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Tenko Classic TV Revisited Tenko Classic TV Revisited


Classic TV Revisited: Tenko



It started with the movie and later mini-series A Town Like Alice, then Tenko gave us sweaty women being herded through the jungle by Japanese guards made it to the small screen. The cast included Stephanie Beacham, Louise Jameson, Stephanie Cole, Burt Kwouk and ran on BBC-1 from 1981-1984.

A perspiration-drenched 36 years.

Perspiration, eh? Isn’t that sweating in English?
When you refer to navvies digging up the roads, perhaps, but not genteel ladies from the colonies into floral print gowns and bone china.

So what was getting these sorts hot under the proverbial collar?
The predicament facing the women was no laughing matter. Their plight was a Japanese prison camp where conditions were far from luxurious.

Tenko, isn’t that a make of coffee?
Not a cup of coffee or a smug Cherie Lunghi in sight. Tenko is Japanese for roll call.

So who was doing the falling in?
A group of English women in 1941 who were captured after being shipwrecked while trying to escape the invasion of Singapore by the Japanese.

Their fate?
A Japanese prison camp where conditions were appalling and life became a fight for survival.

What was so good about it?
It brought a realism to the small screen that was both shocking and compelling.

How real was it?
It pulled no punches. Lack of food, brutal treatment from the captors were all graphically depicted. Showed how some turned to prostitution with guards to get by.

Tenko Classic TV Revisited

The Tenko Reunion

Lavish production?
Not cheap. Cast and crew spent time in Singapore, but the camp scenes were shot in Dorset.

So what was the story?
Began with life in Singapore, with Dutch and English colonials carrying on with life oblivious to the looming Japanese invasion.

I suppose that was to contrast with what was to follow?
Indeed, although shallow and far from perfect, they were rosy days compared with life in a Japanese prison camp. Series two saw them endure a forced march through the jungle to a new camp and a direct hit during an Allied attack.

Lots of clammy women in summer dresses which became increasingly tattered and forlorn as their imprisonment dragged on.

Some lookers?
Pin-up Stephanie Beacham, later of Dynasty fame, no less. Also Louise Jameson of Doctor Who companion fame.

Anyone else we know?
The likes of Waiting For God’s Stephanie Cole and Burt Kwouk.

Any chance of getting the old girls from the Tenko days back together?
A Tenko Reunion was screened in 1985. A curious affair.

Why, did someone spike the punch?
More serious than that. Reuniting those who survived seemed fair enough, but for some reason a murder mystery was thrown in. The former camp mates were also held at gunpoint by communist bandits. Of course, memories of the wartime incarceration came flooding back to the old girls.

Not to be confused with?
Kenco – that already mentioned instant drink made from roasted coffee beans. And Whack-O!, a ’50s sitcom starring moustached comedian Jimmy Edwards as the cane-swishing headmaster of Chislebury Public School.

Do say?
Best not to say anything, just bow frantically before the guards.

Don’t say?
Not more noodles.



Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess




Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife




McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal




The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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