Ceefax service closes down after 38 years on BBC

 

How BBC Northern Ireland viewers saw Ceefax say goodbye after 38 years

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BBC Ceefax, the world's first teletext service, has completed its final broadcast after 38 years on air.

Before Olympic champion Dame Mary Peters turned off the last of the UK's analogue TV signals in Belfast, a series of graphics on Ceefax's front page disappeared down to a small dot.

The Plain English Campaign earlier gave Ceefax a lifetime achievement award for "clarity" and use of "everyday words".

And ex-Prime Minister Sir John Major said Ceefax would be "much missed".

Sir John, who has previously revealed that he regularly checked Ceefax pages between Downing Street meetings to keep up to date with cricket scores, said: "Ceefax will be much missed. At moments of high pressure - with little time for detailed examination of the news - Ceefax headlines offered an instant window on the world.

Fond farewells

  • Gary Lineker (via Twitter): I see Ceefax has finally been put to rest. How on earth can we watch Wimbledon now?
  • Nicky Byrne (Strictly contestant, via Twitter): When I was named in the Leeds United 1st team squad v Southampton in 1995 aged 16 my mam & dad recorded the story from Ceefax!!!
  • Pete Clifton (Ceefax editor 1996-2000, via MSN): I'm mourning the death of an old friend, increasingly slow, creaky and made of Lego blocks - but despite outward appearances, a significant force behind some of the whizziest news services in the UK today.
  • Adam Shergold, via Mail Online: "I always admired the reporters who managed to mention every goal in a 4-4 thriller within the confines of four pixelated paragraphs."
  • Lee Walker, Eurosport: "Today marks the death of Jeff Stelling's electronic stepfather."

"From breaking global news to domestic sports news, Ceefax was speedy, accurate and indispensable. It can be proud of its record."

A few weeks after Ceefax provided coverage of its 10th and final Olympic Games, Lord Coe added his own tribute by saying: "Ceefax has been an invaluable news service for every sports fan over the last 38 years.

"I have checked in on many a sports news story, track and field triumph and, of course, Chelsea results!"

Ceefax was launched on 23 September 1974 to give BBC viewers the chance to check the latest news headlines, sports scores, weather forecast or TV listings - in a pre-internet era where the only alternative was to wait for the next TV or radio bulletin to be aired.

Its premise was to give viewers free access to the same information that was coming into the BBC newsroom, as soon as the BBC's journalists had received it.

Ceefax had initially been developed when BBC engineers, exploring ways to provide subtitles to enable viewers with hearing problems to enjoy BBC TV programmes, found it was possible to transmit full pages of text information in the "spare lines" transmitted on the analogue TV signal.

Ceefax in the news

Roy Essandoh
  • In 2001, Roy Essandoh (above) became an FA Cup hero thanks to Ceefax. He read a plea from injury-hit Wycombe for players and got the winner in a quarter-final tie against Leicester
  • Bruce Rioch found out he had been sacked as QPR assistant manager when he read it on Ceefax
  • In 1999, Glenn Hoddle's daughter Zara wrote to Ceefax to back her father when his job as England manager hung in the balance
  • Early in his TV career, Gary Lineker said viewers would have been better off watching the first half of a Wimbledon match on Ceefax
  • In 1994, a newsflash was briefly broadcast on Ceefax during a rehearsal saying the Queen Mother had died. The BBC apologised to her.

The BBC then appointed veteran journalist Colin McIntyre, its former UN correspondent and chief publicity officer, as the first editor of a news and information service which was broadcast using the same method.

It was called Ceefax, simply because viewers would be able to quickly "see the facts" of any story of the day.

McIntyre initially updated 24 news pages on his own, feeding punch tape into machines, before recruiting Ceefax's first eight journalists.

Initially the service was a minority interest, with just a handful of Ceefax-capable TVs in the UK, but it slowly started to gain popularity and the engineering team that developed the service was honoured with a Queen's Award for innovation.

But the real impetus for viewers came when BBC Television decided to use a selection of Ceefax pages, accompanied by music, before the start of programming each day. Initially called Ceefax AM and Ceefax In Vision, the Pages From Ceefax "programme" continued for 30 years, being broadcast overnight on BBC Two until this week.

As viewers got a small taste of what Ceefax had to offer, millions of Britons during the 1980s invested in new teletext-enabled TV sets which gave them access to the full Ceefax service, which by now included recipe details for dishes prepared on BBC cookery shows, share prices, music reviews and an annual advent calendar.

Its audience peaked in the 1990s when it had 20 million viewers who checked the service at least once a week. Since the launch of the National Lottery in 1994, dozens of jackpot winners have revealed that they first learned their life had been changed when they checked their numbers on Ceefax.

The BBC's Points of View programme looks back at Ceefax's 38 years on air

But the launch of the UK's TV digital signal, and the announcement that the analogue TV signal would disappear in a staged switch-off over five years, meant a slow withdrawal of Ceefax, ending with the final broadcast in Northern Ireland.

BBC Northern Ireland and UTV screened a simulcast reviewing the era of analogue TV, and then Dame Mary Peters - 1972 Olympic gold medallist in the pentathlon - pressed the button to change the television landscape.

The hour-long special programme, The Magic Box, was hosted by Eamonn Holmes.

The show was billed as a nostalgic celebration of "the best of Northern Ireland television over the past 60 years".

Speaking as he closed the simulcast programme, Mr Holmes thanked viewers for watching and said: "Here's to the next 60 years."

At the very start

The early days of the service proved anything but hi-tech.

Ceefax journalists would monitor incoming wire copy and when a story was to be updated they would type at one of two production terminals and create a Ceefax page.

Then, they had to produce a punched tape - approximately a yard long - and take it down two flights of stairs to the Central Apparatus Room, load it into a tape reader and watch as it was read into an anonymous metal box called a core store which actually transmitted the pages.

A walk back up to the sixth floor followed and if, at that point, it was discovered that a spelling mistake had been made, the journalist had to go through the whole process again.

It ensured close attention to detail when writing!

Dame Mary described the role of switching off the last analogue transmitter, at Divis Mountain in Belfast, as "a great privilege".

Viewers who checked Ceefax during the evening saw a special graphics countdown on page 100.

And weather presenters on the BBC during the day paid their own tribute by incorporating Ceefax's Lego block-style maps into their forecasts.

Ceefax's commitment to getting information to viewers as quickly and clearly as possible has been marked by the lifetime achievement award from the Plain English Campaign, the pressure group that calls for the use of concise and clear language in all public communication.

Founder Chrissie Maher said: "Ceefax helped everyday people with everyday words and I will be giving it a Chrissie Maher Award for its 30 years of commitment to using plain English. It was my first port of call."

She added: "It helped the public keep in touch with world affairs and everyday information with its crystal-clear communications. I will miss its clarity."

Steve Herrmann, editor of the BBC News website, said in response: "Throughout its distinguished years of service to audiences, Ceefax has always aimed to provide news which is clear, concise and simply expressed.

"It is an honour for us to receive this lifetime achievement award, and it stands as a tribute to all the journalists who have worked on the service over the years, and the care they have taken in writing every story."

Ceefax journalists in 1981 and 2012 The technology has changed over the years and Ceefax is now produced at New Broadcasting House

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said: "Ceefax revolutionised the way in which the public accessed information. Its peak audience of 20 million viewers is testament to the regard in which it was held - its cessation a reminder of how quickly technology is now progressing."

Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader and shadow culture secretary, said: "Ceefax is a great national institution, and it's sad to bid goodbye to a service which gave so many access to news, sport, TV listings and much else besides.

"But with the end of one era comes the start of another as the digital switchover is completed - people can access more channels, and interactive services which are the successors of Ceefax."

Highlights of final pages from Ceefax

 

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  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 209.

    Another good service gone!
    Why don't the BBC just pack up and go, or at least go pay per view then you would certainly end up packing up and going.

    Is there anything at all on television worth watching apart from foul mouth comedians who think they are funny?

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 208.

    It was the only thing worth watching on the BBC.
    The rest was just government censored, PC, junk and moron fodder soaps.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 207.

    RIP Ceefax. I remember using it a lot when I was young to check the news and sport. It's way better than the current digital teletext service. Digital age has killed one of the most loved news and sports service from the TV.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 206.

    I remember as a youngster seeing these computer graphics on screen on my parents friends new TV was all very futuristic!
    Used to be useful for up to date news, where this BBC News site has now taken up the baton.
    Memories of C4s teletext too - especially Bamboozle, the quiz where each answer was a colour link!
    90s TVs had to have Nicam stereo and Fasttext caching. Those were the days!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 205.

    Ceefax, or 'see facts' as spoken by a computer, was never a match for commercial television's Oracle in the naming stakes, because as well as relating to the Oracle at Delphi it was an abbreviation of Optional Reception of Announcements by Coded Line Electronics. Isn't that a wonderful thing to know? One day, perhaps at a pub quiz, that will be useful.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 204.

    Sad to see it finally switched off. Would be nice if the BBC could see the name live on in soem way via their website - maybe something like a wrap up email with items the viewer requested updates on sent every day in Ceefax style presentatiosn with links back to the mai nwebsite.

    Great for cricket scores, news review, football tables etc.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 203.

    something else that gone............... one hopes the government is next.....

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 202.

    Digital text is missing one page I used to love on Ceefax. P145, Dear Ceefax, or "right wing rants" as my sister used to call it.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 201.

    The Internet has enough data for everyone just wrong enough for each person to entrench their own selfish view of the world. I'm not sure I'll see further passionate Western activism in my life, as everyone is distracted by a mountain of irrelevance.

    I first got on the 'net in 1995. I regret what it has become. Providing information is fine; directing how people live is not. Long live Ceefax!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 200.

    The Red Button could easily be a better replacement for Ceefax but:-
    1) Needs to be faster - it's too slow at the moment
    2) Option to get rid of the TV picture - I think this single fact puts a lot of people off
    3) After entering a page number you don't have to tap 'Enter'
    4) Proper home page that fills the screen with a proper index like before
    5) Advertise it - no-one seems to know about it

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 199.

    Dear Ceefax.. that was always amusing and On this Day. Although I preferred teletext when i was a teen in the 90s, I loved Bamboozle , the agony aunt page, Your Stars and the Sun Forecast!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 198.

    faxed off. RIP

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 197.

    I shall miss Ceefax (as I did Teletext) for it offered an instant news service wihthout turning my PC on. The changes are going to reduce the amount of time I spend watching TV. On Saturday it was inevitably the best thing on all afternoon, now I shan't bother. Might listen to the radio, but TV? No thanks!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 196.

    I got rid of my TV 18 months ago, when I knew that Ceefax was coming to an end. That's all I used the TV for, as the rubbish programmes/ stoopid adverts drove me mad.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 195.

    I remember coming downstairs in the morning, taking a bucket of water from the lake (often having to break the ice first!), washing, lighting a candle from the wood stove, and brewing up a cup of tea. Then, to the sound of horses and carriages rattling down the cobbled street outside, I'd turn on Ceefax and read the breaking news of the day. We shall not see those days again.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 194.

    The digital version of "ceefax" / "teletext" is awful. Slow and with half the info of the original it's a truly frustrating and bewildering experience to use.

    Ceefax for local news, Channel 3's travel deals and of corse 'Bamboozle' on channel 4,....happy days

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 193.

    Ugly, clunky, slow and antiquated. Good riddance.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 192.

    Page 302 was football. Punched that in about 10 times a day.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 191.

    Well, after 38 years, it has certainly had a good innings!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 190.

    The thing with Ceefax was that it was simple. More often than not you knew what information you wanted and just entered the number. Now its press red, wait for it to load, scroll, scroll, scroll again. Having said that the red button will never be as bad as what ITV have on theirs.

 

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