The week in audio: Fallen Women; Iain Dale; Kevin O’Sullivan; A House in History and more

A chilling podcast explores 17 cases of women who fell to their deaths in suspicious circumstances

Fallen Women Tortoise Media
Iain Dale LBC
Kevin O’Sullivan talkRadio
A House in History Radio 4 | BBC Sounds
The Skewer Radio 4 | BBC Sounds
Between the Ears: A Society of Recordists Radio 3 | BBC Sounds
Gary Davies in for Zoe Ball Radio 2 | BBC Sounds

Another true crime podcast centred around a young woman’s death. Was it murder? The police thought not, but the podcast, through careful examination of the facts, dares to wonder. This might not sound an exciting prospect (perhaps it even sounds standard, though if it does, should we think about that?), but Fallen Women, from Tortoise, is more than the usual whodunnitreally? podcast. In it, the dedicated, brilliant investigative journalist Louise Tickle re-examines the death of Bianca Thomas, a young mother of three who died in August 2018.

Bianca fell from the balcony of an 11th-floor flat of a residential tower block in Birmingham. Her ex-boyfriend was in the flat at the time. Tickle interviews the only witness, Brian Suffolk, who happened to be standing outside the block. He saw Bianca with her back to the balcony wall, facing inwards. He heard an argument. Then Suffolk saw Bianca’s body move upwards and flip over the edge of the balcony and down headfirst. “The screaming on the way down… I’ll never forget it.”

Tickle talks to Bianca’s younger sister. She visits the flat, to check on the balcony. She talks to a forensic criminologist, Dr Claire Ferguson. She does all the things you expect… and it makes, as ever, no difference. But Tickle also enlists the help of Ellen Halliday, a Tortoise reporter, and they find other cases of falling women. Fifty-one, in fact, who were seriously injured or killed by falling from a height, 27 in circumstances deemed suspicious. They go through those, and what they find, in the background of most of them, is a man. As Tickle says: “Twenty-seven falls. Seventeen deaths. A man almost always arrested at the scene and then almost always released without charge.” As she also says: “Standing in the shadow of her fall.”

Perhaps you think this is paranoia: women seeing bad things when they aren’t really there. But Tickle and Halliday also look at deaths of men from falling. They find that, out of 38, only five were deemed suspicious and almost all happened in a public place, with other people present: a party, a train station, a work do. The contrast is stark. Tickle, who has long experience in investigating difficult domestic abuse cases (she made Hidden Homicides), knows how to spot the signs: with these falling women, patterns of abusive behaviour are being missed. In domestic murder cases, often the perpetrator will try and make the death look like suicide or an accident. But if you don’t approach a death scene as though it’s a murder, how can you collect the evidence? Every chief of police should listen to this podcast and we should be collecting data. At the end, Tickle lists all the names of the women who died by falling. We owe it to them.

Still, in these “can we get away with it?” days, who will care enough or be careful enough to do the research, think about the victims? We’re governed by those who can’t be bothered with details and who think victims are losers, by definition. On Tuesday evening, an interesting discussion on Iain Dale’s LBC evening show Cross Question. Four guests: Phillip Blond, ex-adviser to David Cameron; the Fabian Society’s Andrew Harrop; Dr Alan Mendoza from the Henry Jackson Society and the Guardian columnist Zoe Williams. The conversation was stimulating and articulate, with some great listener questions. (Incidentally, earlier in the show, a long-time Conservative party member phoned in to say he had handed in his membership due to Johnson’s lying.)

Over on talkRadio, I was hoping for more chatty intelligence. Instead, Kevin O’Sullivan was discussing Doctor Who “going woke”. Phrases such as “having an agenda” and “hammering home a message” (re the romance between Doctor Who and Yasmin, as though lesbians just don’t exist) were followed – bizarrely – by an attack on Jodie Whittaker for how she plays the character. “Completely derivative, she behaves like any other Doctor!” barked O’Sullivan. This, after 15 minutes of slagging off the show for not being exactly like it once was. O’Sullivan is a clever man, yet this is dire stuff.

Jon Holmes
Jon Holmes’s award-winning The Skewer is back. Photograph: BBC

For some jokes to cheer us all up, why not try Radio 4’s new comedy A House in History? It’s a mickey take of those TV programmes that put a family in a house from the past. Though slightly slow to start, the show ramped up into some satisfyingly silly strangeness, exemplified by Alistair Green, who played Phil, the father. Some great lines, too. Just before that, for fans of the even stranger, The Skewer is back, with its doctored, real-life audio and bizarre hallucinatory feel. Jon Holmes, who’s been working at the radio coalface for many years, has won several well-deserved awards for this show. He also invites new writers to contribute. Excellent.

More dispatches from audio’s cutting edge on Between the Ears: A Society of Recordists, a cheering soundscape about the Wildlife Sound Recording Society. “You’re like the Detectorists,” said someone and they were: quiet people who happened to be dedicated to capturing natural outdoor sound. The hectic chatter of birds in flight, the wind through trees. One mentioned that he was pretty sure he had recorded the noise of a fish eating its tea. Delightful.

A quick mention for “wooh” Gary Davies, covering for Zoe Ball on Radio 2. Davies is one of the best stand-ins Radio 2 has. Inclusive and warm, without the stomach-turning ego of most male DJs his age, he manages to make everything sound smooth and fun, but not without character. Wooh, indeed.


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

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