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Digits that add up to a plethora of piffle

There is a new exciting buzzword in the broadcast media. If you want to appear to be a 21st-century, forefront-of-technology, state-of-the-art, trendy, progressive (steady on, you're talking to teachers, remember), streetwise technocrat, then one word must be on your lips: "digital".

That is the secret of life nowadays. Everything must be digital.

"It won't, of course, be a problem, once we go digital". "Oh yes. In the digital age, anything will be possible".You get the hang of it?

Every so often, until the rest rumble it, you alone can pretend to solve the very core of humanity's problems with a single word that will turn muck into gold. "Digital" is today's version of the philosopher's stone.

In reality, all that "digital" means is that radio or television signals are turned into a string of numbers. Since these numbers occupy a much narrower bit of the airwaves than conventional signals, and will not corrupt so easily in the transmission, you can create more radio or television channels.

One of the results that broadcasters get excited about, which is of particular interest to education, is the possibility of more specialist channels, devoted to one particular topic.

These are very popular in the United States, as well as here. Avid watchers of such "dedicated" channels can watch programmes entirely about furniture or pets.

Needless to say there is a price to pay for this sudden excess of air space. Eager to fill the masses of time available on furniture or pet channels, programme-makers produce a torrent of low budget, superficial piffle.

I once watched half an hour of unadulterated tripe on "how to distress your wooden chairs".

No, you don't kick seven bells out of them. Apparently "distressing" furniture is a means of making it look old and battered and it is all the rage. You paint your chair and then rub some of the new paint off. It ends up looking like the sort of furniture we owned when I was a child.

Since most of us have spent a lifetime trying to afford stuff that is fit to sit on, it seems perverse, to say the least, to go out of your way to make it look tatty.

If that doesn't seize your imagination, then try the pet channel. There you will be able to learn a whole new array of skills, like how to cast your pet's horoscope. ("You will meet a tall dark guinea pig"?).

I heard of one American fan of such programmes who found she had rats in her loft. She called in a "rat psychologist" who came in to reason with them. What on earth did he say? "Now look here, chaps. Let's talk about this like mature adult rodents. . ."? Surely not.

All of this made me wonder whether, in the digital age, the schedule for a dedicated channel for teachers might look something like this.


7.00 am Thought for the Day Elspeth Scattergood tells how getting a grade 7 on a school inspection changed her life. Live from Holloway.

7.30 Morning Service Hymns include "For Those in Peril", played by the prize-winning brass band of the John Major Rest Home for early retired teachers, sung by Johnny Patten and the Brimstones.

8.00 Close Down until after school 4.00 pm Thank God They've Gone Home Arnold Oldlag offers relaxation techniques for when lessons are over, and gives tips on how looking busy and harassed can help you avoid being asked to run an after-school club.

5.00 Teacher's Pet Senior Inspector Mike Tomlinson CBE explains which members of the simian family he had in mind when he said he didn't give a monkey's toss about teachers.

6.00 Dad's Army Another episode of this popular comedy series in which Corporal Jones becomes a lay inspector and rushes into school staffrooms shouting: "Don't panic!".

6.30 Masterchef Three school cooks battle it out to see who can make the thickest custard, the hardest carrots and the wateriest potatoes, and win the coveted "Foodmangler of the Year" title.

7.30 The Teletubbies Five writers of National Vocational Qualifications frolic round talking in a language that no one can understand.

8.00 Only Fools and Horses The Teacher Training Agency hires Del Boy, Rodney and Grandad to deal with the teacher recruitment crisis.

8.30 Distress Your Head Top furniture expert Chris Woodentop shows how wood-ageing techniques can be used to make brand new headteachers look genuinely old.

9.00 Masterteach Final 1997 Magnus Magnusson sits four primary teachers in the famous black chair. This week's specialist topics include: "The invaders and settlers, from the beginning of time to the last busload of American tourists", "Turning absolute crap into technology projects" and "The Beacon Readers, 1901 to 1957".

9.45 Beavis and Butthead Kenneth Clarke and Kenneth Baker debate who was the bigger prat when they were ministers.

10.15 Late Film Gone With The Wind The story of how various teachers manage to secure early retirement by inventing imaginary ailments.

12.00 Knackered Last in the late-nite series "Sex for the Debilitated"

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