Test Cards and Ceefax

Test Cards and Ceefax

An interview with Edwin Parsons a BBC preservation expert

Edwin Parsons, a preservation expert from the BBC's Archives, explains why the test cards and Ceefax matter more than you might think.



Ceefax has now been on our screens for 30 years, but of course with the analogue switch off it will come to an end. Amazingly, Ceefax was actually developed to provide subtitles for the deaf and it was designed by BBC engineers. It went live on 23 September 1974, with a magazine of 30 pages, and it was the first teletext service in the world.

The name Ceefax is derived from seeing facts on your screen. It was the first time that you could actually display text facts on your screen and not just pictures. When the Ceefax service started not many people took it up. I suppose the added expense put people off. You need a special decoding circuitry in your television set. The decoder chip added something like £50 to the cost of a receiver at the time.

The information shown on Ceefax is quite wide ranging. It's news, weather, travel reports, financial news, stocks and shares. In the early days they used to make sure that the news pages were updated and put on early because they hoped that Ceefax would replace newspapers.

One of the worst things about Ceefax is its very low bit-rate, as I'm sure computer fans would know about this these days, so the pages came up very slowly and changed very slowly, and one day at work coming back through the talkback I heard this story about somebody saying 'Oh, if I want to know what's on television I could look on Ceefax, but actually it's a lot quicker to go out of the house, go down to the newsagents, buy the 'Radio Times' and come back and look at it'.

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