'Thunderbirds' help to put accent on Gaelic: A 9.5m pounds fund has fuelled a linguistic revolution on Scottish television

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'A coig, a ceithir, a tri, a dha, a h-aon, Tairnearan Tar As.'

THAT is how television viewers in Scotland will soon hear the introduction to the adventures of the crew of International Rescue, instead of the traditional '5,4,3,2,1 . . . Thunderbirds are Go]'.

The Tracy family is being dubbed into Gaelic, and Brains will become a Caledonian MacBrain. This week the BBC is holding auditions for the voice of Lady Penelope, her Mayfair accent having to step aside for Gaelic.

Thunderbirds is the latest linguistic hostage expected to add to the fortunes of the Gaelic language. Since Postman Pat became Padraig during the mid-Eighties, Gaelic broadcasting has sought to break into peak viewing. The announcement in 1989 by Malcolm Rifkind, then Secretary of State for Scotland, of a pounds 9.5m boost for the Gaelic language, ensured a linguistic revolution, now making its impact felt.

At the core of the Gaelic media revival is the money allocated to Comataidh Telebhisean Gaidhlig (CTG), the Stornaway-based Committee for Gaelic Television, headed by John Angus Mackay, which oversees how the pounds 9.5m is assigned. Mr Mackay unified the Gaels into an effective political lobbying organisation after the Annan review of broadcasting in 1977 gave the Welsh language its own channel. The pounds 9.5m won for 200 additional hours a year of programmes will bring Gaelic broadcasting -up to six hours a week.

The Gaelic language is now popping up everywhere: Haggis Agus is STV's Gaelic cooking programme; Freumhan (roots) takes care of Gaelic gardening; Caraighean (cars); Anns An Fhasan (In the fashion) and Dean Fhein E (Do-it- yourself).

Grampian television in Aberdeen spent pounds 4m on a broadcasting news centre in Stornoway supplying daily Gaelic news bulletins. Grampian also makes Deanamaid Gairdeachar, Fionna Feor and Cruinne- Ce. Machair, a word for coastal land threatened by erosion, and a metaphor for Gaelic itself, is STV's flagship Gaelic production, a weekly soap set in a Gaelic college. Not everything translates well. The Danger Mouse cartoon has also been Gaeled but the mouse has a new name - Donnie Murdo.

The recent launch of STV's Gaelic language learning programme Speaking Our Language, forwarded Gaelic's claim as Scotland's own language. But Professor Sandy Fenton, director of the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh, said: 'I am concerned with the languages of Scotland. With Scots. With the country's seven or eight dialects. And with English, the main language of Scotland. Gaelic is only one . . . of the languages of Scotland.'

At the last census 66,000 Gaelic speakers were identified out of Scotland's population of 5.5 million - a drop of 15,000 from the previous census. Rhoda Macdonald, Scottish Television's head of Gaelic, claims 40,000 Gaelic speakers for STV's area. She wants to make the language 'sexy' and 'attractive'.

Arguments rage about why the Government chose to back Gaelic when it did, and why its appeal seems to be growing.

Ken MacQuarrie, head of Gaelic and features at BBC Scotland, is more philosophical about broadcasting Gaelic. He said: 'Television in itself will not save the language. But if we deny access to it, then we will ensure its death.'

(Photograph omitted)