Submarine crime drama Vigil – now compulsive TV viewing on Sunday evenings – has a few notable links with Merseyside.
The leading role of Coxswain Elliot Glover is played by Liverpool actor Shaun Evans while the history of fictional nuclear sub HMS Vigil echoes the city’s own maritime heritage.
The submarines Conqueror, Revenge and Renown were all built at Cammell Laird, as well as a life-size replica of probably the most famous submersible of them all – the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine!
Vigil’s plot revolves around the suspicious death of crewman Craig Burke, played by Line of Duty actor Martin Compston.
As the fatality occurred while Vigil was in British waters, Detective Chief Inspector Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) is winched down to the sub by helicopter to investigate.
Silva’s 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.
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!
The first episode of Vigil attracted no less than 10.2 million viewers over seven days, making it the BBC’s most watched new drama of the year.
Evans, sporting a beard, was almost unrecognisable from his clean-cut days as the young detective Morse in the critically acclaimed ITV crime drama Endeavour.
A former pupil of St Edward’s College in West Derby, Evans moved to London at the age of 18 to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
He played French teacher John Paul Keating in the Channel 4 comedy-drama series Teachers and was Teddy in the movie The Boys from County Clare in 2003. It told the story of a Liverpool ceilidh band on its travels to Ireland.
Evans has also directed three episodes of the BBC medical drama Casualty as well as three episodes of Endeavour.
While the Vigil of the drama series carries Trident nuclear missiles, 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.
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.
Sister sub Revenge was commissioned at Birkenhead on 4 December 1968. After sea trials, the sub sailed to the United States to test fire a missile at the Eastern Test Range off the coast of Florida in June 1970.
Our unusual photo shows cleaners Glenys Davies and Macilyn Ellams, both from Birkenhead, giving the Revenge’s control room a spruce-up before the sub’s commissioning service. At the controls are helmsmen Brian Harper and Bob Sawdon.
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.
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.
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.
*Fascinating wartime images of Merseyside feature in Clive Hardy’s latest hardback book, The Home Front – Britain 1939-45.
It’s now on sale for £14.99 plus UK postage and packing. Just go to inostalgia.co.uk/shop to order or call the order hotline on 01928 503777. And remember – buy three books and get 25 per cent off!