Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Whatever else you might say about teletext, it has never looked old-fashioned.

In fact, for quite a while there, it looked accurately futuristic. After all, in the 1980s it looked exactly the same as it would today in 21st-century 2012. It didn't even display a different year.

When I was ten, I used to sit in our dining room watching it on a common household appliance which was in those days known as a "black-and-white television set". I was entranced. In fact, said analogue box couldn't even pick-up this new computerised information service, but every weekday afternoon BBC2 would, to testcard music, present a rotation of pages from it as a programme in its own right, billed as Ceefax In Vision or latterly Pages From Ceefax.

First there would be news.

Then weather.

Then other stuff. Then it would go round back to the beginning and run through the news again. It was a bit like going to the cinema and arriving late… oh, wait, that's another whole way of viewing that we no longer have. Sorry, bad analogy, 2012-ers.

You might remember those days though. Watching, captivated, that rolling three-digit number at the top, snapping quickly through all the other page numbers. Trying to speed-read each page quickly enough to finish it before it was replaced by the next one, and in so doing failing to really take it in. Trying to turn it off but waiting to see the next page first just in case it would be interesting enough to remain viewing after all.

There were also lots of adverts in newspapers and magazines for TV sets that could pick up this cool new service, and these I would duly sit staring at too. Presently the page would still flip over and change, but such interactivity just didn't offer the same passive thrill as watching it on the telly.

In 1984 Russian president Yuri Andropov passed away, and Ceefax actually accompanied this news with a pixelly rendition of his face. I would love to quote that here, but I'm not sure if anyone in the world retains a copy of it now.

The thing is, computers generally looked a lot more fun in those days. Of course they did. They looked a lot more like toys. Everything was made out of simple brightly-coloured shapes, but even better was their promise to us. The future would be full of computers like these ones. Therefore the future would be similarly fun. As fun as toys.

Now this is the point in my post when I would normally proceed to run through a personal account of my teletext viewing alongside how it changed down the years. However teletext didn't change. It stayed the same. So did ITV's Oracle version, and Channel 4's 4-Tel. (I later heard that Channel 5 had something called 5-text, but this seems unlikely as it would have required them to have enough brains to be able to organise something)

Oh all right then…

In the 1990s, Hosko and I would play 4-Tel's Bamboozle quiz game live on my overnight radio show. At Christmas these question were jokes with multiple-choice punchlines. It also quietly came in handy for reading out less-important things on-air like the weather.

In 1999, my dad finally bought a set capable of receiving the proper interactive service (we were colour by then!), so I started playing Bamboozle at home, as well as keeping up with the weekly adventures of Turner The Worm:

Occasionally it even came in useful, such as when my family needed to keep an eye open for when I had a flight landing. Or when Murray Gold took over the music on Doctor Who and we needed subtitles.

Teletext wasn't even restricted to broadcast TV, as similar in-house services sprung-up in my life everywhere from my college (which I would occasionally have messages put up on) to Butlins.

In a nutshell, teletext worked, and since it never broke, no-one at the BBC ever fixed it.

Until today. (well, here in London and the South-East, actually until about six months ago)

Sure, funky interactive digital TV today may be able to use different fonts, show alternative video streams, access the internet, rotate your house so that it's always facing the sun and revive your dead loved ones without their incurring any additional taxes, but at the end of the day, I think they're just discontinuing teletext because it all looks too easy.

Although it made little practical difference to my life, I will miss those words and pictures made up of coloured squares.

When I first discovered teletext, our technological future looked so bright, and absolutely enthralling.

Today's future offers nothing to replace that optimism.

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