Foul Play was a BBC Radio 4 Panel Game for detective writers. Every week, two mystery novelists were invited to solve a murder mystery set by Simon Brett (also a mystery writer, as well as a well-known BBC producer).
The format of the show was that it would open with the panellists being introduced, then a skit in which Maria MacErline and Lee Simpson would narrate a scene ending in a mysterious death. The main section of the show was the cross-examination of three suspects (all voiced by MacErline and Simpson), in which the panellists would ask searching questions of the characters and the two actors would have to improvise their responses based on their knowledge of the scenario. Further information would be provided by police, forensics officers, and so on (again, all played by the same two actors). The panel would then be asked who they believed to be guilty, and a dramatised skit (the Foul Play Foul Playlet) would reveal if they were right by showing the actual murder.
The series provides examples of:
- Exact Words: Sometimes used when the panellists spot mistakes in the scenario that aren't clues but just errors. For instance, one character claims to have met another at Henley, but the detectives point out the time-frame is wrong for the Henley-on-Thames regatta. The character quickly replies "I said we met at Henley, I didn't say it was during the regatta."
- Improv: During the cross-examination.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: In "Death and Two Copies, Please", the big reveal in the Foul Playlet is that second-generation company owner Stephen Huntingdon is the son of Pauline the office manager (and, presumably, the elder Mr Huntingdon). A huge clue is given for this when the police play a hysterical answering machine message from the widowed Mrs Huntingdon in which she seems to claim she and her late husband had never had sex, but the investigators assumed this was an exaggeration.
- Meaningful Name: Recurring police character Detective-Sergeant Constable.
- Mystery Writer Detective: The panellists.
- Shout-Out to Shakespeare: The Elizabethan episode "Much Ado About Murder" is full of Shakespeare references, including Will himself as a suspect and Dogberry as the police representative.
- Who Murdered the Asshole?: The victim was almost always someone all the other characters had reason to want dead.