Anne Valery: Actress-turned-writer who scripted the celebrated PoW drama Tenko

 

Anne Valery found her vocation late in life as the co-writer of the highly successful, iconic 1980s BBC drama series Tenko, which regularly attracted 15 million viewers. The three series, which ran from 1981-84, vividly dramatised the experiences of British, Australian and Dutch civilian women who were captured by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore in February 1942 – a part of Second World War history that had been brushed aside by the British War Office.

Tenko, meaning "roll-call", was created by Lavinia Warner, who had researched the internment of a female nursing corps officer for an edition of This Is Your Life. Valery and her co-writer, Jill Hyem, a former actress who later wrote Howards' Way, sought to "put the record straight" about the plight of these abandoned women. Their drama, set in a Japanese internment camp on a Japanese-occupied island between Singapore and Australia, was about the survival of a group of disparate women, separated from their husbands and forced to learn to cope with the brutalities of a PoW camp: appalling living conditions, disease, violence and death.

Valery later recalled that the women "were in Japanese camps for three-and-a-half years. Half of them died. Their children died. The British Government put a hat on it. It was secret. As far as Britain was concerned, we had evacuated all the women. They disowned some of the bravest women in the war. What they did was wicked. I would spit on all of them."

The writers wanted acknowledgement for these female internees. "There were bands and parades for the men; second-class tickets home for the women," she remarked. "The perception seemed to be that while a man who has suffered in a POW camp has been somehow serving his country and is therefore heroic, a woman is merely a victim and a dreadful embarrassment to her men-folk."

Throughout the series, Valery and Hyem encountered opposition for their hard-hitting feminist storylines from the male hierarchy at the BBC, including producer Ken Riddington, who, although "a wonderful man", had expected a more romantic portrayal when he hired them. They were regularly informed that "women do not behave that way; they do not talk that way." Unperturbed, the duo fought on. Valery explained, "I was for guts and so was Jill," while "he [Ken] had no idea he'd taken on these two vipers!"

Hyem later recalled a battle about a lesbian storyline in the camp. "After some conflict we were allowed – so long as we didn't use the word 'lesbian'."

Valery was born Anne Firth in 1926, in Hampstead, north London. Her mother, Dorothy, enjoyed success as a singer and actor under the stage name Doriel Paget; her father was absent. Before turning her hand to writing, Anne enjoyed a plethora of jobs. Aged 17, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and trained in commando tactics, including parachute jumping and how to dispatch a bayonet to cause maximum injury – by twisting. She later wrote about this experience in The Passing-Out Parade, which was turned down by a number of male directors, describing it as "too difficult for 1970s television audiences". It would later be produced as a play.

Valery acknowledged that the war had given her a new-found freedom in every sense, explaining, "It was absolutely wonderful. I'd never been so alive. The idea that you might die tomorrow was gorgeous... There was an awful lot of making love. It was very liberating. If you were a woman it was marvellous. For women, for the first time in history, we were liberated." Upon learning of the Japanese surrender, and the fact that her skills would not be put into practice, she wept. She said, "I was part of a highly trained secret force that was never actually used. You might say that the forgotten army in the last war was not the one in Burma, but the one in skirts."

In post-war London, she became part of the literary Fitzrovia set, becoming friends with the likes of Beryl Bainbridge, Laurie Lee and Dylan Thomas. She married a Greek poet from the group, Nanos Valaoritis (Valery being a derivative of the surname) and had a son who died aged 5; the couple subsequently divorced. She then modelled on the catwalks of London and Paris before returning to a job as a producer's secretary at the BBC.

Her acting career began in 1949 with modest parts in British films, including Sid Field's Cardboard Cavalier, and the Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets as Clothilde, the mistress of Ascoyne D'Ascoyne, one of the eight characters portrayed by Alec Guinness. She then attended Rank's "charm school", and had minor roles in What the Butler Saw (1950) and King of the Underworld (1952). This was followed by a move to the ITV company Associated Rediffusion, where she was one of the hosts of The Monday Club and appeared in nine films and two BBC series.

However, by the end of the 1960s, Valery was running a shop on west London's Portobello Road, selling bric-a-brac and secondhand clothes, when she was encouraged by her partner, Robin Jacques, the illustrator and brother of the actor Hattie Jacques, to write two volumes of autobiography. In her first volume, Baron Von Kodak, Shirley Temple and Me (1976), a witty reminiscence of a London childhood in the 1920s and 30s, she wrote about her misdiagnosis of dyslexia and her hatred of the schools she attended; the second volume was The Edge of a Smile (1977).

During this period, Valery had become a prolific writer, working on the soaps Crossroads and Emmerdale, and a comedy, Nanny Knows Best, starring Beryl Reid. Her break with the BBC came when she was invited to write for the series Angels (1975-83) about student nurses. It was there that her friendship with Hyem was kindled. After Tenko, Valery wrote, with the likes of Fay Weldon, for Ladies in Charge (1986), a drama series about a women's employment agency in the early post-war years. It was based on the "Universal Aunts", an agency set-up after the First World War by young women returning from the Front with a new sense of independence.

Valery remarked later that throughout her life she had always liked to "push the boundaries of convention". Hyem described her as "flamboyant, funny, fierce, fantastical and infuriating. I shall never forget her."

Martin Childs

Anne Valery, actress and scriptwriter: born Hampstead, London 24 February 1926; married Nanos Valaoritis (marriage dissolved, one son deceased); died London 29 April 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence