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 269.

    A wonderful invention in its day! News when you wanted it. No having to wait for the TV, or catch snippets on the radio.

    Especially good for the footie results!

    We got ours just before The Falklands campaign, and I remember looking in when I got home from school each day to find out what had happened.

    A friend of mine was still an avid user when it was shut down in this area a few months back.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 268.

    Yes, it was amazing tech at the time, and I have massive respect for it, but its time has come I'm afraid, there are better and quicker alternatives, thankfully.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 267.

    I have fond memories of Ceefax and ITV's Oracle. Pressing "TEXT" is no longer the same. Another childhood pastime gone. Makes you realise looking back just how much I enjoyed it and the wealth of information it provided. Thanks to all involved!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 266.

    For Winchester Saint

    When you switch to digital, use your remote control to make subtitles appear. There may be a Subtitles button on your remote control, otherwise go to the set-up menu and select 'Subtitles' (usually found under 'Languages'). Subtitles will appear in your recordings.

    Text page numbers on Freeview include 1040 Read Hear, 1615 NI News, 3915 NI Sport, 4012 NI and Wales Weather

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 265.

    ceefax was great, and most of the time it was quicker to check ceefax for the football scores or the news headlines than the internet as it takes about 5 mins to boot my computer up.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 264.

    I was a Ceefax addict back in the early 90s.
    I was recently widowed, left with two small children, and was going stir crazy until Ceefax saved my mind!
    It introduced me to the idea of studying with the OU, even though I lived in Europe at the time, and I went on to get an honours degree in Humanities with History, all because of Ceefax. I don't watch television nowadays, but want to say thanks!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 263.

    I don't understand why it has to go. It's not in the article. We in the Republic of Ireland will switch off the analogue signal tomorrow also. But we can get the text signal still on the digital terrestrial signal.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 262.

    Goodbye old friend, I remember you when you were a baby.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 261.

    Why is this the 3rd highest news story on the BBC behind one about its DG being grilled by MP's and a badger cull?

    This kind of self selfing, over inflated sense of importance is entirely the reasons why the BBC finds itself under the scutiny it is under today. All to typical of the BBC trying to glorify something it does/did which the licence payer hardly has hardly ever used in 15 years.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 260.

    A dark day for the BBC after a long distinguished service.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 259.

    Good memories... i remember typing in 316 on matchday, then i'd just watch the tele whilst ceefex flashed the latest goal at the bottom of the screen.

    Ceefax has run its course, yet for some reason i feel a sense of nostalgia. i happily remember the times when it was my only live source of written football information.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 258.

    Page 341 and keeping track of how many runs Steve Waugh and Co were piling up against England.
    Nothing lasts forever.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 257.

    Thanks to the Ceefax team for proving me and all other deaf people subtitles and other news and sports. Many Thanks.

    I keep seeing Ceefax right through to the moment my TV switched to digital.

    I hope the new interactive service will continue to provide any information and subtitles for me to see in the future.

    Many thanks once again Mr Ceefax!

    RIP CEEFAX 1974-2012!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 256.

    I was very tempted to create a new profile under the name Del Boy for this, but "Rodders you plonker!!!" 300 was for sports, 302 was football!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 255.

    Post 251 should have read:
    "@121. Edward
    The USA produces Google, Facebook and Apple, we get Ceefax and the BBC. Shows why a state controlled economy doesn't work."

    From your example it would seem it gets you results quarter of a century faster with many times the quality and none of the hype.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 254.

    Strange, there are Editor's Picks for this topic, and no pre moderation when it comes to a news story that CELEBRATES something the BBC have done.

  • Comment number 253.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    +19

    Comment number 252.

    This is a very sad day. Even in the days of the Internet, especially during the dial up days, it was quicker to type in 302 for sports, 101 for news headlines, etc, than boot your PC up and connect to the internet.

  • Comment number 251.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 250.

    Ceefax is a victim of obsolescence. I'm surprised it didn't bite the dust much sooner.

    Indeed in its latter years, before the advent of internet-enabled phones, it became known as the "skinternet" (a low-quality alternative to the internet for those that couldn't afford a computer and an internet connection).

    As someone that had the internet from the late '90s I never saw much use for it.

 

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