Friday, 7 January 2011

Middle England outraged - geeks delighted

You've gotta love Radio 4. A lot of listeners got very upset about about the much-trailed 60th anniversary episode of The Archers. For those who don't follow the radio soap about the everyday doings of country folk, the episode in question contrived to create a sensational story line by combining a much-anticipated birth with a cliff-hanging ending, involving Nigel Pargetter, the nice-but-dim toff who owns of the local stately home (Lower Loxley), accidentally falling from the roof of his aforementioned country seat with a blood-chilling scream.

Eager listeners would, it was hoped, tune in to the next episode anxious to to discover whether Nigel had survived the fall. Unfortunately, in an interview that went out before the next episode was broadcast, the series editor, Vanessa Whitburn, accidentally let slip that Nigel's unexpected detour to ground level was terminal. Popular character killed off, important top secret plot details leaked on air, middle England said to be furious.

Today, Radio 4's marvellous programme about statistics, More or Less, picked up the story and took it to an exquisitely geeky place by attempting to calculate the height of the fictional Lower Loxley stately home from the length of Nigel Pargetter's falling scream, as follows:

Nigel's terrified cry was timed at 3.5 seconds.

The equation for a falling body is d=1/2gt² (distance equals one half times gravity times time squared).

1⁄2 x 9.8 m/s x 3.5² = 60.02 metres (we're reliably informed that air resistance makes no appreciable difference to falls of 5 seconds or less)

So, Nigel seems to have fallen about 60 metres (or 200 feet). That's the height of York Minster, or a typical 20 storey building. Now that is impressive - compared with the towering bulk of Lower Loxley, Blenheim Palace would look like a Barratt starter home.

Only on Radio 4...