back to article RIP Ceefax: Digital switchover kills off last teletext service

Over a decade ago the majority of UK holidays were booked by TV, but today London lost Ceefax – and by the end of the year teletext as we know it will disappear entirely. Ceefax is the BBC's teletext service, as opposed to the eponymous Teletext Limited, which produced text services for the other channels from 1993 to 2010, …


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  1. Glyn 2


    We went digital last year, saves me best part of £200 as now I can't get a telly signal

    And judging by the shit that's on all those extra channels, I'm quite glad I don't have to pay for them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: hmm

      That is all.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Fast moving accurate information

    People who worked on Ceefax often comment it's the quickest moving news service as updates were absolutely instant when they updated the page.

    1. WorkingFromHome
      Thumb Up

      Re: Fast moving accurate information

      Absolutely, having worked briefly for a travel agents in my youth I know it was that rapid update which attracted holiday firms to advertise on Ceefax. A little PC in the corner with a modem so the company could update their pages "live" as it were.

  3. Horridbloke

    Ceefax nostalgia...

    One sunday morning in the Autumn of '92 I woke up in my grotty student digs, blearily made coffee, staggered to the telly in the lounge to peruse the headlines, and discovered an ex-schoolmate had been arrested for killing someone with a machete.

    Happy times.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ceefax nostalgia...

      I used to work for ladbrokes, if you've been in a bookies you'll know that they have hundreds of screens these days. They still saw less action on a saturday when compared to the staff telly showing the football vidiprinter; this allowed me to read my paper in peace without someone asking me to dial up the (usually out of date) scores on our results console evey 30 seconds.

    2. Steve Evans

      Re: Ceefax nostalgia...

      That wouldn't have been in Essex by any chance was it?

      If so, then I remember that night well too. I was staggering home from a few too many with the guys (back in the days when the beer scooter still worked) and every police car in the country went flying past me. It was only the next day I found out why.

    3. DapaBlue

      Re: Ceefax nostalgia...

      Same here - I was browsing the teletext news headlines in the mid 90s and discovered by chance that someone on my skiing holiday, who ran a pizza takeaway in London had been arrested for a murder. I don't think it made the national headlines.

    4. This post has been deleted by its author

    5. Horridbloke

      Re: Ceefax nostalgia...

      Not Essex - the event I'm thinking of took place in a cricket club in Buckinghamshire. That's quite enough information for anyone who remembers the event to recognise it.

      I'm fascinated to learn that other people have had a reading-about-a-local-murder-on-Ceefax experience.

      1. Glyn 2

        Re: Ceefax nostalgia...

        The bloke across the road from us had gone downstairs, got an axe and then bludgeoned his wife with it before calling the police to tell them what he'd done. The police came, he went quietly and no-one knew anything until ceefax told us why there was a van outside.

  4. jai


    When i was 7 we spent a couple of weeks in our computer classes learning how to write Ceefax style pages on the bbc micros they had in the rudimentary computer dept (read: room).

    ah, such halcyon days...

    1. moonface

      Re: yessssss

      It just reminds me, that the Acorn Electron didn't have Mode 7.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: electron


    2. Lost in Cyberspace

      Re: noooooo

      Ah yes - and to make double height text you had to print the line twice with a modifier IIRC. VDU 141 maybe? Fun times.

      1. Wilseus

        Re: noooooo

        10 PRINT CHR$(141);"DOUBLE HEIGHT!"

        20 PRINT CHR$(141);"DOUBLE HEIGHT!"


  5. Anonymous Coward

    Downloading software

    I had one of these for my Amstrad CPC in the days before we had a teletext TV:

    You plugged it into the VCR to use the tuner (in that article they use a separate tuner model) and loaded some special software into your Amstrad et voila, you had Ceefax/Oracle on your computer. This meant you could save and print pages.

    They also had software you could download. Ceefax restricted itself to mainly BBC micro stuff, but Channel 4 had some stuff for other micros.

    However I used to have a awful job getting anything to download and work. I did manage to get a racing game to download but it was obviously terrible. With no proper error correction it wasn't really a service that was reliable in any sense!

  6. Irongut

    Today London lost Ceefax!

    OMG the world must be ending for you southern pansies.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Graham Dawson

        Re: Today London lost Ceefax!

        Is Lewis Page an Oracle? It would explain a lot.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Today London lost Ceefax!

          You mean he's someone who chews laurel leaves, then utters inarticulate sounds before fainting? Yes, that sounds about right.

      2. Matthew 3

        Re: Today London lost Ceefax!

        IIRC, Oracle was an acronym: Optical Reception of Announcements by Coded Line Electronics.

  7. John Burton

    Digital text

    It's interesting how digitial text appears to be slower and less useful than the thing it's replacing.

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: Digital text

      The core content (news/weather) is the same. What actually happened was that the Internet took over the non-core stuff like Holidays etc.

      Arguably the content is less interesting but thats just because the range is smaller and there are other/better delivery channels.

  8. Giles Jones Gold badge

    Just use the website?

  9. Handel was a crank

    Meanwhile, in a county not far far away...

    You don't have to go far from the comfort of your city based desk, we still have it in Kent (Blue Bell Hill and Heathfield) so ner!

  10. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Actually in Germany

    We still have a Ceefax-like teletext service. You can embed it perfectly into DVB and even get it online:


    Unfortunately the "online decoders" rarely support level 2.5 features. Some good satellite receivers do however.

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: Actually in Germany

      We still have it in the UK, there are slightly differing flavours on Freeview, FreeSat and Sky.

      Cant speak for Virgin.

  11. squilookle

    I remember playing Bamboozle on Channel 4 Teletext.

    1. Lost in Cyberspace


      And after choosing an answer, watching to see what page number (and page letter!) it tried to load, and correcting the answer quickly and accordingly lol

  12. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Septics and Teletext

    I'll never forget watching a US equivalent of "Tomorrows World" in New York in late 1990, to see a piece about how US scientists and engineers had devised a way to use the 4 blank lines in a TV picture for digital data, and were excited about the possiblities it offered ...

    Being horribly jet lagged, it took me a few moments to realise they were describing Ceefax. Mind you, on the same trip, I had a US sailor explain how the US gave Britain radar in 1942.

    1. Chris Parsons

      Re: Septics and Teletext

      Septics? Are you sure?

      1. JimmyPage Silver badge

        Re: Septics and Teletext

        or Shermans .. YMMV

  13. Dogbyte


    I still miss Turner the Worm.

    1. Charles Calthrop
      Thumb Up

      turner the worm end screen

      Turner the worm went out with a bang

      NSFW if your boss hates cartoon ejaculate

      1. Shaun 1

        Re: turner the worm end screen

        What do you mean ejaculate? He's clearly being sick!

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: turner the worm end screen

          "Ejaculate" means to eject with great force.

          In days gone by, people shouting or exclaiming with force were often said to be ejaculating.

          "Good God!" ejaculated Watson.

          The connotations of sexual mechanism are a fairly modern interpretation.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: turner the worm end screen

            As you would know if you've ever read a Biggles story. Biggles was always ejaculating.

  14. gaz 7

    sad to see the end of ceefax

    Would be nice to see a Raspberry_pi Model B running a web server delivering news and weather feeds as web pages in the style of Ceefax.


    1. Soruk

      Re: sad to see the end of ceefax

      Shouldn't be too hard to hack AleVT to receiving data from an http address instead of /dev/vbi.

      .. oh god. I'm giving myself really silly ideas now.

  15. Gordon 10 Silver badge


    The Computer pages on C4 were good/bonkers. (cant remember if digitize were the original one or the poor outsourced imitation)

  16. graeme leggett


    I can just about remember when we first got Ceefax.

    For some reason our family was picked out for a trial of Prestel, which some may recall.

    For this we got a huge (by the standards of the day) telly, and a free(ish) connection to Prestel.

    After so many months on trial, they took the TV back but in the meantime we had gotten to like Ceefax so much that we made sure we bought a TV that had it.

    1. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Re: Memories

      Actually after a series of used TVs, we bought our first new TV in about 1987. It just happened to have teletext. Back then German Teletext was still in it's "2 year test period" which lasted from about 1982 till about 1990. They used to turn it off in the morning, however it was a fully fledged teletext system, including the German version of "Pages from Ceefax" called "Videotext für alle". (Of course that's now gone as German TV executives are drooling morons)

      I actually read most of teletext on Austrian Teletext. They were the first ones to have Teletext outside of the UK. And what a service they had. It included things like programming courses (Pascal, 2 different assemblers, etc), or program exchanges where you could send in software they would then publish in sourcecode for everyone to type in. However we were in a _very_ marginal reception area, so all pages were sprinkled with bit-errors.

      Anyhow, Teletext is alive and well throughout Europe.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    dispute the comment on badly rendered text

    The text was very well rendered, it was the graphics that was clunky and made out of tetris style blocks to keep to bandwidth limitations.

    We have gone a long way to make things harder to read since.

    delivering very sloooowly via TV signal overflow was not going to stay the delivery protocol though.

    NB I remember downloading programs onto my BBC B from teletext in the early 80's and using the format to deliver presentations. eat your heart out powerpoint!

    1. nemo20000

      Badly rendered text?

      There’s an interesting history of Teletext text rendering. The text produced by the SAA5050 (etc) used in the BBC Micro and most TVs of the period was really good.

      Although it only used a 5x7 bitimage font, it used a clever wheeze to double the resolution. Taking advantage of interlacing it delayed the interlace field by half a pixel horizontally (matching the “half pixel” vertical offset of the interlace) and then output a pixel wherever two and only two pixels met diagonally – smoothing the jagged diagonals. The result was in effect a 10x14 bitimage font, with a few idiosyncratic design decisions!

      Later chips and software emulations didn’t do this hardware resolution enhancement, so newer TV’s just used the original 5x7 shapes, or even some other generic 8x8 instead. In addition, the roughly square SAA output was (often) stretched into the 5:4 aspect, resulting in non-square pixels.

      I wrote a Teletext editor a long time ago and producing the anti-aliased glyphs to perfectly emulate the old SAA5050 was the best bit.

      1. LinkOfHyrule

        Re: Badly rendered text?

        I love it when the commentards get all technical like this.

        I will probably never have a use for the information you provided in your post but I am glad to read it!

  18. Joseph Lord
    Thumb Up

    Teletext has been the only successful TV information service

    It was the only access people had to real time news and information before 24 hour rolling news and the internet. Its usage and acceptance was far higher than its MHEG digital replacement will ever be. The fact that there are no other real interactive TV success stories should be a warning to Google for Google TV.

    [Note I don't count video content services (including the extra video channels on the red button and iPlayer etc.) as interactive TV as they are just interfaces to reach video content rather than being done for the experience and the data services themselves].

  19. John Lewis 4

    Happy memories in the Science Museum

    Fiddling around with Prestel and Hacking the Animal Game

  20. handle

    How are we going to impress Americans now?

    With subtitles, aka "closed captions" in the US. European subtitles took advantage of the coloured text capabilities of teletext; US ones were only monochrome and all caps if I am not mistaken. Subtitles on digital TV continue to use colour and lower case. Have the US ones now improved?

    1. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Re: How are we going to impress Americans now?

      US subtitles have italics I think.

    2. Kristian Walsh

      Re: How are we going to impress Americans now?

      The uppercase restriction was because the earliest decoders didn't handle lowercase text very well (the descenders didn't descend, making the text less legible).

      The US ones have technically improved, but programme-makers tend to use a backward-compatible subset of the more modern standard, as this makes it easier to generate old Line-21 and the newer ATSC title streams from the same source material.

      DVB also has some quite clever subtitling features, but most European broadcasters have stuck with using Teletext embedded into the programme stream, because they have an infrastructure in place to produce Teletext streams.

  21. Anonymous Coward


    so what am i looking at right now then?

    it looks like ceefax, works like ceefax, has same info as ceefax.

    except its called digital-text.

    quack, quack, quack.

    its a duck.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: er, not really

      But it's not quite Ceefax - it's a kind of semi-dumbed down version. Look at the weather pages - the digital offering only has odd little regional maps, whereas Ceefax has 5 day predictions for over 30 towns, UK current weather inc temp & wind and world cities. I don't see why the same information can't go onto the digital pages, I suspect it's a "policy decision" that Ceefax is old and outdated and it's got to go.

  22. Cyclist

    PC version

    I recall working at the head office of a major UK building society and one the techie squad emailing us a Ceefax utility installer package that gave us access to Ceefax on the PC. This would be mid 90s, before the net took off and before wasting your day at work reading pointless stuff from the outside world was the norm.

    It was a revelation. Constant access to football news, news headlines, TV guides for later on when we all went home etc. Not surprisingly senior manglement latched on to the drop in productivity in the IT Dept and banned it instantly, except for those who had 'special cause' to use it, i.e. senior manglement.

    Happy days.

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      Re: PC version

      We used to be able to access it from text terminals (aka TA Alphatronics) at the campus network at uni - even if you had no login access on campus computers, you could request pages via the PAD prompt (did anyone other than UKC ever use a Cambridge Ring network in anger?).

      IIRC this was how we discovered the joyous news that Maggie had resigned.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I remembering the first TV I bought in France (as an ex-pat). Teletext sets were rare, only the very top-end ones had it, even though there was a Teletext service. Some digging through the "Sendz components" adverts in "Television" magazine turned up ex-equipment Teletext boards pulled from the UK version of my TV. £15 and a coupling capacitor later, and I had Teletext! Great for news, and subtitling to help me learn French.

  24. Andrew Jones 2
    Thumb Up is still delivering it's online version of Ceefax. Plus - it's searchable!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sadly while the Ceefax TV site appears to be live and has the current date and time, the entire site appears to have stopped being updated in December. Presumably when the Eastern region was switched.

  25. King Jack

    Ceefax still lives

    The BBC broadcast pages in the small hours. Sad it's gone as a service, but now we get the press RED crap shoved in our faces whenever news or sport is broadcast. (I know you can press green to get rid of it.) Funny how it's only the BBC who have the nerve to do that, must the the way they are funded. Gladly they get not one penny from me.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Poor graphics

    Anyone remember when the BBC used an updated teletext for their in-vision Ceefax service during the 1990's?

    It had improved graphic capabilities and more colours. But the only place I ever saw it used was in-vision Ceefax and the BBC have dropped it since.

    I now can't find any reference to this online but am 100% certain I didn't imagine it.

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      Re: Poor graphics

      I remember at one time Channel 4 used to broadcast teletext test pages.

      Some of these pages had enhanced functions (if you could get them) that I think included:

      enhanced graphics

      support for different languages with alternate character sets (I think mostly for European accented characters)

      some sort of palette mapping to adjust the colours available on a page.

      I think at the time my TV could do the alternate character sets, but not a lot else.

    2. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Re: Poor graphics

      Actually that's still in service. It's called "Level 2.5" Teletext.

      Unfortunately less and less decoders support it. Most open source ones do, however.

      It has user definable characters, up to 64 or so characters per line, and 32 out of 4096 colours. I think it even has 3 phase blinking.

  27. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    More bandwidth

    DTV has huge amounts of spare bandwidth compared to analog TV. It's odd that there's no UK replacement.

    In the US, it's common to multiplex low bitrate audio and video subchannels into the broadcast. They're usually weather, news highlights, international satellite feeds, and such. KAXT-CA is notable for being nothing but 20 of those streams.

    1. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Re: More bandwidth

      There was teletext on Freeview using the latest technology. Is it no longer there?

      It wasn't brilliant though.

  28. Allan 1

    Ah yes

    Ah yes, teletext (ceefax). I remember it well, and being deaf, my favourite page was 888 (subtitling for the current channel).

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I remember seeing this

    and thinking, why don't we get a computer to cache it so its instantly available?

    Drifting off topic...

    Happy memories of returning to the UK in the early 80's and seeing all the cool tech: Teletext, Commodore, Spectrum, Apricot, Amstrad QL, PCjr, Mackintosh and big sister Lisa. We picked up an Apple ][+ (also upper case only, though one wordprocessor switched to graphics mode and rendered all the text as graphics, allowing lower case) which matched what we had at school, so I was a very happy bunny. Dual floppies too! I remember taking the case off the disk drive and tuning the drive speed with a screwdriver to give Locksmith 4 an easier time; poking a sector scanner into memory so I could load and modify the title screens for games. BSAVE memaddr,length. "Locked down device" meant you hadn't unscrewed the case bolts.

    Happy, happy days...

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      Re: I remember seeing this

      My TV had 4 colour coded buttons for teletext that I think corresponded to 'Next Page', 'Previous Page', 'Home' and 'Index' (something like that anyway), and when you were on a page, the pages corresponding to the coloured buttons were cached in the background, so as long as you didn't step forwards or backwards too fast it gave the impression of being instant.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    I'll be sad to see Ceefax go. As an occasional tourist in London from the US. First thing I'd do in the morning at the B&B was turn on Ceefax to check the weather and check the status of the Tube (especially strikes).

  31. a_mu

    MPEG II encoders

    back when MPEG was 1.5, and we were looking at a 19 inch rack to make a MPEG II encoded of TV signals,

    Oh how we loved Teletext,

    We had an amazing number of technical meetings to decide should and how the teletext information of a TV signal should be encoded onto a MPEG II stream,

    So much passion, sub sampling theories, trellis code detection,

    now all gone

    long live great thinkers who come up with the new ideas.

  32. Peter Christy

    The digital text services may (arguably) have better content, but they are P A I N F U L L Y S L O W compared to teletext!

    Until Tuesday, I found it much more convenient to switch to analogue and get the information off teletext rather than the digital text services. Ceefax was lightening fast in comparison.

    <Sigh!> Another triumph for technology.......!

    1. Vic

      > they are P A I N F U L L Y S L O W compared to teletext!

      Part of the problem is that you have to start the teletext application - it doesn't run all the time.

      So fast-switching between TV and Text (which analogue teletext does so well) isn't really possible; although some decoders have a fast-clear, you'll still get long delays switching apps. So the teletext app was redesigned to have a video pane visible - thus reducing the available screen area.

      Back at the start of the Sky Digital project, we put a load of effort into getting VBI Insertion working, so you could still watch analogue teletext. I've no idea if anyone still uses this - my decoders certainly don't support it :-(


  33. The Axe

    Monolithic BBC

    "Americans did put watermarking and V-Chip information into the same gap, but they lacked the monolithic BBC which could dictate a standard and ensure commercial partners conformed to it."

    Err, we don't have monolithic mobile phone companies but we still ended with international standards such as GSM et al.

    1. david 12 Bronze badge

      Re: Monolithic BBC

      "Err, we don't have monolithic mobile phone companies but we still ended with international standards such as GSM et al."

      That was after the monolithic American telephone company was split up into 7 Baby Bells.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Press HOLD to keep the memory alive.

    1. LinkOfHyrule

      Re: Aww

      It'd be cool if web pages had a reveal feature like teletext pages do (should I say did). El Reg writters could hide funny quips about Paris and such amongst their articles!

      Maybe someone should invent a new HTML <reveal> tag and used in conjunction with <blink> and some oldskool fixed width fonts we could recreate the 70s-ness of Ceefax on the web once more!

      Mines the one with the Fastext remote sticking out the pocket.

  35. andy gibson

    BBC Micro program

    The program for creating your own Ceefax clone was called SEAFAX. The last time I was mooching around the emulator sites nobody had got a copy uploaded.

    1. irrelevant

      Re: BBC Micro program

      Pretty sure I've got copies of SEAFAX kicking about. I'll post a copy somewhere and put a note on the BBC Micro mailing list.

      Harking back to Oracle, has everybody seen

      But of course, my fondest memories are of Prestel - same display format, but delivered via the telephone, and thus able to be totally interactive!

      1. Vic

        Re: BBC Micro program

        > my fondest memories are of Prestel

        Prestel had the potential to be a real game-changer. But BT overpriced it, just like they do for all their great innovations, and it died as a direct result.


  36. nafmo

    Digital teletext

    While over here in Scandinavia, we switched to digital years ago, and still have the old blocky teletext services. They're not sent in the invisible lines anymore, but rather embedded in the DVB data stream nowadays. There has been much talk about these new fancy good-looking teletext replacements, but still it is nowhere to be seen (and, last I checked, the digital BBC World News service had a simplified Ceefax teletext service).

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

    My God. You lot will go misty-eyed about any oul' crap, provided it existed more than a couple of decades ago. Ceefax was shite and only had any viewers at all because there were only a couple of channels back in those days and 24hr broadcasting was unheard of. So Ceefax was the only thing on the box between 01:00 and the start of breakfast telly at about 06:30.

    Not for nothing is it laughingly referred to as the "skinternet".

    1. Vic

      Re: Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

      > Ceefax was shite

      No. Ceefax was technologically marvelous, given the capabilities of the time, and extraordinarily useful.

      > So Ceefax was the only thing on the box between 01:00 and the start of breakfast telly

      Yeah, you seem to have confused "Ceefax" with the "pages from Ceefax" transmissions the BBC did overnight.

      Ceefax was a 24-hour data carousel. It was an exceptional design - 40 years later, we haven't beaten it on a broadcast medium[1]. I, for one, mourn its passing.


      [1] On the grounds that the MHEG-based "replacement" really is shite.

  38. 0765794e08
    Thumb Up

    RIP teletext

    What I want to know is, whatever will become of Masha The Erotic Poetess, and The Fresh Prince Of Luton? We’ll never see their like again.

    And if you remember those characters, you’re a true teletext aficionado.

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