The unenviable task of penning a final instalment which would stand as a suitable conclusion to all three series and wrap up all of the loose ends (there being no certainty at the time that the series would return for a reunion special) fell to Anne Valery. By and large Valery achieves this aim, with an episode most notable for: the unexpected death of Joss, whose last wishes are to have far-reaching consequences for Beatrice and Stephen; the forging of a ‘new honesty’ between Marion and Clifford; and suitable remembrance of all of the women who did not survive internment.
Despite the frequent references throughout the final series to the fact that Joss is ‘done in’, her death still comes as something of a surprise, perhaps because she has always seemed to be such an indomitable character (as Beatrice tells Phyllis, she has ‘broken more bones than I’ve had hot dinners and she’s always bounced back!’), or perhaps because it seems unlikely that they would kill off one of the regulars just before the long-anticipated sail home. Of course, as it stands, the decision to kill her off is very Tenko. It is after all a series that is defined by death and the unfairness of life, so in this way it is perfectly in keeping. Joss’s passing also pays many dramatic dividends: not merely reuniting the women in grief for one last time, but also leading to the appointment of Beatrice and Stephen as joint trustees of a new foundation, as each is given a renewed purpose in life and prepares to go into affectionate and comedic battle with the other.
Jean Anderson makes the most of her solitary final speaking scene as Joss – the quintessential difficult patient – who, as always, has no intention of making life easy for anyone around her. Her wilful disruption of the ordered job Beatrice makes of her hospital bed is ‘pure Joss’, a fact that we are later reminded of as, after her death, the doctor surveys her neat Raffles bed, clearly uncomfortable with ‘how very tidy it is.’ That Joss signs off by recounting a typically riotous story of an escapade she enjoyed with Monica involving a motorbike, Blackshirts and – inevitably – some swearing, feels just right. One of Beatrice’s lines in the same scene, in which she tells Joss that Stephen is ‘lost without you to goad him,’ has more significance than she can possibly imagine, seeing as it either confirms Joss’s decision to cast Beatrice in that very role in the future, or is the actual birth of the idea.
The moment in which Beatrice reveals the news of Joss’s death to the others with the words: ‘Our dear friend Joss,’ delivered by Stephanie Cole with a slight crack in her voice, makes for suitably emotional viewing. While the scene at the Centre which immediately follows, framed with Stephen in the foreground and Beatrice in the background, is an obvious contender for sequence of the episode, as the former, very truthfully, fails to come to terms with having Joss taken away from him. Stephen is full of recrimination, musing: ‘If I’d stopped her doing so much,’ while Beatrice allays his guilt by sagely pointing out that no-one could have done that. Ironically, given the yet-to-be-revealed contents of Joss’s will, his grief makes him hate the Centre (‘every stick and stone’) and want to ‘close it down for ever.’ Another piece of eloquent scripting is Beatrice’s line about the washing she’d done for her friend: ‘Folded them so neatly, edge to edge, ready for use,’ echoing Joss’s ‘too tidy’ bed. This scene ends with Stephen’s heartfelt request that they shouldn’t think ‘for a long, long time,’ a sentiment with which we can fully identify.
Joss’s ‘Jap boots’ and her battered old hat, which only in the last episode Stephen had said would remind him of her when she’d gone, serve that function very redolently here, especially when the latter is thrown down onto her coffin. It is a nice touch that it is Mrs Van Meyer of all people who also remembers Joss’s makeshift card table and is affected by the sight of her polished stone, recognising its value as ‘her pride and joy’ in their previously reduced circumstances.
That Joss reaches beyond the grave as the architect of the Monica Radcliffe Foundation – a set-up which she insists will rely upon Stephen and Beatrice working alongside each other – is one of the most pleasing elements of the episode. The initial sparring that takes place as a result between the pair is hilarious, as each tries to gain the upper hand in a kind of preliminary warm-up bout before the fight is due to begin proper on Beatrice’s return. Stephen’s terrifically unwise suggestion that the doctor will ‘just have to buckle under and have done’ kicks off hostilities and it isn’t long before Beatrice (who states that she has ‘never buckled under’ in her life) is asserting authority over him as a doctor, stating – in a wonderfully blunt manner – that she is ‘coming back, if only to see you don’t louse it up, assuming by then I can still bloody well see what you’re up to!’ Stephen greets the riposte with smiling eyes, reminding us – as he recently told Joss – that he thinks there are ‘Not many people you can have a decent row with without their taking umbrage.’ He is clearly delighted to find that Beatrice, like Joss, is one of these people. Before Beatrice leaves Singapore, the fact that, as she tells him, she’s got his ‘measure’, is best suggested by her clever bribe of a bottle of gin per report, per week. However, Stephen’s twinkling response: ‘Mason, I wouldn’t bank on it. Not if I were you,’ implies that the road ahead is not going to be as smooth as she imagines and that he has many more tricks up his sleeve (or indeed down his silk pyjama bottoms). There is in the hugely amusing performances of Stephanie Cole and Preston Lockwood a basic template for the popular Nineties BBC sitcom Waiting For God, so much so that one wonders if this episode – and the reunion episode that follows – might have been the direct inspiration for its writer Michael Aitkens.
Although Stephen’s hostilities with Beatrice are hilarious, they don’t tell us that much more about him. Thankfully, however, a number of other scenes take the time to present him as a more fully rounded character…
This is an excerpt from Andy Priestner’s acclaimed book Remembering Tenko in which this episode is reviewed in full. The book also explores and details how the series was made and boasts hundreds of behind-the-scenes photographs. You can purchase Remembering Tenko on Amazon.