Hauling Like A Brooligan

Stephen Gallagher


Sandbaggers (The): The Complete SeriesI picked up the 3-season DVD boxed set and watched all of The Sandbaggers a while back, to find that it holds up brilliantly. If only all vintage TV could so well match our memories of it… the episodes are mastered from decently preserved tape, not telerecordings, and while the production values are standard for 70s studio-based drama, it’s the writing and performances that give it real enduring quality.

My first agent was the Transworld editor responsible for dealing with writer/creator Ian Mackintosh over the series’ novelisations, and he’d told her that he himself was a former Sandbagger. In a business filled with bullshitters, this seemed to chime with stories I was hearing of scripts being sent for vetting by some shady government department before production. Personally I’m inclined not to disbelieve it; Mackintosh’s depiction of a credible bureaucracy, and the way in which he invests it with urgent dramatic life, hardly seems like a fantasist’s first choice of material.

Long before the DVDs were available, I was in contact with a researcher from Kudos who was trying to track down VHS copies of Sandbaggers episodes. They served as part of the groundwork for the show that would become Spooks (MI5 in the US).

Still available from Network DVD.

2 responses to “Sandbagging”

  1. What did you think of the final episode that illustrated the fear of the Russians taking advantage of the West desire to end nuclear arms race? We now know how weak the Russians were then. It makes the hero look less favorable (as if he looked favorable before).

    Then there is the cliffhanger with the series and the writer's fate.

  2. (as if he looked favorable before)

    I think you've hit it there… one of the things I admire about the writing is the refusal to sneak in the odd signal that Burnside is an OK guy really, a good man making heroically difficult decisions — what we get instead is a man whose soul is slowly being eaten away as he follows his chosen path, and he knows it. Where Mackintosh might have taken it, I don't know. A few years later and Burnside would probably have been softened into a more 'relatable' character by network notes. Compare him to DEXTER, a serial killer we're not allowed to dislike; for me Burnside is the truer, more complex monster.