Tuesday, 23 October 2012


Television in the United Kingdom is a wonderful thing. Last night the BBC exposed the failure of the BBC to expose the failings of the BBC, and the news story was covered on the BBC for maximum exposure.

But for everything strange brought into this world, something strange must be taken away. Today is the day when digital switchover concludes, and with that, the end of the much-loved Teletext service. Bamber Boozler has just joined the unemployment statistics.

Actually he's been unemployed for three years but let's not be pedantic. Teletext is one of the great British contributions to the world of analogue television, and one which will be fondly remembered by its many millions of users. Samsung may pretend that "smart TVs" are new and fresh, but in reality, television has been pretty adept since the mid-1970s, and this is the proof.

A service which started with the mission to... serve, Teletext (or Ceefax as the BBC called it) was one of many precursors to the internet, being freely available for all British (and many European) homes as long as they were able to watch TV. Running alongside the analogue signals, a simple piece of circuitry gave you access to several hundred pages of cheap and cheerful on-demand information. Be it blocky weather maps or condensed news, Teletext was ahead of its time upon release and has been with us in varying forms for nearly 40 years.

There are many notable features of Teletext and Ceefax, but for me, the clear highlight was Channel 4's Bamboozle!, a simple quiz "game" debuting on the service in 1993. The goal of Bamboozle! was to answer a series of 12-25 general knowledge questions (sometimes themed, depending on the time of year) with the four coloured "Fastext" buttons on your TV remote. With sixteen years of frequent updates, Bamboozle! stands as one of the more fondly remembered features of Teletext, and a great time-wasting exercise for those with a few minutes to spare.

Bamboozle! was "presented" by Bamber Boozler (or on occasion, another family member). As a basic multiple choice quiz it was an extremely primitive game, but with the technology powering it rooted in 1974, much of the limitations can be forgiven. Bamboozle! required you to keep track of your scores and play an honest game - getting an answer wrong would cause you to be "bamboozled", but with no methods of storing information, it wouldn't stop you from trying again.

By no means did Bamboozle break records, but it nonetheless stands as a fine way to waste a few minutes of your day. If you had a TV in the 90s and an aerial, you could play Bamboozle - this game reached more UK homes than any video game console on record, and was educational too. Obviously if you grew up in an age of digital TV this has no appeal, but it just goes to show that you don't need fantastic visuals and audio to make something entertaining and memorable.

Bamboozle was discontinued in 2009, and though lives on in the form of iPhone apps (supposedly maintained by the former writing staff), it'll never have the same impact as it once was (though the website is lovely). It's easy to dismiss Teletext for its slow speeds and dated aesthetics, but considering the impact it once had, it's a shame to see it go. The replacement red button service fills the void but lacks the heart and soul of the system we grew up with, aside from the fact that it's just as slow and unresponsive.

On the plus(?) side, if you're obsessed with this once-revolutionary technology you can always check out the Teletext museum for all your eight-colour low resolution needs. You can also navigate Ceefax in its entirety as it stood one faithful day in 1983... though as to why you'd want to do this, I can't say. It's the end of an era, but perhaps more importantly, what will happen to Turner the Worm?


  1. It's odd that you British folks don't get Teletext with digital TV. Here in Finland the digital switchover happened in back in 2007 and Teletext is still as... existent as ever.

    1. In the UK teletext was broadcast alongside the analogue signal in the "gaps" between frames, so when you cut the analogue signal, you cut teletext.

      It's done differently elsewhere in the world. Here you'd have to move the service onto a different system to keep it going, and for something that's 35-years old, I think people were more keen to replace it entirely. It costs time and money to format news to meet teletext standards, and it comes from an era that pre-dates 24-hour news channels and the internet, so the arguement was that teletext had to change to meet modern consumer demands.

      I think the old service is still probably better but I won't lie - the internet is always my first choice for obtaining information. Teletext probably doesn't need to exist at all these days.