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The Sussex mansion that inspired Cluedo

One morning last week I boarded a train in London, more than a little nervous about the contents of my luggage, which included a rope, candlestick, lead piping, wrench and a hypodermic needle.

How, I wondered, would I explain their presence if I were apprehended by a police officer en route? All I could hope was that the representative of Her Majesty’s constabulary would be familiar with Cluedo and its murder weapons, and would chuckle as I explained — and let me on my way.

For I was heading to No. 4, Tudor Close, in the village of Rottingdean, near Brighton, East Sussex, a mock-Tudor pile that inspired the classic whodunnit board game that, since its invention more than 70 years ago, has sold in its millions worldwide.

Tudor Close, the home that inspired the classic boardgame Cluedo, has gone on the market for ‘offers above £1million

The first edition of the iconic board game was even named Murder at Tudor Close after the former hotel before it sold millions of copies around the world

The first edition of the iconic board game was even named Murder at Tudor Close after the former hotel before it sold millions of copies around the world

A historic home that inspired Cluedo and once hosted Hollywood icons including Cary Grant, Bette Davis and Errol Flynn has gone up for sale. (Pictured, Cary Grant, left, and Sir Laurence Olivier, right)

A historic home that inspired Cluedo and once hosted Hollywood icons including Cary Grant, Bette Davis and Errol Flynn has gone up for sale. (Pictured, Cary Grant, left, and Sir Laurence Olivier, right)

Anthony Pratt and his wife Elva, in the early 1940s, around the time they devised their mystery game

Anthony Pratt and his wife Elva, in the early 1940s, around the time they devised their mystery game

There are several weapons plus locations (billiard room, ballroom, conservatory etc) where the dastardly deed is done and players move around the board, collecting clues to identify the perpetrator

 There are several weapons plus locations (billiard room, ballroom, conservatory etc) where the dastardly deed is done and players move around the board, collecting clues to identify the perpetrator

The Grade II building became the inspiration for the murder mystery classic after a 1937 refurbishment introduced a billiards room, ball room, ladies bar and restaurant

The Grade II building became the inspiration for the murder mystery classic after a 1937 refurbishment introduced a billiards room, ball room, ladies bar and restaurant

And my collection of ‘weapons’? Props for my own murder-mystery experience.

Many years ago, the property — which has just gone on the market for ‘over £1 million’ — was part of a cosy hotel where the guests were first thrilled with those weapons, blood-curdling screams and ‘dead’ bodies on murder-mystery evenings.

And they weren’t just any old guests. They were the cream of A-list Hollywood, ranging from Cary Grant and Errol Flynn, to Bette Davis and Merle Oberon, to Laurence Olivier and Randolph Scott.

The Tudor Close Hotel shut in 1952 and reverted to individual homes. Today, No. 4, which formed its entrance, foyer and lounge, is a charming four-bedroom house where Denise and Trevor Hopper have lived for a decade.

‘Professor Plum did it, in the library, with the lead piping!’ I say to Denise as she opens the door. She rolls her eyes having heard it all before — and introduces me to Trevor.

The couple, who are in their 70s, are perfect ambassadors for homicidal board games, beautiful architecture and kindly hospitality.

‘Before the pandemic, we hosted a murder mystery night of our own,’ says Denise, a retired art teacher. ‘I gave everybody a script and a character and told them what costumes to wear. They were all wonderful.

‘Trevor played the butler and I the maid. And while people were having a drink in the bar, I had to scream at the top of my voice and everyone ran in to find me with the body. Though, it was just fake legs sticking out of a box.’

Tudor Close was built in 1929 from a derelict set of farm buildings by the developer Charles W. Neville. It was intended to be seven self-contained dwellings but once the Great Depression hit, they didn’t sell and so Neville combined them into a hotel.

‘It is a mix of mock Tudor and Elizabethan architecture, which was all the rage then,’ says Trevor, a retired professor who used to teach business and accounting. ‘They called the style “Tudorbethan”. The hotel was luxurious, with tennis courts, an outdoor pool, a bar and billiard room.’

It became so successful with American film stars of the 1930s and 1940s that Neville quipped he was attracting more business from Hollywood than Britain.

The parents of Julie Andrews worked at the hotel in its heyday and the Mary Poppins’ star is said to have kick-started her singing career there as a child performer.

Estate agents over-use the word ‘stunning’ — but Grade II-listed Tudor Close is nothing short of this, with ancient ships’ timbers, parquet floors, stone fireplaces, carvings and leadlight windows.

In 1943 Pratt devised a board game for two to six players who take on the role of suspects — Miss Scarlett, Colonel Mustard and Mrs Peacock et al

In 1943 Pratt devised a board game for two to six players who take on the role of suspects — Miss Scarlett, Colonel Mustard and Mrs Peacock et al

The current owners say they have continued the tradition and hosted popular Cluedo themed parties over the years there

The current owners say they have continued the tradition and hosted popular Cluedo themed parties over the years there

In 1953, the company offered to buy the rights to Cluedo from the couple for what turned out to be almost a pittance

 In 1953, the company offered to buy the rights to Cluedo from the couple for what turned out to be almost a pittance

The Hoppers will be sad to leave, but their home has a shared garden — once the site of the hotel pool — and they are moving to a nearby property with a private garden where their grandchildren can play without disturbing the neighbours.

So how did Cluedo come about? It was while working as hotel entertainments manager that pianist Anthony Pratt and wife Elva began their murder-mystery evenings.

In 1943 Pratt devised a board game for two to six players who take on the role of suspects — Miss Scarlett, Colonel Mustard and Mrs Peacock et al. There are several weapons plus locations (billiard room, ballroom, conservatory etc) where the dastardly deed is done and players move around the board, collecting clues to identify the perpetrator.

The first version of the game was called Murder At Tudor Close. Manufacturer John Waddington Ltd began producing it for the mass market in 1949.

Jonathan Foster, in his 2013 book The Story Of Cluedo, claimed Waddingtons was less than fair with Anthony and Elva when it came to sharing the profits from the game. In 1953, the company offered to buy the rights to Cluedo from the couple for what turned out to be almost a pittance.

‘Waddingtons told Anthony that the game wasn’t selling very well, particularly in America,’ Foster wrote. ‘And they offered him a deal: sign over the international rights to Cluedo for a one-off payment of £5,000. The deal would mean that he would still get the royalties from Cluedo sales in the UK.’

The Hoppers will be sad to leave, but their home has a shared garden — once the site of the hotel pool — and they are moving to a nearby property with a private garden where their grandchildren can play without disturbing the neighbours

The Hoppers will be sad to leave, but their home has a shared garden — once the site of the hotel pool — and they are moving to a nearby property with a private garden where their grandchildren can play without disturbing the neighbours

Over the years, more characters and new weapons have been added (and removed) as the game has been updated, and it has inspired books, TV series and films

Over the years, more characters and new weapons have been added (and removed) as the game has been updated, and it has inspired books, TV series and films

The Tudor Close Hotel shut in 1952 and reverted to individual homes. Today, No. 4, which formed its entrance, foyer and lounge, is a charming four-bedroom house where Denise and Trevor Hopper have lived for a decade

The Tudor Close Hotel shut in 1952 and reverted to individual homes. Today, No. 4, which formed its entrance, foyer and lounge, is a charming four-bedroom house where Denise and Trevor Hopper have lived for a decade

That £5,000 is worth about £143,000 today and was no small sum — until you consider that 150 million Cluedo sets have been sold in 40 countries.

‘Anthony could have negotiated a much better deal had he known just how important Cluedo was to Waddingtons and Parker Brothers [holder of U.S. rights] — and indeed that it was actually selling well in America,’ concludes Foster.

In 1990, inventor Anthony claimed not to have been bothered by the riches that failed to come his way.

‘A great deal of fun went into it,’ he said, ‘so why grumble?’ He died four years later, aged 90.

Over the years, more characters and new weapons have been added (and removed) as the game has been updated, and it has inspired books, TV series and films. Today it is owned by the U.S. company Hasbro.

Back at No.4, the Hoppers seem slightly unnerved when I remove a wrench and a magnifying glass from my bag. But they are good sports and Trevor agrees to play our murder victim.

‘It was Denise, with the candlestick, in the lounge!’ I shout.

It was then that the Hoppers decided they had indulged me enough and my personal murder-mystery experience concluded. And I still don’t know whodunnit!


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