Cluedo (Series Four)

CONTAINS SPOILERS

This series of Cluedo was actually the first I saw, and the only one I watched when it was first broadcast. I was 7 and in my first year of junior school, and I remember me and my friends talking about it a lot in the playground. It also inspired me to buy the board game, which is quite different from this game show, but I am glad I did.

Watching this series again, the biggest difference is I notice how hammy it is!  It never registered before. But I can’t believe how many of the lines I can remember from it after all this time.

Anyway, it was first broadcast in 1993, with Richard Madely returning as the host. He is a lot better than he was in the previous series, he seems to have settled into the job a bit more. The series introduced a few changes, some minor, such as rather than the host talking about the murder weapons in the studio, he goes through Arlington Grange itself. As usual, the murder weapons changed each episode, but what was unusual compared to other series was some of the choices for murder weapons. They included a flamethrower, a heart-shaped G-string, a toilet chain and a poisonous snake.

The biggest change though was that the TV audience were shown the murder before the game had begun, with an option to look away or close your eyes if you didn’t want to see it. I always watched it, I guess I’m impatient like that.

The studio also got a redesign, looking very like a haunted house. An imposing looking staircase, candelabras, a fireplace with fading flowers and statues in the background, with a dark blue night sky. It looked fairly grand and gothic. Most of the characters wouldn’t be out of place in a horror film either.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock is played by Joanna Lumley. She has the most unusual costume of all the Mrs. Peacocks. She has a black wig which makes her look like Mystic Meg, and her costume looks like it might have been inspired by Angelica Houston as The Grand High Witch in The Witches. She wears gloves all the time and in one episode she even has a blue hooded cape! You half expect her to start casting spells. As with the previous series, I wonder if they wanted to move away from the grande dame thing, or perhaps they didn’t want viewers to be reminded of her Absolutely Fabulous character Patsy Stone? In any case, Joanna Lumley is great as Mrs. Peacock, who she plays as a psychotic yet classy ice queen.

Talking of reminding viewers of other roles, one thing that’s interesting about John Bird’s version of Professor Peter Plum is that he looks a lot more like Tom Baker’s version of the Doctor in Doctor Who than Tom Baker himself did when he played Professor Plum. John Bird’s version is also the most Mad Scientist-like of the lot. He uses a self-made flamethrower to light barbeques, and has bugs planted all over Arlington Grange with a lot of cassette tapes of conversations. At one point he is seen wearing a gas mask and putting a poison he has invented into a fishtank, and remarks “Genius! When this stuff gets into the wrong hands I’ll be worth millions!”. If all this doesn’t make him seem twisted enough, there’s his confession when he is the murderer. He kills a farmer who has found some lost buried treasure, and the murder weapon he uses is part of the treasure itself, a gold-plated knife.  Professor Plum says “The treasure he unearthed was buried again. In his back.”

Mrs. Blanche White, played by Liz Smith, is quite different from the other versions in previous series. She reminds me more of other Miss. Havishams than other Mrs. Whites. Her costume makes her look as if she might have stepped right out of the Victorian era, and it almost looks like she is covered in cobwebs. She is completely batty, she absentmindedly puts rat poison into a food dish and is seen handling a venomous adder in the kitchen. As creepy as she is, thanks to Liz Smith’s talents for comedy, she is also one of the funniest characters in this series. My favourite line of hers is “I don’t know, there’s not one of them with an appetite any bigger than a picky church mouse”.

The Reverend Jonathan Green was played by Nicholas Parsons, who had been a contestant in the previous series. This version of the Reverend was very pompous and in keeping with the pattern of this series, very creepy. He had a sort of Demon Headmaster quality to him. He was having an affair with one of his parishioners, while her husband was ill no less. When he is the murderer, his motive is that the victim knew of a murder he had gotten away with before!

Miss. Vivienne Scarlett (Jerry Hall) in this series is of all the Scarletts the closest in appearance to the drawing of her in the original board game. She is a glamorous blonde dressed head to toe in scarlet; dress, handbag, lipstick, nail varnish, jewellery, and her car is also scarlet. As much as Jerry Hall’s version of her is kind of fun in a corny B Movie film noir femme fatale sort of way, her acting is pretty awful.

Colonel Michael Mustard (Leslie Grantham) is an ex-SAS man. Usually Colonel Mustard is upper class, this one isn’t. In fact, his motive for murder is that he was treated badly because of his social class by the upper class officers in the army. However, the casting of Leslie Grantham was extremely controversial, as he had been convicted of murder in real life before he became an actor, after shooting and killing a taxi driver when he was a solider.

The series followed the same format as the previous three, with two teams of two having to quiz the suspects and make a deduction, and there being six episodes in the series.

My favourite episode was episode four ‘The Hanged Man’ featuring Jean Alexander as a psychic named Marjory Hunt. She is creepy like most of the other characters this series, and fits with the slightly supernatural tone the series has. When she is reading tarot cards for them she talks of  “Flames everywhere, the fires of hell”, “Blood on your hands” and “A shadow follows you, plague and pestilence are your bedfellows and there’s no escape, not for the birds in the air or the fish in the sea”. While it is a similar idea to series three’s ‘Scared to Death’, it is done much, much better here. This episode also saw a good bit of observation from John Virgo when he was a contestant. He spotted a newspaper headline “Hit and Run Tragedy” next to the lighter in the drawing room. As Miss. Scarlett had been shown earlier with a damaged car light and she was so desperate to get it fixed. It was indeed Miss. Scarlett in the drawing room with the lighter, worrying the psychic would be able to tell she was guilty.

Other guest actors included Ian McNeice playing Sir. Nigel Hussey, a grotesque, slimy obese cabinet minister, and Caroline Langrish playing Candice Costello, a.k.a. Farrah Fox a manipulative and vain crime novelist.

The final episode of the series, and indeed the final episode of Cluedo ever, was ‘Publish and Be Damned’. Tabloid journalist Roger Morgan comes to Arlington Grange to get gossip on a (fictional) member of the royal family named Princess Catherine. Miss Scarlett told him lots of sleazy stories of sex, alcohol and gambling, but they are all entirely made-up by her. The murderer is Mrs. Peacock, who while drunk also told Morgan similar stories, including the princess having romps with gamekeepers, playing “mucky scrabble”, and as an aside that she liked to sing Madonna songs on karaoke. The difference was all of the stories Mrs. Peacock told were true, that’s why she kills Morgan.

At the end of this episode, Madely implies that they thought the series might be recommissioned, saying “until next time” and that it is “the last in the present series” (oh, that takes me back to the ’90s! It seemed like almost every time a series ended the host or the continuity announcer would say that).  In a way, it is appropriate that this was the last ever episode, as it saw the contestants pointing out and exploiting a massive flaw with the game show. They openly accuse suspects for no other reason than to eliminate them. Russell Grant even says it’s worse to get one out three right than it is to get none, as at least if you get none right you can rule out a suspect, a weapon and a room. It’s more a process of elimination than anything else.

Series 4 showed slightly higher production values, it was more macabre in tone than the others, often feeling like a supernatural horror, and the characters were much crazier. I found this series one of the most enjoyable, probably my second favourite after the first one. It is a shame that Cluedo didn’t last longer, or that it doesn’t seem to have been repeated much. Considering that, it is surprisingly well remembered. With ITV reviving pretty much every gameshow they have ever done, would they ever revive Cluedo?  Part of me would love it if they did, though it is certainly debatable as to whether it would work today.

But either way, for all its flaws, Cluedo was a a fun show, and I’d say it deserves to be fondly remembered.

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