Evans Tries an O-Level
By Colin Dexter
About the author
Norman Colin Dexter is an English crime writer known for his Inspector Morse novels, which were written between 1975 and 1999 and adapted as a television series from 1987 to 2000. He was born on September 29, 1930 in Stamford, Lincolnshire, England to Alfred and Dorothy Dexter. In 1956 he married Dorothy Cooper, and they had a son and a daughter.
In 1954, he started his teaching career in the East Midlands, becoming assistant Classics master at Wyggeston School, Leicester. A post at Loughborough Grammar School followed before he took up the position of senior Classics teacher at Corby Grammar School, Northamptonshire, in 1959.
Dexter has received several Crime Writers’ Association awards. In 1996 Dexter received a Macavity Award for his short story Evans Tries an O-Level. In 2000 Dexter was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to literature. In 2001 he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Oxford. In September 2011, the University of Lincoln awarded Dexter an honorary Doctor of Letters degree.
1. James Roderick Evans: a prisoner
2. Secretary of the Examination Board: a higher official of the examination board
3. Governor: the governor of H.M. Prison, Oxford.
4. Mr. Jackson: a prison officer
5. Mr. Stephens: a prison officer
6. Reverend Stuart McLeery: an invigilator
7. Mr. Carter: a detective superintendent
8. Mr. Bell: a detective chief inspector
Evans was put in the Oxford Prison at Carfax for his criminal records including the three jail breaks that he had successfully committed. We do not exactly know what the charges against him were. It is most likely he was the master brain of a gang of robbers or was just a one man robber who was greatly skilled at impersonating other people and thus made an income out of that. However, London Police had no other choice than putting him in the most secure Oxford Prison where jail breaks were not at all common. Evans was aware of it, too. Seeing that he was in all sense trapped for life, Evans made a new plan to escape, outwitted the police authorities and managed to slip out of the prison.
James Roderick Evans is a boy of deep intelligence, planning, resourcefulness, wit and wisdom and is put in the Oxford Prison. He starts learning German and is permitted to appear for 0 Level test in a separate and well-guarded cell. All the unauthorized items are taken away from him. He is put under a strict invigilation duty by the prison staff. The Governor goes on making enquiries at every short intervals. The examination passes smoothly but Evans pretends to be the bleeding parson. He is taken to the hospital. But for all his careful and cunning strategies he is arrested by the Governor in a hotel. Even then he succeeds to slip out from the clutches of the gullible Governor.
This story depicts a clash of wit between a criminal and the law-enforcing authorities in which the prisoner Evans befools the jail authorities and manages to escape from the prison. If the government and law enforcing officials are vigilant, crime can be detected and criminals can be booked. But criminals like Evans can hoodwink the authorities and escape punishment as long as the officials are slow and lack alertness and wit.
It is the month of early March. The secretary of the Examination Board receives a call from the Governor of the H.M. Prison, Oxford. He tells that a prisoner named Evans has started night classes in O Level German. Now he wants to attain some academic qualification. The Secretary replies that there is no need to worry. All the necessary forms and other requisite material will be sent. They will give him a chance. He enquires about Evans. The Governor tells him that Evans has no record of violence. Rather he is an amusing fellow. He is one of the stars at the Christmas concert. The Secretary asks him if they can arrange a room where Evans can sit in for the examination. The Governor tells that the room of Evans can be used for this purpose. The Secretary agrees and tells that they could get a parson from St. Mary Mags to invigilate.
The Governor takes utmost care to see that he would not be fooled. Every care was taken to make Evans prepare for the exam. He was tutored by a German teacher for 6 months. The day before the exam the teacher wishes good luck but makes it clear that he had hardly any ‘chance of getting through.’ But Evans gives an ironical twist to the tutor’s observation by saying “I may surprise everybody.”
On the day of the exam Jackson and Stephens visited Evan’s cell and took away everything that may help him injure himself. Evans was insisted to take away the hat but he refused saying that it was lucky charm.
Evan’s cell was bugged so that the Governor could himself listen to each and every conversation in the cell. The invigilator Rev. S. Mc Leery too was searched and left him to complete the task. Stephen sitting outside the cell every now and then peeped into the cell.
The exam went on smoothly. Stephen escorted the invigilator to the main gate and looked into Evan’s cell and found the invigilator (actually Evans) wounded, informed the Governor. The latter was to be hospitalized but informed that he was alright and asked them to follow Evans. Thus he escaped the prison.
When the invigilator was not found in the hospital they went to the residence of Rev. S. Mc Leery only to find him ’bound and gagged in his study in Broad Street”. He has been there, since 8.15 a.m. Now everything was clear to the Governor.
Evan escaped the prison the fourth time. But by taking the hint from the question paper the Governor reached the hotel where Evans was staying. He captured him and came to know how he planned his escape. The Governor said that his game was over. Evans surrendered himself to the Governor.
Evans was handcuffed and sent away with a prison officer in the prison van. But here again he befools the Governor. Both the prison officer and the prison van were part of the plan devised by Evan’s friends. Once again he was a free bird.
Short Answer Type Questions
Q1. Who was James Roderick Evans? Why was he put in the Oxford Prison?
Ans. Evans was a congenital kleptomaniac. He was often caught and sent to jail but he was very clever and managed to escape every time. He had a gang of friends who helped him in it.
Q2. How was Evan’s presence in the prison felt by the authorities?
Ans. Evans was a smart, tricky, intelligent and the most popular prisoner at Oxford jail. Even the jail authorities admired his skills but were worried about the possibility of his escape. He had many good friends among the prisoners. The Governor himself was concerned for him and at times behaved to be Evans’ fan.
Q3. Why did the Governor apply for an examination for Evans?
Ans. Evans was a prisoner in the Oxford Prison. He convinced the authorities that he was genuinely interested in learning German. He was taught by a German teacher for about six months. When the teacher said that Evans was prepared for an O’ Level exam, the Governor of the prison applied to the Examination Board for his exam.
Q4. Who met Evans on the eve of the examination? What did he say?
Ans. It was Evans’ German teacher who shook him by the hand at 8.30 p.m. on Monday, 7 June. They met in the heavily guarded Recreational Block, just across from D Wing. The teacher wished him good luck in German, which Evans failed to understand. The teacher observed that he had a remote chance of getting through. Evans remarked that he might surprise everybody. These remarks prove quite meaningful and prophetic.
Q5. What were the precautions taken for the smooth conduct of the examination?
Ans. For smooth conduct examination various precautionary measures were taken. All sharp instruments like razor nail scissors were removed. The Governor, senior prison officer Jackson and officer Stephen were put on duty. A special invigilator was arranged. A microphone was fitted in the prison cell where the examination was to be conducted.
Q6. Who was Mc Leery?
Ans. Rev. Mc Leery was a parson at St. Mary Mags, a monastery. He was supposed to invigilate Evan’s examination at the Oxford Prison. He was about to leave his residence for the prison when two of Evans’ friends entered his room and gagged him until Evans had escaped from the prison.
Q7. Why was Evans particular about keeping his hat on his head during his exam?
Ans. Evans wore a bobble hat at the time of his examination. When he was asked to remove the hat, Evans pleaded to let stay it because he believed it was his lucky charm. In fact he had hidden some of the makeup materials in his hat which was the reason he didn’t want to remove it.
Q8. What instructions did the invigilator issue to the examinee before the examination?
Ans. He asked the examinee if he had got a watch. He would tell him when to start and again when he had five minutes left. He asked him to write the name of the paper, 021-1 in the top left-hand corner, and his index number-313 in the top right-hand corner. Just below that he was to write his centre number-271.
Q9. The examination was scheduled to begin at 9.15 a.m. but it started at 9.25 a.m. Why was there the delay in starting the examination?
Ans. The examination started ten minutes late due to security reasons. The Governor wanted to search Mr. McLeery and his belongings. He had doubts that Mr. McLeery could have taken something dangerous with him innocently like a paper knife or that sort. Evans could take advantage of any such thing and keep McLeery as a hostage. He might try to run away from the prison.
Q10. Why did the Governor think of frisking Mc Leery?
Ans. Mc Leery was the invigilator of the examination and he was to sit inside Evan’s cell while the latter wrote the exam. The Governor had made sure that Evans had been thoroughly frisked and there was nothing to fear about that. But when he thought about the possibility of Mc Leery carrying a paper-knife or that sort, he feared Evans would make use of that and escape by holding the parson his hostage.
Q11. What were the contents of the small brown suitcase McLeery carried’?
Ans. It had a sealed question paper envelope, a yellow invigilation form, a special ‘authentication’ card from the Examination Board, a paper knife, a Bible, and a current copy of ‘The Church Times’. Except the last two articles, the rest were related to his morning duties as invigilator.
Q12. What was the intention behind the call from the Examinations Board?
Ans. It was one of Evans’ friends who made the call from the Examination Board. This call was primarily meant for confirming the beginning time of the exam in order to calculate the end of the exam. The equally important reason behind this call was to misguide the Governor into Hotel Golden Lion to arrest Evans from there and thereby to make the escape altogether safer.
Q13. What had Mc Leery brought with him to the prison to help Evans’ escape?
Ans. Evans’ friend dressed up like Mc Leery had brought some very useful articles for Evans’ escape. He had worn an extra clerical collar and a clerical front. In his bag he had carried a semi inflated rubber tube filled with blood. He had also carried a paper scissors even though it was frisked by the prison authorities.
Q14. What request did Evans make about half an hour before the end of the examination?
Ans. Evans made a polite request if he could put a blanket round his shoulders as it was a bit chilly there. McLeery told Evans to be quick about it. A minute later, Stephens was surprised to see a grey blanket draped round Evans shoulders.
Q15. What made Governor aware that someone from the examination board was involved in the escape of Evans?
Ans. The question paper had the instructions that he had to move from Elsfield way to the Headington round about. The examination board was situated at Elsfield Way. Then he remembered the call and the correction slip. All these things verified that someone from the examination board was involved in the escape plan.
Q16. What information did the Governor get from the hospital about McLeery?
Ans. The Governor was aware that McLeery was admitted in the Red Cliffe Hospital. In order to know about his well-being, he rang-up the hospital authorities. It was told that an ambulance did go to Elsfield Way but they did not find him there. The Governor concluded that it was Evans who ran away from the cell and not McLeery.
Q17. Why the Governor was angry with the prison officers after Evans had escaped?
Ans. The Governor was angry with Stephens because it was he who saw Evans off safely out of the prison gate. Stephens told him that it was the Governor who ordered him to do so. These words infuriated the Governor since he had not rang him at all. The Governor was angry with Jackson because he did not search Evans’ cell properly and Evans had somehow concealed a beard, dog collar and other things to a clerk in his cell. It was his carelessness that helped Evans to escape.
Q18. Why did the Governor doubt the phone call from the Examination?
Ans. The Governor thought it might be a fake call. It might be a sort of signal for Evans. He thought the correction slip could be a kind of secret message sent for Evans. He tried to verify the call. He held the incoming call and from the other line called the Examination Board. But the number was continuously busy. This means the call was really from the Examination Board.
Q19. What did Stephens see through the hole of the cell of Evans after leaving McLeery at the main gate of the prison?
Ans. Stephens thought of looking at Evans once again after leaving Mr. McLeery at the main gate. He peeped through the hole and saw a terrible sight. A man was sitting on Evans’ chair and blood was dripping from his head. He had the blanket dropped around his shoulders. His hair were smeared with blood. Blood had reached his clerical collars. It was a terrible sight. It came to his mind that it must be Evans. After a considered thought he concluded him McLeery. He raised an alarm and called for the police.
Q20. What clues did the question-paper of Evans provide to the Governor?
Ans. There was a photocopied sheet hidden in the German question paper. It was very cleverly pasted on the last blank sheet of the question paper. It had instructions written in German. It read: “Follow the plan. The vital point in time is three minutes before the end of the examination.” It was also instructed not to hit the parson hard, he is a minister and not to overdo the Scot accent etc. It had also instruction to move towards the Headington round about and then to make way to Newbury. The Governor coded it for Newbury and the hunt for Evans started.
Q21. How did Stephens feel when he was asked to accompany Mc Leery out of the prison?
Ans. Stephens was a new officer at the Oxford Prison and was naturally apprehensive about his duties. He was already glad that he was in charge of the invigilator and the examinee. When he was asked by the Governor to accompany the invigilator out of the prison, Stephens felt greatly flattered and proud of himself.
Q22. Where did Evans go?
Ans. Evans went to a hotel called ‘The Golden Lion,’ which was located in Chipping Norton.
Q23. How did Evans escape from Detective Carter?
Ans. Disguised as the invigilator, Evans misguided detective Carter in the pretext of helping the officer to find the escaped Evans. When they reached Radcliff Hospital, Evans pretended to be most critical and told the detective to admit him in the hospital. Carter wanted to drive the wounded invigilator into the hospital but Evans advised him to call the ambulance and drop him on the roadside to be picked by the ambulance so that the detective could continue his chase after Evans.
Q24. How did Evans manage his final escape?
Ans. Evans was almost rearrested by the Governor in the hotel. He was handcuffed and made to sit in a prison van. But the people sitting inside the van were the close friends of Evans. They opened his handcuff on Evans’ instructions. They took the van towards Newbury and Evans had his final escape.
Q25. In what way did the friends of Evan arrange his escape from the prison?
Ans. Evans had some really efficient, cunning and smart friends. The tutor who came to give night classes was his friend. The person in the examination board who sent clue about the hotel in the correction slip, was his intimate and loyal friend. Even the invigilator was also his friend. The people in the prison van were also his friends.
Long Answer Type questions
Q1. Give a character sketch of the Governor of Oxford Prison.
Ans. The Governor of the H.M. Prison, Oxford seems to be a sympathetic fellow since he makes all the relevant arrangements for the examination of a run-out prisoner. He has a whim that Evans may escape but he ensures his stay in the cell. He is very proud, self-conscious and an enthusiastic fellow and tries his best to be saved from the disgrace lest Evans should escape from the prison. He has a fine presence of mind as he cross-examines every call that is made to the prison on the examination day.
Being a man of over-confident nature, he fails to revoke the escape of Evans. On his escape, he gets infuriated with his officers and calls them “morns”. But he is a person who does not chide away from showing praise to a prisoner. When Evans reveals his secret plan, he does not fail to admire him. In reality the Governor proves to be just another good for-a-giggle-gullible when Evans tricks him again. It is his overconfidence, boasting and self-praise bring his disgrace.
Q2. How was injured McLeery able to befool the prison-officers?
Ans. The injured McLeery was a fine actor. He befriended the invigilator in the jail who supplied him the fake blood in a rubber ring. It was pouring down from his head. With a feeble hand, he got his handkerchief and held it to his bleeding head. In this process he was able to hide his face from the eyes of the prison officer. He expressed his unbearable pain and represented himself not to utter any word coherently. He concealed his voice and dodged the police officers.
When he heard the suggestion of bringing in an ambulance, he interrupted immediately and asked them to call the police. He offered himself to trace the run-away Evans. Thus he trapped the police officers very accurately. This acting of a seriously injured person, bleeding, bending, limping and using door as a help while walking, assured the police officers that he was helping them in all possible ways even in this pitiable condition. They believed that injured McLeery was helping them but his superb acting was successful in befooling and confusing the prison-officers.
Q3. How did Evans outwit the Governor and his staff?
Ans. James Evans was imprisoned in the Oxford Prison but he had a group of cunning, clever and smart friends outside. They made a plan to get him out of the prison. Evans started night classes in ‘O’ Level German. The services of a German teacher were made available to him and he was from the technical college but he was Evans’ friend. The prison authorities never thought to check him. At the Examination Board too they won over someone to act as an informer. They knew from Evans that McLeery would be put on invigilation. They bound and gagged McLeery in his flat and sent someone else to impersonate McLeery. Evans cut his hair short and hid under a bobbly hat. Mr. Jackson did not insist to take off the hat lest he should hide something under it. McLeery’s semi-inflated rubber ring was not examined since it contained pig’s blood. Thinking him as a bonafide person, they did not search him properly.
The Governor allowed Stephens to stay outside the examination room and it provided a chance for Evans to work out his plan. The Governor did not check whether the prison van was appropriately needed by the magistrate or not. Evans dodged Carter when they took him to search for Evans and escaped. At the Golden Lion Hotel, he was nabbed by the Governor. When the Governor asked for police van and the prison officers, Evans’ men succeeded in duping the Governor. Despite all precautions, Evans escaped from a high security jail.
Q4. How did Evans manage to escape on the examination day?
Ans. Evans was a very smart and clever prisoner in the H.M. Oxford Prison. He had no record of violence and used to participate in Christmas concerts. He was good at imitations but he had escaped from the prison three times. So he was kept on high and tight security. In the jail, Evans started ‘O’ Level German classes. Now he wanted to appear for the examination.
Keeping in view his previous history, a tight security was alerted in his cell since he had to answer his paper in his room. Stephens was appointed to watch him till the paper was finished. The Governor too himself was much alert and microphone was attached in his room so that every word could be heard by the Governor himself. His room was too thoroughly searched and the objectionable items like the nail scissors and nail- file were taken away. The razor blade was also taken away after the shave. Even McLeery was searched and a knife was removed from his suitcase. Despite these precautions, Evans fooled the prison officials and escaped.
Q5. Why do you think the prison authorities were responsible for the escape of Evans?
Ans. From the very beginning to the end of the play, there are so many lacunas and laxities on the part of the prison authorities that made the escape of Evans. Adequate measures were adopted to prevent Evans’ escape but there remained certain facts that were totally unheeded. When McLeery came for invigilation, his identity was never checked except signing in the visitors’ book. Already the police officers were asked to search the room of Evans and’they ensured complete availability of any unauthorised items, how Evans managed to conceal beard, dog collar, a pair of spectacles and other clerical things in his cell ? Apart from that he had got some sort of weapons with which he had given McLeery a terrible wound across the head. When Jackson asked to remove his bobble hat, Evans objected and called it “Good luck”.
During the examination the correction-slip paved the way for Evans’ escape. The prison authorities failed to confirm from the examination board about its sanctity. Not only this, they could not detect that Evans impersonating as McLeery became the imposter. McLeery walked out of the prison after the examination and Evans impersonating McLeery stayed in. The Governor nabbed Evans at the Golden Lions Hotel and called for the local police and the van. There the men of Evans’ must have been tracking the Governor. They impersonated as prison officers and helped Evans escape. The Governor did not ask for his own official van and officers. Thus we can say that the prison authorities were totally responsibile for the escape of Evans.
Q6. Why is the Governor called ‘good for a giggle’?
Ans. The Governor was a very intelligent officer but his overconfidence was his weak point. He was successful in tracing Evans in the Hotel Golden Lion and in arresting him. But little did he know that it was Evans who wanted the Governor to arrest him. Evans raised the Governor’s confidence level sky high and let him fall from such a height of pride. When he caught Evans, the Governor thought that he was the most intelligent prison governor in the world and drove to the prison dreaming of the praises and ranks he would be given for his efficiency as a Governor. But in the prison he would know how he was made fool by Evans and the world would only giggle at him.
Q7. How far was Stephens helpful for Evans’ escape?
Ans. Stephens was a newly recruited officer in the prison. He was very particular about showing his efficiency in front of the higher authorities and was especially glad that he was in charge of Evans’ examination which was a risky job indeed. Evans complained of Stephens’ breathing and got him naturally out of the cell. Once out of the cell, Stephens kept peeping into the cell but soon found it childish. To show that he was very confident and efficient, he left the cell door to come after short intervals. The short intervals soon became longer and very longer giving time for Evans to dress himself up inside the cell. Stephens was taken to the highest joy when he received the fake call from the Governor to take the invigilator out of the prison. He in his pride took the invigilator out of the prison and made way for Evans’ escape in a wonderful way.
Q8. Do you agree that between crime and punishment it is mainly a battle of wits?
Ans. The story proves that the prison authorities were determined to prevent Evans from escaping and in their own way they had taken all the precautions against it. On the other hand, Evans had been planning his escape and had worked out all the details most meticulously. Evans made a good plan for his escape and the prison authorities then made a concerted effort to arrest him. He was arrested but managed to escape again thus proving that there exists a constant battle of wits between crime and punishment.