I’ve recently been revisiting the first series of Whodunnit? The pilot, with Shaw Taylor in the host’s chair, aired in 1972 and there was a full series the following summer (this time with Edward Woodward as mine host).
Woodward might have been a fine actor but he was endearingly out of his depth here (think of Charlie Williams hosting The Golden Shot or Max Bygraves’ stint on Family Fortunes and you’ll get the general idea). It’s not a total car crash as he does manage to get through each show without too many mishaps (apart from the classic moment when he bumps into the furniture and hops about in agony for several seconds) but Whodunnit? is not his finest hour.
There’s something of a stilted air about many of these early shows – partly because some of actors playing the suspects didn’t appear to be too comfortable improvising during their questioning by the panel but also because some of the panelists were rather dour types.
There were exceptions though. Jon Pertwee was irreverent throughout Knife In The Back (clearly he was eying Woodward’s job and imagining that, post Doctor Who, it would suit him quite nicely). Alfred Marks was another panelist whose tongue remained firmly in his cheek throughout.
Kevin Stoney was good value on the suspect front during the final show – Happy New Year – and indeed a number of his colleagues also joined in the fun in an episode which suggests the way the series will develop.
As for the mysteries, some (Missing on Voyage) were obvious whilst others were more of a lottery. Sometimes the clues made little sense to me (although it may be that I was watching too late at night and my senses weren’t at their sharpest). I found it irksome that Woodward forgot to mention any of the clues on one of episodes (presumably he accidentally skipped over that part, and it was decided that a retake wasn’t worthwhile) and he would have done the same at the end of Knife In the Back had Pertwee not prompted him.
So, this early run is a real curate’s egg. Enjoyable enough, especially for the familiar faces turning up as suspects and on the panel, but some of the playlets are a little underwhelming (Jeremy Lloyd and Lance Percival, creators and writers, weren’t going to give Agatha Christie any sleepless nights).