BBC Radio 4, 21 April 2012
J. B. Priestley's evergreen classic premiered at the Old Vic in 1947,
at a time when Britain was trying to re-establish itself after the Second World War. As with many of his plays, An Inspector
Calls uses the past to comment on the present: set in 1912, it stresses the importance of collective responsibility,
the need to ensure that the disadvantaged should be given a chance in life, and the potentially destructive consequences if
such issues are overlooked. Thanks to Stephen Daldry's memorable production of the mid-1990s, An Inspector Calls
continues to resonate today in a context where the distance between the haves and have-nots seems wider than ever, despite
the attempts of successive governments to remove it.
Jeremy Mortimer's production contained some memorable performances. With his slight
Staffordshire accent and bluff manner, Arthur Birling (David Calder) was a classic self-made entrepreneur - someone who hoped
to increase his social aspirations by marrying his daughter Sheila (Maryem Christie) off to Gerald Croft (Geoffrey Streatfield).
As his wife Sibyl, Frances Barber gave the best performance in the role I have ever heard or seen - a dominant, bullying personality
who remained unshakeably convinced that she had done nothing wrong. Even when Inspector Goole managed to get her to admit
that she had refused Daisy/ Eva charity money, Sibyl insisted that her decision was correct. In sneering tones, she claimed
that the girl had put on "airs and graces" by claiming to be Mrs. Birling. Sibyl had little time for her children - especially
her son Eric (Sam Alexander), whom she believed had allowed himself to be corrupted by Daisy and thereby endangered the family
reputation. She had no notion of social responsibility; her entire raison d'etre revolved around herself
and her husband's public image.
Jones' Inspector Goole proved equally memorable. In Guy Hamilton's memorable 1954
film, Alastair Sim had portrayed the police officer as a patient yet dedicated man, grimly concerned to complete his investigation.
By contrast Jones was determined to get to the truth of the matter, even if that forced him to overstep the bounds of
social politeness. He was irritated by the Birlings' social pretensions, and their tendency not to answer his questions. In his view it was this kind of arrogance that contributed to Daisy's demise.
In the end it seemed as if the family had been let off the hook, as the
Inspector turned out to be false. As they celebrated their good fortune with a drink, the telephone rang in the background.
Arthur Birling answered it and informed his family in hushed tones that a young woman had just died in hospital, and
an inspector was on his way to ask them questions. In the background we heard some unearthly music, suggesting perhaps that
Goole was a kind of ghostly figure - the symbol of Birling family's guilty conscience, forcing them to reflect
on their actions.