How to film a murder in a library … a guest post from TV researcher Chloë Penman

Chloe SmilingHello from me!  I’m here only briefly today, to introduce my guest.  Chloë Penman (left), who works for BBC Bristol, was our brilliant young researcher on the series ‘A Very British Murder’.   I’ve asked her to tell you a bit about her experience of what became known as ‘Library Day’, the day we spent filming the quite complicated but rather wonderful sequence that opens tomorrow night’s episode – the scene in the library with the REAL LIFE CLUEDO CHARACTERS!  There was a big build up to ‘Library Day’ and an awful lot of planning over a number of weeks. Our day involved our usual crew of director, researcher, production coordinator, camera and sound recordist, but also a special lighting assistant, two make-up artists, six extras (or is that supporting artists?) and an awful lot of sandwiches. Now, over to Chloë …

cocktail glass

The SuspectsThroughout A Very British Murder, we have witnessed Lucy enacting a murderous melodrama on stage at The Old Vic and whipping off a crinoline to descend down a sewer – so for the final programme we had to sign off with something really special.

In perhaps the most extravagant set-piece of the series, we transformed the library of the University Women’s Club in Mayfair into a real-life game of Cluedo, complete with our own set of suspects, among which were: the long-suffering Maid (driven to murder?), the not-so-virtuous Vicar, the dashing (but dastardly?) Young Man – not to mention the detailed array of original period props – hopefully creating a sequence that will define the series.

My job as the researcher was to help Lucy and the directors realise their creative vision, and quite the job it was too! Throughout the series we’d placed Lucy ‘inside’ narratives, aided by locations, costumes, and contributors, resulting in what we hope felt like a very fresh, immersive approach to history. The library sequence was especially complex, and as it was to be the opening sequence of the final episode it had to be striking.

The first thing to be done was the casting. It was my job to find our six suspects, and with the help of director Matt Thomas we devised short descriptions and backgrounds for each character and sent them to casting agencies. Matt and I then whittled down the responses into the perfect set of suspects, each one looking capable (in our minds) of committing the perfect crime.

Each actor had to be in full period 1930s attire, and with the guidance of Bristol Costume Services (and after lots of rummaging and some trying-on) we eventually selected costumes for our suspects. For the Blonde Bombshell we chose an elegant crimson dress; meanwhile, the Colonel was kitted out in traditional mustard-tinged tweeds, complete with monocle to peer innocently into as he leafed inconspicuously through an original 1930s newspaper…

The aim was for the audience to immediately recognise the suspects in a murder-mystery scenario. Cluedo wasn’t invented until 1949, but even then the game harked nostalgically back to the 1930s and the immortal ‘Golden Age’ we wanted to recreate. The point of this episode was to interrogate how murder went from brutal crime to an ‘elegant crossword puzzle’ – and one of the most satisfying tasks was sourcing the props to illustrate this.

Chloe at work with her camera

Left: Jo and Chloe get the murderous jigsaw puzzle ready. 

The best I found were two 1930s murder-themed parlour games – a first edition of Walter Eberhardt’s The Jigsaw Puzzle Murders (1933), comprising of an emerald green bound book and accompanying jigsaw puzzle, which when completed reveals the murderer’s hidden identity (pieced together in rapid time on Library Day by Production Coordinator Jo Verity). We also obtained a rare first edition of Denis Wheatley’s wildly popular crime dossier Murder off Miami (1936), which comes complete with clues to help the reader solve the murder – including cigarette butts, blood-stained fabric and a lock of human hair… it’s safe to say I’m quite the vintage murder fiction aficionado now!

The murderous jigsawThese fabulous props, the cast of suspects, and the sinister library location at the University Women’s Club (which coincidentally Dorothy L. Sayers had earmarked as the marital home for her famous sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey and his mystery writer lover Harriet Vane), all conspired to make the day utterly unforgettable.  The essence of our Cluedo-themed Library Day was to turn a real-life magnifying glass onto what it actually means to love a ‘good’ murder – and to examine why murder is such good fun

Anyway my money’s on the Duchess, with the candlestick, in the Library…

Chloë Penman, researcher for  A Very British Murder with Lucy Worsley

Follow Chloë on Twitter: @ideaswithlegs



17 thoughts on “How to film a murder in a library … a guest post from TV researcher Chloë Penman

  1. karl

    Dear Lucy
    I am sorry, you are very short and I am not liking the short woman. However, you are very good
    with your tv shows.
    Thank you

    1. Lucy Post author

      Dear Karl, there is something naive but quite charming about your comment. Are you a cave man, perhaps?

    2. Dave

      Dear cave man Karl.

      For Personal ads, exit this site.

      Thank you.

  2. Edward Crumpton

    A well developed and challenging piece you brought to the screen. Well done!

    1. Lucy Post author


  3. Chris Hough

    Watched the last episode of this excellent series The premise that who dunnits are a form of comfort food for the mind was interesting and struck a cord I always feel that there is somethingsecial about reading a golden age ormodern “cosy crime” story tucked up in bed with the rain beating down and the wind howling outside! It is a most satifying experience!

  4. Heidi

    I really enjoyed the series and certainly gained new insights into the British approach to crime writing having been more attached to Scandinavian crime thrillers for many years myself. But most of all I loved that you, Lucy, managed again to integrate a good dose of feminism in the end by highlighting those great female crime writers. It was balm on my soul after a rather disheartening experiencing lately which made me think that feminism has been erased from British minds for good. I attended a course about sex workers and the criminal justice system and during a discussion I outed myself as a declared feminist to which one male participant answered: “Huh? But how can you be a feminist? You don’t actually look feminine…” Can’t you do a series about feminism in Britain? Please??

    1. Lucy Post author

      Ha – you have rightly spotted that all my programmes are SECRET FEMINISM disguised as history…

  5. Chris Hough

    Sayers is often castigated for her supposded anti-semitism and her “love affair” with Wimsey but also throws a light on her own times far more accurately than some of the other “golden age” authors
    Her novel the Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club based around the then new idea of the two minutes silence for Armistice Day when the country did stop for two minutes and it also deals with the after effects of shell shock in one of the characters show a very realistic approach to the concerns of many of the population most of whomhad been affectedc directly or indirectly by the Great War and its aftermath. The attitude to women’s right to higher education and the prejudicve unleashed by this is explored in Gaudy Night while other novels explore the Bohemian lifestyle of artists and the forgotten army of unmarried women that existed as a result of the slaughter in the trenches .They portray the country against a more realistic background than Christie for example Perhaps the time is ripe for a revival!

  6. john and marion harding

    Lucy, Belated congratulations on iour superb series. As others have said you provided us with a wonderful, detailed, fascinating and enjoyable tour through the dark recesses of our British minds. We both are now finishing your book on the subject and, again as others have said, will be dipping into Sayers to sample her skills.
    Thank you again for using your super historical skill and sparkling personality to bring us this study of the subject.
    Looking forward to your next series and whatever else you chose to put before us.

  7. Jeffrey L. Dunford

    I have now watched the first two episodes of Murder, etc. and have enjoyed them very much. Looking forward to ordering the book soon.

    Tonight, we finally had a chance to watch Food In England – Dorothy Hartley. More books to buy now.


  8. Jeffrey L. Dunford

    Oh, sorry I forgot to mention – Chloë, much enjoyed your post.

  9. joan campbell

    saw lucy last night at the Nottingham playhouse,very good night out.
    p.s. sorry we like your old hairstyle best,can see more of your facial expressions.

  10. G Bruce Chapman

    Hey Lucy,
    Love all of your other shows – bringing dusty history to life! Would you happen to know when they will make it across the Atlantic on either PBS or TVO?
    Any chance you could visit Canada sometime to do a lecture tour or work on/create a doc on our (relatively short) history. 😉

  11. Karen Coe

    Lucy – I thoroughly enjoyed the series, and wanted to thank you in particular for introducing me to the work of Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Thanks to the wonders of free e-books, I’d already discovered writers like J S Fletcher (whose heroes and heroines always seem to have to cycle for MILES in pursuit of the villains), R Austin Freeman, Edgar Wallace and Mary Roberts Rinehart, and it is a huge bonus to now have all the Braddon books to enjoy.

  12. Nigel C

    Firstly I enjoyed your recent Murder series and am just watching the final part that I recorded but forgot to watch tonight!

    Currious to know if you were related to a Tim Worsley I worked with several years back I wikipedia’ed you in case (seem Wordley is far more common than I thought!).

    I must admit to being (as a man) in conflict over feminism. I am married to a lady who holds very pro-feminism views but also has a very old school attitude to roles in life! I suppose as a man it can be a bit like a Turkey voting for christmas with some issues.

    But I am so glad the female population are not treated like so many years ago when authors used male names to gain respect.

    I do think there are still some very complex issues raised by progress and there is still a very long way to go in pay equality. But at least its okay to discuss this now unlike 40-50 years ago when any lady with an opinion was either a ‘lesbian’ or ‘jumped up spinster’.

    Anyway enough politics and well done.

    1. Nigel C

      PS: Sorry about the typos, typing too fast!

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