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Tune in, switch off - In with the IT crowd

Telly commentary comes courtesy of British Airways this week. You'd be surprised how many half-hour programmes you can trawl through on a long-haul flight to Delhi.

BBC2's Beautiful People, with its hilarious portrayal of a dysfunctional family makes my own seem almost normal. Simon's mother uses a tannoy, like the one we have for bus duty, to let her daughter - and the entire street - know that she should "stop snogging that spotty boy".

And when she suspects her husband of an affair with the neighbour because of a dress in the dustbin (actually her son is into women's clothes), the whole of Reading can hear her.

Mother and neighbour, transformed into prizefighters, reminded the English teacher in me of the same scene in Alan Ayckbourn's Ernie's Incredible Illucinations that Year 7 used to love. His Aunty May becomes a legendary boxer at the stroke of a fantasy. Witty, fast-moving sequences like this kept me awake while all on the plane snored.

I've also been hooked on Friday night More4 repeats of The IT Crowd and there was some of this for in-flight entertainment as well. Roy, the Irishman who knows what a computer is but can't be bothered to fix one ("Have you tried turning it off, then on again?"), has more strategies to avoid work than 3Y7 on a Friday afternoon. On second thoughts, make that Monday morning as well. And every Thursday. In fact, he'd have a ball with 3Y7.

Meanwhile, mop-headed Moss, socially inept geek and genius, might actually be a computer so closely do his words and actions mirror the often illogical steps computers take.

Meanwhile, go-getter Jen, relationship manager (I'll have one of those, please), is in IT but knows nothing about computers. She is tricked into believing the box she is holding is the internet itself. So just answer me this. What is the internet exactly? Can we touch it? And what might happen if we broke it or lost it? "Don't drop it, Jen or we'll all go down," they cry. When she does, the marvelling executives flee the room in panic, leaving Moss and Roy to ponder on a joke that was so good only they understood it.

And the fantasy elements work a treat here too. The smokers outside the building become Soviet detainees: "First they take away our smoking room. I wonder when they will get it over with and kill us," moans Jen, a mock refugee victim with a Russian accent.

I've worked with technicians just like the characters in The IT Crowd. As I prepare to give a talk to a hall full of parents, they stroll in Roy-like, half asleep, hunting for leads, loading their programs and wildly pressing buttons. "The internet's just crashed," they whisper reassuringly as I stand up to speak. Luckily, none of the parents flee and it's soon sorted.

Later in my Delhi hotel room, I can't make the internet connect and I'm forced to ring the helpline. "Sir, could you first unplug and then plug in again, please." Roy has it sussed.

Ray Tarleton is principal at South Dartmoor Community College in Ashburton, Devon.

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