, , ,

CEEFAX 100 Wed 24 Oct 23:45

The BBC’s long-running on-screen information service, known as CEEFAX (a self-descriptive phonetic title for see facts) goes off-air for the last time tonight with as the last analogue TV signal in the UK is switched off.

Goodbye, Ceefax. I loved you and your interactive services: the ability to see constantly updated real-time news between news bulletins and the cute little Advent calendars where you pressed the reveal button for a pixelated Christmas tree. I adored the seasonal showcasing of pages from Ceefax’s overseas counterparts in France and Austria, perfect to practise my schoolgirl languages in bite-size chunks. (See this post for a farewell to the Minitel, which worked slightly differently but offered very similar data and some deaf-friendly applications, coincidentally also switched off this year.)

Goodbye, Ceefax, my old friend. You gave me the one of my earliest windows into the deaf community through the regular letters page on Read Hear and I got to know the writers better than any facebook friend. Sometimes grouchy, sometimes hilarious, those letters ping-ponged back and forth for weeks on end. It was better than a Sunday tea-time serial and it kept us tuning in.

Back in the days when people still rented TVs, Mum and Dad paid extra for a Ceefax-enabled set for the subtitles, so we could all sit down as a family and enjoy the same shows, and they didn’t have to explain the jokes to me. Those were the days when only one or two shows a week on each channel were subtitled. I still remember paroxysms of mirth on watching my first episode of Last of the Summer Wine. OK, we didn’t have much choice back in those days!

Great was my joy when all the channels tuned into 888 for the subs and you didn’t have to key in a different number if you turned over to the other side. It was fantastic to see that 888 was the European standard, and I spent many happy hours tuning into French weather broadcasts, architectural history programmes in Dutch, or animated discussions on cochlear implants in Czech. Just because.

Your little graphics, and those little black lines filled with different colours with each speaker, gave me two different windows on the world. I didn’t have to try and lipread the news bulletins in the days before live subtitling – it was all there on pages 101-118, and I could talk about the same programmes as everybody else at school, uni, work, whatever.

Thank you to my old friend: I will miss you. I might have newer technologies at my fingertips, and a version survives on digital TV in the form of red button text – but you prefigured those technologies. You slotted in between the spare lines of the signal, and you allowed me to read between the lines of the world.