Ceefax

Ceefax

Overview
Ceefax is the BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

's teletext
Teletext
Teletext is a television information retrieval service developed in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s. It offers a range of text-based information, typically including national, international and sporting news, weather and TV schedules...

 information service transmitted via the analogue signal, started in 1974 and will run until April 2012 for Pages from Ceefax, while the actual interactive service will run until 24 October 2012, in-line with the digital switchover.

During the late 60s, engineer Geoff Larkby and technician Barry Pyatt were working at the Designs Department (Television Group) of the BBC on a text transmission system.
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Encyclopedia
Ceefax is the BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

's teletext
Teletext
Teletext is a television information retrieval service developed in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s. It offers a range of text-based information, typically including national, international and sporting news, weather and TV schedules...

 information service transmitted via the analogue signal, started in 1974 and will run until April 2012 for Pages from Ceefax, while the actual interactive service will run until 24 October 2012, in-line with the digital switchover.

History


During the late 60s, engineer Geoff Larkby and technician Barry Pyatt were working at the Designs Department (Television Group) of the BBC on a text transmission system. Its object was to transmit a printable page of newsprint during the nocturnal "close-down" period of normal television transmission. The then Director General of the BBC, Sir Hugh Carleton Green, was interested in making farming and stock-market prices available as hard copy via the dormant TV transmitters. The remit received by BBC Designs Department was "the equivalent of one page of The Times newspaper to be transmitted during shut-down".

The first system employed a modified Muirhead drum facsimile transmitter, and hard-copy printer using pressure-sensitive "till-roll" paper passing over a drum with a raised helix of steel wire. This drum was synchronised with the transmission drum by means of the "frame" pulse inherent in the Muirhead system.
Printing was effected by a hardened steel blade driven initially by loudspeaker moving coil, then by a printed-circuit coil, and finally by a special ceramic piezo element from Brush-Clevite. The combination of rotating helix and linearly moving blade, with the moving till-roll between them, enabled a raster to be drawn on the paper, without the smoke and smell of the Muirhead "sparking" system.

This early electro-mechanical system was called BEEBFAX - "Beeb" was the popular name for the BBC, and "fax" from the facsimile machine.
Initial tests were conducted by sending scans of Christmas Cards over the internal telephone system.

The system was less than popular in the Designs Department laboratory, due to the clatter of the Muirhead facsimile, and the whining of the printer ... the project was shelved. Barry Pyatt, who had designed the innovative receiving and decoding electronics, went on to propose several improvements using the then emergent integrated circuit digital technology, but the project died. Geoff Larkby retired, and Barry Pyatt left the employ of the Corporation.

The idea was later taken up once again, this time in digital and on-screen form, under the new name of CEEFAX, (BBC-FAX)

The system was announced in October 1972 and following test transmissions in 1973-74 the Ceefax system went live on 23 September 1974 with thirty pages of information. Developed by BBC engineers who were working on ways of providing televisual subtitles for the deaf, it was the first teletext system in the world. The then-BBC Director of Engineering James Redmond was a particular enthusiast. Other broadcasters soon took up the idea, including the Independent Broadcasting Authority
Independent Broadcasting Authority
The Independent Broadcasting Authority was the regulatory body in the United Kingdom for commercial television - and commercial/independent radio broadcasts...

 (IBA), who had developed the incompatible ORACLE
ORACLE (teletext)
ORACLE was a commercial teletext service first broadcast on ITV in 1974 and later on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, finally ending on both channels at 23:59 GMT on 31 December 1992....

 teletext system, at around the same time. After technical negotiations, the two broadcasters settled in 1976 on a single standard, different from both Ceefax and Oracle, which ultimately developed into World System Teletext
World System Teletext
World System Teletext is the name of a standard for encoding and displaying teletext information, which is used as the standard for teletext throughout Europe today....

, and which in 2010 is still in use for analogue broadcasts. The display format of 24 rows by 40 columns of characters was also adopted for the Prestel
Prestel
Prestel , the brand name for the UK Post Office's Viewdata technology, was an interactive videotex system developed during the late 1970s and commercially launched in 1979...

 system.

The technology became the standard European teletext system and replaced other standards, including the Antiope
Antiope (teletext)
Antiope was a French teletext standard in the 1980s. It also formed the basis for the display standard used in the French videotex service Minitel....

 system formerly used in France.

In 1983, Ceefax started to broadcast computer programs, known as telesoftware
Telesoftware
The word Telesoftware was coined by W J G Overington who first proposed the idea; it literally means “software at a distance” and it refers to the transmission of programs for a microprocessor or home computers via broadcast Teletext...

, for the BBC Micro
BBC Micro
The BBC Microcomputer System, or BBC Micro, was a series of microcomputers and associated peripherals designed and built by Acorn Computers for the BBC Computer Literacy Project, operated by the British Broadcasting Corporation...

 (a home computer available in the United Kingdom). The telesoftware broadcasts stopped in 1989. A similar idea was the French C Plus Direct satellite channel which used different, higher speed technology to broadcast PC software.

The basic technology of Ceefax has remained compatible with the 1976 unified rollout; system elaborations since then have been made such that earlier receivers are still able to do a basic decode of pages, but will simply ignore enhanced information rather than showing corrupted data. For example, early receivers cannot process the FasText coloured-button hyperlinking data, but are able to ignore it.

Modern day


, the BBC's Ceefax service is still providing information on a wide range of topics covering News, Sport, Weather, TV Listings and Businesses. The pages are still kept up-to-date. The in-vision service 'Pages from Ceefax' is still transmitted overnight until 06:00 on BBC Two
BBC Two
BBC Two is the second television channel operated by the British Broadcasting Corporation in the United Kingdom. It covers a wide range of subject matter, but tending towards more 'highbrow' programmes than the more mainstream and popular BBC One. Like the BBC's other domestic TV and radio...

.

Before the world wide web
World Wide Web
The World Wide Web is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet...

 become popular, Ceefax pages were often the first location to report a breaking story or headline.

In 2002, the BBC stopped broadcasting Ceefax on the digital satellite Sky Digital
Sky Digital (UK & Ireland)
Sky is the brand name for British Sky Broadcasting's digital satellite television and radio service, transmitted from SES Astra satellites located at 28.2° east and Eutelsat's Eurobird 1 satellite at 28.5°E. The service was originally launched as Sky Digital, distinguishing it from the original...

 service, but later brought back a limited service including a TV schedule for BBC One
BBC One
BBC One is the flagship television channel of the British Broadcasting Corporation in the United Kingdom. It was launched on 2 November 1936 as the BBC Television Service, and was the world's first regular television service with a high level of image resolution...

 and BBC Two
BBC Two
BBC Two is the second television channel operated by the British Broadcasting Corporation in the United Kingdom. It covers a wide range of subject matter, but tending towards more 'highbrow' programmes than the more mainstream and popular BBC One. Like the BBC's other domestic TV and radio...

; and subtitles.

The BBC has attempted to reuse the old Ceefax page numbers where possible on the Freeview and digital satellite BBC Red Button Ceefax-replacement services.

It has been announced that Ceefax will not be replaced when the analogue signal is switched off in 2012. Although, BBC Red Button is seen as an alternative to Ceefax and since 2007 the number of regions with a Ceefax supported analogue signal has declined. As of August 2011 two thirds of UK TV regions have completed or in the process of being switched over.

Ceefax is the last remaining text service available via analogue TV transmissions in the UK, as ITV
ITV
ITV is the major commercial public service TV network in the United Kingdom. Launched in 1955 under the auspices of the Independent Television Authority to provide competition to the BBC, it is also the oldest commercial network in the UK...

 and Channel 4
Channel 4
Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster which began working on 2 November 1982. Although largely commercially self-funded, it is ultimately publicly owned; originally a subsidiary of the Independent Broadcasting Authority , the station is now owned and operated by the Channel...

's Teletext
Teletext Ltd.
Teletext Ltd was the provider of teletext and digital interactive services for ITV, Channel 4 and Five in the United Kingdom.-Origins:Teletext Ltd started providing teletext services for ITV and Channel 4 on 1 January 1993, replacing the previous Oracle service which had lost the franchise...

 service closed in December 2009. Channel 5's "five text" ancillary service closed in 2011. However, a limited analogue teletext service through ITV and Channel 4 is still available through terrestrial.

Technology


The Ceefax/ORACLE standard was internationalised in the 1980s as World System Teletext
World System Teletext
World System Teletext is the name of a standard for encoding and displaying teletext information, which is used as the standard for teletext throughout Europe today....

, which was adopted into the international standard CCIR
ITU-R
The ITU Radiocommunication Sector is one of the three sectors of the International Telecommunication Union and is responsible for radio communication....

 653 (now ITU-R
ITU-R
The ITU Radiocommunication Sector is one of the three sectors of the International Telecommunication Union and is responsible for radio communication....

 BT.653) of 1986 as CCIR Teletext System B. As with other teletext
Teletext
Teletext is a television information retrieval service developed in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s. It offers a range of text-based information, typically including national, international and sporting news, weather and TV schedules...

 systems, text and simple graphics are transmitted in-band with the picture signal, and decoded by controller circuitry.

Pages from Ceefax


Those without access to teletext-equipped sets or in areas still receiving analogue transmissions can still view limited Ceefax content via the BBC's Pages from Ceefax slot. This consists of selected Ceefax pages (typically news
News
News is the communication of selected information on current events which is presented by print, broadcast, Internet, or word of mouth to a third party or mass audience.- Etymology :...

) transmitted as an ordinary TV picture. As a result, although Pages from Ceefax can be viewed on any set, the interactive nature of the service is lost. Audio accompaniment typically consists of stock music
Production music
Production music is the name given to recorded music produced and owned by production music libraries and licensed to customers for use in film, television, radio and other media.-Introduction:...

 or sometimes a discontinuous tone.

Pages from Ceefax is normally only shown in the absence of any other programming. The first broadcasts took place in early 1980. Broadcasts lasted for 30 minutes and were shown on weekdays on BBC1 between 8.30am and 9am and on BBC2 between 10am and 10.30am and 3.30pm to 4pm. In May 1983 the BBC decided to fill all daytime gaps with Ceefax transmissions and they became a common filler during daytime. It was not uncommon for some weekday transmissions on BBC2 in the mid 1980s to run continuously from 9am until around 5.30pm. Since then broadcasts have been marginalised by the move towards a near-continuous service, firstly on BBC1 when a daytime service was launched on 27 October 1986 although all morning Ceefax broadcasts continued on BBC2 when Daytime on Two was not on the air until June 1989. Throughout the 1990s Ceefax broadcasts were restricted to 15 to 30-minute long breakfast transmissions before the first programme of the day. However in recent years, especially at the weekend, slightly longer slots have been broadcast during the early morning on BBC2 because BBC2 now stays on air all night. The "Pages from Ceefax" billing was first used in January 1984, which was when Radio Times first made reference to daytime Ceefax broadcasts. Prior to that, it was billed on-air as Ceefax in Vision.

In February 1983, a few weeks after Breakfast Time
Breakfast Time
Breakfast Time was British television's first national breakfast show, beating TV-am's flagship programme Good Morning Britain to the air by two weeks.The show was revolutionary for the time...

 was launched, BBC1 started broadcasting an early morning Ceefax transmission called "Ceefax AM". The weekday broadcast ran from 6am until the start of Breakfast Time at 6.30am. The sequence of pages differed to those used during daytime transmissions. Ceefax AM always featured a review of the day's newspapers as well as a financial report plus Ceefax AM did not initially include BBC TV listings. Also, the famous 'Teletext Is' pages were never shown on Ceefax AM. The Radio Times gave Ceefax AM a more prominent billing than it ever gave to the daytime Pages From Ceefax broadcasts, including a description sentence which read "Ceefax AM starts your day with half-an-hour of news, sport, weather and travel available to all viewers, whether or not they have teletext sets" and to underline the importance of Ceefax AM as part of BBC1's new breakfast service, Ceefax AM was mentioned in a promo for Breakfast Time. For nine days in August 1984, during the second half of the 1984 Olympic Games
1984 Summer Olympics
The 1984 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XXIII Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event held in Los Angeles, California, United States in 1984...

, Ceefax AM was renamed Ceefax Olympics AM. The programme lasted for two to three hours, running between the end of the live overnight coverage and the start of Breakfast Time. During this period, the programme was also broadcast at the weekend, the only time that Ceefax AM ever appeared at the weekend. The transmissions were focussed on a round-up of the latest news from the Olympic Games. On 18 February 1985, Breakfast Time was moved to a later 6.50 to 9.20am slot and Ceefax AM's transmission time was extended from 30 minutes to 50 minutes. However, the November 1986 revamp of Breakfast Time saw Ceefax AM's slot reduced to around 40 minutes as BBC1 broadcast an American programme, usually Leon Errol
Leon Errol
Leon Errol , was an Australian-born American comedian and actor, popular in the first half of the 20th century.-Biography:...

 or Edgar Kennedy
Edgar Kennedy
Edgar Livingston Kennedy was an American comedic film actor, known as "the king of the slow burn". A slow burn is an exasperated facial expression, performed very deliberately; Kennedy embellished this by rubbing his hand over his bald head and across his face, in an attempt to hold his temper...

, before the start of Breakfast Time. Ceefax AM's final transmission was on 15 September 1989, the Friday before the planned relaunch of Breakfast Time as BBC Breakfast News. The pre-breakfast Ceefax slot returned in January 1990 but was referred to in Radio Times as Pages from Ceefax and the pages featured were the same as for all other Ceefax transmissions.

In the 1980s, the selection of pages used to cover a wide range of topics. News, sport, weather, BBC TV listings and from the mid 1980s, the "Teletext Is" sequence, were always part of Pages From Ceefax. In addition, other topics such as the day's featured recipe, news from the BBC, BBC radio listings, financial news, travel news and reviews of the films being showed on the BBC that day, appeared on an ad-hoc basic with the complete cycle sometimes being in excess of 50 pages. In late 1989 the Ceefax service was revamped and the pages featured on the in-vision slots since then have all been news-based. The November 1996 refresh of the Ceefax service resulted in a significant reduction of the overall number of pages broadcast on the in-vision service with around 20 pages featured. The limited set of rolling pages shown on Pages from Ceefax (referred to as a "newsreel") are also accessible at any time of day via Ceefax page 152 (BBC Two only) on any analogue teletext television.

In a similar manner, Channel 4
Channel 4
Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster which began working on 2 November 1982. Although largely commercially self-funded, it is ultimately publicly owned; originally a subsidiary of the Independent Broadcasting Authority , the station is now owned and operated by the Channel...

 also showed pages from Oracle
ORACLE (teletext)
ORACLE was a commercial teletext service first broadcast on ITV in 1974 and later on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, finally ending on both channels at 23:59 GMT on 31 December 1992....

 and 4-Tel On View until 1997.. The pages were first seen in mid 1983 and were broadcast during daytime before the first programme of the day. They were transmitted in fifteen minute bursts. Oracle On View was last broadcast in March 1989 but 4-Tel On View continued until 1997, ceasing when Channel 4 began broadcasting around the clock.

On ITV, teletext broadcasts were used to show local job vacencies. The first region to do this was Central Television, broadcasting the pages for an hour after closedown. Yorkshire Television
Yorkshire Television
Yorkshire Television, now officially known as ITV Yorkshire and sometimes unofficially abbreviated to YTV, is a British television broadcaster and the contractor for the Yorkshire franchise area on the ITV network...

 followed suit a few months later. When 24-hour broadcasting had begun across all of the ITV network, many regions broadcast a Jobfinder service as part of the overnight service. However, during the first half of the 1990s Jobfinder slowly disappeared from ITV with Yorkshire and Central being the final regions to end the service in the mid 1990s.

Recent years


The last BBC One network broadcast took place on 9 November 1997, although it is still occasionally shown on BBC One Scotland, normally to fill the gaps between opt-outs and The Sign Zone. As of 2011, during school term time, BBC Two often broadcasts language shows instead of Ceefax during the week and the BBC News is usually shown on BBC Two in the late night/early morning gaps in schedules until BBC Learning Zone
BBC Learning Zone
The BBC Learning Zone is an educational strand run by the BBC as an overnight service on BBC Two. It shows programming aimed at students in Primary, Secondary and Higher Education and to adult learners...

begins and/or BBC1 hands over to BBC News both usually at around 4am. During weekends and the school holidays "Pages from Ceefax" can be enjoyed for several hours, usually starting around 3am and continuing until 6am.

External links