So… farewell then Ceefax, your time is coming to an end.
I was reminded of the power of the square letter, the other night. I went to my 'local' to catch the last 20 minutes of the BIG MATCH on the BIG SCREEN.
Are there never any small matches anymore? If there were, I suppose you would have to watch them on the small screen or basically, go around to a mates house with a can of beer and watch it on TV. Isn't that what we always used to do?
Anyway, the game wasn't great. It consisted of grown men who should know better than to hoof the ball up the pitch and chase after it, playground-style. As one of the regulars ranted, 'Get the ball on the f****** deck, you hairy-a****, F****** tart!'. I'll leave you to fill the blanks in – the book, 'Txts Man U L 4 Pro Foballas :)', might come in handy for this.
As the game ended, a funny thing happened. There was no post-match analysis. No, '…at the end of the day', or '…over the moon, Brian'. The landlord switched the TV over to Ceefax.
Calm crept through the pub; the noise gradually died down. I noticed that some people in the bar had turned towards the screen and had started to read the tCeefax pages. Some of the clientele moved their heads in gentle rocking motion, following the lines of copy. Others silently mouthed the words as they were reading. Next to me, my shouting friend who only a few minutes earlier, had been berating the players, donned his reading glasses. Mouth slightly ajar – he joined in.
They were all doing it! Paying silent homage to the Ceefax God. How could a report on the Motorways of Great Britain hold their attention for so long? The Lottery numbers, maybe....I had to leave. I crept out of the pub and took a last look back through the window. Nobody had stirred. The power of Ceefax is a strange and wonderful thing.
Of course it wasn't like that in the early days. I remember going to down to the BBC when they were trying to get Ceefax working. It is a little know fact that the invention of this mighty medium owes a lot to LEGO. Two boffins in basement of Broadcasting House used to leave messages for one another made out of the yellow or white bricks. You know, things like, 'poo-head', 'doofus', 'arse-wipe'. Childish, I know – but you have to start somewhere. One day, they accidently left a video camera on and filmed the words they had built from the Danish blocks. Presto! Ceefax and its distinctive square letterforms were born.
Of course, things took off. The demand became greater. All those recipes to put up on screen. Building the blocks by hand took too long. So the idea was to use rats! Yes, rats. Hundreds of them scurrying along a network of clear pipes. A tasty morsel of food their reward for a successful brick drop-off.
Bigger and bigger and bigger; page after page. The rats were exhausted. 'We're late with the holiday info page'. 'Where's the "in your local area" page?'. What could be done? Use small children, of course! Get them to speed down small tunnels on their scooters pulling carts full of bricks.
This worked for a while, until the license-payers monitoring group (Or OftMong, as they are known) found out. There was a right stink, I can tell you. They didn't mind the the use of children, it was just they were being paid too much. Ok. . . so they settled on adults with rowing machines.
And that is how Ceefax worked for many years...