Evans Tries an O-Level

About Author

 

English crime writer Colin Dexter was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire. He earned both his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in classics from Christ’s College, Cambridge. He was a teacher for most of his life and eventually had to retire due to his worsening deafness. After a stint writing textbook, Dexter turned to mysteries, eventually penning thirteen mystery novels. He created the famous detective Inspector Morse in 1975. The Inspector Morse series soon moved to the small screen, and so did Dexter—he made frequent cameo appearances on the TV show. Dexter earned two Silver Daggers, two Golden Daggers, and a Diamond Dagger from The Crime Writers’ Association of Britain. He was knighted in 2000, honoured as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

 

Characters

  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

 

Theme

 

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.

 

Summary

 

In March, the Secretary of the Examinations Board receives a call from the Governor at Oxford Prison, asking if one of his prisoners can take the final exam in O-level German. James Roderick Evans is a jovial, “congenital kleptomaniac” who’s escaped from various prisons three times, though the Governor is determined to not let that happen at Oxford Prison. The Governor and the Secretary decide that Evans will take the test in his own cell, and that they’ll get a parson to be the proctor.

At 8:45 A.M. one morning in June, Reverend Stuart McLeery makes his way to Oxford Prison, where he’s scheduled to proctor a two-hour exam at 9:15 A.M. When McLeery arrives, the senior prison officer, Jackson, searches his briefcase. The officer is baffled by a strange, partially inflated rubber ring that looks like a child’s pool toy; McLeery irritably explains that it’s a special cushion he sits on because of his haemorrhoid problem. Embarrassed, Jackson apologizes and sends the proctor back to Evans’s cell. After a few more hiccups, the exam finally begins at 9:25 A.M.

The Examinations Board calls the Governor; the Assistant Secretary with a “special responsibility for modern languages” explains that “some fool” forgot to include a correction slip in the envelope with the other exam materials. The Governor wonders if the call is a fake but tells himself he’s being silly. Since Evans’s cell has been bugged, the Governor listens in as McLeery reads out the corrections to Evans. Meanwhile, Stephens peers into the peephole of Evans’s cell every few minutes. At one point, he’s surprised to see a blanket draped over Evans’s shoulders. Stephens wonders if this is the kind of “slight irregularity” he should report, but reasons that it is cold in the prison.

At 11:20 A.M., McLeery informs Evans that there are only five minutes remaining. Two minutes later, Jackson receives a call from the Governor asking for Stephens: Stephens is to escort McLeery out of the prison when the exam is over. When Stephens escorts the man out, he observes that the minister’s Scottish accent seems “broader than ever,” and that he seems thinner than before. Once McLeery is gone, Stephens returns to Evans’s cell—there is McLeery, sprawled out and covered in blood.

Chaos ensues, and the Governor arrives on the scene. McLeery feebly thrusts the German exam into his hand; there, on the last page of the exam, is a “cleverly superimposed” photocopied sheet instructing Evans about how to escape. After having Detective Superintendent Carter taken McLeery to the hospital, the Governor berates Stephens for ignorantly letting the criminal go free, but he stutters that he was only following the Governor’s orders. The Governor screams that he never gave Stephen those orders—the call was a fake. The Governor calls the hospital to check up on McLeery, but the hospital says they don’t have any patients named McLeery. Suddenly, the Governor realizes his mistake: “It had not been Evans, impersonating McLeery, who had walked out; it had been Evans, impersonating McLeery, who had stayed in.” Fifteen minutes later, they find the real McLeery gagged and bound at his flat.

After a pleasant dinner, Evans returns to the Golden Lion Hotel. He thinks about how the fake McLeery had worn two of everything (two clerical shirts, two clerical collars, two coats), and Evans had managed to wiggle into his disguise underneath the grey blanket. Evans enters his room and instantly freezes there, sitting on the bed, is the Governor. Realizing he can’t escape; Evans begins telling the Governor about his scheme. He explains that the most pivotal part was the fake call to Stephens in the last three minutes of the exam, which gave Evans and McLeery time to use the pig’s blood, which was concealed in McLeery’s inflatable rubber ring.

A silent prison officer handcuffs Evans and loads him into a prison van. Evans asks if the Governor knows any other modern languages—he noticed that the prison was offering O-level Italian in September. The Governor says that Evans might not be at Oxford Prison come September; Evans agrees that the Governor might be right. The Governor watches the van pull away.

When the van reaches the main road, the silent prison officer hurriedly unlocks Evans’ handcuffs and snaps at the driver to drive faster, as “It won’t take ‘em long to find out.” In a thick Scottish accent, the driver asks where they should “make for,” and Evans suggests Newbury.

 

GIST OF THE LESSON

  • Evans a kleptomaniac was imprisoned thrice, and all the time escaped from the prison. Now he was in the prison for the 4th time and all of a sudden developed curiosity to appear in O-level German Examination which also was an effort to break the prison.

  • 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 tutor for 6 months. The day before the exam the tutor 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 Evans 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.

  • Evans cell was bugged so that the Governor could himself listen to each and every conversation in the cell. The invigilator Rev. S. McLeery 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 took a look into Evans 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. McLeery 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 4th time. But by taking the hint from the question paper the Governor reached the hotel where Evans was and captured him and came to know how he planned his escape and said that his game was over. Evans surrenders himself to the Governor.

  • The Governor tells Evan they would meet soon.

  • The moment they are rid of the Governor, the so-called prison officer-a friend of Evans unlocks the handcuffs and asks the driver to move fast and Evans tells him to turn to Newbury.

 

Textual Questions and Answers

 

Read-and-find-out Questions

Question 1. What kind of a person was Evans?
Answer: Evans was a congenital kleptomaniac and was in Oxford Prison. He was an expert at escaping from prisons and was called ‘Evans the Break’. He was a genius at planning and foresight. He was very clever and had many friends and contacts who helped him to escape. He was a very good actor too, as nobody doubted him when he was acting as McLeery.

 

Question 2. What were the precautions taken for the smooth conduct of the examination?
Answer: Evans was famous for escaping from prisons. So, all possible precautions were taken for the smooth conduct of the examination. The Governor himself supervised all the precautions. Senior officer Jackson and officer Stephens were very vigilant and worked round the clock. All the sharp things, including the nail cutter, razor, etc. were removed from the cell of Evans. His cell was bugged to hear the communication between him and the invigilator. A vigil was kept on his cell during the course of the examination.

Question 3. Did the Governor and his staff finally heave a sigh of relief?
Answer: The governor and his staff couldn’t heave a sigh of relief because immediately after the exam was over, they found the invigilator lying bleeding in Evans’s cell. It appeared that Evans had hurt him and escaped from the prison in the guise of McLeery.

Question 4. Where did Evans go?
Answer: Evans went to Chipping Norton and after a stroll around the centre of Chipping Norton he returned to Golden Lion hotel.

Reading with Insight

Question 1. Reflecting upon the story, what do you feel about Evans having the last laugh?
Answer: Evans is a genius and a master in planning his escapes. He uses all tactics-psychology, emotional display, great acting skills, convincing powers, and amiability—to carry out his plan. The governor, despite being overcautious, is not able to prevent his escape. However, after a lot of efforts he is able to trace and capture Evans, arrest him and send him to the prison house. But at this point also, he is outsmarted by Evans. In fact, the prison officials are no one else but his friends in disguise. Once again Evans escapes due to the carelessness of the Governor. He has the last laugh.

Question 2. When Stephens comes back to the cell he jumps to a conclusion and the whole machinery blindly goes by his assumption without even checking the identity of the injured ‘McLeery’. Does this show how hasty conjectures can prevent one from seeing the obvious? How is the criminal able to predict such negligence?
Answer: When Stephens comes back to the cell, he finds a man covered with blood in Evans’ cell. He jumps to the conclusion and does not bother to check the identity of the injured McLeery. Definitely it was a hasty conjecture on his part which prevented him from seeing the obvious. If he had identified McLeery then and there, Evans would have been caught as this man was no one but Evans himself. Evans is able to predict such negligence because he understood the psychology of the officer. Evans was smart and very observant.

Question 3. What could have the Governor done to securely bring back Evans to prison when he caught him at Golden Lion? Does that final act of foolishness really prove that ‘he was just another good-for-a- giggle, gullible governor, that was all’?
Answer: The Governor, despite being aware of the fact that Evans was very clever, did not make any fool proof arrangements to bring him back. He could have called the prison force instead of police to take Evans back to the prison house. He should have made more elaborate security arrangements. He could have cross-checked the identity of the officers who took Evans away or he would have personally escorted Evans back to jail.

Short Answer type questions

Question 1: How did the Governor, Oxford Prison describe Evans to the Secretary, Examination Board?

Answer: The Governor described Evans as a pleasant sort of person who was good at imitating people to the Secretary, Examination Board. He also mentioned that he was a congenital kleptomaniac and had no record of violence.

 

Question 2: What was the German teacher’s opinion of Evan’s proficiency in German?

Answer: Evans’ German teacher had a very low opinion of his proficiency in German. He thought that Evans had a very little chance of clearing the O-level Exam.

 

Question 3: What could the Governor have done to securely bring Evans back to the prison from the ‘Golden Lion’?

Answer : The Governor should have travelled himself in the van with Evans and in case he was unable to do so, he should have checked the credentials of the guards escorting Evans to securely bring Evans back to the prison from the ‘Golden Lion’.

 

Question 4: What important call did the Governor receive when the examination was going on?

Answer: The important call that the Governor received when the examination was going on was from the magistrate court. He was asked to provide a prison van a couple of prison officers for a remand case.

 

Question 5: What precautions were taken for the smooth conduct of Evans’ O-level examination?

Answer: Thoroughly checking Evans’ prison cell a night before the exam, removing of all sharp objects from his cell, frisking of the invigilator and checking his suitcase were the precautions taken for the smooth conduct of Evans’ O-level examination.

 

Question 6: What kind of person was Evans? Why did he want to sit for the O-level German examination?

Answer: Evans seemed to be quiet a pleasant and astute person. He was a kleptomaniac and had managed to escape the prison thrice. His desire to sit for the O-level German examination was only a plot to foci the authorities and escape the prison.

 

Question 7: How do we know that Evans had no chance of getting through the O-level German examination? Why did he take the test?

Answer: We know that Evans had no chance of getting through the O-level German examination as his instructor had commented that he hardly had any chance of getting through the exam.

 

Question 8: On the day of the examination, with what excuse did Evans keep Stephens out of his cell? What was the actual reason?

Answer: Evans gave the excuse of being unable to concentrate on is exam if Stephens was sitting behind him.

The actual reason was to get Stephens out of the cell so that he could make arrangements for his escape.

Question 9: What are the contents of the small suitcase that McLeery carried?

Answer: The suitcase that McLeery carried had a sealed question paper envelope, a yellow invigilation form, a special authentication card from the Examination Board, a paper knife, a Bible, the current copy of Church Times and a small semi-inflated rubber ring.

 

Question 10: What did the Detective Superintendent inform the Governor about Evans?

Answer: The Detective Superintendent informed the Governor that McLeery had spotted Evans in a car and had taken down the car’s number. They tried to chase the car but lost it after some time.

 

Question 11: How did the Governor find out where Evans was?

Answer: The Governor thought about the six-digit reference number and after putting the two numbers, the index and the centre number together and with the help of the ‘Ordinance Survey Map for Oxfordshire’ he reached the hotel to find Evans.

 

Question 12: Who was Carter? What did the Governor ask him to do?

Answer: Carter was the Detective Superintendent. The Governor had asked him to take Evans, who was disguised as injured McLeery, along considering that he knew where Evans could be.

 

Question 13: How did the Governor react to the two phone calls he received in quick succession?

Answer: The Governor had a sharp presence of mind and wanted to give Evans no chance to escape. So, he verified the first phone call he received. However, he did not do so with the second call as he thought he was being paranoid.

 

Question 14: How did the question paper and the correction slip help the prisoner and the Governor?

Answer: The purpose of the cleverly superimposed photocopied sheet on the question paper and the correction slip was to finalise the details of Evans’ plan of escape. It also helped the Governor to locate the place where Evans was hiding.

 

Question 15: Why did Evans not take off his hat when Jackson ordered him to do so?

Answer: Evans knew that the duplicate McLeery, who was to invigilate during the O-level German examination, had short hair. So, he cropped his hair to pass off as McLeery later and wore a hat on exam day. Hence, he did not take off his hat when Jackson told him to do so.

 

Question 16: How does McLeery explain the presence of a small semi-inflated rubber ring? What did it actually contain?

Answer: McLeery tells Jackson that he is suffering from haemorrhoids (piles) and the ring helps him when he has to sit for a long time. In reality, the ring contained pig blood, which Evans would splatter on his head and escape from the hospital as McLeery who had been injured.

 

Question 17: What clues did the answer sheet of Evans provide to the Governor?

Answer: The index number 313 and the centre number 271 on the answer sheet proved to be the clues for the Governor. Putting the two together and with the help of the Ordinance Survey Map for Oxfordshire, he managed to catch Evans in the hotel.

 

Question 18:  How did Evans outwit the Governor in the end?

Answer: Evans outwitted the Governor in the end by escaping again. This was due to the fact that he knew the prison officer who handcuffed him and the driver who was driving the van.

Question 19: Who do you think has outwitted the other-Evans or the Governor? How?

Answer: Evans had outwitted the Governor in the end. This was because he was able to escape again after being caught by the Governor at the hotel.

 

Long Questions

 

Question 1: Describe the precautions taken by the prison officers to prevent Evans from escaping.

Answer: As Evans had tried to escape before, the prison authorities had taken all possible precautions for the smooth conduct of the examination.

Evans’ cell was thoroughly checked a night before and all sharp-edged objects like razor, nail-file, scissors, etc. were taken away from him. The suitcase of the invigilator, McLeery, was carefully checked before he entered the cell. Also, the Governor had himself decided to supervise the examination by listening in through the microphone connected to Evans’ cell. Prison officer Stephens was deployed to observe Evans from the peephole every minute or so. Another prison officer Mr Jackson was in constant contact with the Governor on the phone. Both the gates of the wings of Evans’ cell were locked tightly.

Thus, the authorities left no stone unturned in ensuring the smooth and safe conduct of the examination.

Question 2: How did the negligence of the prison officers prove to be a boon for Evans?

Answer: The prison authorities had taken multi-step detailed precautions for the safe conduct of the examination. However, some lapses on their part at critical moments proved to be a boon for Evans.

First of all, one tried to verify the identity of the invigilator McLeery and that turned out to be a key mistake in this case. Similarly, the identities of the van driver and the officer who handcuffed Evans were not verified. All of them later turned out to be Evans’ accomplices.

The Detective Superintendent also acted hastily and did not drive the injured McLeery to the hospital.

This gave Evans the chance to escape. Finally, the Governor, who had a sharp presence of mind and hawk-eyed vigil, made the greatest blunder. When he nabbed Evans at the hotel, he did not bring him to the jail with him and sent him with a driver and a prison officer. Thus, Evans escaped yet again.

Question 3: Give a character sketch of the Governor of Oxford Prison based on your understanding of the story, ‘Evans Tries an O-level’.

Answer: The Governor of the HM Prison, Oxford, appears to be a kind-hearted fellow at the start as he arranges for an O-level exam for a prisoner renowned for his ability to escape. He was, though, quite sceptical of Evans and made every arrangement to make sure that Evans had no means to escape.

He was also very proud and self-conscious. He did not want Evans to disgrace him by escaping from his prison. He had a sharp presence of mind, which was clear from the fact that he cross checked every call that was made to the prison that day.

However, he got over-confident of his arrangements and gave Evans the opportunity to escape.

Also, he was a person who did not mind showering praise on a prisoner. When Evans revealed his secret plan to him, he admired him. At last, he proved to be just another gullible Governor when Evans tricked him again and successfully escaped. His overconfidence and self-praise let him down.

Question 4: How was the injured McLeery able to befool the prison officers?

Answer: Evans acted really well as the ‘injured’ McLeery. The fake blood that was supplied to him by his invigilator friend was pouring down from his head. With a ‘feeble’ hand, he got his handkerchief and held it to his bleeding head. In fact, in that process, he was able to hide his face from the eyes of the prison officer. He was in so much pain that he could hardly utter a coherent word! In this way, he concealed his voice and was able to dodge the officers.

The moment he heard the suggestion of bringing in an ambulance, he interrupted and asked them to call the police; he offered them his help in tracing Evans whom the authorities thought had escaped. This was a part of his plan in which all the officers got trapped.

Evans acting as the injured McLeery fooled all the officers and hence he got successful in making them believe that the injured invigilator was really trying to help them. Thus, by his superb acting of an injured person, he was completely successful in befooling and confusing the prison officers.

Question 5: What purpose did the question paper and the correction slip serve? How did they help both the criminals and the Governor?

Answer: The purpose of the photocopied sheet that was superimposed on the question paper and the correction slip was to supply the details of the plan of escape to Evans without uttering a single word. It was a well-thought out meticulous plan. It was also meant to make the authorities believe that the wounded man was McLeery himself. And at that moment, it worked as was thought and the authorities got trapped.

However, there is a wise saying ‘iron cuts iron’. Just like that, if that superimposed question paper and correction slip helped Evans, then the same also helped the Governor in locating the place where Evans was hiding.

The six-digit number of the correction slip i.e., the index number and the centre number 313/271, helped the Governor. He put these numbers together and with the help of the Ordinance Survey Map of Oxfordshire reached the hotel where Evans had decided to hide for the day.

Question 6: In spite of the precautions taken by the Governor, Evans was able to escape. How do you think he was able to do it?

Answer: Evans, the habitual jail-breaker outwits everyone and in spite of all the precautions taken by the Governor he is able to escape from prison. From the very beginning when the German teacher enters the prison to the last encounter between the Governor and Evans in the hotel, the latter outsmarts them at each stage and proves that they are no match for his crafty scheming. Evans carries out all his plans ‘right under their noses’, turning tables on them, making the prison authorities appear as ‘good for nothing’ officers.

For example, he knew that Mr Jackson who used a rough tone had some compassion for him. He granted Evans’ request to keep the filthy looked red and white bobble hat on his head during the examination. The hat was actually to hide his recently cropped hair. Also, he knew that prison officers will blindly go by assumption. He pretended to pose as ‘injured’ McLeery in the cell. No one checked the identity of ‘injured’ McLeery as it was assumed that Evans had hit McLeery and escaped.

In fact, Evans is actually, officially escorted out of jail by the prison officials themselves. Finally, at the hotel, when the Governor feels that he has been able to nab Evans, he dodges him and slips away.

 

Value Based Question

Question 1: When Stephen comes back to the cell he jumps to a conclusion and the whole machinery blindly goes by his assumption without even checking the identity of the injured ‘McLeery’. Does this show how hasty conjectures can prevent one from seeing the obvious? How is the criminal able to predict such negligence?

Answer: Evans has assessed the weaknesses of the jail officers successfully. When he saw the injured McLeery in the cell he was so overwhelmed that he did not even check who he really was and neither did anyone else. It did not occur to anyone to question how there could be two persons – one in the cell and the other who had been escorted out by Stephens.

It was for this reason that friends of Evans, who posing as Governor on the phone, had directed Stephens that he himself should escort the person out when the exam finished. The Governor and his officers, in effect actually led Evans out of the prison. The question paper is left behind to further mislead the Governor. This shows that Evans planned his strategy after thoroughly understanding the behaviour of the prison officers.

 

Question 2: While we condemn the crime, we are sympathetic to the criminal. Is this the reason why prison staff often develop a soft corner for those in custody?

Answer: ‘Crime’ and ‘criminals’ are usually considered synonymous. However, our perception changes when we see a criminal suffering or serving his punishment. This happened with the prison staff also. Noticing a criminal suffering in the prison, they developed a soft corner for him. They looked at him as a human being and not as a mere criminal. They started noticing and appreciating his mental capabilities rather than remembering his crime.

In the story, Jackson lets Evans keep his hat on after being informed about it being lucky for Evans. Evans knew of the emotional side of Jackson and so hit it directly through his talk about ‘lucky charm’ and managed to fool the stern and practical officer. Even the Governor could not help noticing his intelligence when caught him in the hotel. Thus, he was not cruel or stern with Evans, and regrettably, took him leniently.

 

 

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