diamond geezer

 Thursday, September 23, 2004

Ceefax is 30

The BBC's pioneering interactive teletext service Ceefax began thirty years ago today. Engineers had worked out that they could piggyback extra data on top of the usual TV signal, and a very basic viewdata service was established on 23 September 1974. There were only 30 pages to begin with, and probably not many more viewers, but this really was the dawn of the interactive on-screen revolution. You pressed a button, typed in a three-digit code, waited a minute and you had the world at your fingertips. Well, 24 lines of up to 40 characters each, anyway.

It's sometimes hard to remember how little access we all had to information back in 1974. There was no 24 hour television, no internet and no mobile telephony. If you wanted to find out the result of a football match you had to try to catch the classified results on the radio, or else hope that the score was read out on the television news, or else wait until the morning to read it in a newspaper. With the advent of Ceefax you could find out the result minutes after the final whistle, and even watch the score update during the match. Gary Lineker once famously said that the best place to watch Wimbledon play was on Ceefax, and I for one agree.

My first interaction with Ceefax happened ten years after the launch at the home of a college friend whose family, even in 1984, were early adopters. I was so transfixed by the extra information being transmitted alongside the TV programmes that I almost forgot to join everyone else down the pub. My parents waited until 1987 to buy their first teletext-enabled set. It was the day of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster, at which time Ceefax should have come into its own, but we'd been supplied with the wrong remote control unit and so frustratingly could only access the index page all evening. I acquired my first Ceefax-able television in 1991 and, yes, it was worth the licence fee all by itself. Even today, should I ever find myself visiting some friend or relative living in an isolated non-broadband home, Ceefax still remains my best connection with the outside world.

Good old Ceefax - always there, always reliable... unless atmospheric interference has caused some pixellated gibberish to be broadcast instead. 20 million people still use Ceefax every week, despite its many limitations, attracted by a service that is comprehensive, easily accessible and regularly updated. It's still the first place many people turn for news, sport, weather, TV listings, travel information, lottery numbers, film reviews, share prices and even all the latest from the world of chess. Ceefax now contains as many as 600 pages, so you won't be surprised to hear that there's a special anniversary section included today (index: page 190), although you may be frustrated that you can't read it online.

But good old Ceefax now lives under sentence of death from the godawful service that is BBCi. I think we established back in January that, compared to Ceefax, this supposed technological advance is actually slower, less intuitive and generally more crap that its primitive ancestor. BBCi won't be worth using until engineers manage to introduce a method of accessing each individual page that isn't menu-driven... such as the three-digit code system introduced by Ceefax thirty years ago. Alas Ceefax will never reach its 40th birthday because the Government's analogue switch-off will have kicked in two years previously. I, for one, will lament its passing.

How many of the following do you remember?
Page 150: the pop-up newsflash
Page 160: the pop-up Alarm Clock
Pages from Ceefax: sometimes the only thing BBC1 ever used to show in the morning
Subtitles on page 199: first introduced in 1975, later moved to page 888
Telesoftware: downloadable BASIC programs for your BBC Micro computer (1983-1989)
Using the reveal button: often for quizzes or particularly poor jokes
Big chunky graphics: actually they're still there, aren't they?

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream