These pages are from a scrapbook, kept by the playwright J B Priestley, which contains programmes and reviews of productions of a number of his plays between 1943 and 1949.
The scrapbook includes a copy of the programme for the Old Vic’s 1946 London premiere of An Inspector Calls at the New Theatre, St Martin’s Lane. (The Old Vic Theatre Company, under the artistic direction of Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson and John Burrell, was temporarily based at the New Theatre at this time.)
A play of no consequence or a coup de théàtre: How did critics respond to An Inspector Calls?
Reviews of the London premiere of An Inspector Calls were mixed.
The Observer’s J C Trewin thought the play too long: ‘though their offence is rank we feel that the Birlings are hardly worth this elaboration, this prolonged clatter of skeletons’.
Several critics, including Alan Dent from the News Chronicle, thought there was too much coincidence in the play: ‘We hope against hope that at least one of the characters will not be in any way involved … But no, the coincidences tot up alarmingly and insistently’; Dent concluded that it was a play of no consequence. But Stephen Potter, of the New Statesman, praised it, describing the end of the play as ‘the best coup de théàtre of the year’.
Most agreed that Ralph Richardson was outstanding as the Inspector. The Times noted the ‘exquisite skill with which (he) … struck in his inspector a balance between the mundane and the celestial’.
What was J B Priestley’s opinion of the London premiere of An Inspector Calls?
In a letter written in the late 1960s to play agent, Peggy Ramsay, Priestley reflected on why the London premiere of An Inspector Calls was not a success:
I never wanted the Old vic to do it and only Ralph’s insistence made me agree. It was not successful, chiefly because it did not belong in a repertory of picturesque costume classics — i.e. Richard the Third, Peer Gynt, Cyrano de Bergerac. It was a huge success everywhere else …
In a letter to Michael MacOwen, Priestley called the Old Vic production ‘less brilliant and experimental’ than the Moscow premiere. With its claret coloured wallpaper and solid furniture, the set of Basil Dean’s production evoked an Edwardian suburban family drawing room which, Priestley felt, underemphasised the play’s symbolism. He commented that the production was partly conditioned by the Old Vic’s reluctance to experiment. With its ‘weighty naturalism’, it was no wonder that critics thought it was ‘merely concerned with a bit of excitement in one night in 1912’.
 The letter forms the Preface in J B Priestley, An Inspector Calls (London: Heinemann, 1947), p. vi.
 Priestly, An Inspector Calls, p. vii.
- Full title:
- Scrapbook (1943-1949) containing programmes and reviews for: Desert Highway, How Are They At Home?, An Inspector Calls, Ever since Paradise, The Linden Tree, Eden End (reviews but no programme), Home is Tomorrow, Summer Day’s Dream, The Olympians.
- Programme / Ephemera / Book / Scrapbook
- J B Priestley, New Theatre, Vernon Noble, J C Trewin, W A Darlington, Alan Dent, , Victor Weisz [cartoonist]
- Usage terms
J B Priestley: © The Estate of J.B. Priestley. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.
Programme for An Inspector Calls, 1946: © The Old Vic Theatre. Published under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial No-Derivatives Licence.
Alan Dent: © Alan Dent / Associated Newspapers Ltd. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.
Vicky [Victor Weisz]: © Vicky / Associated Newspapers Ltd. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.
Stephen Potter: © Originally published in the New Statesman. Published under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial No-Derivatives Licence.
J C Trewin: © Guardian News & Media Ltd 2016. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.
W A Darlington: © Telegraph Media Group Limited. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.
© J.B. Priestley Archive, Special Collections, University of Bradford.
- Held by
- University of Bradford J B Priestley Archive
- Article by:
- Chris Power
- 20th-century theatre, Exploring identity, Power and conflict
Chris Power introduces An Inspector Calls as a morality play that denounces the hypocrisy and callousness of capitalism and argues that a just society can only be achieved if all individuals feel a sense of social responsibility.
- Article by:
- Alison Cullingford
- Exploring identity, 20th-century theatre, Power and conflict
Alison Cullingford explores how J B Priestley's childhood in Bradford and experiences during two world wars shaped his socialist beliefs and fueled the anger of his play An Inspector Calls, a work that revolves around ideas of social responsibility and guilt.