THE SANDBAGGERS is a taut British spy series comprising twenty 50-minute episodes produced by Yorkshire Television, an ITV franchise (i.e., a commercial regional British television franchise). The stories centered on the elite covert operations section of British Intelligence, nicknamed the Sandbaggers, and their boss, Neil Burnside, himself a former Sandbagger but now having to battle more with British bureaucracy than with enemy agents. It was set contemporaneously with its original broadcast in the late '70s and early '80s when the Cold War still dominated the Western intelligence agenda.Written by
Ernest W. Adams <email@example.com>
Although Sandbaggers is meant to depict Britain's S.I.S., the structure of Burnside's department is modeled on the C.I.A. Directorate of Operations. See more »
If I want to send an agent to the lavatory, I need the Foreign Secretary's permission. If I want him to do anything when he gets there, I need the Prime Minister's written approval!
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"The Sandbaggers" is the best spy drama ever made for TV, and is certainly the most realistic. Focusing on a group of special agents of the British SIS, it shows spies as they probably really are: overworked, underpaid, under-appreciated and expendable.
The acting in the series is top notch by all of the cast, particularly Roy Marsden as the workaholic Burnside and Ray Lonnen as the amiable Caine. There's also particularly good work by Alan MacNaughton as the wily Wellingham. The plots rely less on action and more on intrigue, with battles won and lost in "drab dusty corridors in Whitehall", as Burnside puts it. There isn't any real gunplay until the sixth episode, in fact.
The first season of the series, with all episodes written by series creator Ian MacIntosh, is the best. It follows a rough story arc involving the introduction of troubled agent Laura Dickens (well-played by Diane Keen). It leads up to the powerful season finale "Special Relationship", which is a stunner.
The second season isn't as good. Other writers besides MacIntosh are involved and there are some ill-advised plot developments. Also, there are less-than-successful changes in some characterizations. But, still, it remains a superior and thoughtful drama.
I highly recommend this series. It's well-worth tracking down on video or on PBS. Just remember what Burnside says in the first episode: "If you want James Bond, go to a library."
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