On the 23rd September 1974, the world’s first teletext service went live when the BBC began transmitting its Ceefax service. Designed as a way to broadcast text-based information during the overnight ‘close-down’ of television services, it was the dominant medium for accessing breaking news until the arrival of the World Wide Web.

A system for broadcasting text had been developed by the BBC during the 1960s, but it was a noisy and limited mechanical system that only ever made it as far as internal tests. However, the advancement of digital technology in the early 1970s led to the emergence of a new system that was originally developed to encode subtitles to assist viewers who were deaf.

Launched slightly before the competing ORACLE system that had been developed by the Independent Broadcasting Authority, Ceefax made 30 pages of information available on its first day. However, this quickly grew to the point where hundreds of pages of up-to-the minute information were being shared. At times Ceefax pages were even broadcast as conventional television images in order to fill gaps between programming.

Within two years the creators of Ceefax and ORACLE had settled on a standard teletext system that became known as World System Teletext and was employed by a host of international broadcasters. However, the rapid rise of the internet and the arrival of digital television in the first decade of the 21st Century saw Ceefax and related teletext services become redundant as the information was available elsewhere. Ceefax itself was switched off shortly after 11.30pm on the evening of the 23rd October 2012.

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© Scott Allsop