The Sandbaggers – Operation Kingmaker

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Following Sir James Greenley’s sudden retirement, the position of C is vacant.  Despite all their run-ins, Burnside isn’t averse to Peele taking over, reckoning that the devil you know is always better than the devil you don’t.  He maintains that although Peele would be a minor disaster as C, someone they didn’t know would be a major one.

And when Burnside learns that John Tower Gibbs (Dennis Burgess) is the front runner, Peele becomes more and more attractive.  Gibbs and Burnside have a long and painful history and if he did become C there’s nothing to suggest that future relations would be any more cordial.  So Burnside assigns both Sandbaggers with a new mission – Operation Kingmaker.  Its objective is to find compromising material on Gibbs whilst at the same time promoting Peele as a worthwhile candidate.

With no world shattering events to deal with in Operation Kingmaker, office politics are the order of the day.  It has a lighter tone than most of the previous episodes, especially when depicting the relationship between Peele and Burnside.  To begin with, Peele is at his most genial – as he’s attempting to use Burnside and Wellingham’s close relationship to his advantage (hoping that Burnside will be able to persuade Wellingham that he’s a serious candidate for the job).

Burnside though is already ahead of him, as he’s already pushed Peele’s credentials to a slightly incredulous Wellingham.  Wellingham has no particular liking for Peele and correctly surmises that Burnside is simply keen to ensure that anybody but Gibbs gets the job.

This isn’t the only change afoot though, as Burnside’s secretary, Elizabeth, hands in her resignation.  She’s leaving to get married and Burnside is characteristically far from delighted at the news.  He fails to congratulate her and when he realises she won’t reconsider, insists that she appoints a replacement before she leaves.  A further example of his monumental lack of tact is when he mentions he doesn’t want anybody young – someone about her age would be fine!

Finding a replacement is hard though, as nobody seems to want the job (Burnside’s fearful reputation has preceded him, much to Willie’s amusement).  But eventually she does uncover a potential candidate – Marianne Straker (Sue Holderness).  Although Marianne is younger than Burnside would like, twenty-seven, she does have the sort of outspoken attitude that appeals to him.  She used to work for Peele, but was dismissed because, according to Elizabeth “she wasn’t deferential enough.”

Sue Holderness had been acting since the early 1970’s, although she was still a few years away from her career-defining role as Marlene in Only Fools and Horses.  She only has a limited amount of time in this episode, but her brief appearance suggests that she’ll make a decent foil to Burnside.  The tone is set after he discovers she doesn’t have a regular boyfriend and he asks what’s wrong with her.  She counters that he’s considerably older than her and isn’t married, which is a decent retort.  He offers her the job and as the door closes behind her, we see something quite rare – a smile from Burnside.

Another character making her exit is Jana Shelden as Karen Milner.  She appears to have been positioned as a potential romantic interest for Burnside, though in the end this didn’t amount to anything mainly because the scars of Berlin seemed to be too fresh in his mind.  A pity she didn’t return, as she also made a good working partner for Willie (as seen in Decision by Committee) although regular team-ups between the SIS and the CIA would have probably stretched credibility a little.

Neither Willie or Mike appear to be delighted with Operation Kingmaker.  Willie doesn’t have any moral qualms about sabotaging Gibbs’ chances, he’s more concerned about what would happen to Burnside if it was discovered.  But Mike does seem a little apprehensive about what he’s been asked to do, although this may just be Michael Cashman’s acting choice as it helps to make his contribution stand out (given his fairly small role in the story).

Finding dirt on Gibbs is difficult though.  Willie asks D. Int. if he knows anything and he tells him that Gibbs has “the brain of a computer, the stamina of an ox and a bite that’s considerably worse than his bark.” They do finally uncover something promising and Burnside casually mentions it to Wellingham.  But it later becomes clear that Wellingham knew about Gibbs’ indiscretion anyway and this decades-old scandal doean’t prevent him from being appointed as the new C.

Whilst Operation Kingmaker lacks the dramatic punch of the series one closer, it sets us up nicely for the conflicts that would play out during the third (and as it turned out) final series.

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The Sandbaggers – It Couldn’t Happen Here

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Jeff Ross is convinced that US Senator Franklin Heron was murdered by the FBI.  Heron was an advocate for the freedom of information and Ross believes he was just the latest in a long line of public figures to have been removed by the Bureau (he also mentions JFK and Martin Luther-King).  Burnside doesn’t dismiss his conjecture out of hand, but he does tell him he’s glad it couldn’t happen in the UK.

But when compelling evidence is discovered that suggests a key member of the Cabinet, Stratford-Baker (Tony Church), is a mole for the KGB, Burnside is forced to reconsider his statement.  The evidence he holds isn’t absolute proof (and was obtained illegally by the CIA) so no further action will be taken.  With the possibility that a KGB mole might one day become Prime Minister, is his removal – by whatever means necessary – justifiable?

It Couldn’t Happen Here is a story that seems to act very much as a mouthpiece for Ian Macintosh’s own opinions.  Jeff Ross spends the first five minutes outlining his theories that the FBI killed both John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther-King – mentioning the clear evidence of conspiracies in both cases which were later suppressed.  Later, Wellingham also expresses his conviction that JFK was the victim of a conspiracy.

The notion that JFK murdered as part of a shady conspiracy (involving either the KGB, CIA, FBI, Mafia, Cubans, etc) was widely held for many decades, although in recent years the possibility that Oswald was really working alone has gained more credence (Gerald Posner’s book, Case Closed, for example).  It Couldn’t Happen Here is therefore a reminder of the more paranoid days of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.  Although since Watergate had happened just a few years earlier, it’s not surprising there was a more jaundiced view of both American politics and the American agencies that were designed to serve both it and the people.

This debate, none too subtly, sets the tone for the remainder of the episode.  Stratford-Baker is by any definition an untrustworthy man – he fled the scene of a car accident in Germany, leaving a woman (one of Burnside’s employees) for dead.  But is he a Russian agent?  He has microdots and secret papers in his house, but it’s not clear proof.  Burnside later agrees with Wellingham that it would be wrong to assassinate him, but his final words to Willie are quite different.  Is he serious when he suggests they should stage a car accident, or is it just idle talk?

Two plotlines run in this one, so whilst Burnside wonders about Stratford-Baker’s loyalties, Willie travels to America to guard Senator O’Shea (Weston Gavin).  O’Shea has taken over Heron’s responsibilities and will therefore be a key target during the time that Willie is assigned to protect him.

This part of the story does rather stretch credibility to breaking point as it’s hard to believe the American government would assign the protection of O’Shea to a foreign operative.  Willie appears to make a hash of it as well – watch the scene when O’Shea leaves the church, following Heron’s funeral.  Willie moves straight to the car, leaving O’Shea completely unprotected and therefore an easy target for a gunman.

O’Shea is killed (although not by the same people who killed Heron – O’Shea’s killer was just a lone nut) and Willie returns home, although it’s tactful that nobody mentions the acres of space he left between himself and O’Shea.

The American sequences (filmed in the UK of course) also show the limitations of the series’ budget.  The funeral of an influential senator like Heron would be a huge affair, with hundreds of people, but The Sandbaggers could only afford a handful of extras – so tight camera angles had to be employed to try and make it look credible.

Elsewhere, Burnside enjoys another meal with Karen Milner and C announces that he’s leaving, effective immediately.  Whilst C might not have been central to many episodes – the main battles tended to be fought between Burnside and Peele – he was always on hand to deliver a pithy assessment of the current situation.  Richard Vernon was a joy to watch in the role and whilst his presence will be missed, it’s a good move series-wise – as it’ll be intriguing to see how the new C works with both Peele and Burnside.

The Sandbaggers – A Question of Loyalty

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Mike Wallace is in Warsaw to extract a defector.  When the defector doesn’t make the rendezvous, Wallace realises he’s been spooked by the clumsy efforts of the local station.  Mike is then forthright in expressing his displeasure to the Head of Section Walter Wheatley (Patrick Godfrey).

Wheatley, with his own reputation to protect, sends an immediate signal to London and blames Wallace for the aborted mission, which results in an investigation being launched, headed by Peele (much to Burnside’s disgust).  When a situation later arises in Stockholm (there’s a suggestion that the Stockholm Number Two may be a KGB agent) Burnside elects to send Wallace, which is Burnside’s way of proving to him that he still has his full support.

A Question of Loyalty might not revolve around matters and life and death for once, but it’s still a compelling episode.  We open with Wallace in Warsaw and it’s a good chance to see him work solo for the first time.  His inexperience is made clear after he’s less than diplomatic with the Head of Station (although it’s easy to imagine Burnside having a similar attitude, so maybe he’s just taking after his boss).

Michael Cashman had been appearing on television since the mid 1960’s, but The Sandbaggers was his first regular television role – although given how the series has run through a number of Sandbaggers, it’s far from clear he’ll be a permanent fixture.

The fallout from the Warsaw mission sees the relationship between Burnside and Peele drop to a new low.  There’s a real bite to their early scene, as Burnside bitterly tells him that he’s sure to side with the Head of Section (since Peele was a former Head of Section).  Peele retorts that Burnside’s bound to side with the Sandbagger (as an ex-Sandbagger).  As ever, it’s riveting stuff.

Neither the Warsaw or Stockholm missions are important in themselves – they just provide the backdrop, whilst the character conflicts and interactions play out.  This is made clear when Burnside attempts to obtain assistance for Wallace in Stockholm.  He doesn’t want to send his other Sandbagger, so he asks Jeff Ross if Karen Milner is free.  This does give us a rather parochial view of both the British and American intelligence services – the British only have two special operations agents and the Americans seem to be just as short-staffed (although it’s possible they have hundreds more in the office next door).

Jeff says he’s happy to send her, if Langley agrees, but suggests that Burnside briefs her over dinner.  It’s his way of trying to play cupid, but Burnside’s legendary spikiness makes it a far from convivial meal (at one point she asks him if he’s drinking coke or vinegar).

When Langley refuses to authorise the mission, she still attempts to assist by dropping a broad hint the next day that eventually allows Burnside to realise that the Stockholm Number Two isn’t a KGB agent, he’s a CIA one.  It’s an interesting development which shows that even so-called friendly powers are capable of deceit and deception.

But is Burnside grateful for Karen’s assistance?  Hardly, as he calls her a bitch, leading Willie to wonder exactly how much of Burnside died in Berlin last year.  This is the starkest picture of Burnside we’ve yet seen – a compulsive/obsessional, with no interests apart from his career and a man who displays a complete unwillingness to let anybody make emotional contact.  The reason’s clear – he let Laura get close and she was killed, so he’s not prepared to let it happen again.  When Willie asks him why he hates Karen, he says it’s “because she’s alive.”

And a further twist is that Peele agrees that Warsaw Station were at fault and Wallace is cleared.  Given that Burnside was convinced Peele would come down against the Sandbaggers, it provides us with another example that Peele isn’t the fool that Burnside often believes him to be – and also that Burnside’s tunnel-vision can sometimes be a handicap.

The Sandbaggers – Decision by Committee

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A Malaysian Aircraft travelling from Sri Lanka to the UK is hijacked by Iraqi terrorists.  A number of British and American nationals are on board, including two British VIPs – the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Chief of the General Staff.  Burnside’s chief concern isn’t about them though – Willie Caine and CIA agent Karen Milner (Jana Shelden) are both on board as well.

It’s an unwritten rule that if ever a Sandbagger is in trouble, then D. Ops would leave no stone unturned to try and rescue them – but things look far from promising.  The terrorists have issued an ultimatum – they want Iraqi prisoners freed or the two VIPs will be killed (one at 1800 hours and the other at 2000 hours) before they blow up the plane at midnight.

It’s long been supposed that series creator Ian Macintosh had been involved with the security services before he became a writer and there’s several touches in this episode that do seem quite accurate.  The first occurs early on, when Willie and Karen are comparing airline tickets.  Karen’s travelling back first class, whilst Willie’s stuck in economy.  He tells her that they always travel out first class (in order to be fresh for the mission) but nobody’s really bothered about their comfort on the way back.  A small detail, but it does sound convincing.

Incidentally, once again we see the ingenuity of YTV’s set dressing as they try to convince us that we’re actually in Sri Lanka at the start of the episode (plenty of plants are scattered about to create the impression of warmer climes).  Luckily it’s only a brief scene, but you have to give them ten out of ten for cheek!

Peele tell Burnside that he’s recommended he should be considered for promotion in ordinary course.  Although this sounds fine, it’s actually the kiss of death – as there’s several other people on an equal footing with Burnside who will have been recommended for early promotion.  So Burnside’s chances of becoming Deputy Chief are now very slim.  It’s obviously Peele’s way of attempting to clip his subordinate’s wings after his repeated flouting of the accepted chain of command.  As the episode title indicates, Peele favours decisions taken by committee whilst Burnside prefers to operate unilaterally.

Another moment that rings true is Peele’s attitude – if Burnside mends his ways then he’s every chance of being recommended for early promotion.  In this scene, he resembles nothing so much as a Headmaster, ticking off an unruly pupil.  Was this the way that the SIS was run in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s?  I don’t know, but it seems horribly possible.

A noteworthy part of Decision by Committee is that we don’t see the terrorists take control of the plane (instead, we’re told, along with Burnside, via a phone call).  Few series would have taken this route – as it’s clearly much more dramatically satisfying to show, not tell.  But as ever with The Sandbaggers, most of the action takes place in London, specifically in the Ops Room and in Whitehall.

As soon as the news breaks, the Ops Room becomes a hive of activity (and it’s also so wreathed in cigarette smoke that it’s almost like a fog’s descended!).  But although there’s plenty of talk, what actually can be done?  The Cabinet is in session, but there’s no clear course of action and Wellingham later admits to Burnside that it’s better to do nothing than do the wrong thing.

They could send the SAS in (as happened in Entebbe and Mogadishu) but if it goes wrong it’ll be a disaster that would dog the government for the rest of their time in power.  But if they prevaricate and things turn out badly they can always blame the incompetence of the local government (the plane has been piloted to Istanbul).  This is another moment that rings very true.

Burnside’s itching to do something though.  He’s not concerned about either the CDS or the CGS, all he wants to do is to extract Willie Caine.  And it’s not because of any feelings of friendship – Burnside knows that Caine will expect something to be done and if he feels let down it could affect his confidence just enough to make him a liability in the field.

It’s ironic that for all Burnside’s planning (he considers sending some of his own men in – to do an SAS style raid – despite everybody telling him that it’s an incredibly bad idea) in the end the resolution is out of his hands.  Willie and Karen are able to overpower the terrorists in a brief, but bloody gun battle.  It’s messy, violent and has unforeseen consequences (several passengers – including a child – are killed).  The Sandbaggers is as far from an action series as you could possibly expect, which makes this scene even more of a stand-out than it already is.  Top marks to Jana Shelden as Karen Milner for remaining cool under fire as well.

Given the ways things could have ended, it’s not a bad outcome – although the deaths of the passengers are likely to remain on Willie’s conscience.  The final scene (Burnside lies to him that he planned to send in the SAS) is intriguing.  Does Willie believe him or does he simply want to believe?  In the world of intelligence, the line between truth and lies remains forever blurred.

The Sandbaggers – Enough of Ghosts

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The disappearance of Sir Geoffrey Wellingham in Brussels (whilst on his way to NATO Headquarters) puts MI6 on red alert.  If he’s been kidnapped, there’s no shortage of terrorist groups who might be responsible – so where do they start?

Burnside decides to send both Sandbaggers to Brussels (despite Peele’s order that only one should go).  Whilst it might be seen as an indication of the respect he still holds for his ex-father in law, as so often with Burnside there’s also another reason.  A top secret file (which shouldn’t have left the building) is currently residing in Wellingham’s safe in the Foreign Office.  If Sir Geoffrey doesn’t return, and the file is discovered, then the consequences will be deeply serious for Burnside …..

Enough of Ghosts opens with Willie Caine visiting Tom Elliot’s parents.  Caine’s awkwardness is apparent right from the start and the torture of his visit is probably made worse by the sheer middle-class stolidity of the Elliots.  There’s a seemingly indeterminable pause, whilst Mrs Eliot makes the tea, before Caine can launch into his spiel.  He tells them that Tom didn’t suffer at all and that he died in a plane crash.

It’s a gross distortion of the truth, but as Burnside later says, what use would it have been if he’d told them Tom died in agony?  Possibly the worst part for Caine is that the Elliots aren’t angry or full of questions.  They realise that Tom was involved in security and understand there won’t be any publicity.  Mr Elliot is a retired Royal Marine, so the service instinct and loyalty remains strong in him.  For Caine it’s pretty much the last straw – he’s been a Sandbagger for six years, but now he wants out.

One of the most interesting moments in the story comes later on, when Bunside’s secretary, Diane Lawler (Elizabeth Bennett), mentions to him that Willie would probably be better off out of the Special Section.  Burnside is far from impressed (rather insultingly reminding her that one of her functions is to make the coffee!) but Diane isn’t cowed and makes sure she has her say.  As she’s been a character who’s remained in the background until now, her unexpected passion carries some weight.

ELIZABETH: Mission planning might suit him better anyway.
BURNSIDE: He’s been a Sandbagger for six years.
ELIZABETH: Yes, but he’s never really been the type.
BURNSIDE: Type?
ELIZABETH: Well, I’ve seen the psychiatric reports on Sandbaggers. That’s what no-one understands about them.
BURNSIDE: What?
ELIZABETH: People think a Sandbagger is some sort of superman, they don’t realise he has to have a basic character defect to quality.
BURNSIDE: Go on, Dr Lawler.
ELIZABETH: You know it’s true, every one of you has had it. None of you has been able to cope with affection, so you’ve all opted for respect instead.
BURNSIDE: Is that so?
ELIZABETH: You feel you can’t be loved or wanted for the person you are, so you have to create a false person – one who is more committed, more dedicated than anybody else. That’s your definition of a Sandbagger.
BURNSIDE: Interesting, but wrong.
ELIZABETH: Is it? I’ve been in the Ops Directorate for twelve years, longer than you. And I’ve seen Sandbaggers come and go.
BURNSIDE: You think Caine’s different?
ELIZABETH: He could have been. Why do you think he has such a loathing for violence? Because this isn’t his scene at all.  He’s a nice, uncomplicated human being who should have had a home and wife and kids.
BURNSIDE: You volunteering?
ELIZABETH: I might have done, before you got to him and turned him inside out.

It’s unusual to see Burnside very much on the back foot – the above extract demonstrates that for most of the exchange he was listening and offering short rejoinders, rather than dominating as he usually does.  He’s on firmer ground with Peele though, especially when he expressly ignores the order not to dispatch both Sandbaggers.

Peele argues, quite logically, that there’s little they can do – and if another mission comes up, it would be foolish to have both of them stranded in Brussels.  Burnside agrees, but then decides to take the opposite course anyway.  Why?  Because it’s what he feels is right or just because he knows it’ll aggravate Peele?

As for Wellingham, he appears to be held by a group of German terrorists and the Sandbaggers are later joined by a group of elite German counter-intelligence officers who have located the group’s hideout.  Nothing is quite what it seems though – although Wellingham is later released unharmed.

The plot-twist is quite neat and it’s telling that Burnside doesn’t seem to be particularly angry or affronted.  Possibly this is because it’s something that he might have done himself in the past (or if not, he may try it in the future).

The successful outcome of the mission seems to have done the trick with Caine, who decides to stay – at least until Sandbagger Two (Michael Cashman) is promoted to Sandbagger One.  By Caine’s reckoning, that’ll be another six years at least.

The Sandbaggers – At All Costs

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The head of the Bulgarian Secret Service makes contact with MI6 and offers them a list of his agents.  If genuine, this would be an incredible intelligence coup – but why would he betray his own people?  Burnside’s initial thoughts are that it’s a setup (this is strengthened when one of the Sandbaggers is requested to make the rendezvous).  Do the Bulgarians plan to lift the Sandbagger and exchange him for a prisoner held by the British?

It’s not surprising that Peele, C and the Director of Intelligence, Edward Tyler (Peter Laird), are all keen.  Burnside remains cautious though, as the last thing he wants to do is to lose another Sandbagger – especially as it’s exactly a year since he ordered the death of the previous Sandbagger Two, Laura Dickens.

At All Costs is a seriously impressive series opener which continues the excellent run of episodes from the first series.  The anniversary of Laura’s death is touched upon briefly by Willie Caine and Jeff Ross – we see both of them ask Burnside how he’s feeling.  Characteristically, he tells them he’s not brooding on the past, but the prospect of another Sandbagger’s life hanging in the balance is the ultimate cruel irony on this particular day.

Series one of The Sandbaggers should have provided ample evidence that this was never a series that took the easy way out or felt obliged to offer happy endings.  A more conventional show would have seen the unfortunate Sandbagger Two, Tom Elliot (David Bearnes), rescued from Sofia (after the hand-over is blown) but the experienced viewer would by now expect a darker outcome.

After killing several Sandbaggers in series one, would they really have the nerve to kill another right at the start of the second series?  For Burnside, a man already haunted by the ghosts of the past, it would be one more crushing blow, especially when he was so dubious about the mission to begin with.

D. Int and Peele didn’t share his qualms about sending Elliot though – if the material is genuine, then the risk would be worth it.  Peele even mentions to Burnside that whilst he understands that Sandbagger Two is taking a risk, surely that’s what the Special Section is for?  C takes a similar view, but he also adds another complication by revealing to Burnside that Whitehall plan to reduce the Special Section from three officers to two.  Burnside is incensed and demands to know if C will fight on their behalf – he says he will, but the best way to maintain the current number of Sandbaggers is by demonstrating that they provide a worthwhile service.  As C says, if Burnside continues to wrap them up in cotton wool it makes Whitehall’s plans all the easier to carry out.

Confrontations between Burnside and Peele are always worth watching.  Early in the episode, Burnside tells him that if he’s not happy then he’ll abort the mission.  Peele counters that he doesn’t have the authority.  No, Burnside agrees, but he does have the means.  The contrast between the two – Burnside (a man totally obsessed by his work, with seemingly no other life) and Peele (a fussy, by-the-book character, grumbling because he wants to leave for a game of bridge) – is never more apparent than here.

But just when you think you’ve got a handle on the characters, they can still surprise you.  After the meeting is blown, Tom Elliot is shot (although he manages to get away).  Burnside wants to go to Bulgaria, along with Willie Caine and Jeff Ross, to get him out.  Wellingham and C are dubious – Burnside is a desk man, not operations (and the intelligence he holds in his head is substantial.  If he’s captured and interrogated, it would be a disaster).  Everything we’ve seen so far suggests that Peele would support Wellingham and C – but instead he agrees with Burnside’s request to go.

Once again, we see the Yorkshire environs doubling for a foreign country (in this case, Bulgaria).  It’s suitably bleak and the grimy 16mm film makes it seem even more so.  The scenes of a badly injured Tom Elliot, hiding in a very grotty room, simply adds to this bleakness.

Willie tracks Tom down and finds him in a bad way – a bullet has grazed his spine and left him paralyzed.  Burnside knows there’s nothing else to be done – Tom has to be put down and Burnside elects to do the job himself.  He’s spared that task at least, since Tom’s already dead when he gets there (plus he manages to extract the intelligence from his lifeless body), but that’s a very small consolation.

After ending the first series on such a dramatic note, you could be forgiven for thinking there would be some respite at the start of series two.  At All Costs offers us no such pause for breath though and it’s hard to imagine a more uncompromising series opener.

The Sandbaggers – Special Relationship

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An East German spy called Mittag (Brian Ashley) has obtained aerial photographs of a new missile complex which is probably targeting R.A.F. bases in West Germany.  This information is vital, but there’s a problem – Mittag is convinced he’s under observation, so he won’t travel over to the West.  Instead, he wants somebody to collect the pictures in person.

The question is, who?  There seems to be a shortage of possibilities, as whoever goes has to be Berlin-orientated (i.e. able to pass themselves off as an East Berliner).  Laura has all the qualifications, but Burnside is very reluctant to consider her.  Is it because of their growing relationship or is there another reason?

Willie offers to go – although Burnside points out how foolish that would be, since he doesn’t speak German.  He breezily says he’ll go over the Wall, and it’s clear that he’s made the offer to save Burnside from having to send Laura.  Eventually, Burnside decides that Laura is the right person for the job, and she’s sent in.  But the nightmare happens and she’s caught by the authorities, which leaves Burnside with a limited number of options, all of them bad.

Special Relationship is the ultimate example of how compartmentalised Neil Burnside is.  There’s no doubt that he’s in love with Laura (he’s seen smiling several times in the early part of the episode, which is far from normal behavour) and after she’s detained he starts to make frantic attempts to secure her release.  Given their relationship this is understandable, but there’s another reason.  Before she was sent to East Berlin, Laura was briefed on the Hungarian networks – and if this information is extracted from her it could mean the deaths of dozens of people.  Was this the real reason why Burnside was reluctant to send Laura in?  As so often, there’s no “right” answer – maybe it’s a combination of this and his genuine feelings for her.

Time’s not on his side – within forty eight hours she’ll have told them everything she knows, so she has to be recovered before then.  A swop would seem to be the best option, but there’s nobody currently held by the British who fit the bill.  The French have somebody though, but will they agree to hand him over?  They do, but the price is incredibly high – they want access to the information supplied to the British by the Americans (via the special relationship).  They also want a signed agreement from “C” and Sir Geoffrey Wellingham confirming this.

If the Americans found out that their information was being passed over to the French it would be the end of the special relationship, but Burnside has no other options.  He speaks to “C” first.  “C” says that if they sign it, both he and Sir Geoffrey will be finished, politically.  Burnside agrees, but tells him that his career is drawing to a close anyway.  “C” concurs but ruefully muses that “I had hoped not to end mine in disgrace.”  He reluctantly signs.

Sir Geoffrey is harder to convince.  He’s still smarting over Burnside’s treatment of his daughter and even when Burnside tells him that he’s in love with Laura, Sir Geoffrey doesn’t believe him.  “I think you’re lying Neil.  The way you always lied, cheated, double-dealt to get your own way.”  Burnside makes no defence of his past, but tells him he’s not lying this time.  Sir Geoffrey signs as well.

So this is a three-cornered problem.  Protect the Hungarian networks, maintain the special relationship and save Laura Dickens’ life.  Two out of the three can be done, but not all.  By this point in the story it should already be clear which will have to be sacrificed.

Laura is shot and killed at the rendezvous point before she’s exchanged for the Russian prisoner.  Her death has saved the Hungarian networks and since the exchange didn’t go ahead it allows Burnside to declare the document drafted to the French null and void.  So it’s Laura who was expendable, killed on Burnside’s command.  It’s a powerful moment, with her dead body lying almost at Burnside’s feet.  The split-second before she was shot we see her smile at him, which just twists the knife a little more.

Caine lashes out at Burnside.  This event signals a change in their relationship which will be reflected in the following two series.

CAINE: You bastard! Why?
BURNSIDE: You know why. I had to get Laura away from them, into the open to save the Hungarians. To do that I had to set up the swap with …
CAINE: But why the hell didn’t you swap?
BURNSIDE: I couldn’t. The only way I could convince the Americans was by guaranteeing that there would be no swap. Look, you must see it Willie.

It’s another jarring move by Ian Mackintosh.  Having killed off two Sandbaggers in Is Your Journey Really Necessary? it didn’t seem likely that another death would happen so soon.  Everything looked to be set up to develop Laura’s character further, as she’d only featured in four episodes and there was still considerable scope for broadening her relationship with Burnside.  Her sudden, brutal death brings this to an end – and it’s also an incredibly powerful way to bring the first series of The Sandbaggers to a close.