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

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

Change is on the way

During the summer of 1989, the initial signs of preparations for a Ceefax relaunch materialised. Some sections were discontinued. In November 1989, Ceefax was relaunched as a ‘hard news’ service, with expanded news, finance, sport and weather/travel sections. Telesoftware, fun and games, Telecred and consumer news were among the casualties – though content from these sections rarely made it on to the ‘in-vision’ service.

Visually, the new look pages were a lot less colourful/interesting than before. Many teletext enthusiasts regard this era as a low point for Ceefax. The group of pages made available for Pages from Ceefax was also quite limited: it was now a selection of news pages, and one weather page. Due to the lack of variety, there was no longer any need for link pages. The in-vision sequences had lost a lot of the personality they once had.

The Ceefax AM branding for the early morning BBC One transmission also ceased at this point.

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax (BBC Two, 15th March 1990).

By the early 1990s, in-vision teletext was becoming a rarer sight on BBC TV. Since 27th October 1986, Ceefax pages were confined to 6am – 6.50am (weekdays), and from 16th November 1986, 6am – 6,30am (weekdays) on BBC One. Fifteen minute bursts of Pages from Ceefax (unbilled) were introduced on Saturdays and Sundays (both channels) c. 1990.

Ceefax regularly appeared prior to the start of schools programmes (weekdays) on BBC Two until 1990. Beyond that, Pages from Ceefax would appear prior to the first programme of the day on BBC Two. If the first programme was an OU production, Ceefax was not transmitted prior to that programme. Instead, if there was a gap between the final OU programme and the next BBC Two programme, Ceefax would fill most of that void.

On 16th November 1992, Ceefax was relaunched again. Editorially, nothing much had changed, but the pages had a new look. Although a little more colourful, it was still quite bland. Each page also now had a border running down the left and right – a feature which seemed to serve little purpose other than to restrict the already quite limited amount of space available for editorial.

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax (BBC Two, 27th December 1992).

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax (BBC Two, 16th December 1993).

The same page designs again, this time on the level 2 generator:

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax (BBC One, 22nd December 1993).

At the start of 1993, with the launch of Business Breakfast, from 6am on BBC One (weekdays), Ceefax lost its billed spot in the Radio Times. However, 15 minutes of Pages from Ceefax was still broadcast from 5.45am.

By 1994, the graphical border down the left and right of the pages had been removed. And, many years after other broadcasters began experimenting with level 2 features, the BBC decided to enhance the Pages from Ceefax sequences with level 2 capabilities. Link pages were also reintroduced. The first page shown below is from a brief trial of level 2 graphics in 1988.

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax (BBC One, 26th June 1994).

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax (BBC Two, 19th December 1995).

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax (BBC One, 22nd December 1995).

Level 2 teletext never really took off. The level 2 in-vision generator was also problematic – the pages often appeared with rows and other elements missing. In March 1996, Pages from Ceefax reverted back to the standard level 1 format, albeit, still using the level 2 generator.

On 9th October 1995, BBC Two launched a new overnight education strand – The Learning Zone. These programmes filled the overnight hours for much of the week, with the exception of the early hours of Saturday and Sunday. Tuesday to Friday, The Learning Zone kicked off at 12.30am. On Mondays, it had a 2am start – and there was usually a gap between the last BBC Two programme and the first programme from The Learning Zone. This gap was filled with Pages from Ceefax and music.

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax prior to The Learning Zone (BBC Two, 26th November 1995).

On Saturday 16th November 1996, Ceefax was relaunched, with a new look, and a number of new feature sections. But alas, the in-vision sequence would largely stick with its emphasis on news. Other than news pages, Pages from Ceefax also included finance, sport and travel headline pages, as well as a weather forecast. A far cry from the variety of content on offer in the 1980s. The in-vision page also moved to page 152. Oddly, the header row was now hidden on Pages from Ceefax. It wouldn’t reappear until 1999.

Early on Sunday 16th November 1997, prior to Match of the Day at 7.30am, the final regular BBC One Pages from Ceefax was broadcast. Overnight BBC One/BBC News 24 simulcasts began at 1am on Monday 17th November 1997. Ceefax pages did make the odd unbilled appearance on BBC One beyond that, as part of overnight engineering tests (such as the annual RBS tests). BBC One Scotland also used Pages from Ceefax as a late-night filler, if it had a timeshifted schedule, and was waiting to rejoin BBC One Network.

And little did we know, but the page designs seen here would remain largely unchanged until the closure of Ceefax in 2012.

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax (BBC Two, 13th July 1998).

In early 1998, when BBC Two wasn’t showing The Learning Zone, it ceased the practice of shutting down its transmitters overnight. Instead, Test Card F and tone was radiated. By December, Pages from Ceefax and tone was filling the overnight gap between programmes. Around 15 minutes or so prior to the first programme of the day, tone would give way to music. At some point in 2000 (date TBC), the Ceefax pages were accompanied by music throughout the night.

By the early 2000s, the level 2 generator was on its way out. Over the next few years, a few different generators would be utilised. This was the first new one to appear – complete with flashing cyan fastext link:

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax (BBC Two, 17th June 2002).

By 2004, the irritating fastext row was banished – and the generator with it. Another new generator made its debut.

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax (BBC Two, 5th June 2004).

By 2005, another new generator had been commissioned. This would be the final teletext in-vision generator to be used by the BBC. Here it is in action in April 2012:

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax (BBC Two, 8th April 2012).

The end of the road

And so, with the end almost upon us, the second last night of Pages from Ceefax:

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax (BBC Two, 21st October 2012).

With the final UK region switching off their analogue transmitters (Northern Ireland), Ceefax would breathe its last. And so, in the early hours of 22nd October 2012, BBC Two broadcast the final Pages from Ceefax.

The page number (top left) was displayed in red for this broadcast. The reason would become clear later. With 10 minutes of the broadcast remaining, the page number changed to ‘010’. It was again updated at 5, 3, 1 and 0 minutes remaining. The final minutes were accompanied by the popular trade test and schools interval track, BART by Ruby (a vinyl copy was discovered in the Presentation dept in 2005, and was occasionally played out with Ceefax since then).

A special farewell slide was shown at the end of the broadcast.

VIDEO LINK: Pages from Ceefax (BBC Two, 22nd October 2012).

RELATED WEBSITES/RESOURCES:

Teletext Viewer

The Teletext Archaeologist

The Teletext Museum (MB21)

TV Whirl – BBC Ceefax

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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