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Priestley: An Inspector Calls

8. Act 1: An Inspector Calls … and Interrogates Mr Birling

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In this module, we follow events from the entrance of the Inspector (“Please, sir, an inspector’s called”, p. 169), through his interrogation of Mr Birling (“I’d like some information, if you don’t mind, Mr Birling”, p. 170), up to the entrance of Sheila (“What’s this about streets?”, p. 174). As we move through the scene, we think about the character of the Inspector, comparing him to Mr Birling, as well as the masterful way in which Priestley develops the plot, drop by drop.


In this course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores J. B. Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’. In the first module, we provide a broad introduction to the play, focusing in particular on the influence of Gogol’s ‘The Government Inspector’ and the importance of the ordinary, middle-class background of the Birling. After that, in the second and third modules, we think about two historical contexts that are important to the play: first, politics and society in Edwardian Britain, when the play was set; and second, politics and society in 1940s Britain, when the play was written and first performed. In the subsequent twelve modules, we go through the play scene by scene, starting with the opening stage directions (“The dining-room of fairly large suburban house”) and ending with the play’s stunning final twist. As we go through each scene, we think about how characters interact with one another and respond to the events of the play, the development of the plot, the use of dramatic effects, key themes such as guilt, duty, and responsibility … and much, much more.

Note: Page numbers refer to J. B. Priestley, An Inspector Calls and Other Plays (Penguin Modern Classics, 2000). Students using a different version of the play may encounter slight differences in both the text and line numbers.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

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McRae, J. (2019, January 17). Priestley: An Inspector Calls - Act 1: An Inspector Calls … and Interrogates Mr Birling [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Priestley: An Inspector Calls – Act 1: An Inspector Calls … and Interrogates Mr Birling." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 17 Jan 2019,

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