Charlie Swinbourne: RIP Ceefax and page 888

Posted on April 19, 2012



Technological advancements have given Deafies a great many improvements to our lives, and also, in many cases, a drawer at home full of obsolete pieces of technology: old textphones, early ‘brick’ mobile phones and video caption readers among them.

So it’s with a heavy heart that we prepare to say goodbye to another old friend who served us well, but can’t exactly be packed away somewhere to gather dust.

This morning the internet is full of articles about the demise of Ceefax, the world’s first teletext service, which was created by the BBC.

Overnight, five million homes in London and the Home Counties lost the ability to use the service – if they still possessed an analogue television that allowed them to use it. Only two regions remain.

Articles have been coming thick and fast from, among others, the Guardian, Telegraph, The Sun and the Mail, with commentators remembering their favourite pages – such as 302 for the football, 606 for the TV guide, and of course, the news on page 101.

But for most deaf viewers, it’s another number we’ll be remembering – 888, which made subtitles magically appear, allowing us to read every word spoken on screen.

What most people don’t know is that Ceefax was originally invented (back in 1974) in order to provide deaf viewers with access for the first time.

I was born in 1981, so I was among the first generation of Deafies who was able to enjoy TV programmes in full – even if it took a number of years for the amount of subtitling provision to increase (the BBC now offer 100% of their programmes with subtitles).

I still miss the way the Ceefax and Teletext subtitles looked – a lot more chunky and pixelated than today’s swish fonts – it’d be great if there was some way of selecting an old fashioned look to our subtitles when watching an old film or classic sitcom.

It was also through Ceefax that we saw the introduction of live subtitles for news programmes and got used to the regular mistakes for the first time, including the classic from the Queen Mother’s funeral: ‘There will now be a moment’s violence for the Queen Mother.”

We now take access for granted, and that in itself is part of the legacy of the work of the BBC engineers who created Ceefax.

Us Deafies owe them, and those who maintained and improved the service, a massive debt of thanks for years and years of service.

Goodbye Ceefax, our dear old friend.

By Charlie Swinbourne, Editor

What are your memories of Ceefax? Did your family wear out the ‘8’ button on your remote control, like Charlie’s? Tell us below.

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