The history of Pages from Ceefax (part 2/3)

First published in 2008. Last updated: 17th March 2020.

New prominence for Ceefax in the daytime schedule

On Monday 28th February 1983 at 6am, Ceefax AM was born, replacing pulse and bar/Test Card F, in the lead-up to the Breakfast Time programme at 6.30am. Perhaps an indication that Ceefax In-Vision might soon play a more prominent role in the schedules. It should be noted that the Radio Times didn’t include Ceefax AM in its listings initially but it did appear from Monday 21st March 1983.

With TV sets becoming more reliable and members of the trade now having test signal generators available to them, the days of the trade test transmission were numbered. The BBC was also keen to promote its teletext service and BBC editorial teams wanted to make better use of the dead airtime.

From 2nd May 1983, daytime trade test transmissions were replaced by Ceefax In-Vision. The test card was now largely restricted to brief early morning slots, shortly after transmitters came back on air following the overnight shutdown. The first Ceefax In-Vision slot on 2nd May was on BBC Two, 11.25am – 2.20pm. As this was a Bank Holiday, BBC One had a full daytime schedule. The new, regular Ceefax In-Vision service on BBC One (excluding Ceefax AM) launched the following day: 9am – 9.30am.

Radio Times did not publicise the daytime Ceefax transmissions (with the exception of Ceefax AM) until January 1984. The magazine referenced the teletext broadcasts as Pages from Ceefax.

1983 – 1986 was perhaps the heyday for Pages from Ceefax. Significant portions of the BBC One and BBC Two daytime schedule was filled by Ceefax and music. The launch of the new daytime schedule on BBC One meant the end of the road for daytime teletext pages on that channel (other than Ceefax AM). The final daytime Pages from Ceefax went out on BBC One on Friday 24th October 1986, 10.50am – 1pm. Pages from Ceefax maintained a presence in the BBC Two daytime schedule until the early 1990s – although durations had markedly diminished by the late-1980s.

In the early years, the in-vision teletext transmissions consisted of 20 or so pages selected from the Ceefax service – typically news, sport, travel, weather, TV/radio listings and a recipe. The different categories of content were introduced using link pages, which allowed Ceefax staff to demonstrate their teletext art skills. We’ve tried to include as many link pages as possible in this article. The BBC TV programme listings links page wins the award for the most tweaks/adjustments over the years.

VIDEO LINK: Ceefax In-Vision (BBC One, 2nd November 1982).

VIDEO LINK: Ceefax In-Vision (BBC Two, 2nd November 1982).

Next, some of the front page and closing page designs used in the early years. Although the red design was popular between 1980 and 1983 (it was normally red for BBC Two, and blue for BBC One), the design dated 17th September was in use longer than some might think: an early version of this page was recovered from a 1980 recording. This format was in use (albeit from November 1983 with a new Ceefax logo) until November 1989. The design dated 16th June is not believed to have been used very often.

VIDEO LINK: Ceefax In-Vision (BBC One, 16th/23rd June 1983).

VIDEO LINK: Ceefax In-Vision (BBC Two, 17th September 1983).

VIDEO LINK: Ceefax In-Vision (BBC Two, 22nd September 1983).

In the early years, when an in-vision broadcast started, a front page was inserted live by the Ceefax team. Likewise, a closing page would be inserted at the end of the transmission. However, BBC Presentation also often cut to/from Ceefax without the use of a front/closing page. Slide versions of these pages were created c. 1984, providing a much more flexible means of joining/exiting Ceefax transmissions.

In November 1983, Ceefax was relaunched. The pages were given a new look. Many of these graphics are regarded as iconic, and are those which people of a certain age most associate with Ceefax.

VIDEO LINK: Ceefax In-Vision (BBC Two, 19th December 1983).

The pages featured during the in-vision broadcasts were transmitted in sequence – each page typically remained on screen for around 30 seconds. The viewer had no control over the display of these pages – in the same way that they had no control over the display of a group of sub-pages within any Ceefax page.

The in-vision pages were transmitted as a conventional page within the main Ceefax service – page 198 on BBC One and page 298 on BBC Two.

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax (BBC One, 27th August 1985).

Until 1986, many of the BBC’s Ceefax in-vision broadcasts ran off hardware built in-house, using the standard Mullard chip set. Here we see the 1980 – 1986 generator in its final months in use.

By this stage, the page cycle in the header row was struggling, regularly jumping to pages 200 and 888, and sometimes freezing, resulting in the page cycle, date and time being blanked out (see image 2 below). It’s unclear if this was a problem with the Ceefax transmission system or an issue specific to the in-vision generator.

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax (BBC Two, 27th March 1986).

In 1985, BBC Micros were deployed to produce some of the Ceefax in-vision slots on both channels; the old generators were phased out completely during 1986. Here we see the BBC Micro kit in action for Ceefax AM in 1988:

VIDEO LINK: Ceefax AM (BBC One, 19th January 1988).

VIDEO LINK: Ceefax AM (BBC One, 18th August 1988).

Specially-written software running on a BBC Micro allowed engineers to alter the header (row 0) data: from 1985 to 1987, headers reading ‘BBC1 In Vision’ and ‘DAYTIME on TWO’ were a common sight; the date would be displayed in cyan; the clock retained its standard yellow colouring. The standard Ceefax header was also in use during this period.

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax (BBC Two, 24th December 1985).

Incidentally, Presentation staff produced the special Daytime on Two in-vision pages that filled the gaps between schools programmes on BBC Two from September 1983 until December 1987. These pages carried schedules and support information for the schools/colleges programming. This group of pages was transmitted on page 297 of BBC Two Ceefax – and should not be confused with the more conventional suite of in-vision pages broadcast on BBC Two, which also used the special ‘DAYTIME on 2’/’DAYTIME on TWO’ header between 1985 and 1987.

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax (BBC Two, 5th February 1985).

From 1988, the header row reverted back to the standard Ceefax row 0 display, permanently. Later that year, the BBC began experimental level 2 in-vision broadcasts (first TX: 18th August 1988). Although a level 2 in-vision generator was commissioned, only one page was broadcast with level 2 attributes. However, the BBC Micro-generated in-vision facility co-existed with the level 2 kit until 1994, when the latter took over completely.

Here we see the level 2 generator in action for Ceefax AM in early 1989:

VIDEO LINK: Ceefax AM (BBC One, 2nd January 1989).

Continue to Part 3 >>>

Acknowledgements

RESEARCH:

With thanks to Andrew Nairn, and the various YouTube channels that we sourced material from: CeefaxGuy; Jez C; KillianM2; Manny Whippet; Martin Potter; Musicfromceefax; Neil Miles; Put the Telly On; Sid N; Treffynnon19; VHS Video Vault.

FEATURE IMAGE:

PICTURED: early Ceefax In-Vision front page (March 1980). SUPPLIED BY: The TV Room (based on footage from YouTube Channel - Put the Telly On). COPYRIGHT: BBC.

Posted by The Clean Feed Team

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