Special Operations doesn't mean going in with all guns blazing. It means special planning, special care, fully briefed agents in possession of all possible alternatives. If you want James Bond, go to your library. But if you want a successful operation, sit at your desk and think, and then think again. Our battles aren't fought at the end of a parachute. They're won and lost in drab, dreary corridors in Westminster, and hopefully in Oslo.
British spy series that ran three series on ITV, from 1978 to 1980. Neil Burnside is the Director of the Operations division of the Secret Intelligence Service (aka MI6) during the Cold War. Under his supervision is the Special Section, three agents nicknamed "Sandbaggers", led by Willie Caine.Once described as "men in cheap suits dying badly in Prague," it clearly falls on the cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, and is about as far from James Bond as you can get (which the characters themselves are apt to point out.) Most of the plots revolve around Burnside wrestling with bureaucracy within and without, whether it's his superiors at SIS, his domestic counterparts at MI-5, or the British government.
Author Existence Failure - Series creator and head writer Ian Mackintosh vanished in a small airplane flight near Alaska, while series three was being shot. Three poorly regarded episodes were written to fill out the series, but the producers decided to end the show rather than turn it into a Franchise Zombie.
Bottle Episode: SIS office politics play a huge role in the show, and occasionally the entire episode takes place in that environment (though likely including a few London exteriors.)
CIA Evil, FBI Good: Inverted. The CIA are generally portrayed as helpful, and in particular Burnside has a very close working relationship with the CIA's London section chief, Jeff Ross. The show has a Conspiracy Theorist view of American domestic politics that looks peculiar to American eyes, and the FBI is part of it. According to Ross, the FBI was behind the Kennedy and King assassinations.
Cut Short - Mackintosh's disappearance ended the series on a cliffhanger, with Willie Caine mortally wounded. Rumors suggest Caine would have returned as a wheelchair-bound D. Ops in Series Four.
Deadpan Snarker - Just about everyone gets a turn, but particularly Burnside, his secretary and Sandbagger One, Willie Caine.
He Who Must Not Be Seen - Burnside's ex-wife and Wellingham's daughter, Belinda. Burnside's relationship with her (and by extension, Wellingham) is a plot point in several episodes, but we never see her except in photographs.
Incredibly Obvious Tail - Played straight (but justified) in the first ten minutes of the series: Burnside and Caine easily spot tails on their way to the office, but it turns out they're being followed by green Norweigan agents on a training exercise.
Inherent in the System - Most of the intelligence community is bent towards maintaining the status quo as a result of the governments and bureaucracies each agency serves.
Insufferable Genius - Burnside is a draconian boss, but superhumanly dedicated to his job and the safety of his agents. Likewise, he regularly lies to his superiors and schemes under their noses, but he's just that good at deception, and it usually serves the interest of the Service.
The Only One - Diplomacy won't work. The CIA can't get an agent there in time. The Prime Minister refuses to authorize military action. Any number of elements force the Sandbaggers into the line of fire.
Out-Gambitted - Wellingham thoroughly outmaneuvers Burnside in the season 2 finale.
Overt Rendezvous - Burnside and Jeff Ross tend to meet while strolling through the park.
Pointy-Haired Boss - Deputy Chief Peele, who is more of a career man than an intelligence officer, although he does show glimpses of competence once or twice. The Prime Minister and the rest of the government usually are treated as Pointy Haired Bosses, as well.
Revolvers Are Just Better: In "A Feasible Solution", Willie Caine is armed for the first time in the series. While he states that he Doesn't Like Guns, he prefers to use a revolver. We later see that Mike Wallace also prefers them.
Sadistic Choice: In "Special Relationship", a mission goes wrong and Laura Dickens is captured in East Germany. If left in jail, she'll break under interrogation and destroy several operations. Burnside can only get her released by getting the French to release one of their prisoners, in exchange for unpermitted access to American intelligence information. So, Burnside can leave his girlfriend in prison, or doom the Special Relationship with the CIA. This leads Burnside to Take a Third Option (see below).
The Spymaster - Burnside, obviously. Also, the chief of the CIA station in London, Burnside's opposite number at MI-5, and several foreign intelligence chiefs. Particularly amusing is the struggling head of the fledgling Norweigan intelligence service:
"What do they have, two men and a reindeer?"
"Something like that."
Spy Speak - Played straight, but usually not overdone. A typical example uses the "Metaphor" approach, with Burnside in the role of a manager talking to two salesmen in the field.
Take a Third Option: Burnside is handed a Sadistic Choice in "Special Relationship": leave Laura Dickens imprisoned by the East Germans, who will break her in interrogation, or buy her freedom through a deal with the French, which will destroy the Special Relationship with the CIA. Burnside comes up with a nasty alternative: he deals with the French for Laura's release via a prisoner exchange, then has her killed during the exchange so he doesn't have to follow through on his end of the bargain.
The Teetotaler - Burnside doesn't drink alcohol. But he drinks Coke by the gallon.
What The Hell, Hero? - Burnside commits some truly despicable acts, including threatening to blackmail a Sandbagger's girlfriend which drives her to suicide and ordering the assasination of one of his own agents, who is also his lover. Willie Caine's otherwise rock-solid loyalty is severely shaken by the latter, although his dedication to the job brings him back.