How historically accurate is Rillington Place episode two?

The true story behind the second instalment of BBC’s John Christie and Timothy Evans drama

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Another episode of BBC’s Rillington Place, another set of horrible questions you might regret asking. 

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Tonight’s instalment followed Timothy Evans (played by Nico Mirallegro) struggling with a new marriage, and turning to apparently friendly neighbour John Christie (Tim Roth) for help with his wife’s unwanted pregnancy – only to soon be confronted by her bloodied corpse. But just how much of it happened in real life?

Here are your episode two FAQs.

Was the relationship between Timothy and Beryl Evans really that bad?

It was actually much worse than what you saw on the box. It’s likely that the Evans’ had a terribly violent relationship: Lucy Endecott, one of Beryl’s school friends, is on record claiming Tim had punched his wife directly in the face during an argument.

Plus, during Evans’ trial, Mrs Hyde – a neighbour at Rillington Place – claimed she’d witnessed Tim threatening to throw his wife out of the upstairs window to their flat.

Did Timothy Evans’ accent change from Welsh to Cockney in real life?

Probably, yes. Although originally from Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales, Evans adopted a chappy ‘barrow-boy’ persona in London. The show writers say it reflects his malleability.

But Evans didn’t kill his wife, right?

He didn’t. Although Christie didn’t to confess killing baby Geraldine, he did admit to murdering Beryl. Exactly how we can’t be sure – Christie’s accounts of the events were extremely dubious (in one of his versions, he claimed Beryl asked to help her commit suicide and that she’d do anything – including have intercourse with Christie – to get his help.)

However it was done, the blame for both murders is now firmly on Christie and Evans was granted a posthumous royal pardon in 1966.

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Did Tim Evans really not suspect John Christie immediately after his wife was killed?

You employ a neighbour-cum-uncertified-doctor to perform a mysterious abortion procedure on your pregnant wife. On coming home that night, however, your wife is dead with the neighbour saying it was simply unfortunate. Do you A) alert the police, or B) cover for him, trusting him with your 13-month-old baby for good measure?

As improbable as it seems, Evans took the second option. But this can be put down to manipulation on Christie’s part: Evans had an IQ of around 70, compared to John Christie’s 128. This made it easy for Christie to control Evans in a time of panic. 

In fact, Evans was exploited a lot more than is shown in the TV show. The 25-year-old briefly left Wales to check on his child in London, returning to Rillington Place. Christie told Evans that it was too soon to see his daughter (she was already dead at this point) and he must return to Merthyr Tydfil. Evans obliged without question.

Were home abortions common in London in 1950?

Abortion was illegal in the UK until 1967. Before then there was a considerable body of folklore about methods of inducing miscarriage – working class women turned to dangerous herbal remedies, violent laxatives, scalding hot baths and ‘controlled’ falls down stairs. “Backstreet” abortionists were fairly common, but their bloody and unsanitary methods resulted in many deaths.

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The final instalment of Rillington Place airs on BBC1 on Tuesday at 9pm

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