TENKO (1981)

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(The following is from BBC "in-house" promotion created for the launch of the first ten 52-minute episodes:)

Please don't contact me about tracking down the videos; I have no idea where to get them.

Series Created by Lavinia Warner

A Colour Production of Series/Serials Department for BBC 1

Writers Paul Wheeler, Jill Hyem, Anne Valery
Producer Ken Riddington
Directors Pennant Roberts, David Askey
Script EditorEvgeny Gridneff

This is a true story, but not true to anyone specifically or any one camp in particular. The first two episodes show the lives of the British and Colonial Whites in Singapore prior to its fall, and the frightening indifference of the British military chiefs to the pending Japanese invasion. The next eight episodes deal with life and conditions in a Japanese prison camp for women.

There were a lot of camps, on the mainland and on various islands. Some were similar to our camp, others were totally dissimilar. Each camp had its own particular life-style, depending on many different factors, the location of its camp, its Commandant, number of internees, etc.

Most camps had internal friction for one reason or another. In this one there was a lot of antagonism between the Dutch and the English, mainly because the Dutch were allowed to bring in many more possessions than the English.

It is not a swash-bucking epic filled with gratuitous violence, it just sets out to explore what happens (and indeed happened) when a lot of women have their freedom and individuality suddenly snatched from them and are thrust together in appalling conditions.

"Tenko" is the Japanese word for Roll Cal where prisoners were counted and which included the obligatory "bow" to the Japanese masters.

Episodes 1 and 2 take place in Singapore before its fall and we see some of our characters in their lives before prison camp, some existences were sybaritic and often boring, some were just boring, some were ordinary, but all were immeasurably preferable to what awaited them.

The next 8 episodes take place in a fictitious prison camp.

The exterior scenes in the first 2 episodes were shot in Singapore. The exterior scenes of the prison camp, specially designed and built, were shot in England.

The Cast

Marion Jefferson played by Ann Bell

Wife of Col. Jefferson, resident in Singapore. One of the countless "Army Wives". She is bored with an existence where, as she says, her only function is "to make the numbers even at dinner."

Rose Millar played by Stephanie Beacham

British, but a resident of Singapore. A lady who is used to getting her own way and does not take kindly to the Japanese upsetting her high standard of living.

Sister Ulrica played by Patricia Lawrence

Dutch Consultor to the St. Theresa Mission. A formidable lady, feared and respected by most.

Sylvia Ashburton played by Renee Asherson

A prime example of British "Raj". Elderly, dictatorial, she has great difficulty in seeing anyone as her master, let alone the Japanese.

Beatrice Mason played by Stephanie Cole

A doctor and a martinet. An enigmatic woman respected for her capabilities, she would not win any prizes for being the most popular girl in the class.

Blanche Simmons played by Louise Jameson

A Londoner, who gives the impression of being hard and uncaring. Very shrewd and determined.

Christina Campbell played by Emily Bolton

A Eurasian , living in Singapore. Highly intelligent, and although naturally timid, gradually achieves self-confidence in the camp.

Nellie Keene played by Jeananne Crowley

A nurse who worked with Dr. Mason in Singapore.

Kate Norris played by Claire Oberman

Another nurse, friend of Nellie Keene.

Dorothy Bennett played by Veronica Roberts

A young mother who, when tragedy strikes, becomes a pain to everyone.

Sally Markham played by Joanna Hole

A sweet vulnerable, typically English girl.

Judith Bowen played by Ann Queensberry

A mother who had a daughter very late in life. A sad, strained and drained woman.

Debbie Bowen played by Karin Foley

Her young daughter, aged about 14.

Mrs. Van Meyer played by Elizabeth Chambers

Dutch - nouveau-riche - full of her own importance.

Capt. Yamauchi played by Burt Kwouk

Prison camp Commandant.

The Performers

Ann Bell - an actress who has managed to divide her time fairly equally between TV, films and stage. Credits include THE PHILANDERER at the National Theatre and, for TV, THE LOST BOYS trilogy about J.M. BARRIE and SHOESTRING.

Patricia Lawrence - was with The National Theatre in FIVE FINGER EXERCISE - one of her many stage appearances - and on TV in ANNA KARENINA, TELFORD'S CHANGE and TO SERVE THEM ALL MY DAYS.

Renee Asherson - a respected actress of many years standing in theatre, films and TV. TV appearances include CLAYHANGER, DISRAELI, GOODBYE DARLING and FLESH AND BLOOD.

Stephanie Beacham - many films including co-starring with Ava Gardner in TAM LIN, she was Marlon Brando's co-star in THE NIGHTCOMERS. Varied TV performances and at the Piccadilly Theatre in CAN YOU HEAR ME AT THE BACK? with Peter Barkworth.

Stephanie Cole - stage appearance in the hit ROSE at the Duke of York Theatre and on TV in GOING GENTLY opposite Norman Wisdom, and WAITING FOR GOD with Graham Crowden.

Louise Jameson - Theatre at Bristol Old Vic, Oxford and Cambridge; many TV credits including two seasons playing Leela in DOCTOR WHO.

Emily Bolton - numerous TV shows including GANGSTERS, THE REGIMENT, ANNA KARENINA, she also appeared opposite Roger Moore in the James Bond film MOONRAKER.

Jeanneanne Crowley - National Theatre for 3 years and her TV credits include leading parts in BALCOMBE ST. SEIGE, THE RACING GAME, THE ONEIDIN LINE and SEEN.

Claire Oberman - from Australia - played a starring part in GOODBYE PORK PIE.

Veronica Roberts - Laura in THE GLASS MENAGERIE and THE STRONGEST MEN IN THE WORLD at the Roundhouse. TV includes VILLAGE HALL, SAM and DEVENISH.

Joanna Hole - ANNIE at Victoria Place. TV appearances include MIXED BLESSINGS and AWAY FROM IT ALL.


Elizabeth Chambers - her stage and TV career has been varied, including WE THE ACCUSED and THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS for TV. Married to TENKO producer Ken Riddington

Burt Kwouk - has made countless films and has many TV credits, including THE LAST REMAKE OF BEAU GESTE, ROLLERBALL with James Caan, MINDER, DOCTOR WHO and THE PINK PANTHER series.

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