The Sandbaggers
The Disappearance
The Search
Battle Order
Was Mackintosh a Spy?

Sandbaggers FAQ
The Sandbaggers television show Frequently Asked Questions

What is The Sandbaggers?
It’s the best damned show most people never saw.

The Sandbaggers is a supremely entertaining and intelligent British TV series about the Cold War. Its central character is a ruthless, duplicitous, acid-tongued, lovelorn but often funny spy master named Neil Burnside. He is one of the most fascinating and complex antiheroes ever to have graced the small screen.

He is the Director of Operations (D-Ops) of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. Among his other duties, Burnside oversees a small group of officers who are to be are sent abroad on politically sensitive or dangerous missions: escorting defectors to the West, retrieving secret papers and photographs, or anything too hazardous for the officers the UK has posted to that locale. Burnside’s greatest opposition, however, often comes from the bureaucrats and politicians in his own country, not from the Soviets.

The Sandbaggers is remarkable for the many ways in which it inverts espionage genre conventions: Burnside doesn’t drink and is about as far from charming as you can get, his top Sandbagger hates violence, no one has any flashy cars or gadgets or sexual liaisons, and the whole series features very few action scenes. A typical 50-minute episode consists of men and women having intelligent conversations and heated arguments in government offices, in London parks, and in the Ops Room, where missions are planned and controlled.

Praised for its unflinching honesty, passionate acting, witty dialogue and shocking plot twists, The Sandbaggers has a worldwide fan following. The 20 episodes were first broadcast in 1978 and 1980 on Britain’s ITV network (not the BBC). Canada’s CBC, Australia's ABC and many American PBS stations aired the series in the late 1980s and the early 1990s.

You’ll probably like The Sandbaggers if you like John Le Carré’s spy novels, or anything acknowledging its audience’s intelligence. Top.

When did it air?
Series 1 made its debut in 1978 on ITV. The show ran for three seasons. Top.

How many episodes were there?
Twenty. Seven in the first series one. Six in season two, and seven again in series three. All episodes are fifty minutes long and divided into three acts. Top.

What were the air dates?
18 Sep 78 First Principles
25 Sep 78 A Proper Function of Government
2 Oct 78 Is Your Journey Really Necessary?
9 Oct 78 The Most Suitable Person
16 Oct 78 Always Glad to Help
23 Oct 78 A Feasible Solution
30 Oct 78 Special Relationship

28 Jan 80 At All Costs
4 Feb 80 Enough of Ghosts
11 Feb 80 Decision by Committee
18 Feb 80 A Question of Loyalty
25 Feb 80 It Couldn't Happen Here
3 Mar 80 Operation Kingmaker

9 Jun 80 All in a Good Cause
16 Jun 80 To Hell with Justice
23 Jun 80 Usual Approach
30 Jun 80 My Name is Anna Wiseman
7 Jul 80 Sometimes We Play Dirty Too
14 Jul 80 Who Needs Enemies
28 Jul 80 Opposite Numbers Back to the top.

Why does the second season have a missing episode?
Series creator Ian Mackintosh was a former Royal Navy officer. Anything he published had to be vetted to ensure he did not accidentally let slip any secrets. A second season script was rejected for contravening the Official Secrets Act. Top.

Gahhhh! What happens?
Actor Ray Lonnen reports that a rumour floating around the set was that Willie would return in Series 4 as D-Ops. Top.

What is that blinking white square?
It means a commercial break is coming. Top.

Who starred in it?
Roy Marsden as Neil Burnside
Ray Lonnen as Willie Caine
Richard Vernon as 'C' (Sir James Greenley)
Dennis Burgess as 'C' (John Tower Gibbs)
Alan MacNaughtan as Sir Geoffrey Wellingham
Bob Sherman as Jeff Ross
Jerome Willis as Matthew Peel
Elizabeth Bennett as Diane Lawler
Michael Cashman as Mike Wallace
Jana Sheldon as Karen Milner
Sue Holderness as Marianne Straker
Diane Keen as Laura Dickens
John Aitkin as Len Shepard
David Beames as Tom Elliot
Peter Laird as Edward Tyler
David Glyder as Jake Landy
Steven Grives as Alan Denson
Paul Haley as Bruce
Barclay Johnson as Brian Milton
Matthew Long as Arthur
Edith MacArthur as Lady Wellingham
Michael O'Hagan as Stan Barclay
Brian Osborne as Sam Lawes
Terry Pearson as Apso
David Robb as Paul Dalgetty
Richard Shaw as Ted Prescott
Harry Webster as Dr. O'Toole
Donald Churchill
Derek Godfrey
Peter Miles
Frank Moorey Top.

What are the actors doing to-day?
Elizabeth Bennett: Still acting, most recently in The Last Detective on Britain's ITV1.
Dennis Burgess: Died not long after The Sandbaggers aired.
Michael Cashman: Very busy these days in his fifth term as a Labour Member of the European Parliament.
Steven Grives: Still acting. Look for him on stage in the UK and Australia, as well as in the series The Beastmaster.
Sue Holderness: Still acting, indeed much loved by the British public for her role in the comedy hit Only Fools and Horses.
Peter Laird: Rumored to be acting in theatre these days, but not confirmed.
Ray Lonnen: Still acting, most recently in the science fiction TV production Star Hunter .
Roy Marsden: Directing plays for theatre. You may have also seen him in the made for television Dalgliesh mysteries, based on the PD James novels.
Alan MacNaughtan: Passed away in 2002.
Jana Sheldon: She married Sandbaggers producer Michael Ferguson shortly after the series.
Bob Sherman: Still acting, most recently as Ronald Reagan in a British TV movie, The Falklands Play .
Richard Vernon: Passed away in 1997.
Jerome Willis: Still acting, often alongside Roy Marsden in the Dalgliesh mysteries. Top.

How was it shot?
The Sandbaggers was shot using two-inch videotape for the interiors. Sixteen-millimeter film was used for the exteriors. Modern viewers may wonder about the harshness of the interior lighting. Arc lights create a small but bright point of light. While creating a lot of inexpensive illumination, they also throw very sharp shadows. Top.

Who was Ian Mackintosh?
Series creator Ian Mackintosh was a former Royal Navy lieutenant-commander. Born in 1940, in Inverness, Scotland, he became an expert in aircraft colour schemes and published several books on the subject.

Mackintosh started writing to relieve tedium. He penned and published several thrillers before proposing to write a television series about the navy. Mackintosh eventually left the service to pursue his television writing career full time.

He, his girlfriend and British Airways pilot friend were reported lost at sea when their single-engine aircraft radioed for help over the ocean near Alaska. Sandbaggers Series 3 was shooting at the time of the July 1979 mishap. Top.

Was Mackintosh in the intelligence community?
The Cold War will be a long time in defrosting its secrets. No-one is going to peek at Anthony Blunt’s memoirs until 2013, so the odds of the UK declassifying the record of one single naval officer for our curiosity is small. Besides, his family deserves any information first.

It is possible that Mackintosh was called in as an expert to aid intelligence services with his skills. He was an expert in aircraft recognition and published several books about the subject. After all, he was in the UK navy and would be easily vetted and co-operative.

Mackintosh’s brother Lawrie has often noted his brother’s penchant for security. Also, shortly after Mackintosh’s disappearance, Ian Mackintosh‘s home was burgled and the safe cleared out.

Moreover, Ian Mackintosh was camera shy and refused to be interviewed. Perhaps it was his stage persona as a writer--keep the audience guessing. Other writers have done this. Leslie Charteris did much to encourage that his readership would confuse him with Simon Templar. Hemmingway also enjoyed it when readers compared him to the tough men of his tales.

Also odd is that experienced pilots like the one like with whom Mackintosh and his girlfriend flew tend not to choose single engine aircraft for over-water flight. Experienced pilots also tend to follow their flight plans. Did they need a small plane to avoid radar? Were they flying closer to Russian ships than tourists might normally do?

Who knows? This is merely speculation on our part. We may get a few more answers in twenty years when seals come off government records. Top.

Can I buy copies of the show?
Yes. BFS of Canada is selling DVDs of the entire series in region-free three box sets. Video-tapes have been harder to get, but sharp-eyed bargain hunters should be able to snatch up copies.Top.

Was the show popular?
No. Sorry. Top.

Are there any books or stories?
Yes. There are two novels and two short stories.

The Sandbaggers by Ian Mackintosh is a novelization of some of the first season episodes. It was issued as a paperback and hardback in the UK.

Mystery writer William Marshall published a Sandbaggers book called ‘Think of a Number’ when Mackintosh’s death took the wheels off the series. He used the pen name Donald Lancaster.

There are also two short stories. These were published in the TV times. Again, the first is by Mackintosh, the second by Marshall. Top.

What are all the acronyms used?
AA: Automobile Association
ADC: Aide-de-camp
CDS: Chief of the Defence Staff
CGS: Chief of the General Staff
CI: Counterintelligence
CIA: Central Intelligence Agency
D-Int: Director of Intelligence
D-Ops: Director of Operations
DAS: Director of Administrative Services
DCDS: Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff
DG: Director General
DGI: Director General of Intelligence
DIS: Defence Intelligence Staff
DOPC: Defence and Oversea Policy Committee
DUS: Deputy Undersecretary
FBI: Federal Bureau of Investigation
FCO: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
GPO: Government Post Office
GSG9: Grenzschutzgruppe 9 (Border Protection Group 9)
HMG: Her Majesty’s Government
IK: Insufficient knowledge
JIB: Joint Intelligence Bureau
JIC: Joint Intelligence Committee
KGB: Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (Committee for State Security)
MCO: Main Communications Office
MI5: Military Intelligence, Department 5
MoD: Ministry of Defence
PA: Personal Assistant
PFIAB: President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board
PFLP: Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
PM: Prime Minister
PS: Private Secretary
PUS: Permanent Undersecretary
PUSS: Permanent Undersecretary of State
RAC: Royal Automobile Club
RAF: Royal Air Force
RCMP: Royal Canadian Mounted Police
SAS: Special Air Service
SBS: Special Boat Service
SIS: Secret Intelligence Service (also known as MI6)
SPT: Special Projects Team
SSD: State Security Department Top.