A quick word about some of the latest teletext recovery work by Jason Robertson and Terrence Burridge.
As some of you will know, Jason has devoted a lot of time to developing software to recover teletext pages from off-air recordings on VHS and Betamax tapes. He has built up quite an archive, much of which is available to view via his website. On his travels, Jason has unearthed many rarely seen/remembered pages and graphics from the early years of teletext.
In the early 1980s, the BBC started to experiment with Ceefax “in-vision” transmissions during non-programme airtime. These pages were available to all viewers – and not restricted to those with teletext-capable TV sets. From 1980 to 1983, the Ceefax In-Vision transmissions replaced the test card for short periods during the day. By May 1983, Pages from Ceefax (as it was later known) replaced virtually all trade test transmissions on BBC One and BBC Two. A better use of non-programme airtime and good for increasing awareness of teletext and the information on offer.
In his latest technical innovation, Jason has been able to reproduce a full cycle of 27 sub-pages from the page dedicated to in-vision broadcasts on BBC Two Ceefax, from Tuesday 9th December 1980. He has created a YouTube video clip of page 298, showing it as it was transmitted at 6pm on that date. And what makes this recovery really special is that the footage includes the live clock and page cycle in the header row – all recovered from the teletext VBI data on a domestic recording. It gives a sense of how painfully slow the page cycle was back in 1980.
For teletext anoraks, there are a few early incarnations of familiar in-vision pages in here:
Also involved in teletext recovery is Terrence Burridge. And very timely – Terrence has just unearthed his earliest Ceefax pages, from BBC Two, in August 1983. This was just a few months prior to the relaunch of Ceefax, where the logo and page graphics were updated to what many people regard as the iconic designs of the service. Pages 295 and 296 provide a hint of the direction the new logo would take.
Some quick highlights of the 1983 recoveries:
- Fascinated to see Hopscotch listed on page 255, using the same design as the sports pages, but listed under the Features index.
- Would’ve been really interested to see more sample pages from the Spectrum section (230s). This seems to have been an early attempt at serving up content from the BBC regions. From memory, this disappeared in the autumn. Ceefax didn’t bother much about regional content until a dedicated BBC Wales news page (page 197?) appeared in the late-1980s. Apart from that, there were no regional pages on Ceefax until c. 1997. Still astounding to think that with all the resources available to it, the BBC left regional Ceefax news and sport content so late. It’d only be another year or two before the internet really started to make its presence felt and pose a serious threat to teletext.
- The character shown on the Fun index (page 210) seems rather familiar. He popped up occasionally in 1980 (TBC) to introduce kids’ programmes on Saturday mornings on BBC One. And I’m sure I have some footage of him putting in an appearance at the end of some in-vision broadcasts on BBC Two.
- The relaunch in November would see BBC One and BBC Two carry the same news pages (albeit BBC Two would occasionally include additional sub-pages for in-depth coverage). The teletext lettering in the Newsbrief banner (pages 202 – 208) giving a hint of what the new news page banner would look like from November.
- This was a really interesting time for teletext. Ceefax wasn’t afraid to experiment. Content-wise, there was a lot of variety. And visually, they liked to play about with the graphics a lot. Compare and contrast with the Ceefax of late-1989 – late-1996.
The 1983 Ceefax pages are available to view here on Terrence’s TV Whirl website. And lots of other teletext recoveries to view there too.