Lavish new television period drama The Singapore Grip is set in the Lion City and features stunning locations – all of which are in Malaysia. Based on the third book in J.G. Farrell’s Empire trilogy, published in 1978, the story revolves around rubber barons Mr Webb (Charles Dance) and Walter Blackett (David Morrissey) against the backdrop of the fall of Singapore. But the production team found the city state too gleamingly modern and urban to fit the bill for the early 1940s. Instead they headed to Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown, the capital of Penang island. “A lot of people ask why we didn’t film in Singapore,” says producer Farah Abushwesha. “This is a drama set midway through World War II, about the Japanese invasion of Singapore. Singapore is now so built up [...] you wouldn’t be able to film what we’ve been able to in Malaysia.” BBC First's The Singapore Grip trailer from Foxtel Media on Vimeo . Writer and executive producer Christopher Hampton, who spent part of his childhood in Hong Kong and whose uncle worked in Penang ahead of the second world war, says, “Malaysia was the logical decision, especially as some of [the book] was already set in Penang and it was discovered that lots of other locations could be found in Penang.” This is not the first time Malaysia has stood in for Singapore. When the film Crazy Rich Asians (2018) was released, it did not go unnoticed by Malaysians that some of the locations were in their country. A couple of those settings feature in The Singapore Grip, too. Here are some of the locations. Kuala Lumpur Carcosa Seri Negara British actors Dance, Luke Treadaway (Mr Webb’s son, Matthew), Jane Horrocks (Walter’s wife, Sylvia) and Morrissey all fell for the charms of these colonial mansions, their respective characters’ homes and where most of the plot unfolds. The twin houses in Lake Gardens were built for the British High Commission, one as a residence, the other as a guest house. In the show, Seri Negara is the home of the Blackett family while Mr Webb lives in Carcosa, named “the Mayfair”, along with a motley collection of characters including heroine Vera Chiang (played by Elizabeth Tan, who made her name on British television in 2011 by becoming the first regular Chinese character on long-running soap opera Coronation Street ), the Major and Frenchman François Dupigny. Carcosa Seri Negara was also the location for Nick Young’s grandmother’s house in Crazy Rich Asians . Having been a hotel until recently, it’s now a museum owned by the Malaysian government. TUDM Sungai Besi Reluctant hero Matthew lands at “Kallang airport”, met by the Blackett’s spoiled adult offspring, Monty and Joan. “Welcome to Singapore” proclaims the sign, although the location is in Malaysia. “The plane that Matthew lands in is a real plane. There’s a military airbase in Kuala Lumpur with a load of period planes,” says Abushwesha. Once a museum, TUDM is “closed until further notice”, a spokesman says. Royal Selangor Club This colonial era private members’ club is the location of “The Singapore Club”, which appears throughout the series. The bar is a favourite wheeler-dealer spot of Walter’s as he bumps into (sometimes literally) army officers and other rubber company owners. Carey Island Sports Club The Major and François visit the “Farquhar Club” in episode three. In reality, this country club is outside Kuala Lumpur. Although the emphasis here is on golf, François comes to play tennis while The Major gives a farcical talk to clueless expatriates and their dogs about gas masks. The Coliseum Café This is one of the few real-life locations. François meets American captain and Joan’s spurned suitor, Jim Ehrendorf, at the cafe on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman. Something of an institution in Kuala Lumpur, the Coliseum opened in 1921, when it was a popular meeting place for colonial planters, and has barely changed. Wisma Ekran When Matthew attempts to secure an exit visa for Vera at the Chinese Protectorate offices, he enters the striking art deco building now called Wisma Ekran. Originally named the Anglo Oriental Building and the headquarters of a tin mining company, the building was designed by British architect Arthur Oakley Coltman, who was prolific in art deco structures in Malaysia in the 1930s. Church of Our Lady of Lourdes Seen in the final episode (spoiler alert), “St Andrews Church Hospital, Singapore City”, where Vera and Matthew are reunited, is really this gothic-style church in Klang. Built by Catholic missionaries in 1928, its design was based on the pilgrimage shrine Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, in southwest France. Penang Armenian and Cannon Streets Vera’s neighbourhood and is as central to the plot as Carcosa Seri Negara. Her flat appears to be behind the Tiger Balm neon sign on the corner shophouse. These two streets are in picture-perfect Georgetown. “We [shot in] Chinatown in Penang, which was absolutely spectacular,” Abushwesha says. “It feels untouched and really just takes you back to that time and that period.” Cheah Kongsi This clan house on Armenian Street stands in for The Great World fun palace, where, as Monty says, there’s “food, music, dancing […] just about everything you can think of”. Including, in episode two, a woman being fired out of a cannon. It’s also the setting for Matthew and Vera’s first meeting. The ornate kongsi is one of the oldest in Penang. The Blue Mansion One of the interior scenes at The Great World takes place in the central courtyard of the Blue Mansion, so called because of its vivid exterior walls. Look out for the jazz band performance while Joan, Jim, Monty and Matthew have dinner in episode two. The photogenic courtyard was also the scene of the mahjong showdown between Nick’s mother and girlfriend in Crazy Rich Asians . Chinese tycoon Cheong Fatt Tze had the mansion built with the finest materials and according to feng shui principles in the 1850s. It’s now a charming boutique hotel with a contemporary restaurant and bar. The Esplanade Georgetown’s Esplanade encompasses the field next to Fort Cornwallis, known locally as the Padang, and the seaside promenade along the edge of the field. In episode three, the scene in which François tries to alert strollers on the waterfront and cricket players on the Padang to attacking Japanese planes, was filmed where a raid historically happened. “We filmed on the cricket pitch in Penang and the cricket pitch itself was bombed during the second world war,” says Abushwesha. The Padang is flanked by the colonial City Hall (we catch a glimpse of it when Monty drives Joan and Matthew to The Great World) and the interiors of the adjacent Town Hall stand in for the governor’s office, where Walter visits Sir Shenton Thomas. The Whiteaways Arcade, Penang Named after the upmarket department store that opened in 1900, the colonnaded exteriors of what is now an events space feature throughout the series. They are most notable in episode five, when the arcade (renamed Robinsons: in real life, Singapore’s grandest department store, which has just announced it is closing after 162 years in business) forms the backdrop of the traffic jams as Westerners scramble for the boats leaving Singapore. The building interiors stand in for the P&O ticketing office – the setting for more dramatic fleeing scenes. The exterior also features in the background in one of the final, most poignant scenes, as Singapore is finally and inevitably seized. And what is “the Singapore grip”? Matthew repeatedly asks but doesn’t receive a definitive answer until the final episode. But we couldn’t possibly reveal that answer here … this is a family magazine. The Singapore Grip premieres in Hong Kong on BBC First, on Friday, November 6, on TVB and myTV Super, as well as nowTV Channel 503.