How does this work?  I tried pressing ‘Text’ on my remote when playing back a tape and it doesn’t work.

This doesn’t work for VHS, sometimes displays mashed-up pages in Betamax and works quite well for S-VHS tapes.  However, that isn’t what happens here.  In this case, we sample the teletext signal using a TV capture card installed into a Linux PC, then run it through Alistair Buxton’s VHS Teletext software to pull the data out.  We then use the Windows software to clean them up and/or display them.

Surely this is sorcery and witchcraft?

Yes.  Yes, it is.

Why?  What are you doing this for?

Before Alistair’s recovery software there were very few examples of teletext pages that had been archived.  The BBC has some; some pages are in private hands.

Now, we can recover entire services to see how early digital publishing evolved and to recover lost early digital art.  Newspapers have archives – why shouldn’t electronic newspapers have the same?  Teletext is also a cultural  phenomenon and part of social history.  Also: nostalgia.  It’s great to leaf through old teletext services!

What are the ‘holy grails’ of teletext archaeology?

This differs from person to person, but here:

  • Pre-1976 Ceefax and ORACLE services, as these used their own standards and control codes prior to the World Standard Teletext spec., which came into use in 1976.
  • Pre-1976 teletext specifications
  • A message (or messages!) from the first Ceefax editor to his wife, to tell her he was on his way home – this will have been on a secret page, but no page is safe from the teletext recovery process!
  • Editions of Teletext Ltd.’s Digitiser computer games magazine.  We have loads already but it has a lot of fans who would love to see more.
  • Early stuff generally, where the content tended to have a more chatty feel, as though it was only seen by a few enthusiasts and early adopters (which of course it was!)

Do you have a page from such-and-such channel at whatever time?

Probably not; but there are over a thousand services in the archive so we might.  No harm in asking!