The Sandbaggers

From Fanlore
Jump to: navigation, search
Name: The Sandbaggers
Creator: Ian Mackintosh
Date(s): 18 September 1978 – 28 July 1980
Medium: TV
Country of Origin: UK
External Links: at IMDb
at Wikipedia
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

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 canon

The show is about the political machinations of a small, elite group of British intelligence officers: the Special Operations Section, nicknamed the "Sandbaggers"; any given episode is likely to spend more time discussing a mission than showing the mission itself. And of course, the greatest opposition to the Sandbaggers often comes from the bureaucrats and politicians in their own country, not from the Soviets.

The show was created by Ian Mackintosh, a former Royal Navy lieutenant-commander, and probably a spy himself. It ended abruptly when his plane disappeared over the Gulf of Alaska before the final episode of 3rd season was finished writing.

The Characters

  • The central character is the Director of Operations (D.Ops) of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, Neil Burnside (played by Roy Marsden of Dalgliesh fame). He's ruthless, duplicitous, and usually absolutely convinced of his own rightness. He's also fascinating, definitely an antihero worthy of fannish attention.
  • Willie Caine -- Sandbagger One; steady right hand
  • Jeff Ross -- The head of the CIA's London station, Ross is one of Burnside's closest friends
  • Laura Dickens -- new Sandbagger, and Burnside love interest
  • Diane and Marianne -- Neil's long suffering secretaries
  • Sir Geoffrey Wellingham -- Burnside's former father-in-law, and boss -- menber of the Whitehall establishment
  • Mathew Peele -- Deputy Chief
  • Belinda, Burnside's ex-wife, daughter of Wellingham

The Fandom

In the eighties, two of the largest slash fandoms were imported from Britain: The Professionals, and Blake's 7; this led to an interest in other BritTV, and many fans saw at least some episodes of Sandbaggers.

Although some commentators consider that Sandbaggers did not particularly lend itself to slash (there is a canon het relationship between Neil Burnside and a female agent), the characters themselves describe Burnside's relationship with Willie Caine as that of 'an old married couple' who would be helpless apart. Throughout three series, Caine is shown as the most consistent presence in Burnside's life.

The darkness and the excellence of the writing definitely appealed to gen and bifictional fans, especially B7 fans. In fact, as a relatively small fandom of a show known for its excellent writing, some felt there was a certain eliteness about Sandbaggers fans, i.e., it wasn't a show/fandom for everyone -- most fans couldn't appreciate it. This appears to have been a minority view, however.

Was the show popular at the time? One fan comments:

"Sorry to be a wet blanket, but the harsh reality is no. Most Britons that I met when I lived in London in 1993 (as an ex-pat American) had never even heard of the series. Ray Lonnen has reported that they never made a big splash even during the original run: "I think we made number 20 in the charts one week up in Scotland. That was our big ratings success." Critical response was mixed. The regular TIMES reviewer during the original run devoted only one paragraph to it when it ended, and most of that was just a disparaging remark about Marsden's hairpiece. However, the reviewer for the TIMES weekly entertainment guide in 1982 called it the second best espionage series ever (the best being "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy") when it reran during the afternoons in 1982." [1]

It's a great show to argue over. Burnsides' ethics, or lack of same, the cliff-hanger of the final episode (edited after the writer died -- is it canon or not?), etc., have been fought over for years.

Pat Nussman's defunct apa "A Sense of Occasion", reprinted as "Sandbagger Briefing Document", included a great deal of conversation about Sandbaggers.

Fan Community

A 1994-1999 mailing list is publicly archived here.

"Sandbaggers" (subtitled: James Bond does not work here) is a tiny LiveJournal community which states it is "for anything related to the British TV series "Sandbaggers". Discussion, fanfic, information about the actors, exchange of top secret documents, all are welcome here!"[2]. The community was founded on 27/06/2010 by mosellegreen who remains its moderator. As of January 2012 it has 14 members.


There was one Sandbagger convention, Sandbagger One.


Fan Fiction

There is a little slash, mostly Neil Burnside/Willie Caine. There is a little het, mostly the doomed relationship of Neil Burnside/Laura Dickens. But most of what little fiction there is, is gen, based around Burnside. A guide to what fanfic exists and where it can be found is here.

Sandbaggers Zines

'Singleton' Fanfic

  • "The Rest"[3] by russian_blue as a Yuletide 2011 gift for ide_cyan – Crossover story with James Bond in which Marianne Straker becomes ‘M’
  • "On a Short Leash"[4] by fawatson as a Yuletide 2011 gift for ide_cyan - Set after the final episode in series three, the protagonist is Willie Caine who has become D.Int. and focuses on an illicit Op being conducted by Neil Burnside.
  • "The Wrong Side"[5] by russian_blue as a Yuletide 2012 gift for the_croupier – Told from Willie’s perspective it shows the future careers of Neil and Willie post-series.
  • "Something Different "[6] by fawatson as a Yuletide 2012 gift for Kainosite - Set after the final episode in series three, the story focuses on a mission to retrieve Lady Wellingham who narrowly escaped a hostage siege in East Africa.



Archives Communities Resources


  1. ^ SB FAQ
  2. ^
  3. ^ "The Rest" by russian_blue, as archived on AO3. Accessed 7 January 2012.
  4. ^ "On a Short Leash" by fawatson, as archived on AO3. Accessed 7 January 2012.
  5. ^ "The Wrong Side" by russian_blue, as archived on AO3. Accessed 9 January 2013.
  6. ^ "Something Different" by fawatson, as archived on AO3. Accessed 9 January 2013.