For many The Sandbaggers is viewed as the quintessential Cold War spy series. It originally aired between 1978-1980 on the British ITV network. A total of twenty episodes were produced with Ray Marsden playing the title role of spymaster Niel Burnside. Burnside is in charge of an elite section of MI6 known simply as The Sandbaggers. This group is responsible for handling the missions that are too dirty for anyone else.

What sets the Sandbaggers apart from other contemporary Cold War spy series are both the story lines and the characters. There is nothing even vaguely romantic about Burnside and his team. There are no beautiful women or exotic gadgets al la 007. Instead we have a very seedy and in some ways disreputable bunch. People that you would not invite into your home for dinner.

In someways Burnside and his motley crew are very reminiscent of John LeCarre’s portrayal of the cold war warriors in The Spy That Came In From The Cold, or even the Smiley Trilogy.

MI6 is portrayed as a grossly underfunded and under staffed agency. Were it nor for the ‘special relationship’ with the CIA they would be completely ineffective.

Interestingly enough this aspect of the fictional series had its roots firmly planted in reality. You need only do some cursory research on the Cambridge spy ring, Kim Philby, Donald McLean, Anthony Blunt, etc to understand just how dependent MI6 was on the CIA during this period.

The Sandbaggers may be 30 years old, but it is as good today as it was when originally broadcast. The 10 DVD’s come as a boxed set, and this is a must have for any Cold War armchair warrior. You can order your copy by using the Amazon link above.

Simon Barrett

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