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Confessions of a Ceefax Addict

by Andrew Woods
20 November 2013 36 Comments

Ceefax has sadly gone forever, and whilst I might not be able to earn a living without the Internet, I will never replace it in my heart. The quizzes, transfer rumours, late night sex text and festive Plum Duff remind me of an age I'd like to return to...

Ceefax has sadly gone forever, and whilst I might not be able to earn a living without the Internet, I will never replace it in my heart. The quizzes, transfer rumours, late night sex text and festive Plum Duff remind me of an age I’d like to return to…

You spend your childhood dreaming of the robot butlers, food pills and hover boots that will greet the older you, and yet on reaching a certain age, you may feel compelled to HOLD the passage of time (not that we have robot butlers and the like) and go back a page to a simpler time. Back to when life was ruled by anticipation. When our free time was spent on an information super ‘B-road’. The godfather of the net. Teletext.

More and more these days I’m wanting life to go backwards. I’m pining for the past, but not because I can’t jive with the kids, no, but because I don’t think a lot of the changes we’ve experienced have been for the best. Going to football for example has reached an impasse because the experience is too[ital] comfortable. People are now paying for facilities they don’t actually want and possibly can’t afford. I want the Dell, the old Den, Upton Park, not a stadium designed for hurdles and pole vault with meal deals and seats covered in leatherette. I liked the weed-covered terraces and the smell of cigarettes on the old man’s flat cap. I could stand for 90 minutes without the aid of a jumbotron TV and a half time cross-bar challenge.

Take, mobile phones for example. These are an irritant. A nasty buzzing box of garbage that monitors moves, changes moods and leaves one open like a 24-hour call centre of despair. TEXT: “Sorry M8 I’m gonna B hlf hour late!” Cheers. If I could ditch it, without the wheels falling off my life I would. Miserable things.

Irony of ironies is that of course I’m writing this for an online magazine – a terrific organ too – but I can’t help thinking that there are some stops on our technological road trip through life, which at least seem[ital] to be better than the destination.

Ceefax graphics were cool and Spartan, later emulated by the BBC Micro computer, whereas ORACLE looked like the shop brand baked bean, with its brash colours and adverts

The internet is OK. If all of life can exist in a grain of sand, then the net is the Sahara. Or maybe Margate. It’s bad, sad, exciting, boring and there’s too much of it. It can do good. It can do evil. But this is where I feel that it starts to fall down as a scientific breakthrough, because I like my technology to be bereft of humanity. That’s why for me, teletext beats the net block-graphic-hands down.

Teletext in its generic sense (rather than the ITV adopted name of 1993) was the shit. Anyone who can recall going to bed as a child not knowing your team’s midweek results, will know what I’m talking about. Ceefax and ORACLE blew our minds, as our television sets with their crummy four channels, were transformed into makeshift computers during the late ’70s/early ’80s. Analogue made to look like digital with clumsy computer graphics and dark screens. Suddenly War Games and Tron were our in our living rooms. The TV remote allowed us to enter the matrix. A British matrix.

Teletext – initially pioneered by the GPO (with its two-way modem-based service: Prestel) and the BBC simultaneously since the late 60s – was the game changer when the Beeb and then the ITA first slotted this genie into our sets, on a mass production scale during the early 80s. Prestel had splintered off. ITA’s ORACLE ‘Optional Reception of Announcements by Coded Line Electronics’ and Ceefax (see facts geddit?) had been available on a limited run since 1973 and 1974 respectively) but by 1982 two million of us had it. Teletext with a small ‘t’ is still the generic term – formerly known as teledata – although the Daily Mail capped the ‘T’ in ’93, but more on that later.

I was a Ceefax man. I’ve always been BBC (on FA Cup day and the like) and for me it was a no brainer. Ceefax graphics were cool and Spartan, later emulated by the BBC Micro computer, whereas ORACLE looked like the shop brand baked bean, with its brash colours and adverts. Although to be fair, I did bed hop quite a bit. Ceefax just seemed more reliable and sobre. ORACLE was a little more loose and cavalier, seen in the launch of the first text ‘soap’ in ‘Park Avenue’. Channel 4’s hip-and-happening text was worth a look too; got my ‘ten best things of 1987’ on there. But what joyous scenes these were as Britain led from the front, for the rest of the world to follow.

Christmas was celebrated with a giant pixilated plum duff, complete with moving steam. For many that crummy dessert was[ital] Christmas. A Santa hat-wearing Bamboozle, their only friend.

When ORACLE gave way to the craftily re-branded ITV service Teletext in ’93 – after unsuccessfully trying to keep its licence – we were in the middle of a text war. But ORACLE refused to go out without a fight, however, and its last transmission on New Year’s Eve 1992 before the dawn of the Daily Mail group’s Teletext was thus: “00.00 The End of ORACLE. Now the Nightmare Begins.”

It wasn’t a nightmare though. It was a massive improvement – or it seemed to be – and even some die-hard Ceefax lads started looking over their shoulders at the new slick-as-an-otter’s-arse competitor. Suddenly Ceefax was looking a little dowdy.

I wouldn’t say I was an addict as such, I mean I could go on holiday without having to press “300, 302…” like a crazed chimp, but if the telly was on, the likelihood was that text was on. Advert breaks on ITV were the prime opportunity. When FastText came out in the late 80s, shit was real. A five-minute commercial cessation from the main feature was a desperate race against time, as football scores flicked from page to page, with the all-important ‘club line’ pages stuck to the end with all sorts of cryptic lies.

One of the most exciting days of my life was the introduction of the score UPDATE button that returned the TV to a normal state, as you waited for a joyous little box to appear should a goal be scored. Even cross-country on Grandstand was somehow exciting not knowing when these little red and green text bombs would explode.

Bamboozle and his younger brother Brian’s quizzes utilising the righteous REVEAL function (on C4), were a student treat, whilst SEX TEXT (blue content after 23.00pm on Teletext), was possibly the most sublimely ridiculous idea ever conceived. If you could get off on reading Teletext then you could probably achieve an erotic endgame with a novelty cruet set.

The teletext (small t) editorial was so sublimely clipped. Brevity reigning. No bullshit. The top 40, TV listings, record and film reviews and the utterly mystifying chess pages, teletext was blissfully free of conjecture

The teletext (small t) editorial was so sublimely clipped. Brevity reigning. No bullshit. The top 40, TV listings, record and film reviews and the utterly mystifying chess pages, teletext was blissfully free of conjecture. I remember learning about Cantona’s kung-fu kick (I instantly switched the radio on after) on text. Princess Diana’s death and Tony Blair’s triumph are stored away in blocky nuggets of memory. Christmas was celebrated with a giant pixilated plum duff, complete with moving steam. For many that crummy dessert was[ital] Christmas. A Santa hat-wearing Bamboozle, their only friend.

Text was better than the net, because it had dignity. It also looked like a computer, which the net doesn’t. Teletext didn’t bring you down. You took only that which you wanted. It was honest, decent and truthful; apart from when a football score was incorrect and the heart would flutter for a second time on its correction. It also made you wait a little bit to get your hit. It had suspense built in, especially if you had dodgy reception that corrupted those precious words. Sometimes you could freeze time itself with an all-so precious HOLD. Just like the net, it had clandestine things going on too, for those Textheads who remember the hidden texts on the 888 test pages, but for the most part of it was a gentleman.

The net ultimately prevailed of course, after satellite TV had already drawn us away from the main four sites of teletextual excellence; ‘5 text’ was certainly nothing to get excited about. And on 1st Jan 2010 Teletext was finally pulled and Ceefax is now a Digitext service which is an insult to the real thing. Tinted, translucent onscreen panels and red buttons, it does nothing for the purist.

So, it’s the net now. It was a fair old scrap. But as we sit on our phones, or jabbing away at our laptops just remember one thing: who was it that carried on reporting 9-11 when the web had ground to a halt after the first jet hit? Page 100, NEWS, page 101 HEADLINES. Tele-fucken-text. That’s who.

So, thank you teletext for all the great times we shared. I’m sure if you could have reported on your own death, a flickering candle symbolising the nation’s love, would have graced your home page. If only we could have pressed HOLD at precisely 23.59, and 59 seconds.

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image descriptionCOMMENTS

Simon Martin 6:31 am, 8-May-2011

Ha ha. I remember it exactly as you say. I could "watch" a whole football match on Ceefax. Used to like the letters pages too. Pretty sure there is a Bamboozle iPhone app, oh the irony. Remember the agony of not pressing hold to get the cheap holiday on page 235 of 371?

pete 11:43 am, 8-May-2011

It hasn't been updated since Nov 09 but ceefax is preserved for posterity at www.ceefax.tv

Tom Okker 2:03 pm, 8-May-2011

Digitiser on Channel 4 text was probably the maddest thing ever. It's surreal humour was years ahead of it's time.

terry 6:53 pm, 8-May-2011

every day after school i have memories of my dad checking the share prices of the factory he worked for. also him not pressing hold in time for the lottery numbers

victor prinzim 9:52 am, 9-May-2011

Before the days of the internet, I remember literally running through my front door every night to click on the football pages to get the latest news. And I was always obsessed by the 'Clubcall' headlines on teletext as well where your team was linked with some random player you'd never go on to sign. I never phoned the numbers to find out, mind

Mark 10:57 am, 9-May-2011

Andrew - great article - I remember sitting at home one New Years day morning in the early/mid 90's "watching" John Crawley and Mike Atherton batting against the Aussies cos I couldnt get TMS anywhere in the house!

Bloomers 6:25 pm, 9-May-2011

Bamber Boozler app now available on the iPhone. Even Apple can't beat teletext… 'the ultimate newspaper'.

Tewkesbury Caravan Club 2:03 pm, 10-May-2011

And of course one could relax once TVs got that mix feature. Indeed the TV experience was usually enhanced when programs were seen through a patchwork of green, yellow and white pixels.

Adam 10:56 am, 12-May-2011

'Watching' penalty shoot outs on Ceefax was sooo exciting!

Jake Hanrahan 9:04 pm, 17-May-2011

I remember there used to be like this comic type thing on Teletext when I was about 7 with some space captain and some weird pink thing in it, it wasn't bamboozled, was a proper comic. I couldn't get enough of it.

Nobby Clark 9:09 pm, 17-May-2011

P176 on Ceefax was for the Top 40, I think. 341 for the cricket score. 501 for travel.

MattleHat 9:17 pm, 17-May-2011

So far this is my favourite Sabotage Times piece! I didn't realise how much I missed teletext until I read it. Football, cricket scores, Bamboozle plus the other pages in that 10 page group. Soap catch ups, holidays, weather forecasts. Great 'come down' tv!

Steve Manser 11:21 pm, 17-May-2011

Fab article and comments..... so many happy memories. I recall 'discovering' The Stone Roses thanks to their music pages, so I can love the service forever based on that alone. PS: check out the Teletext style video game reviews under 'artistic' category on gamepeople.co.uk when you get 5 mins. The spirit is still alive!

cesc pistol 9:23 pm, 22-Nov-2011

The only review of our self financed album was on one of the text channels in the early nineties, got a photograph of it somewhere. :-)

Anthony McNamee 11:16 pm, 22-Nov-2011

Way back in the day, Ceefax used to switch the football section with the cricket section during the summer. You always knew the football season was back when 140 returned to the big ball game.

beso 11:33 pm, 22-Nov-2011

great read,who needed jeff stelling when ceefax 316-321 where there i remember ruining many a nights telly constantly flicking to the racing results 670 for result of friday night racing at wolves

andy southgate 11:45 pm, 22-Nov-2011

Gig guide was great, plus holidays, bamboozle and watching the Tottenham results come in. Best ever was us 2-0 down (at the Dell as it happens) in a FA cup match then a second half fightback was conjured by none other than Ronny Rosenthal, I only saw the actual goals on MOTD much later on (it was called Match of the Day back then) and it remains the best hat-trick I've ever seen. However, the fact remains that I was actually going nuts in my otherwise silent living room watching bloody teletext. Great stuff. Actually, I've just become very nostalgic and found the footage on youtube - it's brilliant footage (unless you are a Saints fan). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29GpwMo0yII

Daysofspeed 2:56 am, 23-Nov-2011

When Wimbledon were away I used have the Ceefax results page on but Sellotape a sheet of paper over the home score so I could see if we might be winning - "0" meant we was drawing or losing, "3" usually meant away win etc. I too also had a single I wrote and produced reviewed on there - I have a printed photo of the screen. I appreciate both of the above = sad bastard....

Steve Hill 4:14 am, 23-Nov-2011

Ceefax is still going strong. I begin every day on p606 followed by p302. Then I have a shit.

Joey Zaza 9:16 am, 23-Nov-2011

An important part of my childhood, for sure. Memories which stick in my mind is my Dad and I working out who had won the Daily Express fantasy cricket in 1994..."So, if Dominic Cork has scored 32 or more, then I win", press 345, Derbyshire scorecard pops up, Corky out for 14, "Yessssss!" And I don't care what anyone says, when you turned on the TV and realised something had happened, teletext was the first and only place to look. Remember the full page there when Princess Diana was killed. Watching the footy scores come in when the reception wasnt great and bits were missing on the screen also sticks out.

Lee 9:45 am, 23-Nov-2011

Moc-moc-a-moc!

Insincere Dave 9:46 am, 23-Nov-2011

I really enjoyed this article.

Andrew 12:42 pm, 23-Nov-2011

'Now & Next' was one of the most helpful pages that I remember, before the days of in TV menus and TV guides. 123 on ITV I think and 505 on BBC?

scooterslag 7:42 pm, 24-Nov-2011

Great article, I have fond memories of smoking too much and lunching out in front of the box, reading the random soap facts on C4's set-up. Wouldn't of had any slight interest normally but some how teletext had that sort of earnest charm which sadly the net doesn't have despite all its whiz- bang developments

Bob 5:25 pm, 25-Nov-2011

My Mum telling me to shout for her when the holiday came back on, Page 278 of 3,000,000,000! She'd missed the hold button and my school sick day on the sofa was spent waiting and waiting and wait.....we never did go, caravan in Looe for the 9th year on the trot, that week in Spain lost forever all for the sake of 1 slipped finger and a TV remote with a 12ft wire.

Ben 9:56 am, 18-Apr-2012

There was once a Mac Widget which picked up Ceefax... not sure if it still works/exists though....

Zef 10:15 am, 18-Apr-2012

Ceefax was in deed a beautiful thing, childhood nostalgia a plenty. It even helped me get my job. http://zef.so/employable

shadraq 12:41 pm, 18-Apr-2012

160 for the local 'news' page every sunday morning to see if it had kicked off anywhere the previous day

Mutt and Jeff 5:49 pm, 18-Apr-2012

888 came in handy for those of us with cloth ears

Jonny Kay 8:29 pm, 18-Apr-2012

My favourite ceefax moment; in my mum and dad's room with the only tv in the house with the function, connected via back of the tv aerial with wank reception, circa 1993. Was Southampton v Man Utd at the Dell, page 4 of 4 showing 1-0 to Southampton with minutes to go, a desperate child turned jubilant when a young Giggs brace was r)ve$lAd upon the next revolution. Watching football on tv rarely got better.

JWisard 3:18 am, 24-Oct-2012

Excellent article and really well written.

Aaron 5:54 pm, 26-Feb-2013

Actually the first place I learned Princess Diana died was via Teletext, bizarre.

#digi mang 7:25 am, 25-Apr-2013

No mention of Digitiser? If you were a boxer you'd be the cussius clay.

MR. T 1:02 pm, 25-Apr-2013

Just MAKE sure you stay AWAY from MR.T's BINS.

matt powell 11:50 am, 20-Nov-2013

I can remember standing in the new inn ( local pub ) on Saturday drinking lager (£1.25 per pint) with football scores on teletext, page would change 2/3, 3/3 then 1/3 your score had changed! Better than being at the ground, better than actually seeing it and feeling the atmosphere for that moment you and your mates had grandstand seats! Sometimes the goal scorer would be revealed on the next page if big scores had taken up the page! Picture the scene now, a pub, full of people, watching text on screen with no talking,adverts for razors or box office crap? All these things have all but gone from Britain.

Dave Chasney 10:18 pm, 12-Jan-2014

555 was great on 4 texts loads of great stuff for kids which I was at the time. Bloody shame teletext is no more.

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