Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? was adapted by London Weekend Television in 1980 and transmitted on Sunday, March 30, 1980. It was directed by John Davies and Tony Wharmby. The producers were Tony Wharmby and Jack Williams.
Before this production, there had been relatively few adaptations of Christie’s work on the small screen as it was a medium she disliked and she had not been impressed with previous efforts, in particular a transmission of And Then There Were None on August 20, 1949, when several noticeable errors went out live (including one of the 'corpses' standing up and walking off set in full view of the cameras). By the 1960’s she emphatically refused to grant television rights to her works. After her death in 1976, her estate, principally managed by her daughter Rosalind Hicks, relaxed this ruling and Why Didn't They Ask Evans? was the first major production that resulted. Evans attracted large audiences and satisfactory reviews, but more importantly, it demonstrated to television executives that Christie’s work could be successful for the small screen given the right budgets, stars and attention to detail – Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime, Miss Marple with Joan Hickson (who had a minor role in Evans), Agatha Christie's Poirot with David Suchet and Marple with Geraldine McEwan, until her retirement, and later with Julia McKenzie, can all trace their style and successes back to this 1980 adaptation.
Given a generous budget of one million pounds - a large sum for the time - it had an all-star cast and a three-month shooting and videotaping schedule. Problems were encountered during the 1979 ITV strike which lasted three months and led to replacement production personnel when the strike ended, including a second director. The original intention was that the 180-minute teleplay would be transmitted as a three-part "mini-serial" but ITV then decided to show it as a three-hour special with maximum publicity, especially for Francesca Annis in the role of Frankie (Annis was a major name in UK television at the time, having played the title role in Lillie, the story of Lillie Langtry, two years before).
The production was extremely faithful to the plot and dialogue of the book. Only two notable changes were made. The first is the recognition in the isolated cottage that Dr. Nicholson is Roger Bassington-ffrench in disguise. In the novel, it is Bobby who recognizes the deception as the man's ear-lobes are different from those of the doctor whom he had glimpsed previously. In the adaptation, Frankie witnesses one of Nicholson's patients attacking him in the sanatorium when his face is badly scratched. In the cottage, she realizes the scratches have disappeared. The second change comes at the end when, instead of writing to Frankie from South America, Roger lures her to a deserted Merroway Court, makes much the same confession as appears in the book's letter and tells her he loves her, asking her to join him. When she refuses, he locks her in a room of the house (to be freed by Bobby the next day) but doesn't harm her as he makes his escape abroad. Presumably, this change was made as the exposition of the long letter would not have worked on television. The production was first screened on US television as part of Mobil Showcase on May 21, 1981, introduced by Peter Ustinov.
Cast[edit | edit source]
- Francesca Annis as Lady Frances Derwent
- James Warwick as Bobby Jones
- John Gielgud as Reverend Jones
- Bernard Miles as Dr Thomas
- Eric Porter as Dr Nicholson
- Leigh Lawson as Roger Bassington-ffrench
- Madeline Smith as Moira Nicholson
- Connie Booth as Sylvia Bassington-ffrench
- Robert Longden as Badger Beadon
- Doris Hare as Rose Pratt
- Joan Hickson as Mrs Rivington
- Rowland Davies as Dr. George Arbuthnot
- James Cossins as Henry Bassington-ffrench
- Mitzi Rogers as Mrs. Cayman
- John Pennington as Mr. Cayman
- Lynda Marshal as Mrs Roberts
- Deddie Davies as Postmistress
- Frank Tregear as Mr Roberts
- John Horsley as Mr Spragg
- Leon Sinden as Mr Owen
- Elaine Wells as Nurse Fletcher
- Annette Robertson as Julie
- Eirik Barclay as Tommy Bassington-ffrench
- Raymond Francis as Earl of Marchington