This article first appeared in All Gone Latics 01, October 2014.
July 1998 was a wonderful month for the young JWAW. For one thing, he had the luxury of replacing his yellowing Wigan Evening Post squad poster with a shiny new model replete with glossy finish and 2-inch staple hole puncturing the unfortunate Staurt Barlow’s stomach. (JWAW never thought to repair it since the smile on Mr Barlow’s face seemed to indicate he was quite pleased with his miniscule waistline.)
Better still, this fledgling small time internet weblogger was about to welcome the analogue revolution to his ‘office’. Any sadness associated with the passing of his dear friend Ferguson Telly faded almost as quickly as Carl Bradshaw could wipe out a whole Preston side with one well-timed swing of his patented razor blade studs. Admittedly, this was mostly because JWAW was sick of smacking ‘Fergie’ to realign its CRT every five minutes.
But this marked the day his Shoot! magazines were promptly packed into a tatty cardboard box to be flogged as a job lot for 50p on the Bolton Market car boot sale some eight years later. Choral chimes welcomed a new resident to the JWAW chest of drawers… a teletext television.
“Wait, what is this? Some sort of 24/7 videprinter with added TV listings and weather forecasts? Well damn, guess I never need to buy a newspaper again.”
Thus began bambino JWAW’s hopeless addiction to Ceefax. Fergie MkII quickly developed a permanent screen burn tattoo that read ‘BBC Football’, a constant reminder to check page 302 before breakfast. And after lunch, and before tea.
Fergie II enjoyed a happy monogamous relationship with his owner for two years, after which JWAW would begrudgingly fork out for a modem as part of his millennium quest to embrace all new technologies in the name of poorly-researched opinion. But due to a certain internet provider’s tendency to charge monumental Clubcall-esque prices, he was still wearing out at least five television remotes per year, much to an ageing Fergmeister’s great delight.
And though the broadband bubble was now larger than Dave Whelan’s list of managerial candidates, Terry Tex would be handed a long term contract at JWAW Towers. Promotion to England’s second tier meant that for the first time, Wigan Athletic had its own home page at the home of cutting edge 1970s technology. And not before time – that wretched Bamber Boozler and his pixellated mug had monopolised the Text Dimension for too long.
ITV’s Wigan Athletic statistics page, August 2009. There’s a good reason why I took a screengrab of this particular teletext page, but I can’t think what it is right now.
Quick commercial break: you have 12 seconds to boil the kettle otherwise the page will have scrolled!
I fear I am in danger of losing your attention, so here’s something I should have made clear prior to paragraph #1: Teletext is a flashy typewriter only without the smell of corrective fluid or failing ink ribbon. It is a ‘backup internet’ we will be forced to use when the zombiepocalyspe inevitably arrives.
With that explained, it is time to finally conclude the tale of a now not-so-young JWAW. A heady mixture of screaming local radio commentator Matt McCann and flickering semi-neon TV text made up his Saturday afternoon and Tuesday night cocktails. This truly was multimedia multitasking, the Nineties version of browsing Twitter while simultaneously watching a live stream and listening to Mr McCann’s esteemed successors on Partisan FM, cucumber sandwich in hand.
But in 2012, the 38-year long party was abruptly ended by a man in a (monkey?) suit that decided UK teletext must be euthanised to make way for the hipper, cooler, enormously fat-saturated worldwide interwebspace superhighway on which ‘the kids’ were driving. See, you do not need a license to use the internet like you do with a vehicle, hence the car crash media of an uncontrolled, unrestrained Teletext 2.0.
It was a bit like that time they changed the taste of Coca Cola, except I don’t think any amount of protesting will bring back the original second screen application. Maybe if I hit my remote hard enough, a spectral service might one day appear where the glorious grid of glitched graphics once resided? Yeah, right, and perhaps one day Wigan Athletic will win the FA Cup. Wait, erm…
Ceefax’s successor, the inaptly branded ‘interactive television’, is the Panda Pop version of teletext that occasionally awakens from hibernation for very short periods during the day, a mere skeleton of its former, glorious self. Try it yourself! Press the ‘text’ button on your remote, and you’ll agree that all creativity and character has been excised, with graphics restricted to non-blocky, high resolution weather maps. Oh, teletext, what have they done to you?
A Fergie for 2014
Yes, teletext may be just a small step up from your bog standard Saturday afternoon newspaper, complete with misprinted results and errata column the length of a Jamie Carragher sentence (necessarily subtitled at page 888, of course).
Yes, teletext might be a laughable concoction of enc%d!ng £rror$ and loading times even Mr Babbage’s difference engine would put to shame. However, it may surprise you to learn that teletext still provides millions across Europe with football results, and even outperforms the internet in areas of poor broadband connectivity – not bad for ‘antiquated’ 1970s technology.
2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the first teletext broadcasts. If BBC text updates or Twitter live for half as long, you’ll be sure to hear all about it on teletext first… as long as you live in Scandinavia or Bavaria. Or 1994, as is the case with me.
Dan Farrimond can be found making terrible analogies and bad biscuit puns at Jesus Was a Wiganer. He also designs teletext pages such as the one of Wayne Rooney, and runs the Teletext Art of the Day blog at teletextart.tumblr.com. See Ceefax page 315 for no details.