BBC Ceefax: The death of a classic text
An end to the analogue TV signal means an end to Ceefax too. Archie Bland reminisces
You would type in three digits. You would watch the ticker twirl through the pages and for some obscure reason miss the one you were after, so you'd use the remote to hide it and watch Neighbours while you waited. Then you'd put it back on and find that the article was on page 7 of 9, so you'd go back to Neighbours again, but then next time you checked in it would have jumped to 2 of 9, so you would cut your losses and start there. You would finish the three paragraphs on display and drum your fingers for ages while you waited for the next lot. Then you would accidentally hit the green button and find yourself on the weather.
It's not a tragedy, exactly, that Ceefax is going. The internet is much more comprehensive and features more videos of cute animals. Also, should you be so minded, you can use it and watch Neighbours at the same time.
All the same, I, like many others, felt a little pang when I heard yesterday that the BBC's text service was being discontinued in London, one of the last milestones before its final termination when the digital switchover is complete later this year. Seeing its pages today has roughly the same psychological effect as eating a Sherbert Dib Dab; self-indulgent and a bit regressive, sure, but genuine nonetheless.
If it felt dated even in the mid-90s, there was something familiar and comforting about its blocky, garish design, its temperamental updates, its vast limitations. And, for all those flaws, it was useful, too. In its heyday, your only other way to get news was to wait for a bulletin. Impatient people came to rely on Ceefax. Only a few years ago I had a boss who was so aghast not to be able get it on a new office television that he insisted on getting IT to install it on his computer.
Even those who've moved on will recognise his affection for its simplicity, and share the anxiety I presume he now feels at the concept of a Ceefax-less world. I think, for instance, of those page numbers that I still know off by heart, and that will no longer mean anything at all: 101 for news headlines, 303 for the drama of the latest scores, 606 for Now and Next.
They were part of the landscape for years, as essential as Twitter is today, and far closer to being universal. What will we do without them? Well, exactly what we do now, to be honest. But we'll feel a bloody sight older while we're doing it.
I shall miss the Ceefax Advent calendar. It was a real highpoint of December in 80s North-west England.
I have sudden stab of nostalgia for checking live flight info on ceefax – it was like being in the (very slow) future.
God bless Ceefax, it shall be missed. The only information service you could build with Lego.
Farewell Ceefax. FTR I said 'better watching the first half on Ceefax,' not 'better watching Wimbledon on Ceefax' #mindyou.
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