The life and death of teletext, and what happened next

That, so the story goes, was the remit given to BBC engineers in the late 1960s: find a way to transmit a printable page of text so that the corporation’s transmitters weren’t simply left to idle overnight. Their efforts would eventually give rise to an iconic medium that would span five decades, become the basis for a global standard and – perhaps most importantly – let you check the lottery numbers on Sunday morning. (Well, you never knew.)

As is so often the case when a revolutionary technology’s lingering just over the horizon, it’s difficult to know precisely where the tale of teletext truly begins. Engineers at several different corporations were already experimenting with ways of transmitting text remotely, each with different goals in mind. The Post Office, who at that time were responsible for the telephone system, naturally wanted to use their infrastructure to boost the number of phone owners across the country. Boffins back at the BBC, meanwhile, had begun investigating ways to provide subtitled television programmes for the deaf.

Teletext (or Teletekst in Dutch) is still active here, and lots of people have the smartphone app for Teletekst installed as well. Fascinating technology that I used all the time when I was younger.


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