The weird and whacky world of late night signing

Signing of Heston Blumenthal

Hard though it might be to believe, we don’t watch much television in our house. Friends re-runs and episodes of Charmed are as much as we usually stretch to. Occasionally, though, we’ll record things and watch them later, although it takes us some time.

Case in point is Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection, which was on over Christmas and which we only started watching yesterday. In case you’re not aware of our Heston, he’s a chef: he runs The Fat Duck, a three-star Michelin restaurant once voted the best place to eat in the world*. His unique selling point is that he mixes cookery with science, performing experiments with food to produce the best tastes he possibly can. Liquid nitrogen as a freezing agent to prevent crystals forming in ice cream, carbon dioxide bubbled through a mixture to give fish batter the best possible crunchiness – it’s all in Heston Blumenthal’s stride.

Thing is, we set the PVR to record a late night repeat of In Search of Perfection, not a daytime showing. Of course, we belatedly realised, that means it was part of the Beeb’s late-night Sign Zone, in which popular programmes are enhanced with British Sign Language (BSL) signing for the benefit of the deaf.**

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I watch anything signed, I tend to ignore the signer and focus on the main picture. It’s not exactly hard. So I’m oblivious to what’s going on.

At least, I would be if it weren’t for my wife.

My wife works with the deaf and signs BSL pretty fluently. Actually, she does a whole lot more, which always makes me feel good about myself. (“What does your wife do?” “Oh, she works with children with special needs: the deaf, those with learning difficulties, autistic spectrum disorders. You know.” “And you?” “I write slightly derivative, largely forgettable things about telly.” “Oh…”)

So last night, while I’m happily watching Heston in action, every so often my wife bursts into laughter.

“What’s up?” I ask bewildered.

“Oh, it was the way she signed that…” my wife explains, laughing hysterically.

We’re missing a lot here, guys. So below are a couple of videos I’ve uploaded to YouTube of particularly funny signing, so that y’all can see a facet of television not explored by many.

It’s allegedly funny signing, anyway. I think a little is being lost in the translation. The first is self-evidently funny; the second because the signer has effectively translated Heston’s “put the dough into the mixer” as “plop the dough into the mixer”.

It’s probably funnier in the original BSL, though.

* If you’re vegetarian, BTW, and you go to The Fat Duck, if there’s a tasting menu there still, you’ve my sister to thank. Heston invented it for her: she was fielding “Do you like aubergine?” calls from him for a fortnight before she went, as he prepared the recipes. How cool’s that?

** In case you’re wondering why subtitles aren’t good enough, it’s best to remember that for many deaf people, English is their second language after BSL. BSL isn’t simply signs for English words: it has its own grammar, vocabulary and more.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.