"So speaks Neil Burnside (Roy Marsden, "Inspector Dalglish"), the steely D-Ops of THE SANDBAGGERS, a covert three-man team of spies operating at the height of the Cold War. It's an appropriate comment to describe the entire series. Created and Written by former British Intelligence officer Ian MacKintosh, any given episode is more likely to spend time discussing a mission than showing the mission itself... it's several episodes in before a Sandbagger is even armed. Emphasis is on the politics and pressures of a life lived in shadows, trading gunfights and explosions for cracking dialogue and fascinating characters. It's an approach that fans of HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET will more than appreciate. But it's Marsden who carries the series. As Neil Burnside, he is a man whose job has consumed every aspect of his life. He smoothly alternates between tart humor and devious ambition, able to hurl abuse at anyone who irritates him (which is everyone at some point or another) one moment, fight to prevent sending his men on a foolhardy mission behind the Iron Curtain the next, and plan an unsanctioned Assassination the next. Even at his most cold-blooded, Marsden's deft performance never lets us fully hate Burnside... but rather, pity him. It's more than likely you'll never find a more accurate account of the Intelligence community outside a documentary - it's rumored to be a favorite inside the CIA. A Sandbagger may spend most of his time "shuffling paper from in-tray to out-tray," but once in the field on assignment it often proves to be an ugly - and ultimately deadly - job. Gritty and compelling to the end, THE SANDBAGGERS is sophisticated entertainment, not for everyone. But those who invest their time and minds in this oft-forgotten series will not regret it... or forget it. This first set is low on Extras, and even begins with a written warning about the quality of the DVD image. However, it does beat third-generation VHS copies taped off PBS back in the 80's (the "traditional" SANDBAGGERS medium for years), and is more than adequate for the material. The package includes both a glossary of the omnipresent governmental abbreviations which even long-time fans will find useful, and the pivotal seventh episode "Special Relationship," inexplicably left out of the BFS's two VHS collections. The three-disk set includes the first seven episodes; 1. First Principles 2. A Proper Function of Government 3. Is Your Journey Really Necessary? 4. The Most Suitable Person 5. Always Glad to Help 6. A Feasible Solution 7. Special Relationship and Bonus: A Guide to Sandbaggers Abbreviations"
Battles of wits with the Whitehall wallahs
Joseph Haschka | Glendale, CA USA | 02/22/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The excellence of the BBC's THE SANDBAGGERS overcomes any quaintness of plotting that pits Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service against the machinations of the Evil Empire's KGB and its minions. Considering the menace of today's shadowy terrorist groups unaligned with any particular nation state, a return to the Cold War seems almost like the Good Old Days.The "hero" of this television miniseries that aired in 1978 and 1980 is Neil Burnside (Roy Marsden), the wily, lonely, ruthless, testy, and driven Director of Operations, who works out of MI6's London headquarters in Century House. More specifically, Burnside oversees the "Sandbaggers", a trio of special agents available for covert operations against foreign enemies in the world's hotspots.If you're expecting to see feats of derring-do reminiscent of 007, or even the Avengers, look elsewhere. Indeed, it's when the camera occasionally follows Neil's agents on their oversees exploits that the action gets clunky and amateurish. The essence of each episode's script lies back in London as we watch Burnside match wits with his immediate boss, SIS Deputy Chief Peele (Jerome Willis), and the agency's Director General (Richard Vernon), otherwise known as "C", both of whom Neil scornfully regards as bumbling incompetents, as well as with the meddling political wallahs in the Ministry of Defense and the Foreign Office. Who needs enemies with friends like these? And there's Neil's awkward relationship with Sir Geoffrey Wellingham (Alan MacNaughton), the urbane Permanent Undersecretary of State and the father of Burnside's estranged wife. Perhaps the best episode in Set 1 is number 7, "Special Relationship", in which Neil dispatches Sandbagger Laura Dickens (Diane Keen) to East Berlin to retrieve some photographic intelligence from an agent-in-place. The mission turns into a personal disaster for Burnside in which the viewer first sees a human side to the Director.THE SANDBAGGERS series nowhere approaches the superb BBC's productions of John Le Carre's TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY and SMILEY'S PEOPLE, both starring Alec Guinness. But, THE SANBAGGERS is an intriguing and intelligent depiction of the politics and backstage maneuvering of spycraft."
Complex characters; superb acting; like reading a good novel
David J. Koukol | Merrick, NY United States | 12/29/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Sandbaggers was written by Ian Mackintosh, a man who wished to debunk the James Bond mythology and portray Cold War era espionage as it really was. The series was made in the late 1970s, and three short seasons were produced - this boxed set includes the first six of the seven episodes that comprise the first season. Roy Marsden is superb as Neil Burnside - Director of Operations for the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, also known as MI6). He is in command of a three-man section of special agents, nicknamed the Sandbaggers, who undertake politically sensitive and hazardous missions outside the UK. The world of spies is shown to be prone to budget cuts and political interference, and internal office politics affect the outcome of missions as much as (if not more than) international politics. The entire cast is exceptional, rising to the task of breathing life to excellent, witty, and complex scripts which really demand that the viewers pay attention (repeated viewings also yield new understanding and new surprises). The characters are multi-layered and grow with each episode - no one in this series is all good or all bad; they each have their strengths and their failings, and it is a joy (and sometimes heartbreaking) to accompany them on their journey. PBS airs the show occasionally, and this boxed set is a good introduction to a wonderful and unique British television experience."
Buce | Palookaville | 01/26/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Two ways to guess Sandbaggers' age, or mine. One: it is the last series in my experience that features telephone cords. No cellulars, no wrist radios; indeed none of that high-tech gadgetry that figures to prominently in another spy series best left unnamed. Two: this is the last series for which my wife and I used to leave parties early. That is to say, the last before we got a VCR, and what a delight it is to find that this best of all TV dramas has moved on to videotape, and now to DVD.When I say best, I mean it. I'm picky about my TV. I do like a few of the big intricate series numbers: Hill Street Blues, and then Northern Exposure and then -- well actually, then not a lot until the Sopranos. Sandbaggers is the only one that I willingly go back and re-watch again and again (for the Sopranos, we'll have to wait and see).For diehards, there is a serviceable fan site (maybe the only one I've ever checked in on): see www.opsroom.org. A recent post by (producer) Ian Mackintosh's brother recalls how the series ended abruptly with Macintosh's disappearance in a small plane over Alaska -- and raises the possibility that it might have been more than just a simple misfortune."
The Best in Captivating, Thought-Provoking Suspense Drama!
Tiggah | Calgary, Alberta Canada | 12/25/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have no hesitation in saying that this is one of the best dramatic series I've ever seen. Certainly, so far as intelligently-written, intellectually-satisfying British dramas are concerned, it is second-to-none.
The series stars Roy Marsden as Neil Burnside, the Director of Operations for the SIS (Britain's Secret Service) and head of the Sandbaggers (a special unit of highly-trained operatives within the SIS). Burnside is a multi-faceted individual, and like the system of which he is a part, he is not without flaws. A former Sandbagger himself, Burnside will move heaven and earth for his operatives--a devotion which is commendable. But he is also ambitious and capable of being ruthlessly manipulative. While he cares deeply about his operatives, it is in those rare instances when the needs of an individual collide with his or her job as a Sandbagger that we see a surprising--indeed startling--side to Neil Burnside.
Roy Marsden (who will be familiar to many as Adam Dalgliesh of the P.D. James' dramatisations) is simply splendid in portraying the nuances in Burnside's personality as well as in evoking often conflicting emotions on the part of the viewer. In fact, it's hard to imagine anyone else in the role.
The portrayal of the policies, priorities, and hypocrisies within the SIS, the Ministry of Justice, and indeed the government in general is thought-provoking not to mention disturbing. If you've enjoyed the humourous (albeit highly accurate) depiction of government in the Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister series, you will certainly enjoy this series. The approach is a serious one (although punctuated with comic relief in the form of witty remarks), but the insights into the running of (and indeed corruption of) government remain the same.
The DVD boxed set contains all seven 50-minute episodes from the first series (there are three in all), each of which is absolutely first-rate with very tight, fast-paced plots. There is suspense, but it is not long and drawn out. There are twists and surprises galore, but all are intricately connected to the storyline; none have been inserted gratuitously merely for the sake of thrills.
Whether or not you like the spy genre in particular, so long as you enjoy intelligent, impeccably-written and consummately-acted suspense drama, you will enjoy this superb series, which is as much a drama about people and human nature as it is about spies and government corruption. Quite frankly, I simply cannot recommend it highly enough. It's nothing short of outstanding! "