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Watching an episode of Murder, She Wrote (7x12 "Suspicion of Murder") and, at one point, a character picks up a typewriter and throws it through a window.

However, said keyboard has the strangest layout, and I wonder if anyone can identify it and/or why it might be preferred over the usual US QWERTY layout.

From what I can make out, the layout is:

T B S Y O A M R N L W

   P H U C K Q V J F E D

      Z I G . . . . X . .

(I can't quite make out the punctuation in the bottom row.)

I can't find an equivalent layout or, at least, my Google-fu is letting me down. Besides the potential comedy-value of the first few middle-row keys, is there anything else of note?

Screenshot from TV episode

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  • 2
    The typewriter looks pretty much Smith-Corona, so that could be a hint.
    – tofro
    Feb 11, 2023 at 20:34
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    Really out-on-a-limb idea... did the typewriter reappear and the odd layout serve as a clue?
    – TripeHound
    Feb 12, 2023 at 14:18
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    Perhaps this is why the typewriter was thrown out of the window... Feb 12, 2023 at 15:02
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    QWERTY wasn't designed to slow the typer down, it was designed to increase the probability that any two keypresses in sequence as likely to be a decent distance apart, hence decreasing the probability of a hammer jam. If you use two hands to type, that often makes it a faster layout than those it replaced.
    – Tommy
    Feb 13, 2023 at 16:45
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    @Tommy: To be more precise, it was designed to avoid any digraphs whose letters would appear to adjacent type bars using the circular type bar arrangement of the original typewriter, which laid out the top two rows and bottom two rows separately. The original patent has a bottom row ZCXV, which resulted in the digraph "SC" from the word "SCience" appearing on consecutive type bars. Swapping to ZXCV means the most common digraph appears in pizZA. With more modern mechanisms, however, the hammer order would be qa-zws-xed-crf-vtg-byh-nuj-mik-,ol, which actually...
    – supercat
    Feb 13, 2023 at 22:32

3 Answers 3

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I've researched keyboards and character sets on two occasions (*1) and seen a lot of different layouts, from alternate roots like Blickensderfer, Sholes and Dvorak to national variants like Cyrillic JCUKEN, Turkish F, Portuguese HCESAR and French BÉPO, but I can not remember any starting with TBSY.

So while it's not impossible that such existed, I would doubt it and rather believe the typewriter was thrown out the window (*2) several times until the take was right, which may have resulted in key caps coming off and being put back without caring for their original position ... considering some helper doing that over and over, the second line might be a statement of mood :)


*1 - First time was in the late 1990s when designing a universal character set transcoder; second time just 3 years ago when doing a little project to adapt modern keyboards to classic style kits. While the former included research for all commonly used characters in European (Latin, Greek and Cyrillic based) scripts, the latter was focused on layout - including weird home computer ones. :))

*2 - Being thrown out a window in the Film industry usually means it drops down on the other side of the backdrop, not the 10 stories shown. :)

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    That sounds pretty plausible - Except, if you'd ever tried to separate a typewriter key from its associated lever, you'd have your doubts. That joint can normally withstand a nuclear attack....
    – tofro
    Feb 11, 2023 at 20:56
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    @tofro Might depend quite on the model. They are usually quite tight on mechanical, but less so in electronic ones. I wouldn't wonder if in above case they are only held in place by the top plate - if it falls off by teh trow, all keys get loose and need to be reinserted for the next take (of course pure speculation).
    – Raffzahn
    Feb 11, 2023 at 21:23
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    @tofro, it's possible that the heavy innards were removed, and the keys just attached to the empty case afterwards. Feb 12, 2023 at 8:51
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    First, that specific SCM model was sold as a portable electric typewriter. So, it wouldn't have been too hard to fling it around in the first place. Removing the motor as the heaviest part (only) would have reduced the weight by about half even more. Removing and then (accidentally) re-arranging the keyboard levers wouldn't have done much to the weight, however. But I can't exclude them doing something "not so useful" in the film industry.....
    – tofro
    Feb 12, 2023 at 11:24
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    @Raffzahn That's not an electronic typewriter, but rather an electro-mecanical one. It's keys are bound to the keyboard levels like in good old mechanical ones. Nothing electronic there.
    – tofro
    Feb 12, 2023 at 11:29
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Well, it's very much a Smith and Corona model. For example, here's an image of the SCM-250 from the mid-sixties, with near-identical physical layout and characteristics:

enter image description here

Of course, you'll notice immediately that it has (almost) the familiar QWERTY layout rather than the one shown in your image. There's a few possible Easter eggs in your layout, such as PHUCK, or JF (Jessica Fletcher), but this may just be the normal pattern recognition powers kicking in, the same ones that see rabbits in clouds.

That layout is a strange one since it would most likely have been one of the standard layouts (if using the Latin alphabet, as it does) or using a different alphabet (if it were a non-standard layout). By the way, since you've accounted for all the English letters, the ones you can't make out on the bottom row are almost certainly punctuation (other than X, they seem to be in two distinct groups).

However, if the one on the show had been a prop for any decent amount of time in its 25-year lifespan, it wouldn't surprise me at all if it had required being put back together quite a few times, especially if it's the sort of thing writers liked subjecting to defenestration :-)

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    Defenestration ... what a great opportunity to use this lovely word :) And yes, it looks quite like the one used.
    – Raffzahn
    Feb 12, 2023 at 0:21
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    BTW, it's most likely a 1965 model as the 1963 had different coloured keys and cover, while the 1970 changed that again. Found two manuals for it: #1 and #2 While they mention changeable types, the do not note any different layout.
    – Raffzahn
    Feb 12, 2023 at 0:41
  • This one seems to be a Spanish language keyboard, given the Ñ key. The keys are notably much taller than the ones in the OP though. I don't think that's a trick of perspective, it appears to be a somewhat newer model than this one, I'd suspect? Feb 14, 2023 at 14:38
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I think it's a fake typewriter made from lightweight plastic foam plus some keys, casing parts, etc. from a SCM portable.

Did you ever try to throw a typewriter? Hurling a heavy real typewriter around would certainly interfere with the actor reading his lines properly. Each take would be worse than the last, not better. If his aim was off, the practical window could be damaged. The landing pad be abused by the sharp edges. Somebody could get hurt.

Of course the flimsy prop typewriter might get knocked apart and hurriedly stuck back together every time, leading (as Raffzahn says) to some creative key reordering by the best boy.

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    As well props often have differences like this so they are less likely to be considered copies of the real thing from a legal perspective.
    – Brian
    Feb 13, 2023 at 14:02

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