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A MATTER OF FAX
First published in Radio Times, 2-Feb-1980

TTAN contributor Mark Cook comments: "Gosh, this one contains so many memories... (I got my first Teletext television in 1980) - Esmeralda's upgrade to Selene, the rise in Teletext ownership, Orbit, and my favourite quote: "CEEFAX will still be there and useful in the 21st century". There are a lot of predictions too, and some pretty accurate ones, even if they took a bit longer to become reality than anyone expected..."

CEEFAX, 6.0 am to 12.0 midnight (approximately) Your television set can be equipped for CEEFAX, the BBC's revolutionary new news and information service. An index to CEEFAX is on page 75 and here Bob Smyth meets four of the people who will put the words on your screen

Gwyn Morgan, CEEFAX publicity and promotions: 'Our old computer, Esmeralda, has gone. She was really rather rudimentary and not very reliable. In her place we have Selene, which is three computers linked together. One handles material produced by the team of CEEFAX journalists. It also provides them with a library which can store up masses of information for future use. The other two computers act as
the broadcasters. We really need only one, but if anything goes wrong we can switch over to the spare.

'The other important development in the last couple of years is that on the receiving end the manufacturers have improved their techniques to such an extent that they are now offering CEEFAX sets which cost only about 50p extra in rental a week. They are also beginning to compete in advertising these sets, the result being that, whereas a year ago there were only 7,000 sets in use, in January this year there are now well over 40,000. What's more, people are using the CEEFAX service for an average of 25 minutes a day - a fair time.

'And it's not only families who are finding it useful but business people as well. The latest device we have produced is a print-out machine which enables business users to receive information in printed form.'

Andy Moreton, a news chief sub-editor: Our main strength is the speed we can get information out. Life nowadays is very fast and people like getting their news as speedily as possible. So when a big news story breaks we can broadcast it faster than anybody else. Even an urgent bulletin on radio or television has to wait for an appropriate break before it can be broadcast So when Lord Mountbatten was murdered anybody watching television but tuned in to our newsflash page, which superimposes the news on top of your picture, would have learnt the news from CEEFAX before anybody else. The same was true with the Thorpe verdict. We have the added advantage that our sources are best because we can call on the resources of the whole BBC news system.

'We are now able to use maps a lot as a result of a new digital camera which can convert pictures into graphic shapes. When China invaded Vietnam we came up with a nap showing the invasion area within 15 minutes, which is a great help to anyone's understanding of such a news story.

'Sport is something where we score heavily. Events which happen in the evening we can report hours ahead of the morning papers. Even in the early days of Esmeralda, when we sometimes used to have computer failures and weren't showing the racing results, the phone would start ringing from hordes of angry punters. So I think it is fair to claim that we have the widest possible audience.'

Hilary Goodall, news sub-editor currently in charge of the BBC2 magazine Orbit: 'Our BBC1 CEEFAX service is strong on news and information. On BBC2 we are more a magazine than a newspaper. We offer everything from consumer news on food, motoring or gardening to holiday features or games and quizzes. The new digitiser which can convert photographs into graphics is very useful in the Fun 'n' Games Section. We can now show a map and ask "Which of these countries is Guatemala and which Honduras?

'We take it in turns to edit the Orbit magazine, and everyone in the office contributes. Someone who is interested in photography prepared a photography course, and someone else has done an introduction to early musical instruments.

'If you go into a TV rental shop and ask the assistant to tune in to page 213 on BBC2, you will find the latest CEEFAX page - the graffiti wall!'

Colin McIntyre, Editor: 'CEEFAX has came a long way since it started broadcasting in late 1974 but it is still at what one might call the bicycle stage of development The whole thing is just beginning. When people at the receiving end have computers or micro-processors which are capable of taking messages in digital form from the TV, then we will be able to transmit masses of information which they can store up and reproduce on their screen on demand. It may be advice on how to calculate your income tax for instance, or a whole collection of recipes. This will then give us a much greater capacity than the number of pages that we can transmit in any one day because people will be able to store up a whole year's worth should they wish. The more sophisticated the other end becomes the more we as broadcasters can put into it.

'Every development in communications involves CEEFAX in some way. Satellite broadcasting would mean that we could transmit a CEEFAX programme on those signals, so that we can look forward to Eurofax or transatlantic Intelfax. Soon we will be able to transmit TV pictures in digital form and when that happens CEEFAX could be showing still pictures on screen.

'Countries like Australia, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, West Germany and others are experimenting with CEEFAX-type systems but at the moment Britain is two years ahead of the rest of the world. I hesitate to predict what we might eventually be able to do with CEEFAX because we can't envisage what the next ten years will bring in the way of technological innovations. But whatever happens in the telecommunications field CEEFAX will benefit and, like the bicycle, will still be there and useful in the 21st century.'

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