Life before the internet came and ruined everything
Back before the internet branched its tentacles over the planet, ruining everything about life in the process, there was only one way to keep up with live events as they happened: Ceefax on the BBC and Teletext on ITV and Channel 4.
In truth it was the precursor to 'the web', accessed via the text button on your TV's remote control and featured a selection of regularly updated features and articles which would be voraciously consumed by many of us over breakfast and after school.
Of course, with the internet gaining dominance, Teletext gave up the ghost during December 2009, while Ceefax ended at 23:32:19 BST on 23 October 2012 after 38 years of broadcasting.
Here we take a trip down memory lane by recalling the best bits of the legendary services.
Where else to begin but the greatest quiz game ever created? Using the four coloured ‘fastext’ buttons, players would attempt to choose the correct answer from the options given by Bamber Boozler and work their way through all the questions in order to reach the end. In the early days, any wrong answer would see you dumped unceremoniously back to question one, something which was immensely frustrating at the time but now we realise was hugely character-building.
2. Ten to One
Ten to One was the sports version of Bamboozle, with Brian Boozler (modeled, naturally, on John Motson) manning the mic as you attempted to navigate your way through the tricky questions. A Question of Sport? Kettle over a pub? Forget about it - this was the real quiz.
3. Page 302
And, of course, there will always be a special place in the heart of any football fan for page 302 on Ceefax. A feast of footballing information, rumour and analysis awaited, with extensive match reports, previews and transfer gossip waiting to be found.
Naturally, the pages really came into their own at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, when you would tune in and ‘watch’ your team play, as those pages rolled round, awaiting updates from your team’s far-flung away trip.
It was though, responsible for one of the worst birthdays I ever had when when, after waiting for page 3/3 to pop back round to confirm Leyton Orient’s excellent 1-0 away win against Rotherham with a nice ‘FT’ next to the score, I was confronted instead with a ‘Rotherham 2-1 Leyton Orient FT’ instead thanks to two goals in injury time. That screen of horror is forever seared in my memory.
You can relive your team’s best moment on Ceefax with the brilliant p302.co.uk.
4. Match reports
The match reports on Ceefax were a lesson in brevity and disciplined writing - just four short paragraphs to capture an entire game of football, including managerial quotes. It was like an old-school Twitter, with a serious character limit (a few more than 140 though, but not much more).
5. Transfer deadline day
Forget Jim White and the Sky Sports team, this was where the transfer deadline day action would take place, as you sat in front of the screen desperately hoping your team would finally sign that striker you needed. You’d always get a right-back on loan from a non-league team though. Always.
Of course, it wasn’t just football that was covered by the great service - everything else was there, including cricket. Just take a look at this classic England squad:
And just look at the state of this scorecard. No wonder we never used to win anything.
The character limit was always particularly restrictive on the Sri Lankan team, as the likes of Pramodya Wickramasinghe would have to be constricted Wick’nghe. Hell, even Paul Collingwood didn’t fit.
7. Planet Sound
For the avid music fan, forget NME and Melody Maker, Planet Sound on Channel 4 was the most trusted source around, featuring a mix of news, views and reviews.
Manned by Stephen Eastwood, then John Earls, it was an incredibly trustworthy source of where to find the best new music around - a list of their albums and singles of the year and albums that scored 9/10 shows that they made very few mistakes.
Getting your single reviewed on Launchpad would be a career highlight for many.
8. Letters pages
There would be letters pages on loads of sections of Teletext, including Planet Sound, with familiar names cropping up regularly - anyone remember Rebecca Nahid, Whitelinewarrior, and Stuart N Hardy? Getting a letter published, or a team of the week listed, would be a huge honour. Chatterbox was one such example which saw viewers offer their thoughts on TV. It was a friendlier time.
“Thank you Five for showing Sons and Daughters.”
See that? Someone being nice about someone else. You don’t get that on Twitter do you?
Of course, Ceefax - itself a technology miracle at the time - oversaw and covered the birth and development of the world of gaming, with the pinnacle of their writing coming with Digitiser, which launched on ITV (p370) before moving over to Channel 4.
Founded by writers Mr Biffo (Paul Rose) and Mr Hairs (Tim Moore), the section was famed for its risque humour and utterly unbiased reviews, which earned it a legion of devoted fans.
One of its most notorious moments came right at the end of Digitiser’s life, on the final page of the last letters section, when Biffo decided to ‘reveal’ a picture of ‘the real Turner The Worm (a cartoon character from Teletext) being sick’.
We’ll leave it to your imagination to think why this image may have been controversial.
And here is Turner the Worm in action.
But it wasn’t all fun and games on Ceefax. It was, of course, a hugely important current affairs service, and many people learned of big, world-changing news events via the blocky text of p101. On election day, the first place you’d go was Ceefax, to see how your constituency had voted - and on 1 May 1997, the country woke to see news of a Labour government in power for the first time in 18 years, following a landslide victory.
12. Financial stuff
There was financial news-a-plenty too. Although we’d wager that about as many people viewed the stocks and shares section then as use the ‘Stocks’ app on their iPhone these days.
13. Backchat & Mega-zine
Back to the fun, and all sorts of fun, frolics, debate and discussion could be found on Backchat on Ceefax, and Mega-zine on ITV - at one point, fans of the two services had a serious rivalry. Honestly, it was just like Blur vs Oasis. Sort of.
You could always rely on Ceefax for some rubbish gags. Snow joke.
15. Teletext holidays
Wanting to get away from it all? Teletext holidays had you covered, with pages upon pages of deals on offer.
The service proved so popular that it still exists today, outliving its title and existing on the world wide web. And it’s still called Teletext Holidays.
16. TV guides
Before the days of easily-accessible program guides, it was impossible to know what was coming up on your telly unless you had a copy of the Radio Times. No problem though guys - Ceefax has got you covered. Page 606 was a life-saver, displaying a small text box over the top of what you were currently watching that would allow you to see what was on all the major terrestrial channels, and what was coming up next.
Weather forecasts? Yeah, we’ve got them too.
It had everything.
And it even had brilliant lift music when a selection of pages were played out between the end of one day’s programming and the start of another (yes kids, there really was a break between days when channels would actually switch off).
If you’re in the mood for some serious nostalgia/have some serious insomnia, then wrap your ears and eyes around this video:
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