Pages from Ceefax title card
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|Original channel||BBC analogue
(via "Text" button),
BBC Two overnight
|Original run||23 September 1974– 23 October 2012|
|Related shows||Oracle (1974–1992),
Teletext Ltd. (1993–)
Ceefax (near-homonymous with "See Facts") was the world's first teletext information service. It was started by the BBC in 1974, and ran regularly filling BBC Two's overnight schedule as Pages from Ceefax. The interactive service ran until 23:32:19 BST on 23 October 2012, in line with the digital switchover being completed in Northern Ireland. The service then ceased after 38 years of broadcasting.
During the late 1960s, engineer Geoff Larkby and technician Barry Pyatt were working at the Designs Department (Television Group) of the BBC on a text transmission system. Its object was to transmit a printable page of text during the nocturnal "close-down" period of normal television transmission. Sir Hugh Carleton Green, then Director General of the BBC, was interested in making farming and stock-market prices available as hard copy via the dormant TV transmitters. The remit received by BBC Designs Department was "the equivalent of one page of The Times newspaper to be transmitted during shut-down".
The first system employed a modified Muirhead drum facsimile transmitter, and hard-copy printer using pressure-sensitive "till-roll" paper passing over a drum with a raised helix of steel wire. This drum was synchronised with the transmission drum by means of the "frame" pulse inherent in the Muirhead system. Printing was effected by a hardened steel blade driven initially by loudspeaker moving coil, then by a printed-circuit coil, and finally by a special ceramic piezo element from Brush-Clevite. The combination of rotating helix and linearly moving blade, with the moving till-roll between them, enabled a raster to be drawn on the paper, without the smoke and smell of the Muirhead "sparking" system.
This early electro-mechanical system was called BEEBFAX – "Beeb" was the popular name for the BBC, and "fax" from the facsimile machine. Initial tests were conducted by sending scans of Christmas Cards over the internal telephone system.
The system was less than popular in the Designs Department laboratory; due to the clatter of the Muirhead facsimile, and the whining of the printer, the project was shelved. Barry Pyatt, who had designed the innovative receiving and decoding electronics, went on to propose several improvements using the then emergent integrated circuit digital technology, but the project died. Geoff Larkby retired, and Barry Pyatt left the employ of the Corporation.
The idea was later taken up once again, this time in digital and on-screen form, under the new name of CEEFAX.
The system was announced in October 1972, and following test transmissions in 1972–74, the Ceefax system went live on 23 September 1974 with thirty pages of information. Developed by BBC engineers who were working on ways of providing televisual subtitles for the deaf, it was the first teletext system in the world. James Redmond, the BBC's Director of Engineering at the time, was a particular enthusiast. Other broadcasters soon took up the idea, including the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), who had developed the incompatible ORACLE teletext system, at around the same time. Before the Internet and the World Wide Web become popular, Ceefax pages were often the first location to report a breaking story or headline.
After technical negotiations, the two broadcasters settled in 1976 on a single standard, different from both Ceefax and ORACLE, which ultimately developed into World System Teletext, and which in 2012 is still in use for analogue broadcasts. The display format of 24 rows by 40 columns of characters was also adopted for the Prestel system.
The technology became the standard European teletext system and replaced other standards, including the Antiope system formerly used in France.
In 1983, Ceefax started to broadcast computer programs, known as telesoftware, for the BBC Micro (a home computer available in the United Kingdom). The telesoftware broadcasts stopped in 1989. A similar idea was the French C Plus Direct satellite channel which used different, higher speed technology to broadcast PC software.
The basic technology of Ceefax has remained compatible with the 1976 unified rollout; system elaborations since then have been made such that earlier receivers are still able to do a basic decode of pages, but will simply ignore enhanced information rather than showing corrupted data. For example, early receivers cannot process the FasText coloured-button hyperlinking data, but are able to ignore it.
Until 2012, the BBC's Ceefax service was still providing information on topics covering News, Sport, Weather, TV Listings and Businesses. The pages were kept up to date until the UK digital switchover was completed on Tuesday 23 October 2012. The in-vision overnight service Pages from Ceefax was transmitted overnight until 06:00 on BBC Two until it ceased on 22 October 2012 prior to the final analogue switchoff the following day.
It was announced that Ceefax would not be replaced when the analogue signal was switched off in October 2012. The BBC Red Button service is seen as an alternative to Ceefax and since 2007 the number of regions with a Ceefax supported analogue signal had declined as digital switchover progressed across the UK. As of the end of 2011, three quarters of the UK TV regions had completed or were in the process of being switched over.
Ceefax was the last remaining text service available via analogue TV transmissions in the UK, as ITV and Channel 4's Teletext service closed in December 2009. Channel 5's "five text" ancillary service closed in 2011. A limited analogue teletext service through ITV and Channel 4 was still available through terrestrial until the digital switchover was completed on 23 October 2012.
At 23:32:19 BST on 23 October 2012, Ceefax was switched off after 38 years of providing news, weather and sport information when Olympic champion Dame Mary Peters turned off the last analogue TV signal in Northern Ireland. A series of graphics on Ceefax's front page marked its 38 years on the BBC.
BBC Red Button service
The analogue switch-off in the UK saw the closure of Ceefax in October 2012. Its replacement, BBC Red Button, is available on most digital services including Freeview, Virgin Media, Sky and Freesat. BBC Red Button is accessed by pressing the red button or the text button on any BBC channel. As well as being able to display plain text, BBC Red Button offers richer graphics than Ceefax and a number of interactive video streams. Pages can be navigated to by scrolling with the remote or entering the correct page number; most of the page numbers previously used on Ceefax are the same on BBC Red Button, such as sports being on page number 301 with football on 302 and football results on 316. The new BBC Red Button Service is used as much as Ceefax and is especially popular among football fans.
The Ceefax/ORACLE standard was internationalised in the 1980s as World System Teletext, which was adopted into the international standard CCIR 653 (now ITU-R BT.653) of 1986 as CCIR Teletext System B. As with other teletext systems, text and simple graphics are transmitted in-band with the picture signal, and decoded by controller circuitry.
Pages from Ceefax
Pages from Ceefax was a selection of content from the Ceefax service and normally only shown in the absence of any other programming. It consisted of selected Ceefax pages (typically news) transmitted as an ordinary TV picture. As a result, although Pages from Ceefax could be viewed on any receiver, the interactive nature of the service was lost. Audio accompaniment typically consisted of stock music or sometimes a discontinuous tone.
First shown in 1980, it was shown in 30-minute slots but by 1983 it was a common filler during daytime (where it was originally billed on-air as Ceefax in Vision or, in the case of the pre-Breakfast Time slot during the 1980s as Ceefax AM). From the late 1980s onwards, it was increasingly marginalised by the BBC's move towards a near-continuous service although its on-air hours increased in around 2000 when BBC2 stayed on air overnight even when Learning Zone was not being broadcast and Pages from Ceefax was shown to fill the overnight closedown period. However BBC2 simulcasted BBC News after closedown until BBC1 joined the News Channel and BBC2 only showed Pages from Ceefax during the latter part of the night.
The last Pages from Ceefax slot was shown in the early hours of Monday 22 October 2012 and featured special continuity announcements and a specially-created end caption featuring various Ceefax graphics from over the years. The music chosen for the final minutes was "BART" by Ruby, which had been frequently used for "Pages from Ceefax" and other continuity. Since then, overnight downtime has been filled with a rolling loop of previews of forthcoming BBC Two programmes.
The limited set of rolling pages shown on Pages from Ceefax (referred to as a "newsreel") was also accessible at any time of day via Ceefax page 152 (BBC Two only) on any traditional Teletext television.
In a similar manner, Channel 4 showed pages from Oracle until 1989 and 4-Tel On View until 1997 and during the late 1980s and early 1990s some ITV companies broadcast a programme called Jobfinder which consisted of teletext pages showing job vacancies and other job-seeking related information. ITV Nightscreen also used teletext pages in its first few years on air.
- Pete Clifton Points of View 9 November 2008
- Test Cards and Ceefax BBC Archive
- "BBC News – Ceefax: A love letter". Bbc.co.uk. 18 April 2012. Retrieved 2012-05-25.
- How we assign our page numbers BBC Blogs
- Chris Tryhorn (13 November 2007). "Whitehaven analogue TV switch-off nears". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-05-25.
- 30 May 2012 – Meridian (31 March 2011). "Home". Digital UK. Retrieved 2012-05-25.
- John Hand (23 October 2012). "Ceefax service to end after 38 years on BBC } Media } bbc.co.uk". BBC. Retrieved 2012-10-23.
- BBC Ceefax at BBC Online
- Last day of Ceefax
- BBC News article celebrating 30th anniversary of Ceefax
- Online representation of Ceefax as it looked in November 2009
- "Pages from Ceefax" at Everything2
- More information and captures of CEEFAX pages
- Death of Ceefax – the internet before the internet
- 10 things you didn't know about Ceefax
- Live Ceefax-style Cricket Scores!