The Changing Times of Ceefax, and Read Hear added to BBCi

Published on 29 January 2008 in , ,

On Mike Brown’s Teletext Then and Now site, there’s a fascinating collection of Ceefax front pages from over the years.

One of the most interesting is the first front page from January 1975 when Ceefax was classed as experimental, and included just 30 pages.

Included are headlines, “Home” news, “foreign” news, sport, travel, financial, Weather and subtitles – all cornerstones of Ceefax and its digital sister, BBCi, to this day.

Some pages haven’t lasted the time – “Prices guide” is long gone, and the mysteriously named “charivari” page too (for those like me who weren’t aware of this term, I gather it means weird and odd stories – anyone who thinks the BBC News website is dumbing down with the recent introduction of it’s Also in the News section might want to keep in mind that they were doing similar 33 years ago).

Later on, Ceefax introduced (and lost!) Farm news, Consumer News, Gardening and the “I Say, I Say….” jokes page.

Many of the pages in Ceefax have been a bit more fluid than people would often think. Pages come and pages go for all variety of reasons.

One of the reasons I often now see bandied around for content disappearing is that Ceefax is being “brought down to the level of BBCi”. As I’ve mentioned before, whilst BBCi and Ceefax share most of the same content, there’s some stuff Ceefax has that BBCi doesn’t. And indeed, vice-versa.

Actually most of the content changes made at Ceefax recently have been related to changes in priorities in the BBC News department. At one time, there was just Ceefax – now there’s the web, mobile, hey, even big screens too. BBC News make content to be re-purposed on as many platforms as possible, and all of the content axed from Ceefax recently (like much of the Entertainment section for example, the Blue Peter pages and recipes), has been content that only ever appeared on Ceefax and wasn’t used elsewhere. Indeed some of it was also on BBCi when it was axed. Content certainly isn’t being reduced on Ceefax for BBCi’s sake.

Indeed in BBCi towers, we’re always happy to see more content – subject to us being able to fit it all in without making everything too slow! Some got squeezed in this week – on Monday, the BBCi Community News section and Read Hear being brought up to the same content levels as Ceefax. It’s also been added to our Cable service (the stripped down section was strangely absent). You can find it now on page 1050 (and unlike Ceefax, you don’t have to retune to BBC Two to view it!)

Okay it’s not 100% the same – one subsection has been left out. Ceefax’s Read Hear section includes TV listings for signed and subtitled programmes, however as most people should be able to get this information via their digital set top box electronic programme guides instead. Indeed with the BBC committed to subtitling all programmes by this April and with ITV1 being something like 90% too, having to hunt down subtitled programmes on the main channels should hopefully not be something people need to do for much longer. (Yes signed programming is not in that amount so viewers will want that information, however both the BBC and ITV do broadcast clearly flagged blocks of signed programming overnight, making them easier to find in the schedules)

The improved Community section is just one step of the process of adding content. Some will come later down the line, once some under-the-bonnet technical changes have been made to help fit it all in.

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