That’s all, folks. Teletext as we know it is now gone forever.
I had the chance to talk with BBC Radio Merseyside’s Drivetime DJ Simon Hoban about what it means to have to say goodbye to something that was such an integral part of our lives for almost four decades…
Olympic champion Dame Mary Peters turned off the last analogue TV signal in Northern Ireland – and with it, BBC Ceefax – at 23.30 BST. It’s 20 years since Oracle – Ceefax’s opposite number on ITV and Channel 4 – met its untimely demise, and now all we’ve got is that red button and the Bamboozle quiz as iPhone and Android apps.
Teletext put the world at your fingertips. It was a revolutionary information service. It defined real time news and was a veritable precursor to the www we know today.
The design of Ceefax could be summed up like this: It was like someone had taken a Spectrum game and made it read books. All those sharp edges, blotchy text – it felt like a book version of Manic Miner.
Ceefax - so-called because you could literally ‘see the facts’ - and I were born in the same year. It’s actually a month younger – and I have to say, it aged better.
Without Teletext, the internet wouldn’t have been what it is today. No question. Tim Berners-Lee would have been a big fan of the 600 pages of updated information – would have marvelled at how it all came together, and how people came to rely on the system for the latest football scores, holiday offers, flight times, games and even that pixel-dense advent calendar.
It’s about memories
This is probably the first time I’ve been properly nostalgic about something. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t had access to the Teletext of old for more than a year – that’s when this region crossed the divide from analogue to digital TV.
But many of us grew up relying on Ceefax and Oracle to keep us up to date. With what felt like everything, at the time.
Ceefax started as an experiment to see how they could provide subtitles to the deaf. Remember 888?
How it turned out surprised everyone. At the time it all seemed very high tech, yet the manner in which information came to be on Ceefax was positively antiquated.
Millions of people in the UK, most less tech-obsessed than I, will bask in that nostalgic glow for Ceefax. Peter Kay built half a show around his Teletext Holidays sketch. Ceefax is where we all used to pitch up to check mum and dad’s flights were arriving on time – and I think us 30 and 40 somethings used to play the HOLD game on our TV sets to see if we could bag a bargain getaway while Ceefax continued trundling through 65 pages of offers.
I remember when we got our first teletext-enabled TV. It was like being in a dark room and someone opening the door to a summer’s day. My favourite memory was the teletext advent calendar that would really signal the start of the Christmas season for us young minds at the time. In reality it was a black screen with blobs of pixels pretending to be coloured gifts or reindeer but it has stayed with me all my life.
Teletext was a comfort blanket for insomniacs before 24 hour programming. Those soothing tunes accompanied by the latest news were a great tonic at 2am when you were crawling in from the pub or just wanted a bit of company.
It’s about fun
One April Fool’s Day, Ceefax said then Wolves manager Graham Taylor was said to be changing the club’s strip from gold to white. The Molineux switchboard was flooded. It was a joke – but it showed how far-reaching the information system was – and how people relied on its veracity.
On the footballing theme, but certainly not a joke, was when Bruce Rioch discovered he had been sacked as QPR assistant manager while reading Ceefax.
Ceefax and the intenet
It’s only 38 years since teletext began in the UK. The chap who started it used to update Ceefax by feeding punch tape into machines.
That alone demonstrates, in such a short space of time, how far we’ve come.
You look at Felix Bumgarden jumping from high up and go wow. But by equal measure you think back just a few years to a time when we had no email, no Twitter, no Talknology, and it all comes into sharp focus how we have progressed.
Ceefax was in many ways a forerunner to the internet. It wasn’t until 15 years later that the father of the world wide web, Tim Berners Lee, first proposed the creation of the World Wide Web. Tim was doing his A levels while the BBC reporter Colin McIntyre was feeding that Ceefax machine with tape.
It stood the test of time
Oracle by the same token lasted only 18 years, launching at the same time on ITV.
Back then I don’t think any of us thought it could get any quicker. Anything else was science fiction. And now there’s a gaggle of smartphones on every street corner charting every minutiae of life, and a website catering to every whim. Billion people telling you the news on Facebook.
And everything’s available on the move. It would take one heck of an extension lead to take Teletext to the football.
We’re all creating our own little Ceefaxes – Ceefaxii? every day, with our status updates, our podcasts and our blogs.
It’s time to say goodbye
Long before the internet Ceefax was where we used to go to get our hit of news updated on a realtime basis. It was still drawing great interest during the London Olympics in the summer.
But a wide array of things like Twitter have taken its place. And it’s funny how Twitter is full of stories about how people used Ceefax.
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