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Mona Lisa moans and groans in the Ancient X Files

NATIONAL Geographic used to be a great channel, until it started pumping out tripe like Ancient X Files.

In this steaming great pile of sub-Da Vinci Code poo, a British artist called Leo Stevenson went in search of the supposed secrets hidden in the Mona Lisa.

He started at a convent in Italy where archaeologists are digging for the bones of Lisa Gherardini, the woman believed to be the model in Da Vinci's painting.

A foxy female Indiana Jones held up a skull (it didn't appear to have an enigmatic smile) for Stevenson to inspect.

"So it's possible this could be the skull of Miss Gherardini?" he said.

"Yes," she said. Cue some dramatic, dah-dah-dum music and a close-up of Stevenson's excited eyes.

It's just as possible that the skull belongs to someone else, of course, which is where Ancient X Files went sprinting wildly off into Dan Brown-ish codology.

Stevenson met a man called Sylvan Vincette, who believes there are secret messages concealed in the Mona Lisa. Da Vinci used mirror-writing and ciphers in his notebooks, so why not in his paintings?

Vincette thinks he's spotted the number 72 cleverly placed under a bridge in the background -- although it could just as easily be a splash of spaghetti sauce.

He also reckons Da Vinci painted the letters S and L in Mona's eyes. You have to look very, very hard to see them, though.

A bald American bloke in a T-shirt, who Stevenson spoke to via Skype, reckons he's found something too: the landscape behind Mona's head doesn't line up properly. Dah-dah-dum!

Art experts give this no credence; Da Vinci painted it from his imagination, they say, so why should it have to line up? But there's this woman called Carla, an author, who believes Da Vinci painted an actual landscape, and she took Stevenson to see it.

There's a bridge there, a bit like the one in the painting, and it was partially destroyed by a flood in . . . 1872! Big, big dah-dah-dum here.

What's more, there are 72 names for God in the teachings of the Kabbalah, which might also mean something.

Or it might be complete cobblers. But what about the S and the L?

Back to bald man, who's been digitally overlaying an image of the Mona Lisa with a painting of Da Vinci's favourite male model (and probable gay lover), who the artist nicknamed "Mon Salai", or "My little Devil". And guess what: they look startlingly alike!

He reckons that's really Da Vinci's toyboy, and not Lisa Gherardini, smirking out at us in the Louvre. "Salai" also has an S and an L, while "Mon Salai" is also an anagram of "Mona Lisa". And have you noticed, by the way that "Dog" spelled backwards is "God"?

Mind you, "Tit" spelled backwards is just "Tit".

Still, it did get me to thinking about another Da Vinci work, The Vitruvian Man. Have a close look at his testicles. See? They don't quite line up, do they? Dah-dah-dum!

If Ancient X Files was the last thing you expected to find on National Geographic, the two-hour documentary The Hunt for Bin Laden was an equally surprising presence on UTV, home of Britain's Got Talent and Take Me Out.

Screened to mark the first anniversary of Bin Laden's killing, it didn't feature anything about the raid on his compound that wasn't in last year's Channel 4 documentary Bin Laden: Shoot to Kill. Where this absorbing film came into its own was in the frank -- and thoroughly dispiriting -- account of the intelligence bungling and silly turf wars between the FBI and the CIA which allowed Bin Laden to roam free for so long.

It was also good on the obsessive hold the hunt took on individual agents, one of whom kept a 6ft poster of Bin Laden on his bedroom wall. "I wanted to kill him myself," he said, "I didn't want anyone else to do it."

Ancient X Files 1/5 The Hunt for Bin Laden 3/5