I was reminded of this when I went to visit the Crime and Punishment exhibition at Abbey House Museum recently. One of the displays in the exhibition was titled ‘Crime Fiction’ and showcases some of the links Leeds has to crime fiction including examples of the Cluedo board game.
Cluedo is the who-done-it of board games. Between two to six players vie to solve the mystery of who killed Dr. Black.
Players moved around the board based on a quintessential country house which is the setting for any good detective fiction novel. Each player takes the part of one of the 6 suspects and by process of elimination they have to work out who the killer is, which weapon was used and in which room the dastardly deed occurred.
The game itself was originally designed by Anthony Pratt of Birmingham. The story goes that Pratt was inspired by the party game Murder! during which guests would roam the house, creeping up on one another in corridors and the victim would shriek and then fall over. However, during the Second World War the black-out meant that there were limited opportunities for parties and games of Murder.
Instead Pratt designed a board game able to replicate some of the fun of one of his favourite games. In 1944 Pratt and his wife Elva took the game, which they had named Murder!, to Waddingtons in Leeds and presented it to Norman Watson one of the company’s executives. Watson accepted the game and promptly changed the title to Cluedo – possibly as a play on the name of the game Ludo which means ‘I play’ in Latin.
Due to post-war shortages Cluedo had to wait until 1949 before its launch and was simultaneously licensed to Parker Brothers in the United States. The relationship between the two companies was already strong with Waddingtons holding the UK license for the game Monopoly. The North American version was sold under the name Clue and had slight modifications including changing the name of the murder victim to Mr. Boddy. The suspect Reverend Green was also changed to Mr. Green apparently because Bob Barton of Parker Brothers thought that the American public would not accept a parson as a murder suspect.
The game has been highly popular across the world and has not been out of print since it was first sold in 1949. It has also spawned lots of versions across the world including a Norwegian version titled ‘Key’ which is on display in the exhibition. There was even a Leeds version of the game produced in 1993 to celebrate Waddingtons centenary. In this version the suspects were changed to local Leeds celebrities including Barbara Taylor Bradford and Jilly Cooper. The rooms of the house became local Leeds landmarks including the Yorkshire Evening Post building, Yorkshire Television and John Waddington Ltd. itself.
Whilst the Cluedo board game is still going strong the same can unfortunately not be said for Waddingtons. The games division of the company was sold to Hasbro in 1994 and the Wakefield Road factory which had been the company’s main factory site from the 1920s was closed and demolished in the early 1990s.