An Inspector Calls

J. B. Priestley, An Inspector Calls
(London: Penguin, 2001)
First performed: 1945

‘Brumley eight seven five two. […]  Sorry to ring you up so late, can you tell me if an Inspector Goole has joined your staff lately.’

First performed in 1945, J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls follows the events of a single night for a middle-class family called the Birlings. Set in the North Midlands in 1912, the family receive a visit from Inspector Goole, who informs them that a girl named Eva Smith (one of Mr Birling’s employees) has committed suicide by drinking disinfectant. The Inspector interviews all of the members of the family in order to uncover their connection to Eva and to determine how each may have contributed to her death.

Following the departure of the Inspector, the family are left angered and confused. After some discussion, they question the Inspector’s true identity and so ring up the chief constable who confirms their doubts. The play ends with a crucial call: ‘(Telephone rings sharply. A moment’s complete silence. BIRLING goes to answer it.) ‘Yes? … Mr Birling speaking…. What?—Here’ (But obviously the other person has rung off. […])’ Mr Birling explains to the family: ‘That was the police. A girl has just died—on her way to the Infirmary—after swallowing some disinfectant. And a police inspector is on his way here—to ask some questions.’ Like the characters, the final phone call leaves the audience dumbfounded.

by Ella Keith