Black. Blue. A sort of lighter, more neon blue.¬†Yellow. Red. Pink. Green. White. 8 colours, and 900 pages. Long before Guardian news RSS feeds and Irish Times apps offered news, sport, and inaccurate weather forecasts at your fingertips, there was Teletext.
Before I discarded TV altogether, I was a Teletext obsessive. I found my critical bearings reading Channel 4’s famous games section, Digitiser, an irreverent, surreal daily magazine headed by Mr. Biffo and Mr. Hairs, two names that struck shivers of fear down C4’s Teletext editorial team. Key to exploring each corner of the daily vitriol was the reveal button, that little question-mark engraved rubber button that never failed to make you feel like part of a clandestine hexadecimal in-joke.
And the colour buttons! Bamboozle, probably the most widely-loved Teletext section, was a daily quiz headed by Mr. Skinner lookalike Bamber Boozle, and his gunning family of trivia-happy quizmasters that made extensive use of Teletext’s Fasttext keys. Winning Bamboozle was not unlike ranking in the top percentile of Mensa, except that Bamber telling you you’re a Martian Master is way more gratifying.
The strangest Teletext fixation for me was running its closed caption subtitles, page 888, over any TV show that offered it. Corrie’s subtitles were nicely vernacular, with truncated definite articles and onomatopoeic interjections, and a whole world of karaoke was opened up when MTV’s patchy service offered song lyrics during Select.
While my grandfather can still only understand the Internet as a way more complex version of Aertel, the key limitation of Teletext is that the provider can say whatever it wants, and the reader cannot interact at all, outside of its very set parameters. It’s sort of an anti-Twitter – although recently, during Sweden’s flagship ‘Idol’ show, Tweets for the show were broadcast using the subtitle system. Backwards-sounding as that is, the Scandos are still mad for a bit of Text, with around a quarter of the Norwegian population accessing it daily.
Teletext has been on death row for years now, and this year’s digital switchover in Britain means it will be all but replaced by “the red button” (which is about as retrograde as Teletext given the proliferation of smartphones). Essentially the only people effected by this are over the age of 60, and therefore nobody really cares. However, the trove of Teletext archivists across the Internet point towards fetishization of Text’s gaudy minimalism, its ease of access, and its niche place in the history of mass information sharing platforms.
Don’t even own a telly, let alone one with a Teletext-friendly remote? There’s an app for that! Oxorr offers a range of European Text services on your iPhone, so you can check up on the Luxembourg Lotto numbers without having to use Google or some crap.
An Evening With Ceefax
Transport yourself back to October 1983 with a full evening’s archive. Of particular interest are fruit prices per lb on p166 and a hot dog conspiracy on P119.
Interested in how Teletext is actually made? Citifax’s CTI-1000 is at the very cutting edge of TT design. See it in action at www.citifax.co.uk, but prepare to have your mind blown.
Words: Daniel Gray / Illustration: Fuchsia MacAree
Illustration: Fuchsia Macaree