Vigil creators defend air force drama after RAF veterans complain about inaccuracies

The new series of the BBC Sunday night military crime drama features the 'British Air Force' and adaptations of the RAF uniform.

Rose Leslie and Suranne Jones return as DI Kirsten Longacre and DCI Amy Silva in Vigil S2. (BBC)
Military crime drama Vigil has left some RAF veterans feeling frustrated. (BBC)

Vigil creators have defended the show against factual inaccuracies after Royal Air Force veterans shared their disapproval on social media. The second season on the BBC One Sunday night military crime drama - starring Suranne Jones and Rose Leslie - features the 'British Air Force' and has chosen to adapt the official RAF uniforms. But Vigil producers have explained the 'mistakes' have all been made on purpose, to protect RAF copyright and to prevent the fictional drama being mistaken for a documentary.

Creator Tom Edge explained that they had been advised by military experts during the making of the show and any inaccuracies had been made with purpose. Speaking at a Q&A event at the BFI in London Edge was asked about the military research and expert advice that went into the show.

He said: "On both seasons of the show we've been lucky to have really good experts, people who've done the roles and who've served, for instance, in some places in the Middle East as part of RAF joint ventures. We take that seriously. Sometimes, we get pushback, 'Oh, you've got the buttons wrong,' but we actually have to get the buttons wrong for the copyright."

Executive producer Jake Lushington added: "If you really look at the insignias, it says British Air Force, rather than Royal Air Force. Because we are a drama, we fictionalise intentionally and sometimes people think that's a mistake but we've done that so the audience can have some point of difference from a documentary. But beyond that, we try and do as much research as possible and sometimes they won't be able to tell us things but we can ask if we're right or not."

Following on from the first series in which Jones's character DCI Amy Silva in investigated a sudden death on board a Naval submarine, the new season sees her called in to an air force base following multiple unexplained deaths. The fictional drama has chosen to call the military organisation featured the British Air Force instead of the Royal Air Force.

Eliza Russell (Romola Garai) in Vigil S2. (BBC)
Acting Squadron Leader Eliza Russell, played by Romola Garai in Vigil. (BBC)

The officers in the show - including Acting Squadron Leader Eliza Russell played by Romola Garai - are dressed in the blue-grey berets worn by the RAF, but they are emblazoned with a non-descript metal badge, instead of the embroidered badge that an RAF beret would have.

Some RAF veterans found these inaccuracies frustrating and distracted while trying to watch the drama, and took to social media to voice their discontent. One former serving member of the RAF wrote on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter: "BBC on Vigil proving that they can not only get naval uniforms and rank insignia wrong in series 1 they can also get it completely wrong for the RAF in series 2 as well! Perhaps it's done on purpose to show us it's supposed to be a comedy?"

Another complained: "Two minutes in, I find myself frustrated that once again, a mainstream TV company still haven’t hired decent military advisors regarding uniform, rank & insignia. Don’t get me started on the rest.Just started watching Vigil series 2 on BBCiPlayer"

One RAF veteran fumed: "I’m guessing that the MOD / Royal Air Force told the team behind Vigil to take a hike when asked to fact check the dismal story line as it’s clearly way off the mark - unless Royal has been dropped from our Air Force and military discipline has been dispensed with."

And ex-forces member one pointed out: "Great episode- BUT the blue jackets the Air Force Officers wore are NEVER, EVER WORN LIKE THAT! My CO used to shout- “It’s not a cardigan- zip it up or take it off!” And the Flying Officer complaining about the RPAS pilot beaten up by MPs? Er- that’s what they do!"

One veteran suggested the inaccuracies are intentional as the show is fiction. They posted: "They do it deliberately, they pretend to be the RAF whilst simultaneously being the ‘British Air Force’. They did it with the RN uniforms in series 1 if you remember? It’s a weird fictional construct where it’s set in a country that doesn’t exist but looks like the UK. Vigil"

Marcus Grainger (Dougray Scott) in Vigil S2. (BBC)
British Air Force officers in uniform in Vigil season 2. (BBC)

Other viewers were more positive about the new series, praising the thriller for being "gripping." But others also spotted some of the military inaccuracies. One tweeted: "I see Vigil has skimped on the uniform budget. 3 minutes in and I’m having OCD fits of the “wing commander’s” decided non-officer beret badge."

Another said: "Just watched the first few episodes of #Vigil. Seems like a good story but can't concentrate because the berets, cap badges, rank slides, uniform & basically everything about the "British" Air Force is stressing me out. bbcberetfail"

And one pointed out: "Vigil oh dear! Watched a few minutes; Drones with fixed position cameras, machine-gun drone with no source of ammo, Command aware of bandit drones but do not take cover / protect their high-status visitor, Air Marshal left like a fish out of water, mouth open & staring. Bye!"

And some critics have lamented the show's change of pace and suggested it has "lost its way" in its second season.

Suranne Jones in Vigil season one.
Vigil season one was set on board a naval submarine. (BBC)

The first series of Vigil came under fire from a Scottish politician for its misrepresentation of Scottish law. In season one of the drama it was suggested the sudden death would be investigated by a coroner, but Scotland does not have coroners courts. Sudden deaths in Scotland would fall under a fatal accident investigation (FAI) at the Crown Court.

Vigil season two continues airing on BBC One with its second episode at 9pm on Monday, 11 December. Episodes 4 to 6 will air from 17 to 19 December.

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Watch the trailer for Vigil season 2: