Cluedo (Series One)

CONTAINS SPOILERS

As it’s Halloween what better way time to talk about a murder mystery game show… from 24 years ago. I’ve always got my finger right on the pulse. And this being the internet I still feel I have to label that it contains spoilers in case anyone complains.

Cluedo is a popular Waddingtons board game that has seen many different incarnations, and was even adapted to what has become a cult classic film, Clue in 1985. This television version in the UK in the 1990s was also an attempt to bring the game itself to the screen, adapting it as a gameshow. The theme music sounds a bit like the theme music from The Bill, but with creepy haunted house sound effects thrown in.

Like the board game, there would be a murder committed at Arlington Grange, and the contestants had to deduce from six suspects, six potential weapons and which of the six rooms the murder was committed in.

There were four series and a Christmas special. Here I’ll talk about the first series from 1990, which was presented by James Bellini, and the contestants were two teams of two. In this first series it was a celebrity, including in this series Andrew Sachs (Manuel in Fawlty Towers) and Thelma Barlow (Mavis in Coronation Street) paired with a private detective, someone who had worked in the police force or a criminologist, while in later series the teams would just be two celebrities. After seeing a film showing the events leading up to the murder, the contestants would have to ask questions to the suspects, played by well known TV actors, and all the suspects had to tell the truth, only the murderer could lie. In this series the studio audience would vote halfway through as to who they thought the murderer was. When the answer of who was the murderer, what weapon they used and in which room they committed the crime was discovered, the spotlight would go on the murderer who would make a confession.

The best thing about this show however was never really the gameshow aspect, but the drama of the murder and the actors all staying in character as they were interrogated in the studio.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock, the lady of the manor in Arlington Grange, is just the sort of part that Stephanie Beacham was born to play. She looks very glamorous, a beautiful grande dame wearing sparkly silver and blue dresses, big hats and lots of diamonds. I like a lot of the little things she does in her performance, such as drinking vodka and tonic and rolling her eyes at how the evening is going, and how she often gives death glares at people who have displeased her. It is notable that her version of Mrs. Peacock is the only character to be the murderer twice in one series, in the first episode Countdown, and in Going, Going, Goner. The latter sees one of the confessions which got the biggest laughs from the audience, as she laments about having “paid a fortune for a forgery” and after slicing the antiques dealer with a sword, “Oh they’ll understand it was an accident. Well they will…. won’t they?”. Stephanie Beacham is fabulous in this part, I can see why her character was used a lot in this series.

Reverend Jonathan Green (Robin Nedwell) in this version, he’s “green” as in interested in green issues. He’s an environmentalist, an animal lover and a vegetarian. The issue he’s most concerned with is raising money for his Save The Mole charity. He’s quite mole-like in appearance himself. He seems to be such a nice man that you find it hard to believe he is capable of murder, and indeed it turns out he never is the murderer.

June Whitfield is great as Mrs. Blanche White. Mrs. White in this series is a gossipy tea lady who takes sneaky drinks of sherry from little bottles in her handbag. The studio audience often booed quite loudly whenever she was accused, as she is very likeable and funny. When once asked if she hit someone with a statue she replies “I wouldn’t dream of doing anything to that statuette!”. The one time the studio audience did believe she was the murderer was the time when it was obvious she was, having been the only one who had any real interaction with the victim. She kills with poisoned lemonade!  She says in her confession, “He was very grateful for it. Well, he wasn’t to know it was poisoned”.

The version of Professor Peter Plum (Kristoffer Tabori) in this series is quite different from how the character is usually portrayed. He is a bit younger, and American, a graduate from Harvard University. He has a hopeless crush on Miss. Scarlett, and seems more interested in dodgy insider trading on the stock market than academia. He is very annoying in the studio though, getting up and protesting loudly about being accused.

The two least interesting members of the cast in this series are Miss. Vivienne Scarlett (Tracy-Louise Ward) and Colonel Michael Mustard (Robin Ellis). It’s not as though there’s a lot wrong with how the actors play it, and there is the Peacock-Mustard-Scarlett love triangle as always, but they don’t really do very much.

Miss. Scarlett in this version is very by-the-numbers. She’s basically a trust fund girl with far too much money and free time driving around in her fancy red car flirting with various men. This version of Colonel Mustard is a bit dull. He’s so uptight and formal, he’s more like a newsreader. He’s the only version of Colonel Mustard in all series of the game show not to have a moustache. That is literally the most significant thing about him!

As often is the case with murder mysteries, they make the murder victim a bit of an arsehole so there are no shortage of suspects and motives. The victim in the first episode Countdown is Henri de Beauchamp, a fake French comte (and yes, the show does make play of the fact that “comte” sounds very like a certain insulting word that’s seldom allowed to be used on TV). Henri’s French accent is bad, which is deliberate, but his actual apples and pears Cockernee accent isn’t much better.

Episode two, Deadly Disco, sees property developer Mr. Hall wanting to drain the village duck pond to build a discotheque. How could I not adore a show that has an episode synopsis like that?

Mrs. Janet Hope in episode three, A Bridge Too Far is a bridge hustler, who meets her end getting whacked on the head with a bridge trophy by Miss. Scarlett.

Peregrine Talbot-Wheeler, an art critic and presenter of (fictional) TV show called The Antiques Treasure Trail, is such an awful obnoxious, pretentious snob it’s hilarious. He tries to blackmail Mrs. Peacock in the fourth episode Going, Going, Goner, but as mentioned above it doesn’t end well for him.

In episode five Politician’s Funeral we meet smug Mr. Chapman, of which there seem to be a lot of motives. He’s a rival candidate for Colonel Mustard to be elected as an M.P, he cattily mentions that the deaths of Mrs. Peacock’s two husbands were suspiciously convenient for her financially speaking, and he’s seen going off somewhere with Miss. Scarlett, but it’s still fairly obvious the murderer is Professor Plum, as Chapman was his boss  and had just fired him.

The best episode is the final one, A Fete Worse Than Death, despite the corny pun. It is set in the village fete, which is to be opened by Bernard Kirkbride (Art Malik), a rude, horrible minor celebrity most famous for coffee adverts. Everybody hates him. But in a genuinely unexpected twist… he isn’t the murder victim! That turns out to be a man in a fancy dress dragon costume. As host James Bellini puts it “The Dragon has been slain”. In the studio we find out the backstory to this. The Dragon was in fact a policeman who Mrs. Peacock has asked to work undercover because the previous year the proceeds of the fete were stolen, and she wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again. The ‘Dragon’ is killed by Mrs. White’s poisoned lemonade.

This series of Cluedo was a lot of fun, and I think the most enjoyable. What is surprising is how it took some chances and how it played with its own conventions compared to the series which followed, such as a different sort of Professor Plum and Reverend Green than usual for instance, and the Bait and Switch in the final episode with the murder victim not being the most obvious one. The other series became a lot more formulaic. That’s not to say they weren’t good themselves, and I’ll talk about the other series later on, but I think this one was the best.

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3 Responses to Cluedo (Series One)

  1. Leo Parkes says:

    Great synopsis!

    My memory of this series is vivid, despite being little more than an infant at the time! (I turned 6 during the first series’ run) Even at that age I had been introduced to ‘Clue’, and had latched onto it as my obsessive movie of choice. The board game followed, then the timely arrival of the TV show, which although I considered a poor second to the film, I condescended to cast my eye over it.

    The main thing I remember is being a little bit in love with Stephanie Beacham – I thought she was the most magnificent thing I’d ever seen! The show itself seemed so grand, the plotlines sinister and nothing at all played tongue in cheek or for laughs. (viewing it again after several years, you definitely alter your opinion on that score)

    I was a very sensitive boy, and after witnessing Mrs Peacock deviously leading her fraudulent fiancé into a poisonous trap, I became quite upset! I was assured that no-one had really died and it was all make believe, but every Wednesday at 7pm I would feel a knot in my stomach, as the Central continuity announcement gave way to the rumbling, ominous music over the long shot of the fateful mansion, complete with CGI thunderclouds enveloping the scene! (hey for a 6 year old kid that’s some scary stuff) And I realised that another unfortunate soul was to meet his (or her) doom, at the hands of one of our colourful cast.

    Each week I’d watch the episode right up until the denouement – then I’d mostly close my eyes or hide outside the door, until well after I’d heard the music swell into the Psycho-esque ‘kill moment’. Although clearly a Herculean test of nerves for impressionable little Leo, this series would leave such an imprint that when it returned for future series, I couldn’t not tune in.

    Viewing it as a jaded, cynical 30 year old in 2015, I still find it compulsive! Apart from the Jon Pertwee fronted ‘Whodunnit’ from the 1970s, there just hasn’t been a show like it, either before or since. I quite agree with your comments regarding taking chances with characters, plots etc. Another point is that you just didn’t expect Mrs Peacock to kill again that series, especially not so soon (in the midlands, Going Going Goner was shown third, and A Bridge Too Far fourth). So this meant that by the end of the series, not only had 2 of the suspects not killed yet, but you felt it could easily be any of the others who had!

    You could tell the producers were trying to make the show contemporary, with references to popular culture, the use of extras displaying the fashions of the day, Reverend Green’s environmentalism, Ms (not Miss – this is the 90s folks – check the opening/end titles!) Scarlett lolling around in shell suits & trainers, and the cult of celebrity looming large with TV presenters and advert stars featuring in the plots. I love the weapons switch each episode too – using the traditional board game instruments of death each episode would have become very dull very quickly. (Dragon’s Tail is still my favourite of the series)

    I’m very fond of series 1, I think the confession and murder flashbacks are more detailed and effective, the sinister theme during the intro of the weapons and rooms sets the mood nicely, I like the full length opening and end titles, the effort to keep all the characters in their colours (if only a tie or handkerchief) is a nice touch and I like the interplay between the suspects too. The question and answer sessions seem more authentic and slightly less rehearsed than in later series as well.

    It does have its low points – some of the motives are slightly flimsy – Colonel Mustard getting slightly peeved at a bitchy remark over dinner for example – which makes it slightly easier to point the finger at the guilty party. Also I’d have liked to see the 6 weapons feature more prominently – some we only see displayed in the studio, never brandished during the film.

    Overall though, a great start and the foundation for both the series’ continuance, and my love of the game.

    • fused says:

      Thank you! I like your comments about the series too.

      I always find it interesting how films/shows are products of their time, as you note with the contemporary references they tried to put in.

      The only series I saw the first time round was the final one, I was about 7 or 8 I think. I didn’t even know they’d done 3 previous ones with different casts until much later. It never scared me as a kid though, or anyone else who watched it at school as far as I can remember. Maybe that just says something about us lot in Yorkshire though…

      The series did leave a big impression on me however, so I went out of my way to find and watch the previous ones. I agree that viewing as an adult is much different from viewing it as a kid (seeing the fourth one again, I never realised how hammy it was first time round!). But I do still enjoy the series, and all the ones I saw as an adult. In fact, I think the first series is probably the best one overall, and Stephanie Beacham in particular is brilliant. I think she’s my favourite out of all the Cluedo cast members.

      • Leo Parkes says:

        Haha no I was just a sensitive child. By about series 3 I was fine with the murders – best part of the episode!

        I think without Stephanie Beacham, the show may not have been a hit. I believe we had just been enjoying her stint as Sable Colby on ‘Dynasty’, and that touch of shoulder-padded opulence was very much in vogue at that time. She and of course the marvellous June Whitfield! Yes compared to, say, the Xmas special or Series 4, this felt very ‘early 90s’.

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