Tenko (TV series)

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Title caption that was seen throughout the series.
Created by Lavinia Warner
Starring Ann Bell
Stephanie Cole
Stephanie Beacham
Louise Jameson
Patricia Lawrence
Veronica Roberts
Emily Bolton
Jeananne Crowley
Elizabeth Chambers
Claire Oberman
Jean Anderson
Burt Kwouk
Rosemary Martin
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 3
No. of episodes 31
Running time 50 minutes
Original network BBC1
Original release

22 October 1981 – 12 November 1984,

26 December 1985

Tenko is a television drama, co-produced by the BBC and the ABC. A total of thirty episodes were produced over three series between 1981 and 1984, followed by a one-off special (which was twice the length of the other episodes), Tenko Reunion, in 1985.

The series dealt with the experiences of British, Australian and Dutch women who were captured after the Fall of Singapore in February 1942, after the Japanese invasion, and held in a fictional Japanese internment camp on a Japanese-occupied island between Singapore and Australia. Having been separated from their husbands, herded into makeshift holding camps and largely forgotten by the British War Office, the women have to learn to cope with appalling living conditions, malnutrition, disease, violence and death.


Tenko was created by Lavinia Warner after she had conducted research into the internment of nursing corps officer Margot Turner (1910–1993) for an edition of This Is Your Life and was convinced of the dramatic potential of the stories of women prisoners of the Japanese.[1] Aside from the first two episodes, set in Singapore, which were written by Paul Wheeler, the series was written by Jill Hyem and Anne Valery.

Owing to high production costs, only the first two episodes of the first series were filmed on location in Singapore. For the majority of series 1 and 2, set in the camp, the programme was filmed in a specially constructed set in Dorset. Hankley Common was also used.[2]

The series takes its name from the Japanese word "tenko" (点呼/てんこ) which means "roll-call". POWs and internees in Japanese-run camps had regular roll-calls, where they had to line up and number off or were counted in Japanese.

Major characters[edit]

The major characters who featured in all three series and the reunion telemovie were:

  • Marion Jefferson (Ann Bell)—the wife of an army colonel.
  • Beatrice Mason (Stephanie Cole)—a stern, officious doctor.
  • Kate Norris (Claire Oberman)—a brash Australian nurse.
  • Domenica Van Meyer (later Forster-Brown) (Elizabeth Chambers)—a vain, selfish Dutch woman.
  • Christina Campbell (Emily Bolton)—a mixed-race (Chinese/Scottish) young woman.
  • Dorothy Bennett (Veronica Roberts)—a young working-class housewife (later, an Antiques dealer and Jake's love interest).
  • Sister Ulrica (Patricia Lawrence)—a formidable Dutch nun.

Only Ann Bell, Stephanie Cole and Claire Oberman appeared in all thirty regular episodes plus the reunion. Episodes were missed by Elizabeth Chambers in Series 1, Emily Bolton in Series 2, Veronica Roberts in Series 1 and 3 and Patricia Lawrence in Series 2 and 3.

Other major characters throughout the series included:

DVD release and books[edit]

All three series plus the Reunion Special were released in one DVD box-set in 2011 through Acorn Media UK.

Three paperback books were published in the 1980s. One covering the first series, titled Tenko, while a second called Last Tenko, covered the second and final series. The third book, written by Anne Valery, covered the Reunion.

A book about the making of Tenko called Remembering Tenko by Andy Priestner was published in October 2012.


  1. ^ Warner and Sandilands Women Beyond the Wire: A Story of Prisoners of the Japanese 1942-45 1982 dustjacket
  2. ^ Bomb alert hits 'Tenko' beauty spot

External links[edit]