Teefax: a nostalgic return to the days of teletext

Want to relive the days of Ceefax? All you need is a Raspberry Pi computer, an analogue TV and a computing degree ...

Name: Teefax.

Age: About a month old.

Appearance: Blocky, quaint.

Teefax? That name sounds familiar. It’s meant to. This is the new Ceefax, you see.

Remind me what Ceefax was again? It was the world’s first teletext service, launched by the BBC in 1974.

Remind me what teletext was again? It was a way of transmitting pages of text, and a few very low-res images, through the analogue TV signal. You would select “text” on your television remote, then type in the number of the page you wanted to read, then wait for ages, then the page would (usually) pop up.

It sounds quite like the internet. Yes. Think of it as an incredibly bad internet. But it was popular. In the 1990s, 20 million people in Britain used teletext at least once a week for subtitles, weather forecasts, flight information, football scores and suchlike. It only stopped in 2012, when the analogue TV signal was switched off and used for 4G phones.

Stolen for 4G phones, you mean! A pox on our faster and more reliable technology! That’s one opinion.

But now you say that Teefax is relaunching teletext? Kind of. It only has 12 pages of news for now, but it can also display tweets and pictures in that lovely blocky format. It’s an experiment, by nerds.

I thought they might be at the bottom of this. Can I get Teefax myself? Absolutely, as long as you have a Raspberry Pi computer, an old analogue TV set and either a computing degree or a lot of patience.

I have none of those things. Pity. The nerds are having a lot of fun. One of them has invented a way to recover teletext pages that are hidden in old VHS recordings. There is even a teletext festival coming up in October. “It’s like the modern-day equivalent of restoring steam engines,” says computer engineer Peter Kwan, who is kind of the head nerd. “It’s completely useless but it keeps us occupied.”

I find the normal internet already does that job quite well. I guess some people just love the old days.

Do say: “Flight information has a richness and warmth on teletext that new technology can’t match.”

Don’t say: “Do you remember spending hours adjusting the aerial so that the page would load properly? Ah, happy days.”

The GuardianTramp

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