Blast from the past: Ceefax

Remember Ceefax, the BBC’s pixel-tastic real-time information service? HELEN MCGURK mourns its demise.

By Helen McGurk
Friday, 1st April 2022, 5:35 pm
Everyone had a favourite BBC Ceefax page
Everyone had a favourite BBC Ceefax page

In the pre-internet age, Ceefax - the name was a play on, ‘see facts’, was just that, a funfair of facts.

Although it was never slick, speedy or a thing of beauty, from the comfort of an armchair, you could get the forecast from the iconic pointillist weather map (page 401) and keep abreast of sports results, breaking news and odd stories from around the world.

Everyone had a favourite number. Page 101 was the only way outside of newspapers and radio and TV news bulletins to get the latest news on demand.

Page 301 delivered the latest sports scores, whilst 606 pulled up the TV guide.

The 500s were for entertainment (including 555 – National Lottery results and 570 – Newsround). The subtitles page, 888, was great to switch on while watching Top of the Pops, enabling one to sing along to Kajagoogoo lyrics.

With its simple blue and white clunky letters and block graphics set on a black screen, Ceefax was a cherished companion for many. It seems crude now in light of rolling news coverage blaring from every screen, but its simplicity still elicits a warm glow of nostalgia from those who were there.

Ceefax was first launched in 1974 to fill television screens after closedown (remember closedown?). Once BBC 1 and BBC 2 stopped broadcasting for the day, Ceefax would come on accompanied by some repetitive, but jaunty muzak. If you were really bored it offered 30 pages of information to trawl through.

Then along came the imitators, ITV and Channel 4’s Oracle which later became, simply, Teletext. Whilst Ceefax’s modus operandi was information and fact, Teletext provided lighter, more entertaining content.

But in 2012 Ceefax, and it’s painfully slow turning pages, was consigned to TV heaven, like Knot’s Landing, Police 6 and The A-Team.

Although it may be gone, it is not forgotten by those of us for whom it ‘put the world at out fingertips’.

I wonder what today’s tech savvy children would make of this curious, soundless service on the other side of the text button? Would they think it primitive? Maddeningly simplistic and clunky? Boooorrrring? Undoubtedly, yes. But for oldies, it signals the passing of time, when everything seemed much simpler.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

With the coronavirus lockdowns having had a major impact on many of our advertisers — and consequently the revenue we receive — we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.

Subscribe to and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content.

Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Ben Lowry, Editor