After refusing to move to Salford*, Ceefax was switched off by the BBC last night. If you live in Newcastle or Northern Ireland you can enjoy the text service for another couple of months, but come October, the plug will be pulled and the system will be consigned to the history books. There was an outpouring of rose-tinted nostalgia on social networks as the service delivered its final pages to the nation, but will we really miss Ceefax as much as some people claim?
Developed during the late sixties, as a way of transmitting a printable page of newsprint during the nocturnal TV “close-down”, Ceefax (‘see facts’) was implemented in 1974 and for the next couple of decades, news would be available at the touch of a button for millions (22 million at its peak). Before the smartphones, Twitter and even our precious internet, it was a service that provided information immediately. For people of a certain age, Ceefax also represented the bulk of daytime television. Anyone who’s seen an episode of Jeremy Kyle will know that ‘progress’ isn’t always a good thing.
“TV service I miss the most … the news service of choice for discerning BBC viewers for the past 38 years” wrote Finacial Times columnist Matthew Engel, ironically enough, on the BBC News site. “Obsolete? Well, maybe. There are a zillion things one can do on the internet that are impossible on Ceefax. It would have certainly struggled to replay yesterday’s edition of The Archers or show you a porn film. Many of it’s strengths were irreplaceable though, it did the basics very fast … before the average PC has finished warming up”.
Many will remember ‘watching’ sport via the service and there were few things more nerve-wracking than seeing your team’s match start to flash, knowing that a goal had been scored. Cricket fans will also remember that if a score stood still for too long, a wicket had almost certainly fallen. Unless Boycott was stoically batting away of course..
Despite it’s limited service (“Each page was a maximum of 40 characters across and, theoretically, 24 lines down. A typical page had 80 words on it. In 80 words you had to get across an entire news story plus headline and headers.” Said former Ceefax employee William Gallagher in the Radio Times) it often broke stories first. Especially in the world of sport.
Bruce Rioch suffered the misfortune of discovering that he had been sacked as QPR manager on Ceefax and cricketer Matthew Hoggard found out that he had been called up for a test series after his mum saw the news on those chunky pages. The service will presumably hold fond memories for the English bowler, but will you miss it?