1 9 8 1 – 1 9 8 4 (UK/Australia)
30 x 55 minute episodes
1 x 110 minute episode
Taking its name from the Japanese word for roll-call, Lavinia Warner’s drama told the story of the suffering of a group of expatriate women imprisoned after the fall of Singapore.
The first series was set in 1941 and introduced a group of English and Australian women from Singapore who were shipwrecked while they tried to escape the Japanese invasion. The survivors are captured and put in an internment camp.
They and their Dutch companions must all make drastic adjustments to – and discoveries about – their lives.
In the second series, the group was moved to a new camp with a completely new pecking order and a particularly vicious camp leader.
At the beginning of the third series, the prisoners were liberated and had to re-adjust themselves to life in Singapore in the aftermath of the war.
Leading characters were upper-class Colonel’s wife and camp leader, Marion Jefferson (Ann Bell); crusty Dr Beatrice Mason (played by Stephanie Cole from Waiting For God); rape victim Rose Millar (Stephanie Beacham, divested of her usual sex-bitch image); ageing academic and suffragette Joss Holbrook (Jean Anderson); tarty Cockney Blanche Simmons (); ladylike Verna Johnson (Rosemary Martin) and tragic Dorothy Bennett (Veronica Roberts), who – having lost both her husband and her child – turned to prostitution with the camp guards.
The formidable Sister Ulrica (Patricia Lawrence) was head of the Dutch section, which also featured the nauseatingly selfish Mrs Van Meyer (Elizabeth Chambers).
Some of the characters the audience came to love died of malaria, malnutrition, or the punishments meted out by the guards, and viewers were rocked to their core. Those who survived the war were reunited for an incongruous one-off murder mystery, set in 1950, entitled Tenko Reunion (1985).
Only small parts of Tenko were actually filmed in Singapore. The realistic prison camp set was built in a quarry in Dorset in England.
Dr Beatrice Mason
Mrs Van Meyer