|Gamesman Magazine - 1991|
Issue 4 of Gamesman magazine features a rather lengthy, yet highly fascinating, interview with Kevin K. Rattan - writer for the Cluedo gameshow. The interview gives great insight into the making of and behind-the-scenes characteristics of the show.
Interestingly, the cover of this magazine represents a Dungeons and Dragons motif in which some of the characters look very very similar to the Dungeons and Dragons Clue Game of 2001.
Kevin K. Rattan has worked in T.V., for some time, recently he has written for T.V. shows such as Krypton Factor and Cluedo and is currently working as a researcher on Quest (covered in issue 3). David M. Windett interviewed him at his Rawtenstall home.
Kevin, as the writer on Cluedo, did you just write the five minute film or was there more to it?
It depends. In the first series, I was deeply involved. In the second I just contributed a script, and the producers did a lot of work which I had done in the first series. I'll answer your question with reference to the first series, since that's what I know best - and, since it's when the form of the show was set I think it will be more interesting to your readers.
So what exactly did you do?
Well initially, the producer asked me to write the whole half hour. They wanted a five minute play, then the studio section of the show was to have had written dialogue for the members of the cast. And questions for members of the panel to ask. It wouldn't work so it became a proper game show.
I ended up writing a five minute script, and a follow up script for the second half. I then had to write follow up notes for the actors, so that everyone knew where they were and what they were doing when the murder happened. It was a little bit like the kind of thing I used to do as a Dungeon Master as a kid - a bunch of role play notes, but for other people, not monsters. And of course, there was a confession to write. I was also deeply involved as we went along in briefing the actors, preparing them for questions which they might be asked (all live and dangerous) in the studio.
One thing some people didn't realize was that the writer also had to decide who did it, with what, and where, all that. I didn't just hang motives on to someone else's structure. I had to come up with the whole kaboodle.
Were there any really off the wall questions?
Oh completely mad. In one episode one of the celebrity contestants got well out of hand, and started making up his own story, which had nothing whatsoever to do with what we had prepared. In another episode, I had one of the characters telling the beginning of the joke, and one of the contestants asked the actor what the joke was. There's no way you can prepare for that, we could really only prepare for logical questions that would come from the deliberate ambiguities in the play, red herrings etc. So yes there were some off the wall questions.
Watching the episodes of the programme, the contestants only appeared to work out 'who done it' at the end of the show, were there any problems with people guessing who the murderer was too early?
On the whole no. The whole thing was carefully done so as not to be guessable, it was built so that as time went on any one of several people could have done it, there was no conclusive evidence, mainly because the nightmare is that they answer correctly on question one and you've got no show left. I think that once it ended early, by one round and then we had to put a round in and make it work for the sake of the audience at home. It was always done for real the contestants didn't know who'd done it, they asked real questions and only that once did we have to give them questions to ask, just to finish the programme and fill up that last round.
Did you have any particular difficulties writing such short scripts?
Well it is very unusual, but I'd had some experience, writing two and a half minute scripts along similar lines for Krypton Factor (the character Sam Smith, named after one of my favourite beers). That was useful experience, but still it's very difficult to try and tell a whole story in five minutes and put in all those clues, and give enough motive to all the characters. Its an unusual thing to have to do. I find myself watching feature films now, and thinking I could have done that in twenty minutes (laughter), I sit there expecting each scene to last about five seconds (more laughter).
There are no real characters in the boardgame, so how did you evolve characters for the T.V. series?
Well, there are two answers, the first one is that they gave me the basic characters. The second is that I evolved those characters so that they worked better within the T.V. show setting What I did was to put a few more character tensions in. I made Colonel Mustard and Professor Plum rivals for Miss Scarlet, I wanted to monkey around with it quite a bit, I only got part of it my way, but I was happy with the end results. Even where the basic characters were flawed - Professor Plum was too young - the quality of the actors made up for it.
The second series was different. The producers changed the actors and gave the characters different personalities and life histories, which the writers had to work to. For the first series though, I was trying to work out character relations that allowed for stresses. Those stresses had to allow the characters to lash out at people other than those in the normal group. One of the oddities of Cluedo is that the murders, unlike reality, are never domestic. You always have to kill a stranger, not a member of your cast. Actually, I used that convention to have some fun with the audience - I let them get used to obnoxious strangers always getting killed, then bumped off not the Mister Nasty in one episode, but someone wandering around in the background in a cuddly dragon suit. That kind of tinkering made it fun to do. I also enjoyed another episode where everyone sees Mrs. White try to commit the murder. Only someone else gets there first (though the audience doesn't find that out till later).
Did you have a hand in casting the show, how on earth did you get Stephany Beecham to do it?
I have an idea how they got her to do it, but she was perfect for the role. My involvement with the casting was just making suggestions, in point of fact some of the actors who I personally wouldn't have chosen turned out to be some of the best, for that reason I'm glad I didn't have too much of an input.
Once the script went to the actors, did they evolve much on set during filming?
Not really. I was involved at the rehearsal stage, and that was when problems were ironed out. On the whole, there wasn't much room for changes - In practice I only had a couple of days to write each script.
They had a writer lined up, who did a lot of Cornonation Street, and \was quite well established, and he dropped out at the last minute. The Directors called me up on the Friday, and I went to see the Producer on the Saturday lunchtime. I delivered a script twenty four hours later. That script wound up being used as one episode of the series, the one with the developers wanting to drain the village pond. It was murder to do - I'd been in London for a couple of days on the booze and had a monster hangover (laughter).
Was that the script with the revernd Green saving the moles?
Save the mole wasn't my idea. I wish it was. I always liked that and was rater disappointed when they dropped those kind of touches in the second series. I suppose the producer wanted to do a different kind of programme, with it being far darker, afar more like a real murder mystery, and first series was much more comedic, more gags etc.
You describe Cluedo as a murder mystery, but it was alight entertainment as well, did you have problems fitting the two together?
Yes, absolutely, in fact there was quite a lot of stuff that we had to edit down, it was really a very artificial thing to do. Trying to think up all these murders with a stranger getting killed for a motive that isn't too vicious. You couldn't have anybody having committed any really nasty crimes or done anything really unpleasant, the kind of thing that would really get them murdered.
The censorship sometimes went a little bit over the top, there was a lovely line from Mrs. Peacock, ad lib., she changed her confession from 'I didn't mean to kill him' to 'I didn't mean to decapitate him', which got a huge laugh from the audience, but it was decided that it was too ghastly for early evening, so it went.
Earlier, you said that you actually coached the actors to answer questions. How difficult was that and was it a very involved process?
It was a very intense process, we were filming two different shows a day so the actors had a job just knowing which show they were doing.
I would spend about an hour with the actors before each show testing them. For example I'd say to Mrs. White 'You were in the drawing room. What were you doing with the glass?', and she would reply 'I had just found some poison and was cleaning it off' or whatever. By the end of it, they could answer questions that followed from the red herrings I'd put in.
A lot of the papers assumed that it was fixed and that it wasn't spontaneous, they were wrong, and I was very impressed with the way the actors, really got into their characters and answered questions.
It's a very hair raising thing for an actor to go in and answer questions like that and be spontaneous, fortunately they were able to use their characters, in say the case of the Reverend Green he could go on about saving moles or something when really pressed.
Did Reverend Green actually kill anyone?
No, I would have liked him to but we didn't want the first series to be too predictable, so that by the last episode the audience would know who was going to do it because it was “buggins” turn. Which a lot of the papers thought would happen and very “clever clever” T.V. reviewers were saying so. We knew this would happen so we had someone commit two murders, and this meant the Reverend never got to murder anybody.
In the board game there are some well defined weapons, why didn't you use them in the series?
It was decided that the viewers might bet bored seeing the same weapons each week. So what I did was use types of weapon, there was always a method of strangulation, a telephone cord or a rope, there was always a gun of some sort and I always used to bludgeon weapons, one usually inside the house and one outside.
I had quite a lot of fun with the planting of possible murder weapons, usually making sure that the contestants could see them in certain scenes. In one episode however I used the crooklock without any one actually seeing it, the producer thought no one would go for it as the murder weapon because of this, but I had the professor go outside during the play, and it worked. One of the contestants followed the line of reasoning I'd set up, saying the Professor had done it using the crooklock that he had fetched from outside. Actually they were wrong Plum did it with a black tie. It was nice to see people reasoning the way I expected.
So you were playing games with the audience?
Always, ultimately you can't afford to make things truly deducible, because if you do then somebody would deduce it , and there would be no programme. What I tried to do was set up an opening situation which could have any one of several logical solutions, and on the whole what pleased me was that people did develop those solutions.
I don't know what happened in the second series, because I didn't see it being recorded, but for the first series I was in the studio and I could see the contestants solving the puzzle I had set for them within the logical framework of the game. If they asked the right questions and interpreted the answers correctly they could by a process of elimination find out who the murderer was.
What did you like best about Cluedo?
I got to name the characters apart from the principles. That meant I got to murder anyone I wanted in front of ten million people..... I've got a little list, they never will be missed.....