Teletext RIP

Teletext is going to be put to sleep by television doctors with a lethal injection. It was 17 years old and a victim of the internet. Teletext launched in ’93, taking over from Oracle which kicked off in 1974. There, you could get news, reviews and play Bamboozle by pressing buttons on your remote.

As a kid, it seemed like the most futuristic thing in the whole world. “We investigated and researched every means to keep the news service going but in the end we couldn’t find a viable option,” said Mike Stewart, the group managing director at Teletext. “The continued fragmentation of television audiences and the boom in online use for news, information and commercial services have contributed to a significant reduction in Teletext’s viewing figures over recent years.” Of course, sites like ours are part of the demise, but that won’t stop me reminiscing.

In years gone by, some of my favourite reviewers worked on Teletext, especially in the music world. They seemed to retain an independent spirit where other magazines had forgotten their mandate. I always imagined these writers locked up in a windowless room, tapping away and completely forgotten about by those who paid their wages. They were allowed to get away with murder.

At some point before 1986, I got a drawing on Teletext along with a birthday mention. It was so overjoyed that I did a dance, not unlike the one you do when you’re bursting for the toilet when someone is taking their time washing their paws. Seeing it in crude blocky graphics on-screen made me feel like I’d wandered into Tron. In the ’90s, I managed to bag a really cool holiday from Teletext, which took me and my then girlfriend to a remote fishing harbour in The Med. I liked the way my mum called it “Telex”. Weirdly, Teletext helped to shape certain bits of my life.

It was a constant companion before the days of the internet. It was the first place I went to when I needed to see what was on Now and Next (Page 120) and loved the way that half the page would disappear so you could half watch the show in the background. I used to wonder how it worked. I used to puzzle over the ‘reveal’ button and press it on random pages and sometimes see hidden bits of puzzling code.

Even watching the numbers roll round had a certain, satisfying charm. Occasionally, letters would creep in the data. Someone showed me that, if you pressed a certain button, you could up the number you could input from three digits to four. When bored or stoned, I’d tap four random numbers in, just to see if I found a secret page.

There was also something really cool about Nightscreen too. When all the shows closed, you were treated to a bizarre selection of pages soundtracked by muzak. It was a gentle waking device when you’d fallen asleep on the couch after a few ales or whatever.

Although it seems almost ridiculous that Teletext and the like are still going, it seems a shame that it’s vanishing from our screens. It’s only a matter of time before the BBC Ceefax service pops off too.

About the author

I'm Mof Gimmers.

I've been writing about TV for a long time. I love it and loathe it in equal measures. I'm pretty sure the TV feels the same away about me too.
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