TELETEXT TO RETROTEXT
Retrotext has evolved from teletext, a television-based information medium invented in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s.
The BBC’s teletext service Ceefax (“See Facts”) started in 1974, initially limited to 30 pages but later expanded to 100 pages and launched formally in 1976.
It was intended to give BBC viewers free access to the same information that was coming into the BBC newsroom, as soon as the BBC's journalists had received it, in a pre-internet era where the only alternative was to wait for the next TV or radio bulletin to be aired.
ORACLE ("Optional Reception of Announcements by Coded Line Electronics") was the commercial equivalent of Ceefax and was first broadcast on ITV in the mid-late 1970s.
During the 1980s, millions of Britons invested in new teletext-enabled TV sets which gave them immediate access at the touch of a button on their remote controls to comprehensive information including news, sport, weather, TV listings, traffic, travel, recipes, share prices, music reviews and much more.
In 1992, the franchise to provide the teletext service for ITV and Channel 4 was awarded to Teletext Limited and ORACLE was replaced by Teletext.
By the end of the decade, over 20 million Britons used teletext services at least once a week to access information and, at one stage, Teletext Holidays accounted for 1 in every 10 holidays sold in the UK.
Sports fans relied on teletext for the latest football scores and breaking news, with many a transfer rumour quashed with the words, “Well, there’s nothing about it on teletext.”
Former Arsenal striker Denis Bergkamp recalled in his book Stillness and Speed the day in 1995 when he signed for the club for a then record £7.5 million:
“‘Quickly, I go to Ceefax Page 302, the football page, and there it is in more detail: DUTCH STRIKER GOES FOR £7.5 MILLION. For the first time it hits me: Woah! What’s going on here? I’m in this big country. I’m in London. I’m in this huge strange city where they drive on the left and … I’m on teletext. Me!”
Many sports stars found out their futures via Ceefax, with cricketers using it to learn if they have been selected by England and football manager Bruce Rioch (who signed Dennis Bergkamp for Arsenal) once discovering he had been sacked by calling up page 302, while football legend and now Match Of The Day pundit Alan Shearer described Ceefax as an 'institution' when it celebrated its 30th birthday in 2004.
One of the most famous stories involves Wycombe Wanderers who asked for a message to be put on the football News-In-Brief page appealing for a striker. Roy Essandoh answered the call and within days was scoring the goal which took the then Second Division club into their first-ever FA Cup semi-final.
On the celebrity front, the service reportedly featured in rock stars' on-tour riders. Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers was once said to have led his band out of a hotel as there was no Ceefax on the TV in their room. Canadian songstress Avril Lavigne also, apparently, insisted on "Ceefax and Bovril" being supplied in her hotel room during a British tour.
Changes in television technology this century led to the gradual demise of the medium - the original second-screen application - and in 2009 the Teletext service on ITV ended, with Ceefax broadcasting for the last time on BBC in 2012.
When Ceefax closed at the completion of the analogue switch-over, ex-Prime Minister Sir John Major said: “From breaking global news to domestic sports news, Ceefax was speedy, accurate and indispensable. It can be proud of its record."
And, a few weeks after Ceefax provided coverage of its 10th and final Olympic Games, Lord Coe added his own tribute by saying: "Ceefax has been an invaluable news service for every sports fan over the last 38 years. I have checked in on many a sports news story, track and field triumph and, of course, Chelsea result!"