burnside was up to, and had asked Peele to write the amalgamation paper to find out if he really had a mind of his own. Burnside offers to resign, but Wellingham says he prefers to see him suffering under Gibbs.
3-01 "All in a Good Cause" Peter Cregeen Ian Mackintosh 9 June 1980 (1980-06-09) Gale Gladstone, John Steiner, Kristopher Kum
Burnside must respond to a budgetary proposal to close the Caribbean station in Kingston. His initial letter, drafted by Caine, is rejected by Gibbs as too blunt. He struggles for some time to make any progress, but eventually Straker discovers a ruling that would prevent the closure if Kingston was more than 1000 miles from the station at Caracas. Although the distance is actually somewhat less, Burnside claims that it's over 1000 miles in his response, in the hope that nobody will check. The ruse is successful and the station is kept open, with only Gibbs noticing the trick. Caine is interested in Straker and is taking her out to dinner. Burnside tells him to stay away from her, in case it affects her job performance. Burnside learns that MI5 is investigating Ross's wife Jenny, who Ross tells him is bored and unhappy. Burnside gets Caine to watch Jenny, and he finds that she is meeting a man named D'arcy. Burnside is puzzled about why he is receiving so much information from MI5 and suspects they are up to something. Caine follows D'arcy but loses him, suggesting he's a trained agent, possibly KGB, intending to blackmail Ross, and the MI5 may be planning to save Jenny to impress the CIA. Caine spots another man watching Jenny, but follows him back to the US embassy. Burnside learns from Tyler that D'arcy is Burnside's approximate counterpart in MI5. He meets D'arcy, who tells him that it's not MI5 targetting the CIA, but the CIA targetting MI5. Ross was using Jenny to attempt to compromise D'arcy, to get leverage to stop an MI5 investigation into a pedophile American general who is under blackmail by the KGB. The US president wants it hushed up. MI5 involved SIS so that they would go to Ross and inadvertently break up the CIA scheme. Burnside complains to Ross about being used.
3-02 "To Hell With Justice" Peter Cregeen Ian Mackintosh 16 June 1980 (1980-06-16) John Alkin, Mark Eden, Glynis Barber
Tyler takes a working holiday in Malta without his wife. He is seen spending time with a woman with a West German passport, who he hasn't reported for a routine check, and Burnside is notified. Burnside and Caine don't know what to make of it; it's unlikely to be an affair, since Tyler is devoted to his wife and it wouldn't have been difficult to comply with the formalities. They also find it hard to believe that he would be meeting an enemy agent. To avoid damaging Tyler's career, Burnside refrains from reporting it, and sends both Sandbaggers to Malta without clearance. He decides he'll have Tyler killed if necessary without informing Peele or Gibbs. However, Peele insists on knowing why the Sandbaggers are in Malta, and he tells Gibbs about it. Gibbs tells Burnside that assassination is not an option without the PM's approval. Ross tells Burnside that he knows that Tyler is talking with a KGB agent, and Burnside asks him not to tell his superiors since he'll deal with it himself if necesary. If Tyler is a double agent and it came to a public trial, it could be the end of SIS and have repercussions for the CIA. Burnside goes to Malta and confronts Tyler. He confesses that he has been a double agent since the start of his career, when he fell in love with a girl in Moscow and was blackmailed. He decided recently that he couldn't go on, and asked to defect to Moscow, but once in Malta delayed any action, perhaps hoping to be caught. Burnside tells him he was there to kill him, and offers to bring him back to England instead, but he kills himself with a cyanide pill.
3-03 "Unusual Approach" David Cunliffe Ian Mackintosh 23 June 1980 (1980-06-23) Rio Fanning, Philip Bond, David Horovitch, Brigitte Kahn, Matthew Long, Paul Ridley, Andy Graham, Terry Pearson, Lindsay Blackwell
Wellingham, Peele and Burnside are sent to a conference on Rhodes, and Caine takes over Burnside's desk. Ross, claiming that the CIA has no available agents in Europe, asks Caine to rescue Bob Cheever of the CIA, who is wounded and hiding in Sukhumi after killing a Soviet officer; he offers a blank cheque, which leads the Foreign Office to approve the mission over Caine's reluctance. Both the CIA and the USSR expect the rescue attempt to come from the Turkish border to the southeast, so Caine has Wallace (posing as a French salesman with business in Sochi) fly Paris–Moscow–Krasnodar and drive to Sukhumi from the opposite direction. When Wallace meets Cheever, he becomes suspicious because Cheever does not match the false papers he has brought; Cheever guesses that Ross expected Wallace to get caught, diverting attention from a subsequent CIA mission from the Turkish border. Meanwhile in Rhodes, Wellingham is desperately bored by Peele's endless chatter about the island's history. Skinner, the top British agent in Greece, warns Burnside that the KGB is expected to target participants at the conference with honeypots; so when a woman makes a pass at Burnside, he strings her along, falsely telling her that he is happily married with two daughters, before telling her at the last minute that she has been wasting her time – before Skinner tells him that she is a Greek agent who, as she said, is on leave after a messy divorce.
3-04 "My Name Is Anna Wiseman" David Cunliffe Gidley Wheeler 30 June 1980 (1980-06-30) Carol Gillies, Guy Deghy, Anthony Schaeffer, Terry Walsh, Terry Pearson
Anna Wiseman was an employee of SIS under Tyler several years ago. She asked Burnside for help in becoming a sleeper agent in the Eastern Block. Burnside advised that she must first leave SIS, and it was arranged that she was sacked for a supposed affair with Peele's predecessor. She went on to become a top civilian at NATO headquarters in Brussels and has engaged in an affair with a Russian diplomat who is going to help her defect. However, on learning that she has cancer and less than a year to live, she has decided instead to allow herself to be arrested by the Soviets as an enemy agent, and at the show trial to make a case for human rights. She makes a voice recording for future propaganda broadcast and gives it to Burnside, who has a longstanding interest in helping dissident movements in the Eastern Block. He believes she could be a significant inspiration to dissidents. With Gibbs absent, he tries to convince Peele to approve an operation to help her defect, without revealing her plan to be arrested, but Peele refuses to allow it since it would involve stealing a NATO secret document. Burnside tells her that she won't get official support, but she decides to defect anyway. Burnside sends Wallace without approval to help make her defection more newsworthy; he shoots her in the shoulder as she is picked up. The ruse is successful and her defection is front page news; Burnside successfully claims to Peele and Gibbs that he had nothing to do with it.
3-05 "Sometimes We Play Dirty Too" Peter Cregeen Arden Winch 7 July 1980 (1980-07-07) John Line, Michael Sheard, Jean Rimmer, Derek Godfrey, Aimee Delamain, Sherrie Hewson, Milos Kirek, Susan Kodicek, John Fuest, Douglas Reid, Raymond Sidebottom, Ian Wright
Robert Banks is a British industrialist, former scientist and a top source for the Joint Intelligence Bureau residing in Prague. When he is reported dead in a car crash, Burnside finds it suspicious and sends Caine to Prague to investigate. Caine learns that Banks was having an affair with his Czech personal assistant, who Ross reports is a KGB or SNB agent. Further investigations suggest that the death was faked. His wife in the UK also knows about the affair and believes he is still alive. When Caine discovers where Banks is hiding and visits him, Banks says that he has fallen in love with the agent, and although he knows her true job he has decided to defect so that he can live with her in Prague. Caine tells him that it wouldn't be possible: he is just the latest in a long line of victims, and she would soon disappear. He shows him photos of her in bed with numerous other men. Banks agrees to return to the UK.
3-06 "Who Needs Enemies" Peter Cregeen Gidley Wheeler 14 July 1980 (1980-07-14) Edith MacArthur, Harry Webster, John Eastham, Lola Young, Mary Cornford
Burnside is antagonising everyone. When Peele hears from a doctor that Burnside is showing signs of stress, he proposes to Gibbs that his job be given to Dalgetty, Tyler's replacement. When Underwood, the head of Madrid station, commits suicide, Burnside is suspicious and sends Caine to take charge of the station for a few days. Underwood had received a secret CIA evaluation of SIS from a new GRU double agent. Part of the evaluation was sent to Dalgetty who gives it to Peele; it describes Burnside as "tending to play a one-man band causing friction and distrust in SIS". Gibbs proposes that Burnside become the new head of Madrid station, which is supported by Wellingham and would be technically a promotion. Burnside is resigned to his fate, and while walking alone at night is mugged and committed to hospital. Lady Wellingham visits and suggests that getting back together with Belinda would be good for his career. He discharges himself early and returns to the office, where Caine gives him the other part of the CIA evaluation. Underwood's entry states that his wife had been engaged in lesbian affairs, which is presumed to explain his suicide. Burnside demands that Peele show him the rest of the document, and then confronts Ross about it. Ross shows him his copy, which is favourable to both Burnside and Underwood. The version received from GRU was faked to sow discord within SIS. Dalgetty was at fault for not passing the evaluation to Burnside, and Gibbs asks Burnside to remain as Director of Operations.
3-07 "Opposite Numbers" Peter Cregeen Ian Mackintosh 28 July 1980 (1980-07-28) John Alkin, Frank Moorey, Larry Hooderoff
While Peel and Wellingham attend the SALT 3 conference in Malta, Caine and Wallace are providing security, along with the head of station Len Shepherd. Burnside thinks that any treaty will be abused by the Soviets to gain military superiority, and wants to sabotage the conference. When he hears that Yuri Filatov, a KGB colonel and longstanding SIS double agent, is in Malta and wants to defect, he disregards instructions to try to talk him out of it, and encourages him to come right away. Although Wellingham refuses to give approval, he instructs Caine, Wallace and Shepherd to collect Filatov and keep him in a safe house, then returns to London. Gibbs tells him to try to make a deal with Sarkisyan, the KGB head in Malta, that both sides will keep quiet about the defection, and warns him that disrupting the conference will cost him his job. While in London, Burnside rejects a request by Straker to attend the field school to train to be a Sandbagger. Returning to Malta, he speaks to Sarkisyan, but instead of presenting Gibbs' offer, tells him that Filatov is already in England, and the British will denounce the Soviets in a few days. Sarkisyan is suspicious and goes to see Peele, his opposite number, who knows nothing about the defection. Peele and Wellingham demand to know from Burnside and the Sandbaggers if they are holding Filatov, but they deny it, saying its a KGB lie to disrupt the conference, which is going badly for the Soviets. Peele then talks to Shepherd who reveals all and gives him the address of the villa where Filatov is hiding. Peele informs the KGB, who go to the villa in force and take Filatov back. Wellingham orders Burnside back to London, and points out that the Soviets will no longer be able to use Filatov as an excuse to pull out of the conference. Burnside and Caine realise that the KGB will find another excuse: shoot somebody and blame the SIS. Caine and Wallace rush to the Soviet delegation, where Caine spots a sniper on a roof. He jumps in front of Filatov to protect him; he is shot and falls to the ground, possibly dead.


Critical review[edit]

Television critics' reviews of The Sandbaggers have been almost uniformly positive. In 1989, Walter Goodman of The New York Times dubbed The Sandbaggers "the real stuff" for fans of the spy genre. He goes on to note, concerning the seventh episode ("Special Relationship"): "Although the issue of love versus duty is overdrawn and the tale, like others, is a bit forced in places, the Burnside character and the urgency of the story-telling make it work. Most of the Sandbagger episodes work."[6] Similarly, critic Terrence Rafferty called The Sandbaggers "the best spy series in television history".[7]

The Sandbaggers, television critic Rick Vanderknyff also wrote, "is many things American network television is not: talky and relatively action-free, low in fancy production values but high in plot complexity, and starring characters who aren't likable in the traditional TV way".[8]

Broadcast history[edit]

  • In the United Kingdom, Series One was broadcast nationwide on ITV in September and October 1978; Series Two, January–March 1980; Series Three, June and July 1980. ITV repeated The Sandbaggers once in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the cable/satellite channels Granada Plus and SelecTV showed repeats.
  • In Canada, the CBC aired The Sandbaggers nationwide in the 1980s.
  • In Australia, the Nine Network aired The Sandbaggers nationwide in 1982.
  • In the United States, there was never a nationwide broadcast, but The Sandbaggers was sold in syndication to individual PBS stations from the mid-1980s until the mid-1990s.
  • In Italy, the series was briefly shown on some local television stations in 1988. All episodes were dubbed in Italian.
  • In Israel, Channel 1 aired The Sandbaggers (titled "The Selected") nationwide in the mid-1980s. All episodes were subtitled in Hebrew.



  • All 20 episodes of The Sandbaggers are available in the North American market in Region 0 NTSC-format DVD sets which were released by BFS Entertainment in August 2001 (Series 1 and 2) and September 2003 (Series 3).
  • All 20 episodes are available in the UK and European market in Region 2 PAL-format DVD sets, the first two series being released by Network DVD in August 2005 and May 2006 respectively. (Unlike the BFS DVDs, the Network DVDs include in each episode the "bumpers" which led into and out of advertisement breaks during transmission on commercial television. These bumpers display "End of Part One", "Part Two", "End of Part Two" and "Part 3" accompanied by a snippet of the theme music.)


  • The complete series is also available on NTSC videotapes, in three sets. (Episode 7, "Special Relationship," was omitted from the Series One set and thus appears out of order on the Series Three set.)
  • Four episodes were released on two PAL videocassettes in the mid-1980s, but these PAL tapes are out of print.


  • The Sandbaggers by Ian Mackintosh (Corgi Books, 1978) novelises "Always Glad to Help" and "A Feasible Solution". Out of print.
  • The Sandbaggers: Think of a Number (Corgi Books, 1980) is an original novel by "Donald Lancaster," a pseudonym for mystery writer William Marshall, who was commissioned to write it after Ian Mackintosh's disappearance. Out of print.


The Sandbaggers in America[edit]

Although not a huge ratings hit during its initial UK broadcast, The Sandbaggers generated a cult following when telecast abroad, most notably in the USA. PBS station KTEH-Channel 54 in San Jose, California aired at least five runs of The Sandbaggers after it became "a local phenomenon".[9]

American Sandbaggers fandom produced fanzines, websites, and even a convention: Ray Lonnen was the guest of honor at "Sandbagger One" in New Jersey in 1992.

Queen & Country[edit]

Greg Rucka, novelist and creator of the comic book espionage series Queen & Country, has said that the comic book is consciously inspired by The Sandbaggers and is in a sense a "quasi-sequel". In the comic book, the structure of SIS mirrors that seen in the television series, down to the division of responsibilities between Directors of Operations and Intelligence and the existence of a Special Operations Section known as the "Minders". The comic book also features a more modern and sophisticated Ops Room, and bureaucratic wrangling reminiscent of the television series.

Several characters and situations in Queen & Country parallel The Sandbaggers, including a fatherly "C" who is eventually replaced by a more political and less sympathetic appointee; a Director of Operations who is fiercely protective of the Special Section; a Deputy Chief antagonistic to the independent nature of the Minders; a rivalry with MI5; and a cooperative relationship with the CIA. In addition, several scenes and lines of dialogue are similar or allude to the television series. However, as the comic book takes place in the present day, the geopolitical situation is very different. In addition, the stories are more action-oriented and focus on the exploits of Minder Tara Chace rather than on Paul Crocker, the Director of Operations.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Burnside's middle initial, D., is provided in the opening credits sequence which shows a letter addressed to "N.D. Burnside, Esq."
  2. ^ a b Rais, Guy (12 July 1979). "'Warship' scriptwriter feared lost in crash". The Daily Telegraph. 
  3. ^ Folsom, Robert G. (2012). The life and mysterious death of Ian Mackintosh : the inside story of The sandbaggers and television's top spy (1st ed.). Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books. pp. 31–39. ISBN 1612341888. 
  4. ^ Folsom, Robert G. (2012). The life and mysterious death of Ian Mackintosh : the inside story of The sandbaggers and television's top spy (1st ed.). Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books. pp. xi–xv, 108–112, 114–115. ISBN 1612341888. 
  5. ^ Conversation between Burnside and Wellingham in ep. 1, "First Principles"
  6. ^ Goodman, Walter (30 April 1989). "TV VIEW; For Spy Addicts, The Sandbaggers Are the Real Stuff". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-22. 
  7. ^ "Spies Who Were Cool and Very, Very Cold" (PDF). The New York Times. 12 October 2003. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  8. ^ Rick Vanderknyff, "Agents Who've Come In From Cold Storage". Los Angeles Times (22 March 1994).
  9. ^ "Sandbaggers Back for More," Ron Miller, San Jose Mercury News 9 November 1990

External links[edit]