Between 1981 and 1985, 15 million viewers regularly tuned in to watch one of the most popular drama series of the ’80s, the gripping story of women prisoners of the Japanese: Tenko. The intervening years have done little to dim the memory of this series in the public consciousness and despite being made 30 years ago its still has the power to win new devotees via satellite broadcasts and DVDs.
Created by Lavinia Warner, Tenko told the forgotten real-life story of the women prisoners of the Japanese who for three-and-a-half years suffered severe privations in barely habitable Sumatran camps. Written by Jill Hyem, Anne Valery and Paul Wheeler, the series followed the experiences of one particular group of women from the Fall of Singapore in February 1942 and their subsequent internment, through to their liberation in September 1945 and their ensuing attempts to rebuild their shattered lives. A feature-length reunion special set in 1950, rounded off the series.
This groundbreaking series featured a largely ensemble female cast and a whole raft of memorable characters including Ann Bell as reluctant leader Marion Jefferson, Stephanie Beacham as spoilt Rose Millar, Stephanie Cole as the formidable Dr Beatrice Mason, Louise Jameson as mouthy cockney Blanche Simmons, Jean Anderson as the trouble-making aristocrat Joss Holbrook, Patricia Lawrence as the formidable Sister Ulrica, Elizabeth Chambers as the infuriating Mrs Van Meyer and Veronica Roberts as the disaffected Dorothy Bennett. Burt Kwouk was Major Yamauchi.
A comprehensive new book entitled Remembering Tenko which tells the story of how Tenko came to be made, reviews all the episodes, and incorporates extensive contributions from the series’ cast and crew, as well as many photographs, is available from Amazon.
This is the best series that has ever been on TV
Thank you for doing this blog on the series. I was fortunate enough to see it two times before it disappeared from Canadian and US TV. It is not available here (Canada) on DVD, which is a real shame.
just the rerun again on drama channel,watched it many times since it was first broadcast ..I seem to find that when todays generation talk of ww2 they forget the thousands in the far east who were exiled as prisoners of war, the forgotten army, and the suffering of our now commonwealth men,women and children…Tenko tells the story as it was i think..and then the theres the hard part of freedom…what now, what do i do, where next..its a docudrama that needs to be shown as part of school ciricullae…its a drama that is testament to the people portrayed, the acting troupe who made it realistic in its drama and to the research done…thank you for allowing me the priviliage to view this programme
Tenko is my favourite programme ever…I was aged 12-16 when it was originally on TV and thought it was great then. Never forgot it and then when released originally on VHS was thrilled. Was apprehensive if it would be one of those programmes which you remembered fondly but then when re-watched wondered what you ever saw in it. But turned out to be every bit as good as when first watched. I have since watched it so many times I literally couldn’t tell you the exact number…i’ve even had to buy another dvd box set as I think i wore out the first. Love the story, acting and characters. It can make me cry and smile at the same time. It made me want to read more around the actual internees and as a result I have read several books, my favourite being ‘Women Beyond the Wire’ plus I have sought out other films, etc based on women internees (such as Paradise Road, Three Came Home and a great documentary called Song for Survival which looked at the choir some of the internees created). I admire these women immensely for what they endured and I thank Tenko for making me, as a young girl aware of an important but sadly often forgotten part of history.
Hi – I’ve just watched an episode on the Drama channel and thought I’d go and see if there was anything about this programme on the net. I, too, watched Tenko when I was about 13 or 14 and it was a revelation. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it must have been groundbreaking to have a series which was all about women. I was hooked when I was young – it was probably the first series I watched with truly adult themes – and I intend to watch them all again.
30 + years after watching Tenko i have rediscovered it again c/o DVD and its even better than I remembered
A talented cast, script, characters to care about – great drama and it has Stephanie Cole too, what more could you ask for!
A+++ Just bought the book too, what a great read and so full of info
An excellent series, among the best created during the Golden age of TV. Louise Jameson played my favorite character. A strong cast, played to perfection.
Love the site, what a find! I remember as a sulky teenager, missing Tenko until about series 2 but then being totally gripped by it. Years later it was repeated in the UK when I watched it all in it’s entirety. Only the first series was available on VHS video but a few years later it came out on DVD series by series (SLOWLY) since then I must have seen all the episodes about a dozen times. It never gets old. Brilliantly written and performed and timeless. Much better than anything being made these days, by far.
My partner Michael and I have just had the pleasure of watching the whole three series and reunion on DVD over the past six months – he for the first time and me for the second since the original run. The overwhelming feeling is one of great writing and production and of course, superb acting. However, it is sad that so many of the atrocities and acts of terrorism depicted are still equally as relevant today. A superb series which still stands the test of time thirty years later.