The series dealt with the experiences of British, Australian and Dutch women who were captured after the Fall of Singapore in February 1942, after the Japanese invasion, and held in a fictional Japanese internment camp on a Japanese-occupied island between Singapore and Australia. Having been separated from their husbands, herded into makeshift holding camps and largely forgotten by the British War Office, the women have to learn to cope with appalling living conditions, malnutrition, disease, violence and death.
Tenko was created by Lavinia Warner after she had conducted research into the internment of nursing corps officer Margot Turner(1910–1993) for an edition of This Is Your Life and was convinced of the dramatic potential of the stories of women prisoners of the Japanese. Aside from the first two episodes, set in Singapore, which were written by Paul Wheeler, the series was written by Jill Hyem and Anne Valery. War hero and prisoner of war Dr Margaret Thomson was consulted about the series but she did not like to talk about her experiences and never watched the programmes.
Owing to high production costs, only the first two episodes of the first series were filmed on location in Singapore, together with the post series reunion extended episode. For the majority of series 1 and 2, set in the camp, the programme was filmed in a specially constructed set in Dorset. Hankley Common was also used.
The series takes its name from the Japanese word “tenko” (点呼/てんこ) which means “roll-call”. POWs and internees in Japanese-run camps had regular roll-calls, where they had to line up and number off or were counted in Japanese.
A total of thirty episodes were produced over three series between 1981 and 1984, followed by a one-off special (which was twice the length of the other episodes), Tenko Reunion, in 1985. Only Ann Bell, Stephanie Cole and Claire Oberman appeared in all thirty episodes plus the reunion.
Series 1 (1981)
Ten fifty-minute episodes broadcast between 22 October-24 December 1981.
The first series depicts the fall of Singapore to the invading Japanese forces in 1942, and the abortive evacuation of civilians from the city. A group of British and Dutch women find themselves forced to cope with captivity in a Japanese internment camp. They also must find a way to live together as a community, breaking down the barriers of class and race between them, if they are to survive.
Series Two (1982)
Ten fifty-minute episodes broadcast between 21 October-23 December 1982.
The second series sees the women being marched through the jungle to a new camp, an old mission school. They arrive on New Year’s Day 1943, and instantly find the new regime a major culture shock after their first year in captivity. As new friends – and enemies – are made, the women realise that they must make the adjustment to internment all over again.
Series Three (1984)
Ten fifty-minute episodes broadcast between 7 October-16 December 1984.
The third series is set during 1945. The Second World War is over – the Japanese have surrendered. The survivors of the camps are liberated by Allied troops and travel to Singapore. Billeted at Raffles, the women are free. However, peacetime only brings further dilemmas for the women as they struggle to forge new futures in an uncertain new world.
Tenko Reunion (1985)
A double-length special was broadcast on 26 December 1985.
Set in 1950, the women reunite in Singapore five years after their liberation from the camp.
|Dr. Beatrice Mason
|Mrs. Domenica Van Meyer
|Colonel Clifford Jefferson
|Lady Jocelyn ‘Joss’ Holbrook
|Dr. Natalie Trier
|Swee Hoe Lim