What are they on about?

David Newnham finds his television viewing takes an unexpected turn

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find out what's on television. I've tried the usual sources - newspapers, Oracle, listings magazines. But if you don't already know what's what, nobody's going to tell you.

Printed schedules frequently give the name of the programme only. At 10 o'clock, there's something called Round The Bend. It's a repeat, it has Teletext subtitles and is suitable for people on a gluten-free diet. But if I didn't already know that it was a sitcom about care in the community, I might assume it was a game show about plumbing.

The announcements broadcast between programmes are useless: "Reg discovers something unexpected in Julia's armpit. That's Make Mine A Double Whopper, after the break."

Is it a soap opera? A fly-in-the-ketchup docudrama about fast food? Who are Reg and Julia? The only way to find out is to "stay tuned", and even that doesn't always do the trick.

But the thing most likely to baffle a Martian scientist as she flips through the channels on her radio telescope is the habit of prefacing programmes with co announcements about the nature of the language contained therein. Never mind a Martian, even I sometimes have to think twice before I realise what they're driving at.

It used to be obvious. If you heard: "The 1920s is the setting for Archie Caldwell's edgy drama about life in a Weston-super-Mare furniture repository, and some viewers may find the language offensive," you knew people would be saying "frigging" in every second sentence. But recently, the coding has become more obscure, so that if you had a trying day at work or happen to be exercising the budgie, you could well miss the point.

"Candid" and "frank" are clues to listen out for, so if the announcer says something like: "In this stark exploration of rural isolation, a pig farmer and his five daughters find themselves engaged in a frank discussion about their sexual appetites," you can expect a fair amount of mucky talk.

But references to "emotions running high" and "feelings coming out into the open" are easily overlooked, and before you know it, you could be hearing the sort of language people use when they can't get their video recorder to work.

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