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

    Comment number 289.

    #265, cor blimey, have you got a fast computer!

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    I have fond memories of Ceefax growing up. Each morning would be #302 Football, #401 Weather, #370 Digester. My sister and i would often fight for the remote control to play the games. Saturday afternoons would be spent with my dad watching Grandstand with Ceefax on 'mix' showing the football scores. It was a big part of my life, thank-you Ceefax!

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    You are still able to Check Red Button!
    Headlines 101
    Top News Story 104
    Top Sports Story 304
    Sci-tech 154
    Question Time 155
    Premium Bonds 290
    Travel 430
    Flight Arrivals 440
    Newsround 571
    Lottery 555
    Health 1030
    Community 1050
    Read Hear 1040
    Politics 144

    And there are Red Button choices on BBC Radio stations on digital TV

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    Remember many saturday afternoons as kids glued to the window of Radio Rentals if the not so grumpy staff put the latest football scores up on ceefax for us to get goal updates

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    I remember as a child I had an Acorn Electron and I used to marvel at the fact BBC users could use a teletexts adapter to download programmes from CEEFAX (later ORACLE apparently). I just used to look at the jumbled mish mash on screen and wish I could download it to my computer to see what it was :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    Sad that it is gone, but inevitable I suppose. I remember about 12 years ago, in my then local pub (Tredegar Arms), we were "watching" a cricket match between Glamorgan and someone else on Ceefax, because the tv transmission was not available. Every time a wicket fell, someone bought a round. No, I can't remember who won, probably NOT Glamorgan, at best it may have been a draw.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    I miss the "Ceefax" service , recent digital age I not check that service as frequently which I used it in past but still I miss the service provide by BBC. My Heartily thanks to everyone to who give us that superb service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    Ceefax was a service ahead of its time in the 70s and 80s, and was still a significant source of information for many into the last decade of its life. It has been in decline since at least 2000 though as more and more features were dropped. The text service on digital tv is paltry in comparison - neater, yes, but far less information. If I want information fast today I look to my phone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    I remember buying my first TV when I went to Uni. A 12 inch Sony Triniton (flatter squarer tube), I remember paying extra for one that had not just Ceefax, but Fast Text (coloured buttons that allowed selection of pages with one button istead of keying in 3 numbers)

    Ex display from Rumbelows £300 reduced from £350. The depth of screen to back was longer than the width of the 12 inch screen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    Before watching any programmes,it was "check the ceefax" a ritual for years,and the same at the end of the day"check ceefax"
    The BBC is the greatest distributor of news ,any news ,local national etc. and this serice will be sadly missed by many,as there is no replacement and we have become victims of the techno.agewere progress at any cost must prevail.
    Thank you BBC for sterling CEEFAX service

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    An end of era, although I now come to find out what is going on. I still miss Ceefax. Goodbye old friend.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    I loved checking out the ceefax news headlines. But also, I loved the music and would often fall asleep to it. I'll sorely miss it. Luckily, nice people post their ceefax recordings on YouTube so all ceefax lovers can get their nostalgia fix anytime!

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    Ceefax was a useful feature that was sadly missed.

    Indeed it is missed more than television itself - not everyone can get digital tv!

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    303 Top flight footie scores....awesome.

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    Is it true that the last page to be broadcast will be a farewell message to CEEFAX viewers but it will take so long to come round it won't actually appear on sets until November 2019.

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    Ceefax will always be like the old Atari games console!
    Outdated but still loved by many!

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    It was a pain when you lost your remote and had to buy a universal one, they never had the 'hold' or 'reveal' buttons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    Good riddance!

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    Can remember going round a friends house as a child whose parents had a TV with CEEFAX and thinking this is the best thing on TV EVER !!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    very sad. almost crying (!) when i was ill 15 or so yrs ago whole days were spent reading the every page. 'Words of wisdom' was a particular favourite as was 'Quote of the day' and the letter pages. really rather moving. Ceefax, u got me thru a lot of difficult days. thank you. xx


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