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Name?

DVLA.

What is it?

We suspect it's a front for the Welsh counter-espionage outfit, The Detection and Verification of Lies Agency.

No, really?

Officially it's the Swansea-based Driver & Vehicle Licensing Authority, but they keep everything so hush-hush.

Why is it in the news?

It's running out of letters.

For its acronym?

For the front of number plates.

It can't be urgent. We only get to P this week.

Ah, but the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders wants to bring out a new registration letter every three months. Presumably they think that will encourage people to buy a new car every quarter.

No one would be that silly.

Want to bet? August used to be the slowest month for car sales. Now it's the busiest, accounting for almost 25 per cent of all new registrations. And it's simply because everyone wants to be the first on their street to get one up on the Joneses.

This is bad?

You wouldn't think so, would you? It helps balance the peaks on the Continent or in America. And it was the motor industry that lobbied for the August changeover in the 1960s. But the SMMT (Secret Message Monitoring Team?) wants to have a lot of little peaks all year long.

And if they succeed, we'll hit Z in February 1999?

Y in August 1998. They don't use Q (too much like O) or Z (two much like 2). And given the speed at which the DVLA moves there will probably be an extra year or two before the crunch.

What will they do then?

One option that's been tossed around is to drop the year designation letter altogether, but the police don't like that one.

The police?

"Honestly constable. All I remember is that the car that ran me over was red and had an M reg plate."

I see. Why not add a digit, like the '1' in phone numbers?

The police think we're too thick. Apparently witnesses are unable to remember more than seven digits.

Too thick? Hmm. So what then?

They could switch to using a number. 1 ABC 123 could indicate third quarter, 1999. That would give them an extra five years.

A bit confusing.

Or they could change colours. Red on a white background perhaps, or yellow on black. Unfortunately that raises the prospect of people demanding cherished plates in their favourite colours.

Cherished plates?

Customised number plates - the kind Eddie Grundy trades.

Oh yes, on The Archers. Sort of a hobby isn't it?

Certainly not. It's big business, worth pounds 200m to the DVLA in the past five years. Number plate traders even have their own association - the Cherished Numbers Dealers Association.

Which is?

Well, we suspect that it's a front for...

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