In the first of a two part series Dr Suzannah Lipscomb returns to BBC Four with the Hidden Killers. Lipscomb, with the help of experts in history and science, explores the deadly must-have items of the time of the Victorian and Edwardian eras in Britain.
In the first programme, New Hidden Killers: The Victorian Home, Suzannah shows how the Victorians were pioneers in the area of food additives. But as food historian Annie Gray explains, the results of their ingenuity in this field were truly devastating.
Thomas Crapper, the aptly named plumber, was to save the Victorians from the exploding ‘killer toilet’ but another largely forgotten inventor, a household name in Victorian Britain, is Alexander Parkes – the inventor of celluloid. His contribution was the highly inflammable fashion jewellery and hair combs that were extremely popular with the middle classes, as they passed for more expensive items worn by the aristocracy. But they were to prove to be a deadly form of decoration.
Suzannah, with the help of historian Dr Kate Williams and consultant pathologist Dr Suzy Lishman, examines how the Victorian obsession with cleanliness and fear of germs made the age a golden era for the poisoner. Killing all known germs meant filling the Victorian home full of toxic substances, from arsenic to strychnine – all easily purchased over the counter in packaging indistinguishable from harmless household products.
Suzannah and the experts bring these and other fatal products and death traps frighteningly to life.
New Hidden Killers: The Victorian Home airs December 10th at 9.00pm on BBC Four