The following account is recreated from interviews with those who were there, and then dramatised for the internet. All video footage contained below is real, unedited, and as shot by independent witnesses.
Slow zooming closeup onto shiny red 1970s telephone. It rings. Thrill Engineer, red boiler suit, looks up from experiment. Whippet wearing brain monitoring headset continues to runs on treadmill, chasing stuffed squirrel. The engineer picks up: “Hello, you are through to Thrill Laboratory. With whom am I speaking?”
“Hello, I’m the television Producer of a great new show called It’s Not Rocket Science, featuring some great guys. They – actually, I – want to know if you can design the world’s first gravity-fed inverting playground slide. But there’s a catch: nobody can get hurt, but they must think that they could get hurt”.
Pause. Thrill Engineer, doodling on reverse of sick bag: “yes, I think it’s possible. How heavy is your man?”. Producer: “This is no man… this is national treasure, smiley smiley Rachel Riley, and she’s a feather weight”. Thrill Engineer, thumbing through engineering tables: “Hmmm. Light entertainment” [our engineer chuckles to himself, pleased with his quick wit at such a serious time] “I will have to carefully consider material properties. Is she prepared to wear rubber and be lubricated in order to reduce her coefficient of friction? Despite my initial humourous response (see 4 lines above), this is serious factual business you know”.
NB: the above conversation has been abridged for this article, however the details have been verified, and the facts are true.
Producer: “Let me check [hand over receiver, muffled voices] yes, I can confirm that I am calling from ITV, and that Ms Riley is contractually obliged, in the name of Entertaining Facts, or Factual Entertainment – I forget. But by golly, she will do it!” Thrill Engineer: “Excellent. I’m impressed by her committment to scientific research. Give me 48 hours and I’ll send you my design recommendations”
Cut to montage of scenes – whiteboard showing design schematic; scribbled notebook equations showing how height (potential energy) is converted into velocity (kinetic energy), with troublesome losses through friction and air resistance. “That damned energy loss. More height, we need more height… or soap”.
We are shown a computer in the corner of the Thrill Laboratory quietly working away. Its finite element analysis produces scrolling screens of data; reams of dot matrix-printed numbers spew onto the floor. One column of figues turns red. We are taken to look closer: *WARNING* G-Forces likely to exceed break-neck levels. The engineer’s whippet runs through, grabbing the paper, and shedding as he goes. We’re unsure whether the Thrill Engineer will ever be aware of this key information.
Thrill Engineer, picks up phone: “Hello, is that the producer? Yes, it is possible, but it will be a very close call. We need a loop with tight enough radius to maintain kinetic energy and velocity through the inversion, providing enough centripetal force to overcome the very gravity that will be hell bent on pulling Ms Riley out of the loop, to dash her delicate skeletal frame on the metalwork below. However, make the radius too tight, and the speed too high, and the G-forces generated will be too great, rupturing any one of her so many, and so vital organs. She may never appear on Countdown again. But my analysis hasn’t flagged anything unusual” (whippet streaks across screen behind the engineer, carrying a trail of paper) [muffled voice on other end] “I’m glad your internal team of ITV boffins concur with our laboratory’s assessment. I’ll call my friends at HMS Engineering and we’ll get to work right away on detailed design and fabrication”
We cut to a time-lapse montage of workshop fabrication, with heroic workmen, stripped to the waist. (production note: we could linger here, using muscles, flames, and sweat to amplify the danger, and perhaps reveal the humanity of this adventure). The sequence concludes with final assembly in the yard, with slide silhouetted against setting sun as we fade to black.
Morning breaks. Producer steps in: “Hello everyone. Gosh I’m nervous. Aren’t you nervous? Anything could happen. Thrill Engineer – please conduct your trial run”
Wobbly camera cuts to Thrill Engineer, who assures crew: “Don’t worry, that wasn’t Ms Riley. I used a test dummy that was exactly the same height and weight as Ms Riley. These results are as expected. I recommend an extra 1.2m height at launch, and we should be fine”. Producer: “Wow, that was close! Let us quickly relocate to a dramatically-lit aircraft hangar, thus maintaining this dramatic uncertainty”.
Montage: our slide is taken apart, transported, and re-built at a hangar, under spotlight, in the still of night. Producer, wearing rubber all-in-one suit, carrying a bar of soap, looms from the dark, and approaches the slide: “I think I’d better be the one to give it first-try, just to double-check it all works before Ms Riley arrives on set. Can an intern please video me, so that I can send this unofficial video to my friends via WhatsApp. Intern: please ensure that you film in landscape just in case the resulting footage has to be used for broadcast”
The telephone on the wall of our aircraft hangar rings. The cheering of crew stops. All stare at the phone. The Producer walks apprehensively over, and picks up the receiver: “Hello? [muffled voice] Yes this is the television Producer [muffled voice] Oh, hello television Executive Producer [muffled voice] Yes, it was a complete success – we did it, we actually did it [muffled voice] Huh? Ms Riley has sprained her wrist as the result of a skiing accident at the weekend? [muffled voice] And you’re a bit nervous about her going down our slide [muffled voice] OK, not a problem. We’ll pack the slide away [muffled voice] No, no. I’m sure she will be fine with the alternative skydiving experiment”. Puts phone down and turns to crew: “Get that clingfilm out of the bin and back over those croissants. Guys: we’re moving”
End credits, sad music: Ms Riley was never to ride the world’s first inverting playground slide. The slide was never shown on ITV. Its whereabouts are unknown. Ms Riley’s can still be found on Channel 4, weekdays at 2.10pm.
Detailed design and production: HMS Engineering.