Minor British Institutions: Personalised number plates

Elsewhere, personalised car number plates are considered an amusing accessory or a mark of distinction. Here, the distinction they mark is between Britons who consider them vulgar and Britons whose enjoyment of life is untroubled by such concerns, plus some splinter groups claiming them as a memory aid, or an investment (the record price is £500,000).

Owners include Paul Daniels (MAG 1C), Lord Sugar (AMS 1), Ian Botham (B33 FYS), and, of course, every owner of a 4x4. Botham's should be read BEEFYS, illustrating the bureaucracy that inevitably attaches to any British activity: the DVLA is fussy about plate conformity and anything it thinks a bit rude, like BA11 SUP (concentrate: BALLSUP). Banned, I'm afraid, which will be a blow to the Shadow Chancellor. But sales have raised over £1.5bn for the Treasury in the past 30 years, which is why passing proud owners should always be saluted.

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