Intrigue, murder and conspiracy aboard a nuclear submarine are the vital ingredients of Vigil, featuring Middleton actress Suranne Jones, on Sunday evenings.

The first episode of the naval whodunit attracted no less than 10.2 million viewers over seven days, making it the BBC’s most watched new drama of the year.

Vigil’s plot revolves around the suspicious death of crewman Craig Burke, played by Line of Duty actor Martin Compston.

Crowds cheer the launch of HMS Conqueror, August 1969

Crowds cheer the launch of HMS Conqueror, August 1969

As the fatality occurred while Vigil was in British waters, Detective Chief Inspector Amy Silva (Jones) is winched down to the sub by helicopter to investigate.

Her dogged questioning soon brings the police into conflict with the Navy and British security services. A conspiracy that threatens Britain’s nuclear deterrent slowly starts to emerge.

While the fictional HMS Vigil is a Trident nuclear submarine, Manchester welcomed four much smaller subs in November 1969.

HMS Conqueror returns to Faslane after sinking the Belgrano, July 1982

HMS Conqueror returns to Faslane after sinking the Belgrano, July 1982

They were the Oberon-class HMS Otter and its sister boats Olympus, Onyx and Andrew. The subs were on an official visit to Manchester when a minor mishap occurred.

Although the 295ft long craft were built for surveillance during the Cold War, Otter clearly didn’t see the Manchester ferry coming – and a minor collision ensued!

The sub and its crew of 69 then enjoyed a four-day stop-over while repairs took place. Our photo shows Lieutenant Commander Ian MacDougall coming ashore after the incident.

Shaun Evans looking dapper in Endeavour, August 2019

Shaun Evans looking dapper in Endeavour, August 2019

Well-known for playing Karen McDonald in Coronation Street and Gemma Foster in Doctor Foster, Suranne Jones said she found herself battered and bruised from filming in seriously confined spaces for Vigil.

But she loved the challenge of being part of such a well-crafted drama which adds more layers each week as the mystery of Burke’s death gradually unfolds.

Jones’ co-star on HMS Vigil is Liverpool actor Shaun Evans who plays Coxswain Elliot Grover. Sporting a full beard, he’s almost unrecognisable from his clean-cut days as the young detective Morse in the ITV crime drama Endeavour.

Vigil star Suranne Jones, May 2019

Vigil star Suranne Jones, May 2019

There is clearly more to Evans’ character than meets the eye, however helpful he appears to be to DCI Silva. Complex relationships between crew members look set to be revealed!

Collisions with ferry boats aside, the North West has a proud heritage of submarine building.

The nuclear submarines Conqueror, Revenge and Renown were all launched on the Mersey by Cammell Laird, as well as a life-size replica of probably the most famous submersible of them all – the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine!

Suranne Jones played machinist Karen McDonald in Coronation Street, March 2001

Suranne Jones played machinist Karen McDonald in Coronation Street, March 2001

The Vigil of the drama series carries Trident nuclear missiles, but the Cammell Laird subs HMS Revenge and HMS Renown were armed with its predecessor, Polaris.

The awesome 425ft long Resolution-class vessels weighed 8,400 tons submerged and had an unlimited range. Each carried a complement of 16 Polaris missiles in two rows of eight.

Launched at Birkenhead on 25 February 1967, Renown’s 27 years of service were beset with problems.

Commanding officer of HMS Otter Ian MacDougall, November 1969

Commanding officer of HMS Otter Ian MacDougall, November 1969

The submarine was involved in collisions with other vessels, leaked radiation from her nuclear reactor and underwent a £155 million refit which took five years instead of two.

HMS Conqueror, built by Cammell Laird at a cost of £30 million and launched at Birkenhead in 1969, was an out-and-out nuclear predator.

The combat role of the 285ft sub was unequivocal – hunt down and destroy Soviet subs.

Floating the Yellow Submarine down the Mersey, February 1984

Floating the Yellow Submarine down the Mersey, February 1984

But her first – and only – taste of action was far removed from the Cold War. Conqueror torpedoed and sunk the Argentinian armoured cruiser General Belgrano in May 1982 during the Falklands conflict.

The stricken ship, hit by two Mark 8 torpedoes, went down rapidly with the loss of 323 men.

A Jolly Roger flanked by torpedoes – customary practice for a Royal Navy submarine involved in action – was flown by Conqueror on her return to Faslane.

HMS Onyx passes Barton Bridge on the Manchester Ship Canal, November 1969

HMS Onyx passes Barton Bridge on the Manchester Ship Canal, November 1969

Perhaps the most unusual vessel to come out of the Cammell Laird shipyards was the creation of 80 apprentices in 1984.

It was an exact replica of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine – immortalised in song and film in 1968.

The vivid yellow craft was commissioned for the Beatles’ Maze at Liverpool’s International Garden Festival, opened by the Queen in May 1984.

Built of steel and 51 feet long, the sub was transported on the surface of the Mersey – not under it – to the festival site. After being fully renovated, it was moved to John Lennon Airport in 2005.

The tune Yellow Submarine was written as a nonsense song for children in 1966. It stayed at Number One in the charts for four weeks.

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