Today I want to pay tribute to one of the finest unsung bodies in British life – the sub-committee of the DVLA which makes sure that no suggestive word ever appears on car number plates.
You would think that, with all the possible permutations of our 26 letters, the occasional rude three-letter combination would turn up on car number plates. BUM, perhaps, or TIT. But it never does, does it? You've never seen BUM or TIT on a British number plate, have you? Indeed, I don't think I have ever found it necessary to use these words in print before.
And thank goodness for the Obscenity Committee of the DVLA, which is always on the look-out for vulgarisms on our vehicles and prepared to scotch them before they ever come out.
To give you some idea of their thoroughness, here is a brief transcript of part of one of their meetings, smuggled to me from Swansea by an anonymous source who calls himself "Deep (Pardon The Expression ) Throat".
Chairman: ...also last time round we discussed whether it was time to permit ARS as a combination on British cars, and we decided not. Yes, Terry?
Terry: I've never understood this. We are happy to let the French for "arse" appear on English road signs. Why not the English for it?
Chairman: I'm sorry – I don't quite follow – yes, Brian?
Brian: Terry's being clever again. We have notices saying "Cul-de-sac". "Cul" is the French for "bum".
Chairman: Is it? Oh, dear.
Brian: So what he is saying is that we have double standards, allowing "Cul-de-sac" but not "ARS".
Terry: ARS isn't even spelt properly!
Lady Pindar: What's that got to do with it? We ban lots of misspellings. We ban KOC and FCK and NOB just because they look suggestive. We know that if you give the British half a chance they will always read filth into anything!
Chairman: Yes, you may be right.
Terry: Of course she's right! I often think that the British are unique in the world in that although they are fleetingly interested in sex, what really fascinates them is smut. Only the British find smut sexier than sex!
Chairman: Oh, dear, I hope you're wrong, but I've got a horrible feeling you may be right... Anyway, on to the next item, which is whether we should outlaw number plates with the letters BWM. Yes, Professor Protheroe?
Protheroe: Am I slipping? I can't see anything suggestive in BWM at all.
Chairman: Well, there's been a suggestion that as the letter "W" is a Welsh vowel which is pronounced roughly the same as "U", then any word with a "U" in it that is banned should also be banned when it has a "W".
Protheroe: So as we don't permit "BUM", we shouldn't permit "BWM"?
Protheroe: God save us. What other words are you thinking of banning?
Chairman: Well, TWP...
Protheroe: What in God's name is wrong with TWP?
Chairman: In Welsh eyes it could look like TUP, which is of course a sheep-farming word for sexual intercourse.
Protheroe: So you are afraid that Welsh sheep will raise their eyes, see a passing car with TUP on the plate, and be terribly terribly corrupted?
Chairman: Of course not. But within the parameters we have set ourselves...
Protheroe: My God!
Chairman: May I remind you, Professor Protheroe, that the word GOD is also debarred from British number plates.
Brian: So is SOD.
Terry: So is LUD.
Brian: LUD!? Why?
Terry: It's the legal shortening of Lord, as in "M'Lud", so is religiously sensitive.
Brian : Well, I'll be...
Chairman: Quite so, Brian. May we move on swiftly to the next item? That is, the letters FEK.
Terry: I don't quite see...
Lady Pindar: No more do I...
Brian: As indeed I do not either....
Chairman: Well, it's all a bit childish, maybe, but when Irish sitcoms such as Father Ted looked for a euphemism for the F-word, they came up with "Feck". But the result was that "Feck" became a sort of swearword in its own right...
Brian: We're banning a euphemism?
Chairman: I suppose so, yes.
Brian: Well, I'll be...
Chairman: Not in here, Brian.
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