Since: Dec 08
#1 Mar 30, 2014
I ran across a nice article on the Internet Archive on The Sandbaggers, the classic 1970s British spy series, bookmarking it here so I can find it again, and before it vanishes completely:
"...Although this taut, gritty, realistic ensemble drama received only mixed critical reviews and far less exposure or ratings success than it deserved, "The Sandbaggers" represents the best that British television drama has to offer. Consistently well-written and superbly acted, it stands head and shoulders above virtually all of the spy genre that I personally have experienced.
In the context of the series, the Sandbaggers were an elite special operations section of the operations directorate of the British SIS (Secret Intelligence Service). Formally named the "Special Section" but nicknamed "Sandbaggers", this group was periodically tasked to carry out delicate, risky, and politically sensitive jobs which were outside the scope and abilities of normal Station personnel.
Roughly analogous to Fleming's "00" section, the Sandbaggers differed in certain key aspects which made their characters much more realistic and sympathetic. They seldom armed themselves on missions, drawing weaponry (reluctantly) from local Stations only when it was deemed absolutely necessary. They were also portrayed as very human, middle-class average people who had nothing in common with James Bond; indeed, Bond is mentioned several times in the course of the series but his name is always used to remind us how unrealistic his exploits are.
"The Sandbaggers" tended to focus less on what went on at the "sharp end" of operations and more on the backbiting and political maneuvering that goes on behind the scenes in the corridors of power stalked by those who pull the strings of field operatives. Most episodes also dealt with the moral issues raised in the secret world, and the necessity of taking actions to ensure national security that would be roundly condemned as immoral by the very people protected by them.
Another recurring theme was the "Special Relationship" between SIS and CIA -a liberal exchange of information and favors between the underfunded, undermanned British service and the well-heeled American one. This exchange in the context of the series seems to heavily favor the SIS, and indeed they feel they cannot operate effectively without it, as their own politicians seem dedicated to making them work with a hand tied behind their backs.
Produced by Yorkshire Television and set in the time period in which it was aired, 1978-1980, "The Sandbaggers" consisted of three series totaling 20 episodes, and was created by its principal writer, Ian Mackintosh. Mackintosh, a former lieutenant-commander in the Royal Navy with an Intelligence background (sound familiar?) had just embarked on what seemed like a very promising career in television, first with the BBC, then Yorkshire Television. He had written the first sixteen episodes and the twentieth when, in July 1979, he and his girlfriend were lost in a light aircraft over the Gulf of Alaska after sending a distress signal. No traces were ever discovered. Mackintosh would have turned 39 on July 26, 1979. Three episodes were penned by other writers, but the scripts, although they were filmed, were not considered promising enough to persuade the producers to continue the series..."
And so it goes.
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