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Cutting the Mustard

Updated Thursday, 28th August 2008

Dick Skellington explains why a new cast for Cluedo is the first harvest of the cucumber season

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The silly season is upon us dear reader. Yes it is raining gold in Beijing for the non track and field elements of Team GB and as I write world leaders still have Georgia on their mind. Sadly, the lunacy of war has no silly season but I thought I’d try and enter into the spirit of things this doleful August.

The silly season is defined by the emergence of frivolous news stories in the media. You know the kind of thing I mean, ‘Killer Skunks Invade London’ and B grade celebrities eating pet hamsters. Brewers’ dictionary defines a silly season as ‘the part of the year when Parliament and the Law Courts are not sitting (about August and September)’. To this I would add academics at the Open University.

Bizarrely in other countries - such as Holland, Poland, Hungary and Norway - the silly season is called ‘cucumber time’. Cucumber time is actually derived form an old English expression while in Finland silly season literally means a ‘rotting month story’. I am not a cucumber grower but I gather that at this time of the year cucumbers are ripening nicely on a million allotments. But enough of gardening, lets get back to frivolity.

When I was a lad we would play board games at Christmas. Monopoly usually ended with mum repossessing the game after an outbreak of world war three, so we turned to Cluedo, the board game where Mrs Peacock was murdered in the library with a spanner there would be five characters, including the more easily obtainable academic Professor Plum, in search of an alibi. How sad therefore to learn this cucumber time that Colonel Mustard and his friends have been rebranded and redesigned for the 21st century, or as Cluedo aficionados might observe, mass murdered in the ballroom.

Figurines from a Cluedo set Creative commons image Icon :::mindgraph::: under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative-Commons license
Cludeo figurines

Of course Cluedo was old fashioned and stuffy: all those murders in the drawing room of the big country house. In our house we simply had one room and an outside toilet. One of the enchanting aspects of the game was that it showed the poor how the upper crust lived as we poor ate our post war rations. Now, fifty nine years after its launch in 1949, Colonel Mustard, the Reverend Green, Professor Plum, Miss Scarlett, Mrs Peacock,and Mrs White, are gone, their lives cut short by the manufacturer Hasbro’s branding department’s blinkered marketing gurus, probably with an axe.

This Christmas, should you purchase Cluedo for your loved ones it will be with a new cast of characters and a more contemporary manner of execution. Colonel Mustard and his colleagues have been replaced by, among others people, a film star and a computer game billionaire. Admittedly their surnames will survive, but that is all. Status and class, cultural background and values, each have been transformed. Stripped of their titles the characters have been given Christian names in an attempt to make the new creations more accessible in a kind of dubious 21st century celebrity make-over.

I was always attracted to the characters. Did you have a favourite? I did. Mine was the Reverend Green who I imagined was like my vicar, but straighter, if you get my drift. But now the Reverend Green has morphed into a fixer named Jacob Green. How unattractive is that? Poor Colonel Mustard has been reduced to more humble circumstances and now prances about the library as Jack Mustard, footballer pundit. The mysterious Mrs Peacock has become Eleanor Peacock, the cold and calculating daughter of a politician.

Miss Scarlett, who I always imagined being played by Diano Dors is now reincarnated as Kasandra Scarlett, yes with a ‘K’; an A-list movie star who probably does soft porn on the side in the billiard room.  

And poor old Professor Plum, who I could imagine easily being employed by the kipper tie set at the Open University forty years ago, has been reinvented as a self-made video-game design billionaire who, according to the marketing gurus at Hasbro, moved out of the dingy basement and into the ‘In Crowd’, whoever they are. The new Plum looks straight out of The Apprentice, with a heart of stone.

Alas poor old Colonel Mustard is no more. The great white hunter and colonial buffoon. The military man with a European heritage and a tendency for botching things, both dignified and dangerous, has mutated into an ex professional footballer though with the taste in fashion he shows it is not surprising that he failed to make the grade at United.

It is my favourite, the Reverend Green, who has experienced the most comprehensive make-over. He has been 'minoritised' into black British Jacob Green, financial fixer extraordinaire. Mrs White, however, remains Mrs White, but is now called Diane.

Instead of the study Cluedo enthusiasts may find themselves lost in an alien environment while the weapons themselves have been ‘brought up to date’. The olde English country house has been transformed into a luxury modern home straight out of Footballer’s Wives with a film theatre, spa, boardroom and patio. 

Murderers can now choose an axe, baseball bat or a dumb-bell in addition to those old favourites the rope, the revolver, the candlestick and surprisingly, given the soaring real-life rise in lead thefts in the Home Counties, the good old lead piping which as any connoisseur of assassination will tell you the outcome is best achieved by putting the lead pipe in an old fashioned leg warmer and whack! Silent but very deadly. And the dagger? That remains. Given the escalation in knife crime in our urban conurbations at least this new Cluedo will sell in spades in London and Manchester.

But there is more: and worse. An attempt has been made to render these new characters more life-like and human by giving them a special skill to try and fit the character with the most appropriate skill to the stiffening corpse in the conservatory. I guess the ex-footballer is an easy set up for dispatching the man-eating Kasandra in the gym with the dumb bell.

Characters have also been permitted the ability to strike again at any point in the game adding an element of suspense as players try and dodge the body count. This Hasbro reassures will increase tempo and drama. It sounds as if the makers have been watching every episode of Midsomer Murders. I am sure the prospect will fascinate Morse and Columbo enthusiasts.

Call me sentimental and old fashioned dear reader but all these changes are enough to make any grown child weep. But worry not. Be comforted. I was going to write about the Beast of Bodmin Moor, crop circles, and your own worst nightmare story: Eurowasps make a Beeline for Britain. What’s this in The Sun? Victor Meldrew Found in Space. Oh, that was August 9th, 2005.

Enjoy the cucumber harvest.





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