Full Name: Neil Burnside
Series Name: The Sandbaggers
Nationality: British
Organization: MI6
Occupation Agent

Creator: Ian MacKintosh
Time Span: 1978 - 1980


       Neil Burnside is a spymaster for the British Special Intelligence Service.
       While the term MI-6 is not used, its other name, SIS, most definitely is. Burnside is in charge of a small group of agents inside that organization who have been given the nickname of The Sandbaggers. The reason for the epithet is not explained but might be due to use of sandbags to shore up defenses against incoming hazards. Of course, in card playing, pretending to have a weak hand to lure in an opponent for an easy defeat could also a possibility. Officially, Burnside is known as D-Ops, Director of Special Operations, and it is the job of him and his cadre of people to handle the extra-sensitive tasks.
       Prior to taking control of the department, Burnside had served many years as a Royal Marine before leaving the military and joining the Sandbaggers as one of its agents. He worked his way to the head of the department, a position he had only just taken up when the series begins. In the series, Burnside answers to the head of British Intelligence, Sir James Greenley, known as "C", and his number Two, Matthew Peele, a man who often quite vocally announces his lack of trust for Burnside and, to a lesser degree, the entire group, and a man who believes it is better to just obey orders and not make waves. This does not sit well, ever, with Burnside.
       Burnside is divorced and never seems to have time anymore for the ladies, possibly due to still having quite a bitter taste in his mouth from his first attempt. Then again, if his acerbic tone used towards his superiors in the agency and often to his subordinates who question his orders is in any way translated into his personal life, his lack of companionship is understandable. Despite this tendency to speak harshly, it is well known by his people that he would defend them with everything he had and would never put them into harm's way without a very valid reason and so there is considerable loyalty to Burnside despite his manners.
       As time goes along, the position of "C" opens up as the older Greenley retires and the replacement, a man named Gibbs, is less pleased with the concept of the Sandbaggers and the way they operate. This causes even more aggravation for the already irritated Burnside.

       Inside the Sandbaggers organization, in addition to the leader Burnside and his personal assistant/secretary, there are three operatives known as Sandbagger One through Three.
       Willie Caine is Sandbagger One, by far the most senior of the agents and the man what Burnside considers the best operative active in the world today. The confidence Burnside has for Caine, and vice versa, is tremendous and makes for a great working relationship. Even though they will disagree with each other, at times rather loudly, the respect and friendship never waver.
       The other Sandbaggers, however, prove that the job is extremely dangerous. During the time recorded, several Sandbaggers lose their lives in the performance of the job, forcing Burnside to bring from other departments agents to take their place. A few of these also die. Being a Sandbagger may be a prestigious assignment in the Intelligence community but it is also often a short one.


Number of Books:2
First Appearance:1978
Last Appearance:1980

       Two books were published based on the television series. One is quite good. The other not so.
       As the series was being filmed, the creator and chief writer for it, Ian MacKintosh, took two of the episodes and merged them into one novel, throwing in his intimate knowledge of his "child" and using his talents as a writer. The book is very good and very much worth reading, far better than many novelizations.
       The second is far from that. The story goes that the writer, Donald Lancaster, was hired for the job, given a brief summary of the series, allowed to watch a couple of episodes. and told to take it from there. The book is quite alright on its own but only if you have not watched the shows. Good story. Not good sandbagging, IMHO.


Number of Episodes:20
First Appearance:1978
Last Appearance:1980

Roy MarsdenNeil Burnside [ 1-3 ]
Jerome WillisMatthew Peele [ 1-3 ]
Richard VernonC [ 1-2 ]
Dennis BurgessC [ 3 ]
Ray LonnenWillie Caine - Sandbagger-1 [ 1-3 ]
David GlyderJake Landy - Sandbagger-2 [ 1 ]
Steven GrivesAlan Denson - Sandbagger-3 [ 1 ]
Diane KeenLaura Dickens - Sandbagger-2 [ 1 ]
David BeamesTom Elliot - Sandbagger-2 [ 2 ]
Michael CashmanMike Wallace - Sandbagger-3 then -2 [ 2-3 ]
Alan MacNaughtonSir Geoffrey Wellingham [ 1-3 ]
Bob ShermanJeff Ross (CIA) [ 1-3 ]

       The two-book series comes from a popular television series in Britain in from 1978 to 1980. Composed of three seasons of 7, 6, and then 7 episodes respectively, the show starred Roy Marsden as Burnside. The series was conceived by Ian MacKintosh, an accomplished screenplay writer and producer before he came up with the concept. Mr. MacKintosh wrote all by 3 of the 20 scripts used for the episodes and monitored the production very closely. The series proved very popular both with the audience and with the critics for the superb acting by the players as well as the tight, well-crafted writing of the creator.
       The television series came to a sudden halt with the disappearance near Alaska of the creator and guiding hand. Ian Mackintosh and his girlfriend were passengers in a light aircraft piloted by a friend off the coast of Alaska when a distress call came from their craft but they and it were never found.


       I was incredibly fortunate to be stationed in Scotland from 1978 to 1981 and had the tremendous joy of watching this series when it was first run on ITV in the U.K. I remember enjoying immensely when Burnside was abrasive towards his immediate superior and cringed about when the man's ire turned towards his own people, probably from wanting to do the former myself and having suffered the latter a time or two. I also recall that the lack of thrilling car chases, diving out of airplanes, underwater combat, and ladies in scant outfits did not work against the series at all. It was far closer to the dark and brooding worlds of Deighton and LeCarre and Hall than the usual television spy series. The series never got a decent showing in the U.S., probably because it did not have the aforementioned items. PBS showed it but no one else picked it up for syndication.


My Grade: A+

Your Average Grade:   A++


- 2019-03-03

Hi. I just finished re-reading Donald Lancaster''s The Sandbaggers Think of a Number. I notice that you say that it is set in Hong Kong. It is actually set in Sitzerland - no connection to Hong Kong or China. I posted a review on my blog Love this site by the way! Cheers Jeff

- 2019-03-03

Hi. I just finished re-reading Donald Lancaster''s The Sandbaggers Think of a Number. I notice that you say that it is set in Hong Kong. It is actually set in Switzerland - no connection to Hong Kong or China. I posted a review on my blog Love this site by the way! Cheers Jeff

A++ 2019-12-03

This is the best spy TV show ever made. Amazing cast, characters and scripts. You don''t get shows like this anymore, it was made for a really adult audience.

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