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Calculating the height of Loxley Hall

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Richard Knight Richard Knight 15:37, Friday, 7 January 2011

Calculating the height of Loxley Hall.

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Oh dear. Now we've done it.

In today's More or Less we calculated the height of Lower Loxley Hall - the ancestral home of the late Nigel Pargetter in The Archers - by timing the length of Nigel's scream as he fell from its roof. The answer: over 60 metres. That's the height of York Minster, or about 20 storeys. Quite a pile!

Here's how we worked it out. Nigel's flailing form would have accelerated at almost 10 metres per second per second. He'd have started at a speed of zero and finished the first second at a speed of 10 metres per second - covering about 5 metres.

During the next second he'd have fallen 15 metres. During the third second, 25 metres. We took the liberty of ignoring air resistance because terminal velocity - the speed at which air resistance balances the force of gravity - is over 55 metres a second. Within minutes of broadcasting the item, however, the More or Less inbox was inundated with comments like this:

Your facile calculation did not take into account any time that Nigel may have spent sliding slowly down the icy roof.

Or this:

He could have started screaming as he began sliding towards the edge of the roof, realising he was doomed. And could his scream not have continued for a short while after hitting the ground? If his death was from internal bleeding leading to cardiac arrest, this would have been very possible.

Well. Maybe. The presenter Tim Harford and I did discuss these possibilities before scripting the item. But we decided that had Nigel slid down the roof, we would have heard him do so. We also questioned whether he would really have started to scream before falling off. Wouldn't he have been too busy trying not to fall off?

But as I write, the flood of emails continues. Clearly, we will have to re-visit our calculations next week. Tune in.

Richard Knight is Series Producer of More or Less


  • Comment number 1.

    Uhhmm - sorry to get a bit grim here, but from what I've read from the mountaineer Joe Simpson it's a fallacy that people go aiieee!!!!! when falling. Apparently they are (literally) deathly quiet on the way down.

  • Comment number 2.

    Don't forget the heavily damped harmonic motion as well:



  • Comment number 3.

    Thank you for pointing out this latest absurdity. The scream which concluded the SATTC episode was perhaps the swansong from a cast member who, after many years of service, found out by telephone that he no longer had a job?

    It is not only the scream but the clunking dialogue which preceded it which was was so telling; "I hadn't realised we'd be this high up...", "careful its frosty..." "its so much easier in the light."

    As well as alienating a large chunk of its reguar audience by the on demand disposal of a much loved character, The Archers 60th Anniversary episode probably failed to create even a flicker of interest in new listeners by a plot line which relied on an ill-conceived clamber on a country pile by two grown men who should have know better!

    The fact that your calculations also higlight the ridiculousness of it all is exactly why loyal listeners are finding it hard to continue to suspend disbelief and tune in. Lazy, headline-seeking sensationalsm by the custodians of this long running series may well lead the start of its ultimate decline; that would be the most regretable statistic of all.

  • Comment number 4.

    Just out of interest, wouldn't we expect an increasing doppler effect as he got faster? If we were David, we would hear the pitch drop but if we were on the ground it would rise. As the pitch didn't change I also assume that the sound recordist fell with Nigel, so that's two fatalities on one night. What's the chances of that? ;-)

  • Comment number 5.

    Thanks to all for your comments. I've consulted a BBC radio engineer and I'm assured there'd have been no apparent doppler effect in the sound of Nigel's scream if he'd been wearing a lapel mic during his fall.

    Since BBC sound recordists are, in the main, highly safety-conscious, it seems likely that he or she would have taken this option rather than accompanying Nigel off the roof.

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, Radio 4 blog


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