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.