teletext

Godammit! Teletext is properly perished and now residing in a great big skip with Beta Max videos, thousands of video game cartridges, a pile of cassettes and Global Hypercolor tees.

The information service has been switched off today on UK analogue and digital television, a whole month earlier than the initially scheduled.

I’ve already written a glowing tribute to Teletext here, but I’m about to go all mushy again.

In June, the owners of Teletext confirmed plans to close the editorial service. The move was initially due to go ahead in January 2010 but was moved forward to “allow the process to be as smooth as possible on all platforms, technically and operationally”. The real rub was that it wasn’t making enough money.

Granted, whilst there was thousands of pages I’d never read (although, back in my Teletext heyday, it didn’t stop me from punching random numbers in just to see what page I landed on… nor indeed, pressing that magical button that gave you the option of putting 4 digits in and wildly tapping in random combinations in the hope I might find a secret level or something), some pages were religiously viewed.

You see, in the world of media, it’s so very difficult to find an honest voice. Writers are too bogged down by the weight of a scared editor, fearful of offending anyone. In my case, the voice I loved most was John Earls of Planet Sound.

His pithy and witty reviews, and genuine enthusiasm and warmth for music was something sorely lacking in the British music press. One of my finest achievements to-date was getting a handful of letters on his Void page, thereby making me ‘a Voider’.

Elsewhere, the blank jaundiced stare of Bamber Boozler provided hours of fun for a stoned, teenage me, with time to kill before doing most anything. I have no idea how the technology worked and really, have no inclination to find out. Future generations won’t even be able to comprehend what we were all doing when we pressed ‘120’ for the Now and Next page.

At the Guardian, the Beautiful South’s Paul Heaton said: “I refuse to accept that Teletext won’t be with us any more. I’m going to carry on pressing the text button on my TV, like a dog who can’t understand that his owner’s dead.”

You and me both.

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.

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1