Monday, 22 October 2012

"Thank you for watching.. Ceefax 1974-2012" Its influence and its legacy..

So there we have it then.. Pages from Ceefax has bowed in the UK after 38 years on the air, but without sounding Monty Python-ish but 'What has Ceefax ever done for us?' Since 1974 it was been the BBC's go to service for news, information, sport and weather. Though it was so much more then that, notice anyway and Ceefax would have had its influence in some way or the other.

Starting off with the internet, without Ceefax it wouldn't have been proved that graphical information could be passed through a system to allow the most number of people to receive it as once and be able to look up what they wanted when they wanted to, plus also social media too it gave viewers the chance to write in about opinions and other to reply back to them for them to be published for viewers to see them. Isn't Facebook, Twitter and many other social networks not just a bigger version of this? 

How about television itself? For a start it gave channels another programme for free and rolling news service without the need for presenters, before a time of thousands of channel people would look to see if anything had actually happened since the last news bulletin, plus sports fans as well looking to see the latest football results on a Saturday afternoon, how about the cricket scorecards which would tick over all day during the summer.

Away from the actual information side, Ceefax provided the graphics need by shows for a easy solution with out going to the trouble of producing title sequences. Three of a Kind was a case in point, with this fast style which epitomised the early 80's lust for new technology as the faces of Tracey Ullman, Lenny Henry and David Copperfield were made into teletext art to introduce them plus also 'Gagfax' which pretty much like the jokes on the Fun and Games pages could supply a quickie joke without the need for filming it. Though Ceefax was also used to create the title sequence of the BBC's Formula One coverage, giving it almost an video game type of look adding to the excitement of what was going to follow during the race. 

Every noticed on a BBC game show like Bob's Full House or Every Second Counts when they give away a teletext television set as a prize there's always a Ceefax page of the show's title, they even though of that but of course this lead to secret Ceefax pages not advertised on the title page, they were like a welcome surprise to anyone who found them plus with the engineering page too. It may have been an Aladdin's cave at times, but its like the engineers wanted the pages to be found by the young presentation enthusiast. One marvel I always wondered at was the Advent Calender around Christmas time counting the days to the big day. The sheer detail of what the programmers were able to achieve with such simple technology amazed me, plus also by using the reveal key, a new surprise always waited each day.

If it wasn't for page 177, I wouldn't not have known what was on television that night and as a young child this was amazing to learn what other regions were watching plus also it taught me to read as well. Knowing what BBC North West would have instead of 'Hey Look That's Me!' also how would I know what Spotlight was in the South West and also why in London and the South East they didn't have any regional news before Play School. These small details were important to me, knowing that Ceefax could provide them daily was something of wonder.

The origins of Ceefax came from an idea cooked up in the late sixties, when it was talked about having a static page of information put up on screen during closedown to show Farmers Markets prices or the Financial news such as what the FT share index was doing. So engineer Geoff Larkby and technician Barry Pyatt, were its brainchildren to be able to come up with a text transmission system. Its brief from then director-general Hugh Carlton Greene, was it should be like one page of The Times. An early system called 'Beebfax', with Beeb being a popular nickname for the BBC. It was trialled internally at the BBC  by sending scans of Christmas cards throughout the BBC. But the system was unpopular owing to the sheer amount of noise the equipment made which operating, though Pyatt tried improved the system by using printed circuit boards, it was shelved with Larkby retiring and Pyatt leaving the BBC.

The announcement of the Ceefax system was in October 1972, as that time engineers were developing a subtitling system for deaf viewers. Test transmissions were trialled between 1972 and 1974, building upto its launch on the 23rd of September 1974 when thirty pages of information were broadcast to sets which could receive its signals. This made other broadcasters sit up and notice to develop their own systems such as the Independent Broadcasting Authority to create ORACLE, which started in 1975. But over times as more and more countries adopted teletext, a universal system was settled on in 1976 with them using it to create their own versions of Ceefax and ORACLE.

But now that technology has moved on, most teletext service have been adapted to a new digital television standard or been converted to something new such as the BBC's red button service trying to keep as many of the old Ceefax numbers as was physically possible. Ceefax bowed out at 6am on 22nd October 2012, nearly forty years to the day that the original was first announced. With a simple thank you from the duty announcer on BBC Two, it was gone from our shores. Some versions will be kept for BBC stations abroad such as BBC World. For what influence it had over all those thirty-eight years, it was our first port of call for breaking news, it gave us ideas of what to cook, it made us laugh with daft book titles and it revealed itself to the public as a part of everyone's lives...

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