The Sandbaggers

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The Sandbaggers
Genre Spy drama
Created by Ian Mackintosh
Developed byIan 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 originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series3
No. of episodes20
Executive producer David Cunliffe
Producer Michael Ferguson
Running timeapprox. 50 minutes
Production company Yorkshire Television
Distributor Carlton Communications plc
Original network ITV
Original release18 September 1978 (1978-09-18) 
28 July 1980 (1980-07-28)

The Sandbaggers is a British spy drama television 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 espionage on the personal and professional lives of British and American intelligence specialists. The series was produced by Yorkshire Television, based in Leeds.



The protagonist is Neil D. Burnside [1] (played by Roy Marsden), Director of Operations in Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (abbreviated 'SIS'). The organisation is also known as 'MI6', although that name 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, or rescuing other operatives who are in trouble behind the Iron Curtain.

In the series, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) 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 his gradual psychological unravelling and the series' unresolved cliffhanger ending.

Series creator

The Sandbaggers was created by Ian Mackintosh, a Scottish former naval officer turned television writer, who had previously achieved success with the acclaimed BBC television series Warship . He wrote all the episodes of the first two series of The Sandbaggers, but in July 1979, during the shooting of the third series, he and his girlfriend—a British Airways stewardess—were declared lost at sea after their single-engined aircraft 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 U.S. or Soviet radar. [2]

Mackintosh disappeared after he had written just four of the scripts for the third series, 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 had and chose not to continue it in his absence. Ray Lonnen, who played Sandbagger Willie Caine, 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. It is possible that this information prompted the thriller writer Desmond Bagley to name-check Mackintosh as an intelligence agent in his novel The Freedom Trap .

Whether or not Mackintosh had any experience in the world of espionage, the organisational structure of SIS depicted in The Sandbaggers is probably closer to that of the CIA than that of the SIS. There is no formal section of the SIS known as the Special Operations Section, as far as is publicly known, and there is no intelligence unit known as the Sandbaggers. However, the departures from accuracy in the show may have been deliberate, in order to avoid problems with the SIS under the Official Secrets Act. Ray Lonnen mentioned in an interview that one episode in the second series was vetoed because it dealt with sensitive information, which explains why the second series has only six episodes.

Production and story style

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, Belgium 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 focus on realism, 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 that drives the plot along—it was thought unnecessary 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 interspersed with scenes of the Sandbaggers operating in the field; at 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 through talk created interest, as the audience worked out how, as each episode progressed, each revelation completed the picture.

Theme music

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.

Filming locations

Collingstone House, located at 25 Savile Row in London, was used for the exterior shots of SIS Headquarters, the location of Burnside's office. Burnside lives in a flat in Frobisher House of Dolphin Square. Wellingham's office is located in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Whitehall. Many scenes take place outside Wellingham's office by the Robert Clive statue on King Charles Street. The 1960, Eero Saarinen-designed US Embassy at 24 Grosvenor Square was used for exterior shots of Jeff Ross's office.

In episode 2-02, "Enough of Ghosts," Wellingham is kidnapped outside the Hilton Hotel in Brussels, now called The Hotel. Willie and Mike also stay at this hotel while they are searching for him.

In episode 2-03, "Decision by Committee," Burnside and Ross share a drink in the top floor lounge of the London Hilton on Park Lane.

In episode 2-06, "Operation Kingmaker," Peele buys a suit from a Dunn & Co. store at 373 Strand.

In episode 3-02, "To Hell with Justice," Edward Tyler stays at the Excelsior Hotel (now the Grand Excelsior) in Floriana, Malta. The final dialogue between Tyler and Burnside takes place at the Upper Barrakka Gardens.

In episode 3-06, "Who Needs Enemies," Burnside and Ross talk while walking through the Horse Guards Parade.

In episode 3-07, "Opposite Numbers," the SALT conference in Malta takes place at the Grand Hotel Verdala in Rabat and the Malta Hilton in St. Julian's.


From left to right: Jeff Ross (Sherman), Willie Caine (Lonnen) and Neil Burnside (Marsden) in Burnside's office Sandbaggers Sherman, Lonnen and Marsden.jpg
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 Royal 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, head of SIS, code-named "C". Owing to Greenley's diplomatic background, Burnside is initially wary of him, but over the course of the series, they develop a friendly relationship.

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

In the third season, Greenley is replaced as the head of SIS by John Gibbs, who 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 openly 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), and does occasionally demonstrate tact and intelligence.

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 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 over 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; for example, when Ross sends his wife, a former CIA field agent, to seduce a British official, or when Ross uses SIS to mount a dangerous rescue behind Russian lines. 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 leaves SIS when she marries at the end of the second series, hand-picking her replacement, Marianne Straker (Sue Holderness).

There are two other Sandbaggers at the beginning of the series: 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 Elliott (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 over fifty 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. These bumpers are intact on the Region 2 DVD releases, although absent from the Region 0, and also the Series Two NTSC videotape release.

Series 1

No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateGuest cast
1–01"First Principles" Michael Ferguson Ian Mackintosh18 September 1978 (1978-09-18) Olaf Pooley (Lars Torvik)
Richard Shaw (Ted)
Brian Haines (Vice Chief of Air Staff)
Roger Kemp (Assistant Chief of Air Staff)
Norway's fledgling secret service attempts a spy mission in the Kola Peninsula, but their aircraft crashes in Russian territory. The head of their secret service, Lars Torvik, appeals to Neil Burnside to mount a recovery operation, which Burnside refuses to do; however, the Norwegian government uses political leverage by offering to purchase a British missile defence system, and Whitehall forces Burnside to accept the assignment. While Burnside is gathering data and planning the operation, which is generally considered suicidal, Torvik becomes impatient and requests help from the CIA. When Willie Caine and Jake Landy — Sandbagger 1 and Sandbagger 2, respectively — arrive at the aircraft, they find its crew has already been led out by the Americans. They try to catch up with the party, which is inadvertently heading for a Russian military base, but cannot prevent their capture. They escape unharmed via a safe route they had planned in advance.
1–02"A Proper Function of Government"Michael FergusonIan Mackintosh25 September 1978 (1978-09-25) Laurence Payne (Sir Donald Hopkins)
Michael O'Hagan (Stan)
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, and SIS has put together a proposal for his assassination. Burnside sends Caine and Sandbagger 3, Alan Denson, to Vienna to deal with Hopkins, and with Jake Landy already on a mission in Iran, proposes that if the Lutara assassination gets approval, he should do it himself. The proposal gets no support from his superiors, but he tries to get Sir Geoffrey Wellingham—the Permanent Under-Secretary at the FCO and Burnside's former father-in-law—on his side by suggesting he will get back together with Belinda Wellingham, his ex-wife, in exchange. The assassination is rejected by the Prime Minister on the grounds that the taking of human life is abhorrent and not a proper function of government. Meanwhile, the government is initially unconcerned about Hopkins, but when a top KGB agent is also spotted in Vienna, Whitehall urgently requests that Hopkins be brought back to the UK. If he won't come quietly, the Prime Minister gives SIS authority to assassinate him, revealing the hypocrisy of the government attitude to the Lutara operation. Wellingham asks Burnside to go to Vienna and handle the operation himself, giving him the chance to earn the accolades he'd hoped to get through the Lutara assassination, but Burnside refuses, unwilling to undermine Caine. In Vienna, Caine intercepts Hopkins and escorts him back to the UK without incident.
1–03"Is Your Journey Really Necessary?"Derek BennettIan Mackintosh2 October 1978 (1978-10-02)Brenda Cavendish (Sally Graham)
Andrew Bradford (Phil Fyffe)
Michael O'Hagan (Stan)
At the request of the CIA, Burnside sends Landy into foreign territory to assassinate a Soviet general, without obtaining clearance. Landy can't get back across the border, so 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 cannot afford to lose two Sandbaggers at once. He assigns Caine to investigate Graham—despite SIS' lack of jurisdiction within the UK—in the hope of finding something to break up the relationship. When nothing comes of it, he attempts to blackmail her into ending the relationship herself. Graham 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, Wellingham asks Burnside to deal with it quietly. However, it is merely a ploy by Wellingham, a supporter of the current government, to force the resignation of Rumney's brother.
1–04"The Most Suitable Person"David ReynoldsIan Mackintosh9 October 1978 (1978-10-09) Stephen Greif (Det. Chief Insp. Gomez)
Christopher Benjamin (David Follett)
John F. Landry (Stephen Jackson)
Hubert Rees (Gordon Forsyth)
David McAlister (Peter Waterhouse)
Jonathan Coy (Colin Grove)
Burnside is considering two candidates for the open Sandbagger positions: Colin Grove, whom he believes would be a bad choice, and Laura Dickens, presently of the SIS field school. Dickens is not interested but agrees to join on a temporary basis after Burnside stresses how much she is needed. 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 jeopardise the special relationship. Grove is sent to Helsinki on a pretext, and further investigation of the psychiatrist uncovers a spy ring through which he is collecting information from various government personnel. 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, but their motivation remains mysterious. Dickens is sent to Tangier to examine the dead agent's documents, and eventually deduces 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, Burnside confronts Grove, who reveals he was investigating the psychiatrist unofficially, to prove he could be a Sandbagger, and that he had notified a friend in MI5 eight months earlier. Burnside promptly fires him but is happy to take advantage of MI5's failure to uncover the spy ring itself.
1–05"Always Glad to Help"David ReynoldsIan Mackintosh16 October 1978 (1978-10-16) Peter Miles (Hamad)
Gerald James (Director General of Intelligence)
Terence Longdon (Commodore)
Alan Thompson (Winfield)
Malcolm Hebden (Morris)
Peter Ivatts (Wilson)
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 d'état in the (fictional) sheikdom of Al-Jalladah to allow Sheikh Hamad to replace his Soviet-aligned father, but Burnside is suspicious of Hamad's motives and withholds SIS approval in order to investigate first. Peele supports Wellingham, eager for the political influence should SIS succeed, but C sides with Burnside and gives him a short time for investigation. Peele tries to get support for the coup from the Ministry of Defence, but it won't cooperate unless the Russian ship is examined; Peele gets the operation approved by the Foreign Office after Burnside attempts to kill it. Burnside assigns Dickens to get close to Hamad. After less than two days Hamad asks her to marry him, and she discovers that he doesn't intend to return to the Middle East but is going to Texas to study the oil business. After assurance from Ross that there is no CIA involvement, Burnside and the Sandbaggers conclude that the coup is a fake: the pro-Arab Hamad would lure the British SAS into a trap wherein they would be crushed by a pan-Arab army, ridding his country of the Soviets and showing the world that the Arabs could defeat the United Kingdom. The operation is cancelled, but 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. Peele tries to be conciliatory, but Burnside rebuffs him, saying they were both merely lucky.
1–06"A Feasible Solution"Michael FergusonIan Mackintosh23 October 1978 (1978-10-23)Sarah Bullen (Jill Ferris)
Kenneth Watson (Hugh Douglas)
Richard Cornish (Philip Jeremiah)
Donald Churchill (Professor Colby)
Peter Cassell (Angelos)
British and Russian missile engineers go missing in Cyprus, and it is suspected that the Greek Cypriot National Front wants to build missiles for an attack on Northern Cyprus. When the Nicosia Station No. 2 is assassinated, Burnside sends Caine to Cyprus with the replacement No. 2, Jill Ferris, who is fresh from the training school. When Caine and Ferris are attacked on the road, Ferris' competence and demeanour lead Caine to conclude that she is an experienced agent, and he and Burnside deduce that she is a KGB plant to recover the kidnapped Russian engineer. Caine decides to continue working with "Ferris" until the operation is complete. Burnside clandestinely examines Dickens's 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 and/or the British military, without success. He refuses to send Dickens as back-up, and 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, whom she executes as a traitor. Back in London, Burnside is furious at Caine for this action, since Ferris could have been left in place in the Nicosia station to be supplied with false information.
1–07"Special Relationship"Michael FergusonIan Mackintosh30 October 1978 (1978-10-30)Alan Downer (Baumel)
Richard Shaw (Ted)
Cyril Varley (Paul)
Brian Ashley (Mittag)
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 option but to send Dickens, who is fluent in German. She collects the photos but is arrested by the SSD, and Burnside scrambles 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 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 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, who accompanies him to Berlin for the exchange. As she is being escorted across the East-West border, instead of exchanging prisoners, Dickens is shot dead by a CIA agent. Caine is furious, and 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. Caine angrily resigns, but after cooling off returns to work as usual the following morning.

Series 2

No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateGuest cast
2–01"At All Costs"Michael FergusonIan Mackintosh28 January 1980 (1980-01-28)Gwyn Gray (Lady Greenley)
Joan Peters (Embassy guest)
One year after the end of the first series, two new Sandbaggers have been recruited, Tom Elliott 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 Elliott at 11:15pm in Sofia on the same day. The SIS and Wellingham suspect a setup, but no motive can be discovered, and Edward Tyler (Director of Intelligence) believes Galabov is telling the truth. 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. Elliott travels to Sofia and receives the documents from Galabov, which turn out to be genuine, but they are interrupted by armed police. Elliott 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, paralyzed. Burnside insists on going with Caine to Sofia, where they are armed by Ross, but when they reach Elliott, they have no way to help him. Burnside initially wants to ask the Bulgarians for help; Caine convinces him to finish Elliott off instead, but Elliott has already killed himself.
2–02"Enough of Ghosts" Peter Cregeen Ian Mackintosh4 February 1980 (1980-02-04) Edith MacArthur (Lady Wellingham)
Anthony Higgins (Dehousse)
Wolf Kahler (Lincke)
Donald Pelmear (Nigel Elliott)
Barbara Lott (Martha Elliott)
Matthew Long (Arthur)
Jurgen Anderson (Albrecht)
Hugo Bower (Wendicke)
Allyson Rees (Air stewardess)
After visiting Elliott's parents and telling them lies about the way he died, Caine tells Burnside he wants to leave the Sandbaggers. Before he can, Wellingham is abducted in Brussels. Burnside sends Caine and Wallace to Brussels, ignoring an order from Peele to send only one Sandbagger. Information from Tyler's section and the CIA point to the Boulin terrorist group as the kidnappers, who have moved from Germany to Brussels but have been ignored by the Belgian police. After Caine and Wallace make an educated guess and search near the kidnapping site, an agent from Germany's GSG 9 named Lincke arrives to help with the investigation; the kidnappers make a ransom demand in which all NATO countries are threatened. The Boulin group itself issues a denial that they are behind the kidnapping, but the Belgian police round them up, after which Wellingham is abruptly released. Burnside travels to Brussels and, realising what has happened, confronts Lincke with the truth: the kidnappers were actually GSG 9 agents, who kidnapped Wellingham so that Britain would put pressure on Belgium to round up the Boulin group. Caine decides to remain in the Sandbaggers.
2–03"Decision by Committee"Michael FergusonIan Mackintosh11 February 1980 (1980-02-11) Andrew Lodge (Colonel Gaines)
David Beal (C.G.S.)
Yashaw Adem (Aziz)
David Freedman (Kadhim)
Stephanie Fayerman (Brigitte)
Timothy Stetson (Karl)
Kim Fortune (Ahmed)
Marta Gillot (Stewardess)
Rosalie Williams (English lady)
Edwin Brown (Belgian man)
Peele gives Burnside a negative annual report, citing his conduct in the previous episodes and his predilection for acting alone instead of through proper channels. Burnside thinks his career is doomed and considers resigning, but soon a plane is hijacked with Caine and Karen Milner, a CIA agent, onboard. The hijackers direct the plane to Istanbul and demand the release of recently arrested Iraqi terrorists. They threaten to kill two British defence chiefs onboard and, if their demands continue to be unmet, 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, but also reject a rescue mission because of the political consequences if it fails. Burnside orders the head of his Special Projects Team, Colonel Ben Gaines, to prepare the team for the rescue operation, despite the fact that they don't have the training or equipment for such a task; 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. Upon Caine's return, Burnside assures him that an SAS rescue was ready to go.
2–04"A Question of Loyalty"Michael FergusonIan Mackintosh18 February 1980 (1980-02-18) Patrick Godfrey (Walter Wheatley)
Charles Hodgson (Harry Maddison)
Philip Blaine (Gary Shearburn)
Igor Gridneff (Polish Police Officer)
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 and strains his relationship with C by openly doubting Peele's integrity. Meanwhile, in Stockholm, the station No. 2, Pat Bishop, is suspected of passing information to the KGB. Burnside sends Wallace to investigate 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, but 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 is telling him this 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—combining the information with the CIA and Milner's actions—deduces that he had long ago been recruited by the CIA to infiltrate SIS and was passing misinformation to the KGB. He meets Ross and tells him Bishop will be removed from the station, but circumspectly blames the Canadians, to avoid damaging the special relationship. To Burnside's surprise, Peele's investigation comes out in favour of Wallace.
2–05"It Couldn't Happen Here"Peter CregeenIan Mackintosh25 February 1980 (1980-02-25) Daphne Anderson (Mary Herron)
Norman Ettlinger (Senator Herron)
Weston Garvin (Senator O'Shea)
Tony Church (Stratford-Baker)
Don Fellows (Al Briscoe)
John Crosse (Newscaster)
When Senator Herron, a prominent civil rights supporter, is assassinated in the United States, Ross suspects the FBI, which 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 Donald O'Shea, as they apparently trust neither the FBI nor CIA. 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 Stratford-Baker 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 MI5 has known for years that Stratford-Baker 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 (C) 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 GrintIan Mackintosh3 March 1980 (1980-03-03)NA
Burnside loses two close allies at once: Greenley departs due to angina, 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 after they butted heads when the latter was Sandbagger One. Despite Caine's (and everyone's) misgivings, Burnside launches "Operation Kingmaker", using the two Sandbaggers in an attempt to convince Wellingham to choose Peele as C 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, where Caine finds that Gibbs' first assignment in Copenhagen was cut short; Burnside uses Lawler's replacement, Marianne 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 and says it's a standing joke in the office; Wellingham appears to come out in favour of Peele, and Burnside returns to his office triumphant. However, he is shocked to find a new memorandum from Peele, advocating the amalgamation of MI5 and SIS, which Peele staunchly defends despite never being in favour of it before. Burnside returns to Wellingham and confesses his schemes, and Wellingham reveals that Gibbs had been appointed C that morning, before any of Burnside's manoeuvring. Wellingham had been onto Burnside since Peele brought up Malta, and asked Peele to write the amalgamation paper to find out if he (Peele) really had a mind of his own, as Burnside claimed. Burnside offers to resign, but Wellingham, having put Burnside in his place, says he prefers to see him suffering under Gibbs. However, he assures Burnside that should he ever try anything similar again, he will be out of the service.

Series 3

No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateGuest cast
3–01"All in a Good Cause"Peter CregeenIan Mackintosh9 June 1980 (1980-06-09)Gale Gladstone (Jenny Ross)
John Steiner (Trevor D'Arcy)
Kristopher Kum (Chinese waiter)
Burnside must respond to a budgetary proposal to close the Caribbean station in Kingston, and his initial letter, drafted by Wallace, is rejected by Gibbs as too blunt. At the same time, 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 that MI5 knows this and is planning to save Jenny in order to impress the CIA. Caine then spots another man watching Jenny, but trails 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 targeting the CIA, but the CIA targeting MI5: Ross was using Jenny to attempt to compromise D'arcy, to get leverage to stop an MI5 investigation into a paedophiliac American general who is being blackmailed by the KGB. MI5 involved SIS because they knew Burnside would go to Ross and inadvertently break up the CIA scheme. Burnside angrily confronts Ross about being used and severs (personal) ties with him. Eventually Straker discovers a ruling that would prevent the closure of the Kingston station if it were more than 1,000 miles from the station at Caracas; although the distance is actually somewhat less, Burnside claims that it's over 1,000 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.
3–02"To Hell With Justice"Peter CregeenIan Mackintosh16 June 1980 (1980-06-16) John Alkin (Len Shepard)
Mark Eden (Bernard Tindale)
Glynis Barber (Margaret Muller)
Tyler takes a working holiday in Malta without his wife. He is seen spending time with a woman with a West German passport, whom 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 discreet formalities, but 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, but 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 the CIA 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 necessary. 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, who 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, subconsciously hoping to be caught. Burnside tells him he is there to kill him, but eventually offers to bring him back to England instead; however, wishing to spare his family the ordeal, Tyler kills himself with a cyanide pill.
3–03"Unusual Approach" David Cunliffe Ian Mackintosh23 June 1980 (1980-06-23)Rio Fanning (Bob Cheever)
Philip Bond (Sir Roderick Hives)
David Horovitch (Philip Skinner)
Brigitte Kahn (Christina Stratos)
Matthew Long (Arthur)
Paul Ridley (Russian Policeman)
Andy Graham (Russian Official)
Terry Pearson (APSO)
Lindsay Blackwell (Air stewardess)
Wellingham and Peele are going to a conference on Rhodes, so Gibbs takes the opportunity to send Burnside with them under the pretext of giving him a vacation. Caine takes over as Acting D-Ops, and Ross asks Caine to mount an operation to rescue CIA agent Bob Cheever, who is wounded and hiding in Sukhumi after killing a Soviet officer. He claims to have no agents available and 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. Wallace makes it to Sukhumi, only to find that 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 and Burnside are 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. Later, a woman makes a pass at Burnside, so 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. At his room that night, Skinner tells him that the woman is in fact a Greek agent who is on leave after a messy divorce, exactly as she'd claimed. Wallace returns Cheever safely to London.
3–04"My Name Is Anna Wiseman"David Cunliffe Gidley Wheeler 30 June 1980 (1980-06-30)Carol Gillies (Anna Wiseman)
Guy Deghy (Fyodor Solodovnikov)
Anthony Schaeffer (Rogerson)
Terry Walsh (Training Officer)
Terry Pearson (APSO)
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 Bloc. 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, Wiseman 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 Bloc. 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 Wiseman's 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 CregeenArden Winch7 July 1980 (1980-07-07)John Line (Maple)
Michael Sheard (Dr. Crabbe)
Jean Rimmer (Irene Banks)
Derek Godfrey (Robert Banks)
Aimee Delamain (Penelope)
Sherrie Hewson (Betty Galthorpe)
Milos Kirek (Vales)
Susan Kodicek (Nadina)
John Fuest, Douglas Reid, Raymond Sidebottom, Ian Wright (Restaurant Quartet)
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 a Czech business client, 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. Caine shows Banks photographs of her in bed with numerous other prominent men, so Banks agrees to return to the UK, escorted by Caine.
3–06"Who Needs Enemies"Peter CregeenGidley Wheeler14 July 1980 (1980-07-14) Edith MacArthur (Lady Wellingham)
Harry Webster (Dr. O'Toole)
John Eastham (Nick Pearson)
Lola Young (Ward sister)
Mary Cornford (Judy)
Burnside is antagonising everyone, including Caine and Wellingham. When a medical report confirms that Burnside is showing signs of stress, Peele proposes to Gibbs that his job be given to Paul Dalgetty, Tyler's replacement as D-Int. 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 breaks protocol by hiding it from Burnside and giving it directly 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, but to a station with little relevance. 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 led to 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, revealing that the version received from GRU was faked to sow discord within SIS. Dalgetty is at fault for not passing the evaluation to Burnside, and Gibbs asks Burnside to remain as Director of Operations.
3–07"Opposite Numbers"Peter CregeenIan Mackintosh28 July 1980 (1980-07-28) John Alkin (Len Shepherd)
Frank Moorey (Yuri Filatov)
Larry Hooderoff (Nikolai Sarkisyan)
While Peele 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 it is 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

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






The Sandbaggers in America

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 outlet KTEH 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 honour at "Sandbagger One" in New Jersey in 1992.[ citation needed ]

Queen & Country

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


  1. Burnside's middle initial, D., is provided in the opening credits sequence which shows a letter addressed to "N.D. Burnside, Esq."
  2. 1 2 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   978-1612341880.
  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   978-1612341880.
  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 22 July 2008.
  7. "Spies Who Were Cool and Very, Very Cold" (PDF). The New York Times. 12 October 2003. Retrieved 21 July 2008.
  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

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