BBC Ceefax, the world’s first teletext service, has taken its final bow as the UK’s digital switchover is completed.
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.
Initially 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.
It was called Ceefax, simply because viewers would be able to quickly “see the facts” of any story of the day.
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.
Anyone who grew up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s will be familiar with Ceefax but because of the wonders of technology, these teletext-type services are no longer our go-to resource for the latest news and weather. ITV and Channel 4’s Teletext was shut off in 2009 and now those with a soft spot for the BBC’s Ceefax have been cut off, too.
Today we’ve seen Twitter users are sharing #Ceefax memories and wishing the old girl farewell. The image below is currently doing the rounds. I’m not sure who’s behind it but it certainly gave me a smile.
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 tonight in Northern Ireland when Olympic Gold Medallist, Mary Peters, had the dubious honour of ending the service.
Another happy memory consigned to the virtual rubbish bin after 38 years of loyal service – what will we see disappear next?