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Japan complained over ‘Tenko’ BBC television series

July 16th, 2014

The idea for the programme emerged from research into Evelyn Turner, a British military nurse, for an episode of “This is your Life”. Ms Turner was aboard one of the last transport ships to leave Singapore while it was under attack from Japanese forces in early 1942, but was captured after the vessel was sunk.

She endured regular beatings, malnutrition, disease and the death of many of her friends in a succession of camps in Sumatra.

The initial approach to the Foreign Office stated that while the Japanese Embassy was “not trying to deny the historical fact”, according to Kyodo News, the embassy nevertheless suggest there was “a danger that the association of past Japanese violence, and its gratuitous screening at this moment, with the cultural manifestations of the exhibition, would create a bad impression”.

The embassy also felt it had received a “deliberate brush-off” when it previously contacted the BBC and asked the Foreign Office to intervene.

Louise Jamieson as Blanche Simmons in Tenko (BAND Photo)

An official “expressed anxieties” to the BBC, while another Foreign Office official criticised the BBC’s “complete lack of feeling over timing” in correspondence to a colleague.

He also pointed out that the BBC had broadcast a documentary about Japanese atrocities in Malaya earlier in the year, when Zenko Suzuki, the then-Japanese prime minister, was paying an official visit to Britain.

The files also show that Julian Ridsdale, the chairman of the British-Japanese Parliamentary Group, asked George Howard, the chairman of the BBC, to edit the programme.

Mr Ridsdale allegedly asked the BBC to make “cuts in the future [programmes] to remove some of the more brutal scenes”. It is not clear whether the BBC acted on the request.

Tenko – which translates as “roll call” – regularly attracted 15 million viewers and was largely filmed in Dorset.


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