The BBC’s Ceefax video text service was put to death earlier this week after 38 years
of making Prodigy look space age. The Guardian’s Barney Ronay calls Ceefax’s termination, “a source of minor sadness for anybody who came to rely on that discreet but authoritative presence during those analogue years when, pre-rolling news, TV text had an absolute monopoly on these things.”
Ceefax had no byline picture. It had no angle to work, no cloud of nuanced personal ambition. Even in death there will be no Ceefax sex scandal. Ceefax did not have a caravan. Ceefax didn’t want to feel you up. Ceefax wouldn’t come jangling and panting and scrabbling at your door after lights out. In fact Ceefax had no interest in you at all. And this was the real nub, perhaps even its greatest distinction: it was courteously and brusquely non-interactive, unscarred by the current urge to embellish all – Have your shout! Speak your spume! Tell Us what YOU think even if it is essentially INANE and imitative MEWLING! – with the legitimising babble of transient public opinion.
Perhaps we could still learn a little from Ceefax’s orderly restraint at a time when all broadcasting seems intent on thrusting its great meaty fists out through the screen and presenting not so much a sense of authority, as a babble of shared misdirection, and when Sky Sports is even now broadcasting a kind of man-Ceefax on Saturday afternoons, a Ceefax of the flesh with real actual men dressed in wedding suits and ranged in front of invisible screens, frowning, shrugging, squawking, and essentially being human Ceefax on a grand, mob-handed scale.