The team that built HMS Vigil for a new BBC thriller was inspired by The Hunt For Red October

Behind the scenes secrets of Suranne’s nuclear submarine: The team that built HMS Vigil for a new BBC thriller was inspired by The Hunt For Red October

  • The BBC set recreates the interior of a 490ft Vanguard-class Trident submarine
  • Designer Tom Sayer said his team didn’t have access to drawings or photos
  • Six-Part Series Follows Investigation into Dead Crew Member in HMS Vigil
  • Series has a great cast including Suranne Jones and Martin Compston


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It’s the BBC’s latest flagship thriller from the award-winning team behind Line Of Duty and The Bodyguard – a thrilling underwater drama aboard HMS Vigil, a fictional Trident nuclear submarine.

But despite a stellar cast that includes Martin Compston and Suranne Jones, the star is the set, which mimics the interior of a four-foot ship — a mystery in itself as such details are classified as top secrets by the Royal Navy.

Designer Tom Sayer detailed the challenges of designing a replica of a 16,000-ton Vanguard-class Trident sub without access to drawings or photos.

He says his team was forced to come up with ideas by watching Hollywood thrillers like Crimson Tide and Sean Connery’s 1990 classic, The Hunt For Red October.

“It was very difficult to find out details,” he said.

Designer Tom Sayer detailed the challenges of designing a replica of a 16,000-ton Vanguard-class Trident sub without access to drawings or photos (Pictured: Still from the BBC series)

Designer Tom Sayer detailed the challenges of designing a replica of a 16,000-ton Vanguard-class Trident sub without access to drawings or photos (Pictured: Still from the BBC series)

“There are clearly obscure areas in our knowledge of the submarine’s interior, but no one was willing to tell us or no one knew.

‘What does the nuclear reactor that powers the engine look like? Nobody knows. We had to take our cues from Hollywood and people who had done it before.

“We had a few submariners who were consultants on the show — we showed them sketches of our layout and asked questions like, “Is this where the missile deck is in relation to the control room?” and they said yes or no.

‘We’ve built miles of corridors – it just goes on and on.’

The six-part series tells the story of a police investigation into the death of a crew member on HMS Vigil.

Suranne Jones stars as DCI Amy Silver, who has to board, while Martin Compston, who played Steve Arnott in Line Of Duty, is cast as submarine Craig Burke.

The three sets that mimicked the submarine’s interior were built at the BBC’s studios in Dumbarton, west of Glasgow, and were up to 160 feet long.

“I’d say we used nearly a mile of pipe of varying diameters and enough gray paint to fill a swimming pool,” Sayer added.

Suranne Jones stars as DCI Amy Silver (pictured), who must board, while Martin Compston, who played Steve Arnott in Line Of Duty, is cast as submarine Craig Burke

Suranne Jones stars as DCI Amy Silver (pictured), who must board, while Martin Compston, who played Steve Arnott in Line Of Duty, is cast as submarine Craig Burke

Suranne Jones stars as DCI Amy Silver (pictured), who must board, while Martin Compston, who played Steve Arnott in Line Of Duty, is cast as submarine Craig Burke

‘We also used 600 meters of aluminum strip, 50 meters of ladders and stairs and 100 square meters of metal slatted floors.’

Jones said, “The set just blew me away. The size of the submarines in real life is extraordinary – they are four floors, with a bomb store and a missile room. Filming on the set was claustrophobic.

“I mean, the beds alone… there’s a scene where Amy tries to get into her bunk. I’m quite tall and the director said, “Can you get there more gracefully?” Because I couldn’t, they’re so small.’

Without giving anything away, Sayer has also admitted that he designed part of the set to flood.

“It’s very complicated to fill part of a set and have people scurrying around in it.”

Vigil is on BBC1 tonight and tomorrow at 9pm and continues every Sunday night.

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