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.