Fortress Singapore

Singapore was known as the impregnable fortress and its 1942 fall was described by Churchill “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British military history”.


Shortly after midnight on 8th December 1941, and simultaneously with the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the Imperial Japanese Army began a seaborne invasion of southern Thailand and northern Malaya, whilst the Japanese Air Force bombed Singapore. The Japanese assault was swift and ruthless. By the end of January, the Japanese had stormed the Island in a brutal all-out attack. In order to prevent the wholesale pillage of the city itself, Singapore’s 100,000 Allied defenders had no choice but to surrender to 30,000 Japanese troops on 15th February 1942. The conflict lasted just 70 days.

Churchill described the fall of Singapore as, ‘the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history.’  It remains one of the darkest days in the entire history of the British Empire and foreshadowed the end of the Empire and the birth of Modern Asia.  Whilst there has been rigorous analysis and debate amongst historians about the significance of the conflict, this story is not one that is well known. This ignominious defeat was swept under the carpet in the years following the War. To do otherwise could have revealed the supposed ineptitude, arrogance and endemic racism of some of the key players in the conflict … from the Generals … to the top echelons of the Malay Civil Administration … all the way through to their masters in Whitehall.

Fortress Singapore

  • Fortress Singapore has a remarkable and compelling true story to tell. Following the real historical events of the war, the story combines the political and military manoeuvrings of the elite, at the same time as brining to life the personal dramas and tragedies of those that took part. It brings depth and honesty to the characters portrayed, from the seemingly stuffiest and arrogant British and Australian Generals, to the truly heroic British, Australian, Indian, Chinese and Malay soldiers, sailors, airmen, guerrillas and civilians who display the most remarkable acts of courage, compassion and bravery in a maelstrom of cruelty, aggression and incompetence.
  • Fortress Singapore has the realism and scope to match The Pacific, an insight into those final heady days of empire reminiscent of Jewel in the Crown, as well as the honesty offered by The Crown. Fortress Singapore creates a candid, evocative and enduring drama about the events and people who witnessed the end of the British Empire and the birth of modern Asia.
Creative Overview
  • An original 10 x 1 hr epic, multi-cultural, multi-racial drama serial set against the backdrop of the fall of the so-called impregnable Fortress Singapore during World War 2;
  • The conflict lasted just 70 days and saw 100,000 British and Allied forces surrender to 30,000 Japanese troops in February 1942. Churchill called it, ‘the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history,’ but it’s a story that is largely unknown because it was swept under the carpet in order to avoid revealing the ineptitude, arrogance and racism which marked the end of the British Empire;
  • The serial is based on first-hand accounts of the conflict and interviews with Singaporean survivors of the occupation and their families as well as oral testimonies, historical papers and records;
  • It features the remarkable true stories of the real characters that lived in the rich microcosm of Singapore in the late 30s from the British, Australian, Indian, Chinese and Malay military in the thick of the action to the fascinating and varied multi-cultural locals from all strata of society;
  • These are intensely human stories of adventure, love and passion combined with edge of your seat daring, courage and compassion;
  • Audiences are introduced to the unique and unexpected juxtapositions of colonial life in all its splendour and pomposity with the ancient traditions of the local Chinese, Indian and Malay communities which are slowly giving way to emancipation and modernisation;
  • The drama features three distinct and different phases, the Build-up, the Conflict and the Occupation, forming a gripping and unpredictable narrative which brings new insight to both Western and Eastern perspectives and appeals to audiences who are global in mindset and drawn to stories that are fresh, diverse and most importantly, inclusive;
  • The feature-length pilot episode starts by capturing the chaos and destruction of the evacuation of Singapore as thousands try to leave the City under fire from Japanese Zero fighters strafing the fleeing people while Japanese bombers blast ships out of the water in Singapore Harbour.
Development Overview
  • Lead Producer: Richard Sharkey
  • Exec Producer: Tony Miller & Chris Shaw & Andrew Rice
  • Writer: Shelley Miller
  • Creative Assets: Pitch Deck, Information Deck, Presentation Bible, Ep 1 Script (feature length) & Episode 2
  • Comparisons: English Patient, Band of Brothers, Downton Abbey, The Crown
Mood Reel
Key Characters
  • Captain Ivan Lyon late 20s, his is a story of guts, grit and determination, underpinned by an intense and passionate love story. A brilliant, restless, resourceful Gordon Highlander, survival expert and sailor who was much more at home in the back streets of Chinatown or exploring the coves and jungle villages of Malaya than he was square bashing or attending white tie dinners at Raffles. Womanising and rabble rousing got him through some of the tedium, but he couldn’t help feeling he was meant for more. The garish tiger tattoo that he had emblazoned on his chest one drunken evening spoke legions about his dissatisfaction.
  • Gabrielle Bouvier, 19, French, beautiful, wilful met Ivan when he was shipwrecked in French Indochina. The intensity of his feelings towards her hit him like a thunderbolt and he went to extraordinary lengths to woo her, sailing hundreds of miles just to see her face. While she sensed the strength of his attachment, he had to work hard to convince her of his complete devotion because she would not settle for anything less.
  • Captain Freddie Spencer Chapman A true unsung hero, likened to T.E Lawrence for his remarkable courage and resourcefulness (but without the talent for self-publicity), who spent the entire occupation behind enemy lines deep in the Malayan jungle carrying out acts of sabotage and training Chinese guerrillas.
  • Elizabeth Choy is a Singapore heroine who demonstrated supreme courage and fortitude during the Japanese Occupation. At great personal risk she passed food, medicines and letters to internees in Changi prison to give them hope and fight starvation. She was regularly tortured throughout her 193 days in captivity but in all that time, she never betrayed a single person. Her story is so revered in Singapore that it is told in schools today.
  • Lim Bo Seng Chinese business man turned freedom fighter, Lim Bo Seng’s courage made him a national hero throughout the Far East. Lim was betrayed to the Kempeitai by a Chinese agent and he was arrested and tortured. He died in captivity in 1944 without betraying any of his colleagues.
  • Major Ian Stewart, 40s, of the 2nd Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, eccentric, loyal to his men, an officer who never expected anything of his men that he would not do himself, Major Stewart’s story is as remarkable as it is gripping.
  • Captain John Wyett, 30s, witnessed some of the most damaging decisions of the conflict, crossed the Causeway with Major Stewart. His resourcefulness whilst a POW at Changi saved many lives and even though he was betrayed to the Kempeitai and tortured for an extended period, he never betrayed his colleagues.
  • Lt Col S Nakajima, 30s, photographer spy who effortlessly moves between the top echelons of Singapore society, having affairs with bored military wives as well as photographing the Naval Base and other military installations.
Historical Context

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the Kranji War Memorial and Commonwealth war graves cemetery in Singapore. They were also directed to the graves of the men from Z Special Unit, Ivan Lyons unit, which was either captured or killed including during an heroic attempt to plant mines on the Japanese fleet in Singapore harbour. Tragically those who were captured were executed by their brutal captors just weeks before the end of the war on July 7 1945. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the Kranji War Memorial and Commonwealth war graves cemetery in Singapore. They laid a wreath from the Queen upon the Singapore Memorial bearing the names of more than 24,000 Commonwealth casualties from the Second World War. It is the final resting place of 4,461 Commonwealth servicemen who died fighting the Japanese in the Second World War including that of Ivan Lyons.