Going Home (Review of Series 3, Episode 10)

3.10The 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.

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Tenko memorabilia now available

tenkoseries3Signed photographs of some of the stars of Tenko and a very limited number of signed copies of Remembering Tenko are now available here.

The beautiful limited edition Tenko prints produced by Tenko’s original title designer Ray Ogden can also still be purchased.


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A New Understanding (Review of Series 3, Episode 9)

3.9This penultimate episode of the third series boasts a sharp script from Jill Hyem full of well-executed set pieces, which offers an equal balance of comedy and tragedy. Joss and Ulrica provide most of the humour, while the revelations surrounding Mrs Van Meyer’s marriage and Maggie’s childhood provide the tragedy, as Elizabeths Chambers and Mickery give sympathetic and well-judged performances. This is Tenko firing on all cylinders, once again prompting us to mourn its passing before it is over.

Although there are a number of quips and humorous asides in the majority of Tenko’s episodes – a narrative ingredient which one might consider absolutely essential in such an emotionally gruelling series – rarely have there been as many laugh-out-loud moments as there are here. The first of these is Phyllis’s chiding of Joss for putting it about that, due to their lack of passage home, RAPWI stands for ‘Retention of All Prisoners of War Indefinitely!’ which is followed soon after by Ulrica’s hilarious admission that she has given the nun who was with her the slip: ‘I did have another sister with me but I have… mislaid her.’ Ulrica’s response to Beatrice’s advice that she might have to throw her weight about a bit at the hospital is also highly amusing due to Patricia Lawrence’s typically cheeky delivery of mixed-up idioms: ‘Without wishing to be guilty of the sin of conceit, I think I am quite good at throwing about my weight.’ Wheeler-dealer Jake’s winding up of Maggie that he even has contacts in heaven (‘Funny you should say that. There’s this chap called Peter…’) is also enjoyable. However, the most unlikely belly laugh of them all comes as Marion and Clifford consider the possibility of having another baby together and the former asks: ‘Can you honestly see it happening?’ to which Clifford’s witty reply is: ‘Not if we continue to sleep in separate rooms.’

Despite the previous episode’s climax, at which Marion revealed to Clifford that she didn’t believe that they had a future together, the Brigadier starts off here by spouting the same selfish concerns that brought her to this conclusion, as he bemoans her concern for the welfare of others and her refusal to adjust to her old way of life. Phyllis, who has the misfortune of having to attend to his chauvinistic and insensitive monologue, performs the function of reacting to what he says on behalf of us viewers, as she is: scornful of his expectation that Marion will adjust within a month of being set free from long-term imprisonment; less than impressed by his priggish use of his swagger stick (tapping it on the desk before her) to emphasise his ‘unreasonable demands’; and rather dumbfounded at his belief that separating his wife from her friends from the camp in an attempt to make her forget is the best approach. Certainly all the early signs here point to a swift end to their marriage, but then Tenko suddenly does one of the things it does best: confounding our expectations, as Clifford proves determined to persuade Marion to think again. His initial approach is once again all wrong as he fails to remember Marion’s unhappiness before the invasion or to accept that everything about her has changed. However, his very un-British declaration of love and his subsequent seizing upon Marion’s view that they can only have a future ‘by starting again from scratch’ (‘Isn’t that worth talking about?’) make it admirably clear that Clifford wants to fight for Marion whatever her conditions.

The following beautifully constructed and scripted scene, which takes place out in the country, sees the pair continue to attempt to find a way forward and Clifford effectively come clean about the reason for his personal war against Yamauchi (‘The thought of you going through all that while I sat on my backside in an office…’). Clifford’s preference for Marion to have another baby rather than the part-time job which she suggests is not exactly unexpected (this is the Forties), but conversely his decision to calmly listen to Marion’s reasons for defending Yamauchi is. The explanation she gives to him here stands as the most believable and eloquent of the series thus far: ‘For all the things I didn’t put in my diary. For the things that made him a person. For the times he treated me as a human being… It didn’t make me less hungry but it did give me a little dignity.’

The comparisons that are drawn between Clifford and Yamauchi are especially interesting as Marion questions whether the Commandant did wrong by following orders (‘Isn’t that what the army requires? Duty first, instant obedience?’) and whether her husband would have done differently? And she certainly has a point when she describes the similarity between their circumstances: ‘He felt equally humiliated – stuck in a jungle with a load of women. He missed his wife and family too. He has a daughter and a baby grandson.’ Rather than going on the offensive, Clifford responds to her words with the plain statement: ‘He’ll probably hang,’ and earns an affectionate hand on his shoulder for his restraint. It is a small but important moment.

Clifford’s new-found patience is immediately tested by the continuing storyline: first by their discovery of an out-of-sorts Dominica and secondly by news of Joss’s hospitalisation. Although his reaction to the former: ‘Can’t we ever get away from them?!’ suggests little has changed and prompts Marion to ask: ‘Why must you always make it a choice?’ by the time of the latter he interrupts her apology with an affectionate: ‘Come on, I’ll drive you over there.’ Marion’s brief smile – which closes the episode – implies that she too now believes they might just make it work after all. Newth and Bell are superlative here

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.

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A Death and a Dance (Review of Series 3, Episode 8)

3.8This particularly well-constructed episode documents a pleasing change in Beatrice’s fortunes, a conclusion to Kate’s story, and a realisation on the part of all the former internees that their time in the camp will always be with them.

Kate is one of those second-tier characters in Tenko whose storylines have never dominated but have instead offered passing interest, such as her claustrophobic reaction to camp life in the first series and her decision to initially hide the fact that she was a nurse in the second. And yet in those rare moments where Claire Oberman has been given meatier dialogue to deliver and a more important role in proceedings, as in the opening episodes of this third series, she has never disappointed. Her performance in this episode, in which Kate is more central to the action, is no exception.

Some of the episode’s most notable scenes are shared between Oberman and Peter Benson, who plays Tom’s friend Jim. In particular, Kate’s sorrowful reaction (‘Wish I’d been here’) and Jim’s anger that it falls to him to break the sad news (‘Oh Christ! … You shouldn’t have heard like this’) are beautifully played. It is a lovely touch that, in their subsequent scene together, Jim feels compelled to let Kate know that Tom used to talk about her all the time in camp (‘Where you’d live. The number of kids you’d have. Perfect wife you’d be’), and that he is endearingly honest about the fact that they used to tell him to ‘shut up about it.’ This information briefly brings Tom alive again for Kate (and to a lesser extent for us) and gives her the emotional closure she sorely needs.

That Kate’s feelings about Tom’s death are less than straightforward is admirably typical of the series. Despite appearances to the contrary, we learn that, after the initial shock, Kate has feelings of relief rather than grief, confiding in Ulrica that she was uncertain of her future with Tom because she ‘could never have given up medicine.’ Kate, like Marion and Christina, has come out of the camps a changed woman, no longer craving children and ‘domestic bliss.’ Given her poor treatment at Beatrice’s hands and the terrible suffering she witnessed in the camps, the fact that Kate is now instead set on a career in medicine suggests that her vocation is very strong indeed and that, as Joss believes, she’ll make ‘a good doctor.’

Initially at least, Beatrice’s role in this episode follows the same pattern as recent episodes as she mopes about in her dressing gown to no good purpose, clearly feeling defeated and worthless. However, this narrative is thankfully set to change all that, as a large chunk of it is set aside to principally prove to her that, despite her doubts and self-pity, she is needed after all. Before she turns this corner though, there is more pain to come, when: Alice declares that she is not really a doctor anymore; Phyllis insensitively refuses her offer to fetch Joss and Christina; and worst of all, Kate rejects her suggestion that she comes with them to the funeral even as she is attaching a black band to her arm (‘Oh you really don’t have to though. Thanks all the same’). Appropriately enough, it is ‘speak as you find’ Maggie, who requires Beatrice’s professional opinion, who gets through to her by giving her some home truths as to what she made of her in the camp: ‘I thought you were a right bossy cow, but I did admire your guts. You wouldn’t have thrown your hand in then nor let anyone throw theirs in either!’ The stern ‘talking to’ has an obvious effect, but it is Alice’s sudden arrival and need of her support that builds on the work that Maggie began. The realisation that Alice has not in fact been raped brings possibly the broadest smile to Beatrice’s face that we have ever seen. And from here on in it only gets better for Beatrice, as she makes herself useful by ‘mothering’ Alice (the moment in which she gathers her up in a towel and starts rubbing Alice dry is particularly charming), is apologised to (and flattered) by Stephen, who compares her to Lady Louis Mountbatten and requests her medical guidance, before Maggie finally gets a look in again as she asks her to confirm if she is pregnant. Throughout these sequences Stephanie Cole’s ‘suddenly needed’ acting is incredibly endearing as Beatrice finds herself ‘wanted in all directions’ and recognises that her life is not over after all. This reversal of fortune undoubtedly stands as one of the most feelgood storylines of the final series.

The intention behind Marion’s controversial visit to Yamauchi at Changi is ostensibly to check that he is not being treated badly, but it is fairly obvious that the real reason is that the meeting will present her with the opportunity to adopt the leadership role that she misses so much. Thankfully, like Beatrice, Marion is to find in this episode that, as well as being important to her, the other women still need her to assume this role too. After Tom’s death, Kate immediately thinks of Marion as the person she should turn to and smiles as she says both her name and her former role, accentuating their importance to her. Marion’s invitation of the women to tea after the funeral and her show of concern for Sister Ulrica’s and Christina’s futures also restates her leadership. It seems apparent that Marion will always be their leader to a greater or lesser degree, a fact which does not sit well with Clifford, who selfishly admits at the episode’s conclusion that he resents ‘playing second fiddle to them.’

Marion’s visit to Yamauchi brings with it Burt Kwouk’s penultimate performance in the series. And once again Kwouk somehow manages to retain Yamauchi’s dignity despite the costume. It is something of a relief that Marion is now using a new line to explain her stance on Yamauchi: ‘We don’t have to treat them as they’ve treated us,’ as it holds far more weight than the ‘sometimes he showed kindness’ defence she employed previously. Although Yamauchi tells Marion: ‘It is better I am dead,’ it is interesting that he chose not to take the same way out as Sato. Rather than taking his life under the bushido code, he chose a different path of honour, which saw him obey the orders of his Emperor. The revelation that Yamauchi knew all along about Marion’s second diary is a neat postscript which echoes his question to Christina about why she had not taken paper at the end of the first series…

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.

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Evidence (Review of Series 3, Episode 7)

3.7This episode is very untypical of Tenko as a whole in that rather than focusing on two or three of the regular characters it chooses to follow pretty much all of them as they continue to adjust to their post-camp lives. Unfortunately the end result is a narrative that feels more disparate and less coherent than normal. Thankfully one central theme goes some way towards knitting it together: the giving of evidence, as Yamauchi’s arrival in Singapore prompts wildly different reactions from the former internees.

Christina’s recent decision to finally deny her British ancestry and take up the native cause is very apparent throughout the episode. However, what is particularly disturbing about her shift of allegiance is the fact that she seems to have simultaneously lost any compassion for the other women. When Joss is arrested, it is clear that all she can think of is her uncle’s welfare as she ignores Stephen’s questions about Joss’s wellbeing. Later, after the Centre has been turned over by the police, she even states aloud: ‘What does it matter?’ adding: ‘All I can think of is my uncle and what they’re doing to him.’

When Marion reveals that Yamauchi has arrived in Singapore, Christina chooses to defend him on the dubious basis that everyone behaves heartlessly during a war, actively seeking to make the gathered women feel guilty for what she considers to be equally heartless actions on the part of the Allies, as she details their delayed decision to arm the natives before the Fall of Singapore. Her example appears to have the desired effect on Maggie (‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know’) but it doesn’t stand up to too much scrutiny, after all it was the Japanese rather than the Allies who massacred them, whereas the Allied crime was one of indecision. That Christina seems to be blaming her former friends for this simply because of their nationality is also illuminating. The rest of Christina’s speech is similarly unconvincing as she seeks to defend her uncle’s collaboration on the ridiculous sweeping premise that most of Europe had to work for the Nazis and were therefore just the same as him. She may accuse the women of not knowing very much, but her own knowledge is sketchy, generalised and one-sided to say the least. Thankfully Beatrice makes a brief stand when Christina declares that her uncle is only behind bars because he is Chinese, but regrettably this is the full extent of the women’s response to her accusatory monologue. She ends it by stating that, like her uncle after his imprisonment, she will ‘never be the same again’ and given this tirade we can well believe it, as foundations are firmly laid for her future actions. If this scene is meant to make us question Christina’s self-righteous anger and her loyalty then it does its job, however, if we are meant to be convinced by her dubious arguments then it misfires badly and Christina should perhaps have been given more arresting and persuasive examples.

Christina’s later revelation about the circumstances surrounding her cousin’s execution, which brings the episode to a rather too abrupt conclusion, offers slightly more food for thought than her earlier outburst, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was the Japanese who executed him and not the British. Furthermore, Christina’s ferocity suggests that the loyalty and/or value of the Chinese people is being questioned by those who are gathered around her, and that is just not the case. As we know, Ulrica loves the East and its people and has just volunteered to visit her uncle, while Joss and Stephen are selflessly running an amateur relief centre out of the goodness of their hearts, and Kate is spending her days nursing the sick. So, once again, Christina’s outburst feels off target. That might be intentional, but there is a strong sense that it is not.

While Marion, Christina and Ulrica all elect not to give evidence against Yamauchi, who has recently arrived in Singapore – the former much to Clifford’s fury – the likes of Beatrice and Maggie are quite certain of his guilt and together with Mrs Van Meyer offer their testimony. It is fascinating that the reasons why the different characters elect to give or not give evidence are nearly all different and very personal. Marion is uncomfortable with a type of justice that will ignore any of Yamauchi’s good points, Christina clearly feels a connection with the man, while it is Ulrica’s faith which leads her to forgiveness. In the other camp, Beatrice cannot forgive the withholding of medicines that would have saved so many of the sick and dying, Maggie cannot forget the punishments and Blanche’s terrible demise, while Mrs Van Meyer simply wants to tell the truth for a change!

It is testament to Burt Kwouk’s performance that despite his unflattering new garb – effectively an over-sized nappy – and status as a prisoner, Yamauchi still remains an imposing presence in the two short scenes in which he features. The first, in his cell at night, is particularly atmospheric due to the slow camera pan from the barred cell window, across the blackness, down to the composed countenance of the prisoner, Japanese-style incidental music perfectly underscoring the scene. The second, in which he is visited by Christina, serves to emphasise his calm resignation to his fate, as he accepts her gift of biscuits not for himself but for ‘the bird that comes, it will much like the little pieces.’ It is rather charming that he has named the bird after his grandson whom he has never met and is surely dead. Although this scene cannot erase the fact that the women suffered terribly under his command, it is a reminder of that which Marion is keen to hold on to: his humanity.

After the liberation of the camp, Joss admitted to Maggie that she felt ‘whacked.’ Later, when she was first approached by Stephen to help him at the Centre, she complained that she was ‘past it.’ However, unsurprisingly neither pronouncement preceded a lull in her activities, indeed, if anything she has been busier than ever. Although her flesh may be willing, in this episode there are the very first signs of the Lady Jocelyn’s emotional frailty…

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.

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Dorothy (Review of Series 3, Episode 6)

3.6Tenko consistently excels in its depiction of the complexity of human emotion and motivation and this is nowhere more the case than in the portrayal of the enigmatic Dorothy Bennett. Here, as the girl from Edgware bows out of the series (for the time being), the hugely talented Veronica Roberts once again has the welcome opportunity to flesh out this highly unpredictable – but eminently likeable – character, as Dorothy’s journey of self-discovery reaches a very true conclusion. Elsewhere, Marion continues to find her new life with Clifford an exercise in endurance, Beatrice seeks to come to terms with the deterioration of her eyesight, and the newly arrived Sister Ulrica once again struggles with the denial of self. These plotlines all come together to form a particularly emotional episode in which the performances of the leads and Anne Valery’s beautifully lyrical script hit exactly the right tone.

In Tenko’s second series Sister Ulrica advised a distraught Dorothy that life is longer than she imagined and this episode seems to prove it, as by its conclusion she appears to be completely reborn as she makes plans for her new life back in England. However, in this one episode alone she has to go on quite a journey in order to reach this point. She starts the narrative fortified by Ulrica’s return and, following her run-in with Madge and company, determined not to ‘turn tail and run to God knows where.’ However, she is to become unstuck on both counts. For one thing it transpires that Ulrica will not be around to guide her for long, and for another, underneath it all – just like her mother – she does care what the neighbours think. Indeed, in retrospect, her ‘I am what I am… take me or leave me’ speech to Ulrica sounds like nothing more than a desperate attempt to convince herself.

It is fascinating that Dorothy is seen to put such store by her time in the camps, even going so far as to declare that: ‘In no time it will be like the old days!’ countering Ulrica’s question: ‘Were they so very precious?’ with the view that: ‘Bits were, the closeness and the friendships. Us against the rest!’ It is as if Dorothy is using her experience in camp as justification for her default ‘against the world’ setting: ‘They’re still out there, you know. Waiting for someone to trip up…’ a stance which, as Ulrica wisely observes, helps hide her insecurities and allows her to lash out at anyone including do-gooders like Phyllis Bristow. Although, to be fair to Dorothy, Phyllis does have it coming with her achingly patronising suggestion, after Agnes lodges her complaint, that she should go home as: ‘At least there you’d have the guidance of your mother.’ Phyllis thinks this is for Dorothy’s own good, but naturally that only makes her more determined to dig her heels in. As an aside, that it is the previously unknown ‘Agnes’ who lodges the complaint against Dorothy is very strange. Why not Madge, Enid or Cherry after the way they were rather clumsily shoe-horned into the previous episode?

A key turning point for Dorothy is the news that her mother was killed several years previously. Somehow the manner of her death seems as comically fitting as Dorothy’s ‘doilies and dainties’ description of her: ‘Bombed in the paper shop together with Mr Bright.’ We already know that Ulrica was more of a mother to Dorothy than her real mother ever was, so it is no great surprise that she doesn’t immediately react with floods of tears, however, it is not too long before her guard comes down. We see another side to Maggie in the scene in question as she makes some surprisingly insightful observations, firstly recognising that Dorothy’s tears are about her mother rather than Violet, and secondly, the idea that: ‘Nagging’s one way of loving, ’specially if you don’t understand someone.’ The cheerful follow-up comment: ‘You are a bit of a mystery even to me,’ chimes with the series’ audience who have found it similarly difficult to keep up with Dorothy’s thoughts and feelings. Roberts’s delivery of Dorothy’s lines about her mother talking at her (‘Do this, do that. Oh Dorothy, how could you?’) and her expressions (‘that was “not being very nice”’) are wonderfully naturalistic, as is her heartfelt cry as she finally breaks down and calls out ‘Oh Mummy!’ and her considered intonation of the word ‘home’ after Jake’s arrival cuts her tears short.

However, as Dorothy later relates, Agnes’s complaint and the discovery of her mother’s death are only part of the story, and it is the news that Marion’s diary will be made public that is the actual catalyst for her return to England. It is a brilliant piece of writing that this situation and her immediate compulsion to defend her actions in the camp (‘You know, right away I started imagining how I could win them over! Dorothy sacrifices herself for her baby’s eggs, for medicines for the sick’) prompts her to recognise that she does care what the neighbours think after all. It is an honesty that also incorporates a belief that she no longer knows her true self, as she tells Ulrica: ‘I don’t think I have one. Not anymore,’ which is also why she playfully responds to Phyllis’s comment that she could have been more understanding about how Dorothy felt, by saying: ‘Well even I didn’t, so don’t kid yourself!’…

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.

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Clifford (Review of Series 3, Episode 5)

3.5As the final series reaches its halfway point, it is Marion who becomes the focus of the narrative as we witness her initially joyful reunion with husband Clifford, but also her subsequent dismay at his lack of understanding of her needs and what she has endured. The tensions between the married couple are played out sensitively and believably by Ann Bell and Jonathan Newth as Marion almost immediately finds herself trapped in a life that she did not want before the war and is even less able to suffer now it is over. Clifford’s return also causes emotions to run high amongst the other women as his new war crimes role prompts the first debates over Yamauchi’s guilt, a matter on which the women can never hope to agree. Elsewhere, Beatrice’s hopes that she will resume her pre-war job are horribly dashed and, as the doctor reacts to the news, Stephanie Cole once again threatens to steal the show with her performance.

Looked at in its entirety, Tenko is arguably Marion Jefferson’s story more than it is that of any other character. The first series began with her frustration with a superficial existence in the polite society of pre-war Singapore and the subsequent gradual realisation of a very real and rewarding purpose in the unlikely surroundings of a Japanese prison camp. Although a few episodes in the second series saw her take an occasional back seat, with the notable exception of Beatrice, Marion’s experiences and reactions have been explored in the most detail, and arguably with the most care, throughout. It is only right then that her long-sought reunion with Clifford and her uneasy resumption of the role of army wife and the attendant complex emotions become almost the sole focus of this particular episode.

The scene in which Marion first sets eyes on Clifford again is skilfully played. Although each is desperate to be reunited, the time that they have spent apart initially freezes them at a distance from each other, as each wonders what has happened to the other in the intervening years. They are, in effect, strangers. When they do come together there is no question that each loves the other. Marion incessantly repeats ‘Thank God’, scarcely believing that her prayers have been answered, while Clifford wants to hold and protect her in his arms. Through this embrace Marion finally lets down her guard – the resilience and strength of character that ensured her survival in the camps. The revelation that Clifford has been in England for most of the war and, what is more, with Ben as he made his transition into adulthood, is particularly difficult for Marion to take and who can blame her? However, the first signs that their adjustment to each other is going to be difficult only show when Clifford starts to quiz her about her time in camp (‘Don’t let’s talk about that’) and he misunderstands her comment about sleeping alone. To her, the idea of their forthcoming night together is not so much sleeping together as sleeping apart from the other women. Clifford does not yet understand his wife’s deep connection with the women with whom she was interned, but this remark should give him a serious clue. Fittingly, Marion is not alone in this consideration as Beatrice also feels compelled to mention that it will be ‘funny without Marion tonight.’

That night, apart from the obvious problem that Clifford is unable to ‘perform’, there is further indication that there is trouble ahead as Marion fails to communicate her concerns about leaving Raffles and therefore her friends behind so soon. Typically for Tenko this isn’t explicitly spelt out (as it might be in a less sophisticated drama) and instead is merely implied by Marion’s unfinished sentences as it clearly dawns on her what being reunited with Clifford means: separation from the others, a circumstance she has not begun to prepare herself for.

There is worse to come as Marion leaves with Clifford the next morning. His racist comment about Christina and Simon Treves: ‘Seldom works, whites and wongs and all that,’ literally stops Marion in her tracks as she looks after him as if she’s not sure she knows him anymore. The contrast between the pair as they are chauffeured home is similarly disconcerting…

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.

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Kindred Spirits (Review of Series 3, Episode 4)

3.4This episode is most notable for the introduction of two new male characters, the cantankerous Stephen Wentworth and the smooth-talking Jake Haulter, who are set to make a significant impact on the remainder of the series due to their interactions with the former internees. Both are superbly well-judged additions to the cast. This is partly down to the considerable acting talents of Preston Lockwood and Damien Thomas respectively, but also because their presence deepens our understanding of established characters, Joss and Dorothy in particular.

On first sight Stephen Wentworth immediately puts us in mind of Joss. For one thing his first line is Joss’s familiar old refrain requesting the whereabouts of one Monica Radcliffe, for another they have a similar beanpole build and looks. As we observe the pair becoming acquainted, further shared traits become obvious. Apart from the fact that they both counted the late Monica as a very close friend, like Joss, Stephen is clearly of ‘good stock’ and just as unwilling to allow his class to get in the way of what he wants to do – in his case, helping those less fortunate than himself, a mission which neatly correlates with Joss’s own passion for social reform and left-wing politics. His suggestion of splitting a bottle of brandy as a way of saying farewell to Monica is also very ‘Joss’. Indeed, the similarities between the pair become so striking that ‘a male Joss’ serves as a perfectly fulsome description for this former Changi inmate. However, the marked and important difference between the pair is the fact that, despite the ravages of imprisonment, Stephen is still gung-ho about his philanthropic project to help the poor of Singapore, while Joss is less than convinced that she has sufficient stamina to become involved (‘I’m past it!’), a concern which will ultimately prove to be well founded.

What is not immediately obvious here is the pivotal nature of the scene shared by Joss and Stephen at his digs as, over a photograph and a bottle of brandy, the Monica Radcliffe Foundation is born – a significant component not only of the remaining episodes of the third series but also of the subsequent Reunion special. Once again Tenko’s deft plotting sees a supposedly immaterial, and occasionally irritating element of the series (the persistent question of the fate of Monica Radcliffe) earn its place.

Wheeler-dealer Jake Haulter stands in complete contrast to Stephen Wentworth. The silver-tongued rogue fulfils several functions in the narrative. Most obviously he provides romantic interest as he charms his way into the affections of the former internees. Joss happily admits that on their first meeting she failed to resist his wicked grin; Maggie as good as throws herself at him; while Beatrice is clearly both delighted and flattered when he describes her as ‘a brick.’ However it is Dorothy, who seems more immune to his charms, who Jake has in his sights from the off. Although it is much less pronounced in this case, just as with Stephen and Joss, Jake also mirrors Dorothy. As well as both being determined survivors with hidden depths, Dorothy also shares Jake’s head for business. Perhaps Jake consciously or subconsciously recognises Dorothy as something of a kindred spirit?

Jake’s much less obvious function in the narrative is to provide information about chaotic and colourful post-war Singapore. Due to his ‘finger in every pie’ approach Jake knows about anything and everything that is going on there and as such is the perfect mouthpiece for background exposition, be it about furniture reclamation or the surprising fact that the Allies have recruited Japanese soldiers to help them.

It is worth mentioning that it is pretty much impossible to dislike Jake. We imagine that he has a shady past with several ‘skeletons in the cupboard’ and it is obvious that his current actions are at least partly motivated by self-interest, but there is still a definite sense that he is decent and that his heart is in the right place.

Despite the introduction of Stephen and Jake, this is still very much Dorothy’s episode as she continues to adjust to life outside of the camps and to come to terms with the ordeals she has suffered. Despite the misgivings she vocalised in the preceding episode she appears more open to new possibilities from the outset here, even joining the other women to attend a thanksgiving service. However, it isn’t long before the spectre of her collaboration comes back to haunt her, firstly when Maggie reminds Van Meyer of her work for Miss Hasan (‘There were no call to do their hair!’) in turn reminding Dorothy, and secondly when she witnesses the distressing sight of a procession of ‘Jap whores’. This experience and Maggie’s similar desire to ‘get out from under’ (which is prompted instead by Phyllis’s less than subtle attempts to remove Alice from her ‘tender clutches’) leads Dorothy to suggest that they move out to her bungalow in the ‘anonymous suburbs.’

When we first heard about Dorothy’s bungalow, two series earlier, it seemed highly unlikely that we would ever see the home she shared with Dennis and Violet, and yet here it is. Considering the tragic events that have unfolded since she left there, Dorothy is incredibly brave to even consider a return to a place from her past, but this bravery is as nothing compared to the reserves of strength required of her when she is forced to face what has become of it…

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.

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Return to Singapore (Review of Series 3, Episode 3)

3.3It is no accident that, as the women fly back towards Singapore and an uncertain future, the very first word spoken here is ‘scared’. Throughout this episode, the gradual realisation that the women will find it very difficult to rebuild their lives – the central theme of this final series – is sensitively detailed for the first time. The ensemble cast predictably rises to the occasion as the women begin to appreciate that freedom is a far more complicated prospect than they might have imagined.

The women’s arrival at the airport and the reception which follows are far too much for them to take in at once, and their wonderment at the ordinary trappings of their pre-war existence such as cups and saucers, soap and biscuits are particularly well conveyed. Not only do they talk about these items in such excited tones (‘My very own piece of soap!’) but they respond with all their senses – smelling, touching and eating, scarcely able to believe that what they are experiencing is real. Considering their recent living conditions it is unsurprising that they find their new ‘digs’, Raffles Hotel no less, as equally astonishing, and they variously describe it as palatial, sparkling and ‘bloody heaven.’ Even the hemline on the dress of a passing woman in the hotel prompts them to gasp in amazement, making them realise that the world has moved on while they have been in captivity. Joss’s quip that she feels like Rip Van Winkle is highly apposite. The marvels continue unabated as the women sit down at a ‘real table’ with a ‘real tablecloth’ with ‘real cutlery’ to eat good ol’ bangers and mash, and are furnished with Singapore Slings into the bargain. The fact that the women polish off the meal in seconds rather than minutes and the unadulterated joy on their faces as they do so, are the sort of details that this episode does so well.

There is, however, a much darker side to all this new luxury, and this is emphasised by some of the reactions of the women to their new existence. We observe Dorothy palm a pile of digestive biscuits (and later a cruet and an ashtray), Alice pack away her plate amongst her belongings without thinking, and Marion start a second letter to Ben after she realises that she no longer needs to conserve paper (taking great joy in scrumpling up and discarding her first draft). On one level these moments underline the fact that old habits die hard, however it goes much deeper than this. Marion may eventually learn to automatically set out a letter in a normal fashion again and Dorothy may reach a point at which she no longer feels she needs to steal, but these are just rather inconsequential and superficial manifestations of their scars. What this series will go on to detail is that captivity has irrevocably and permanently altered the very characters and personalities of these women, so much so that they can never hope to fill the same roles in society or react to the world around them in the way they did before the Japanese invasion. Dorothy, for example, now realises that while she was happy to let Dennis make decisions for her before the war, now she needs to be in control, shaping her own future.

It was a beautifully judged decision on the part of Lavinia Warner to bring the series ‘full circle’ by returning the women to Raffles, the setting for much of Tenko’s first two episodes. As the hotel has been talked about so nostalgically and longingly by the women during their internment, the place is now imbued with an almost mythical quality which accentuates perfectly the unreal and dreamlike feel of their new-found freedom. However, even Raffles quickly loses its initial shine, as Dorothy remarks how shabby their room, with its peeling wallpaper, looks in daylight. The dream is to her mind quickly broken. At the evening dinner dance, Marion and Kate, who were present at Raffles for the 1942 New Year celebrations, cannot help but both be reminded of the last time they were there, with Marion describing it as: ‘New Year’s Eve before the Fall.’ She adds that this ‘makes it sound like the Garden of Eden.’ Mindful of how much the camps have changed their lives, Kate’s response: ‘Perhaps it was,’ is left hanging meaningfully in the air.

For Marion, the chief adjustment she has to make here is her acceptance that she is no longer the leader of the women she is with and that she must try to curb her now natural instinct to organise and discipline them. Maggie, for one, tells her in no uncertain terms: ‘You’re not our leader now, you know, nor our conscience!’ Although Marion seems to accepts this, it cannot suddenly stop her caring for the women who have been in her charge for so long, and when she later observes Dorothy stealing an ashtray she makes a point of saying that although ‘it’s none of my business’ she still wants to understand why. The close of this scene, in which Marion reminds Dorothy that she was ‘on look-out for all those years,’ also makes it clear that despite the privations they endured the women will come to look back on their time in camp almost affectionately. Ann Bell’s performance is notable here for the care she takes to show that Marion is not in the best of health – coughing before she digs in to her bangers and mash, and almost hyper-ventilating at the first sign of clean paper and a writing desk.

Dorothy, who pointedly comments at the start of the episode that camp life ‘had its moments,’ is easily the least certain of the women that freedom and a return to civilisation is a good thing…

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.

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Liberation (Review of Series 3, Episode 2)

3.2After the climactic conclusion to the preceding instalment, this episode deals with the difficult period which immediately follows, in which the women have no choice but to remain incarcerated in camp under ‘Japanese protection’ but are no longer official internees. The distinction is somewhat lost on the majority of the women, who are understandably less than enthusiastic about the prospect of having to endure extended captivity. Kate’s feelings on the matter are representative: ‘When he said the war was over, I just imagined I’d be free. I’d be with Tom in a matter of hours. So frustrating.’ In dramatic terms, the women’s interminable wait – which naturally for Tenko is historically accurate – affords further examination of the series’ Japanese characters and of the uncertain future that awaits the surviving women.

Picking up precisely where the last episode left off, the opening sequence concerns Marion’s prevention of an attack on Sato led by Maggie. Although Maggie curses Marion for her interference and initially talks about wanting to enjoy torturing Sato, it is patently clear that neither she nor the other women present are capable of meting out revenge to their former captor, regardless of the suffering and death he has inflicted. As Maggie later admits to Alice: ‘It wa’n’t Marion who stopped us.’ Maggie’s declaration that she wishes that she could have taken Kasaki’s role in Sato’s hara-kiri is also empty bravado. However, while the women may not be able to exact revenge, they are absolutely determined that they will no longer be treated like prisoners – even Alice protests aloud about drain duties – and the concessions that Marion has agreed with Yamauchi mark the first material turnaround in their fortunes.

Dorothy receives some fascinating development as she is presented as the only woman in the camp reluctant to leave its confines, especially once they are able to barter with traders for food. As she states aloud: ‘It’s not that bad here now. We’ve got food and fags. They leave us alone.’ Being left alone is clearly what Dorothy desires most of all, presumably because she can neither face nor contemplate a better alternative in the outside world. Her decision to stay put rather than join the others as they race to meet the Allies and her distracted demeanour as the ‘poached egg’ is lowered says it all. The question remains: when it comes to the future, is Dorothy more realistic or just more pessimistic than her fellow survivors? Fittingly enough, it is a certain aspect of Dorothy’s character, as presented here, which will directly contribute to the gradual rebuilding of her life: her natural aptitude for trade and business. Before now, of course, Dorothy has been very successful in selling the only commodity she had: her body. Upon discovery of the storeroom’s material bounty, Dorothy alone sees the options now open to them, chiding Christina for thinking they can live off butter and condensed milk (although Metro-Goldwyn has a good go at the latter!), and realising instead that they need to use it to barter for food from the natives. Dorothy’s lack of concern at the prospect of wringing the neck of the first chicken she purchases further underlines her hard-nosed practicality. Given her experiences since the Autumn of 1941, it is little wonder that Dorothy is less than ready to accept that the grass will be greener for her outside the camp and we can hardly blame her for the tentative way in which she clambers onto the lorry that will take her back to civilisation.

Christina’s reaction to the prospect of freedom is the complete antithesis of Dorothy’s. Despite her treatment in camp and Yamauchi’s pointed definition of her as ‘half British,’ the Eurasian appears to optimistically believe that she will pick up where she left off, even down to the possibility of hooking up with Simon Treves again. She even manages to ignore Van Meyer’s dig that: ‘We are European women of high class – some of us.’ Where Dorothy may be too pessimistic, it seems distinctly likely that Christina is far too optimistic and appears to have learnt little from her time in captivity.

As in the previous instalment, we witness little that warms us to Yamauchi. Although there is no doubt that Marion is accurate in her assertion that he is ‘a soldier of honour,’ his decisions relating to the management of the camps in the area and specifically of the distribution of supplies bring his moral judgement into serious question. The discovery of vital medical supplies just a few rooms away from the sick bay (‘Quinine, vitamins, bandages, antiseptic – all the things we’ve been crying out for’) presents a situation in which his actions can only be seen as unpardonable. However, this does not stop the Major from holding forth, and thus adding insult to injury, by confidently declaring: ‘You would have received many things if Allies had not blown up Japanese Red Cross ship bringing many parcels… You blame American submarine, Mrs Jefferson, not Japanese.’ His explanation singularly fails to explain or excuse the fact that supplies were held back when Beatrice and Kate had none left with which to tend the sick, resulting in many unnecessary deaths. His description of the American sub destroying the Japanese ship is also notable for conveniently presenting America as the mighty aggressor and Japan as the vulnerable defender. While Marion disappointingly fails to challenge Yamauchi here, later she does manage a pointed comment in response to his statement that it is good for children to see their fathers and grandfathers, saying: ‘Those that still have them.’…

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.

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