Whodunnit?

Discussion in 'Cult TV' started by Mel O'Drama, Apr 26, 2019.

  1. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    A panel game on DVD? Oh - go on then.

    This space, I suspect, will mostly be a series of sightings of future soap stars, whimsical nostalgia over b-list celebs who were doing the circuit in the Seventies and news about what the well-dressed panellist was wearing in 1973.

    Even with some decent sets and costumes and even some location work, the Pilot episode felt dry and plodding at times. There's something static and low energy about the series so far, and perhaps a little clunky. Some of this will be a case of adjustment for me. I've been watching a fair bit of TV from the era, but mostly sitcoms (my most recent watch has been ...And Mother Makes Three and its sequel series, both also made by Thames and airing around the same time as this series). Whodunnit? is a panel game interspersed with dramatic enactments of the moments leading up to a crime. And switching between the two so far feels a little unsatisfactory. Just as I get used to one format it switches to the other.

    More than the drama or the guesswork I'm in this for the guest-stars. The IMDb entry for Whodunnit? is a veritable Who's Who of the British entertainment industry and I think my enjoyment levels will rise as does the number of familiar faces. The first couple of episodes have been fairly low on people I recognise. The highest rating on the excitement scale came in Episode Two when Howards' Way's Jan Harvey appeared, dolled up to the nines (it took me perhaps fifteen seconds to place her as she looked quite different to Jan Howard). Sadly though, she was not questioned at all during the panel sections, which is a shame as I wanted to see her ad libbing in character. Emmerdale's Alan Turner was questioned and did a very nice job of coming up with answers on the spot.

    The panellists themselves have been... interesting at times. A real-life detective who looked like Jodie Foster but was pretty clueless about the criminal (Hannibal Lecter would have eaten her for breakfast). A former head of the Flying Squad. And a visibly nervous crime writer Dick Francis who knew his stuff but seemed to crumble into a bit of a wreck every time the camera pointed at him. I found his shyness endearing, and I know how he feels as I'm just not designed for a world of camera phones. I love how seriously they took this. Were this filmed today, we'd probably get a panel full of prune pouting, Instagram happy reality stars.

    Then there are the chairmen. Shaw Taylor was perfectly fine in the Pilot and I can't help wondering why he didn't do the series. Edward Woodward - a panellist in the Pilot - took over the chair from the next episode. It's easy to see why he would be asked as he was the most captivating thing in the Pilot and really gave one of the suspects a good playful grilling during questioning ("Don't mess me about, mate. Come on. I've 'ad your type before, you know"). His chairman style, too, has been on a par with Shaw Taylor's, but his switched role means the panel is less colourful.

    The next episode is an interesting one historically, since Taylor is back: this time as a panellist. Alongside him will be panellist (and future chair) Jon Pertwee in his Whodunnit? debut, meaning that all three chairmen will appear on the same show.
     
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  2. Angela Channing

    Angela Channing World Cup of Soaps Moderator

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    I used to love Whodunnit? I recall regular panellists being celebrities who were only famous for appearing on Whodunnit? like Anouska Hempel and Rula Lenska. Some of the clues were really obvious but the panellists would either missed them completely or would state what they were instead of keeping them to themselves in recognition that they should be competing against each other. Great 1970s TV lunacy.
     
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  3. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Either I'm getting into the swing of the series now or the series is getting better. It's becoming increasingly enjoyable. Already I'm starting to reach that point where I look forward to sitting down to a couple of episodes later in the evening. Even the repeated clips are keeping my interest.

    Shaw Taylor was somewhat more inconspicuous as a panellist than he was as chairman. I only really noticed him because I was interested in the switch of role between he and Edward Woodward. Was it my imagination, or did Edward Woodward take a couple of opportunities to flex his authoritative muscles to Shaw by refusing a request or hurrying him along during questioning?

    Future chairman Jon Pertwee was the most entertaining panellist yet. His tongue was planted firmly in his cheek from start to finish and he mocked the acting in the dramatic enactment so thoroughly that when scenes were repeated the audience was guffawing.

    The fashion episode was great fun, with even more outrageous costuming than usual and key characters consequently looking like they'd stepped off the set of the Batman series. The effect was compounded by character actor Aubrey Morris camping it up.

    Interesting to see Valerie Von Ost, who I only really know from her fairly small but memorable roles in a couple of the Carry Ons. And Sally Geeson was delightfully clueless as a panellist. I can never get the "Jee-sun" pronunciation of her name straight in my head. Whenever I read it it always becomes "geese-un".




    I can imagine this being the case. Some of the faces on the panel have been vaguely familiar but I couldn't tell you where I know them from.

    There have been a few instances in the episodes I've watched so far where someone guessed the murderer but for all the wrong reasons. And conversely, others have picked up on the clues but haven't been able to work out why they're significant or who they point the finger at. What's enjoyable is that Edward Woodward hasn't airbrushed it in any way and has humorously pointed out where they've gone wrong.
     
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  4. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson SoapLand Battles Moderator

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    The celebrity panel game show (any kind of game) was extremely popular in the 70s and 80s. They weren't really playing to win, they had to cause hilarity and entertain the audience.
    If they had one of the openly gay celebrities then you knew it was going to be mayhem.
    Everything was shocking and funny, and how we laughed and laughed.

    Re-watching the MOORDSPEL episodes I was reminded of the patience we used to have while watching these shows: the show ballets, the endless prattling, applause for this and applause for that.
    We had many other quiz shows (more show than quiz) and we always rooted for our favourite candidates - it was a very interactive experience.
    Most of these candidates were young couples (engaged or newlywed) and each time they won a round they could choose a prize - the refrigerator, microwave and colour tv sets were the Big Ones. ("ooh's" and "aah's" from the audience).
    But I digress.
     
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  5. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    The guest-stars continue to titillate. The Howards' Way connection reached an exciting peak in Series One when Dulcie Gray and her husband Michael Denison appeared as panellists, questioning a shiver of suspects that included one Stephen Yardley. I was fascinated by the Denisons' old school poise and elegance. They were very charming indeed, even if rather poor at sleuthing.

    Other familiar faces have included panelists Sheila Hancock, Barbara Windsor, Harry H. Corbett, Leslie Crowther, Richard O'Sullivan and Henry Cooper; suspects Roy Barraclough, Michael Ward and Ursula Howells; and murder victim Madge Hindle (from Nearest And Dearest, but perhaps best remembered as Corrie's Renee Bradshaw).

    In an exciting development, the stories of murders acted out have become extremely watchable. In some cases they've become the most enjoyable part of the episode, especially in cases where the grandstanding of the panel becomes too much.

    Sign of the times 1: the chain smoking by some of the panellists looks rather alien now. All at once it seems rudely anti-social and comfortingly nostalgic. And it's not just the panellists. Suspects have at times wreathed themselves in smoke while being questioned and Edward Woodward was seen to spark up more than once, though he had the courtesy to wait until the commercials were about to run.

    Sign of the times 2: The playbacks taking about five minutes for the behind-the-scenes crew to find, with the show structured so that the waiting time is properly filled in. And as soon as they're ready to roll, the questioning -no matter how exciting - is interrupted for the scene to replay (although part of me wonders if this is sometimes strategic, to stop the panel getting too much information). In these days of streaming, TiVo, Blu-ray and On Demand, it's endearingly quaint.

    I've just realised that I haven't yet made any observations about Series Two with its new format. Jon Pertwee is a nice host. There's an avuncular warmth to him, and the tone feels decidedly lighter. Edward Woodward's was a more authoritative approach and it wasn't unusual for him to challenge panellists who tried to push to ask more than their allocated number of questions (I really liked this). Pertwee is more relaxed about the whole thing, but on the whole still manages to keep hold of the reigns. It's also nice to see occasional references to his own contribution to pop culture at that point. In his first episode as chair, he added an alternative title of "Doctor Whodunnit?". This has cascaded out to other parts of the show. One of the suspects, when asked to give details about letters she had posted, confessed that one of them was to the Doctor Who fan club, asking for Jon Pertwee's autograph (I assume this was an ad lib, as are much of the suspects' responses).

    I do miss Edward Woodward saying goodnight and God bless at the end of each episode and telling me with deep sincerity to have a lovely week. Call me a fool, but each time he said it I really believed he meant it.


    Absolutely, Willie. And on that level Whodunnit? is a hit with me.
     
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  6. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson SoapLand Battles Moderator

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    And did you manage to solve one of the whodunnits?
     
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  7. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    I'm pretty hopeless and very easily led down the wrong path with a red herring or two.

    So, no. :oops:

    But I'm still enjoying myself, and that's the main thing.
     
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  8. Sarah

    Sarah Super Moderator Staff Member Original Member Since 1998

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    I always ALWAYS associate the word Whodunnit with Who Shot JR? That's when I first heard it and I have no idea whether or not that's where the word actually originated.
     
  9. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Well, Whodunnit? the series began in 1972. Even then the expression had been in common use for quite some decades.
     
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  10. Sarah

    Sarah Super Moderator Staff Member Original Member Since 1998

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    I am devastated. All this time I really thought Whodunnit was about JR @Mel O'Drama

    [​IMG]
     
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  11. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson SoapLand Battles Moderator

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    And now you can dance to it
     
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  12. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Mega Star

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    Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler and ting.
     
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  13. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    And Abbot & Costello...

     
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  14. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Series Three is now halfway through and the format has been tweaked once more. Now there are two regular panelists - Anouska Hempel and Patrick Mower - accompanied by two guests each week. There are pros and cons to the change. Rather like Just A Minute or Give Us A Clue, having regular panellists perhaps lets them set the tone a little more and keep things on track - particularly with how seriously Patrick Mower seems to take the game. There's also, perhaps, an increased familiarity factor to the audience.

    But really, the panel was always a familiar one anyway. It was a rare week when several of the panel weren't instantly recognisable, and even the ones that weren't quickly grew on me. There's also the risk that familiarity breeds contempt, particularly when a regular is very competitive, as Mower seems to be (I'm at a loss to understand why Mower's apparent alpha male qualities are less tolerable to me than Edward Woodward's, which were an attractive part of the show for me).

    Guest panelists in the episode I watched last night were Jack Smethurst and Nina Baden-Semper. The latter was charming. Smethurst did the David Jason/Barbara Knox thing of affecting an upper middle class accent and at one point shot out a racist one-liner at his colleague's expense.

    Bill Dean was in the last episode I watched, along with Frank Thornton. Is there a series of this era that these chaps weren't in?
     
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  15. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson SoapLand Battles Moderator

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    It must have been a lucrative time for celebrities. There was always a need for special guest appearances.
     
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  16. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    The series is a delightful little pop culture time capsule if one cares to put the pieces together. Lindsay Wagner was introduced as "star of the new series The Bionic Woman" and indeed, that show's first episode aired just days before her Whodunnit? appearance, so she must have been in the country on a promotional jag. Richard O' Sullivan, Brian Murphy and Yootha Joyce were all most associated Man About The House at this point and their respective spinoffs were, as Pertwee told us, due to start in the autumn.


    George Savalas was introduced Kojak's younger brother and indeed, I couldn't tell you what he's known for besides appearing on that show with his more famous sibling.

    As a Brit I felt a rush of vicarious embarrassment at the terribly cheesy murder mystery which played out during Lindsay Wagner's appearance It was set a century in the future, so there was lots of tinfoil and white clothing. And, of course, a robot butler. To my relief, Lindsay seemed to enjoy herself, though what she said upon her return home was anybody's guess.

    Both Americans got top billing on their appearances, and I wonder if this was contractual since Americans were far more concerned about this kind of thing than Brits. Interestingly, both George and Lindsay correctly guessed the murderer and their motive. Could that have been contractual too?!


    The show seems to become slicker by the year. Series Four has seen a couple more tweaks to the format. Out have gone the regular panelists Anouska Hempel and Patrick Mower, though they've still made a couple of appearances. I must say I prefer the fun of not knowing who is going to appear each week and the changing dynamics that come with each motley team.

    In have come the TV Times competition winners as one of the panellists each week, and I must say they've fitted in well. Along with them has come a return to a gimmick from the very first series where, if they guess correctly they may take home an item from the set. I can't help but wonder what has become of the prop in each case. Did it take pride of place on the mantelpiece, or was it given to charity? Maybe I should check eBay to see if any of them have surfaced.

    In another tweak, the audience is re-shown one last clip which we are told is a key to solving the murder. It feels a little like cheating but, frankly, I need all the help I can get.

    Returning panellists this year have included the wonderful Terry Scott, Sheila Hancock, the brilliantly eccentric Magnus Pyke (the sight of him seated next to the Bionic Woman was rather a bizarre one, and they seemed to genuinely enjoy each other's company), and Richard O'Sullivan. First time panellists this year included a joint appearance from George and Mildred Roper themselves: Brian Murphy and Yootha Joyce. Both were partly in character, with some light quarrelling amongst themselves.

    Also returning were Jan Harvey and Stephen Yardley. This time they appeared together in a murder mystery. This was news to me. I know they're now husband and wife in real life, but I thought they'd met on the set of Howards' Way.
     
  17. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Mega Star

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    Gosh, I remember that - her being in the UK, that is. She apparently got in a bit of a huff because the tabloid photographers wanted her to pretend to hold up a car with her (non-bionic) right arm.

    [​IMG]

    That's nice to know. She came across as a right old misery on Graham Norton's Channel 4 years later!

    Gosh, I always associate the show with those two. She seemed impossibly pretty, like Lynsey de Paul but more so. The only other thing I remember her from was SPACE: 1999. Then years later, she had a properly posh boutique on the Fulham Road.

    I always remember WHODUNNIT as being on on Monday evenings in the same slot as CROSSROADS which aired from Tuesday to Friday. If it wasn't WHODUNNIT, it was THE DAVID NIXON MAGIC SHOW.
     
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  18. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    How funny. And here I thought fans were the pedants.*

    I remember that picture with the Mini though, so it did the job regardless.

    * I could, were I so inclined, point out that her right arm actually is the bionic one. But since she feels so strongly about it I'm not sure I'd dare


    Oh marvellous. I'd love to watch it but it doesn't appear to be on YouTube.


    Funnily enough, after my last post I did a bit of Googling about her. She's now a respected interior designer and hotelier. And a very wealthy lady indeed.

    Oh, and there's also this...





    Happy days! So it was on quite early in the evening, then? That's interesting.

    Speaking of time slots and the like, there was a little censorship in an episode where one of the suspects was being grilled and pointed out quite crudely how drunk another woman was. It's not clear what he said (I'm assuming "pissed", but it could have been something a little stronger), but it practically brought the game to a standstill and Terry Scott commented (with what I read as an undercurrent of disapproval) that the series was about to be abruptly cancelled forever. With all the actors winging it, I'm enjoying the unpredictability.


    Oh - and not really related, but I'm enjoying the creativity of the series at this point with the twists and variations that keep the viewer interested each week. A couple of examples of this would be an episode in which all the suspects claim to have committed the murder and a story in which all the suspects have ingested poison and keep falling over dead as they are being questioned by the panellists.

    Michael Ward's death just after the 31 minute mark is the funniest thing I've seen on the show yet. And it happens while he's talking about being in Crossroads to boot.



    Great fun!
     
  19. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Mega Star

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    D'oh, my Bionic bad!

    Blimey, Charlie.

    Ha! And Jon Pertwee doesn't half look like Bea Arthur.
     
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  20. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Doesn't he just?

    You read my mind, James. Jon gets a little more Zbornak-esque with each passing series. It's all there... The barnet. The blouse. The biting one-liners.
     

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