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.

RELATED:   BBC News: Scheduling Changes to BBC Head-to-Head Debate and Panorama Interviews

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.

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.

RELATED:   BBC's "Video Nasty" Cast Announced for Upcoming Comedy-Drama

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.

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.