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Ceefax says goodnight as digital switchover makes way for 4G

We bid a fond farewell to BBC Ceefax, the world's first teletext service, as the analogue TV signal makes way for 4G.

See you, Ceefax. That digital switchover we've been hearing about for years is complete, and so we bid a fond farewell to the world's very first teletext service.

Tune in to BBC Ceefax now and you'll see an onscreen clock ticking down to the fateful moment tonight, when Olympic champion Dame Mary Peters turns off the last analogue TV signal in Northern Ireland at 11.30pm.

The Facebook generation may find it hard to believe, but the text-based Ceefax service on our pre-digital tellies was the equivalent of the Internet for many of us as we grew up.

See the facts 

Ceefax began in 23 September 1974 after BBC engineers, experimenting with methods of providing subtitles, realised they could beam out pages of text in the spare lines at the top of the analogue 625-line PAL TV signal. The Beeb decided to give viewers a chance to "see the facts" at the same time as news came into the BBC newsroom, as well as sports scores, weather forecasts and TV listings.

Pages were created by typing out the news story then printing a yard-long punched tape, which then had to be run from the sixth floor down two flights of stairs to the Central Apparatus Room and loaded into a tape reader, before the page was finally transmitted by a device called a core store.

Ceefax hit its peak of popularity after it began to be shown overnight on BBC2 while regular programming was shut down. At its height, 20 million people checked the service at least once a week as news, sport and TV stories were joined by share prices, music reviews and an annual advent calendar, as well as recipes from BBC cookery shows -- and all set to cheery music.

Ad-riddled rival Teletext closed down at Christmas 2009, taking with it the legendary pixellated question-master Bamber Boozle -- happily though, his fiendish quiz Bamboozle lives on as an iPhone app

In these days of 24-hour telly and the always-accessible bottomless pit of information that is the Internet, it seems baffling that this was how we used to get our information. But here at CNET we have fond memories of looking up the football scores, film times or the pop charts on Ceefax and Teletext -- and we still sharply feel the exquisite agony of missing your page and having to wait until it came round again.

On the plus side, the newly free airwaves will be used to send out 4G signals to phones and tablets when they're auctioned off to phone networks next year. 

Do you have fond memories of Ceefax -- or should outdated technology be pruned before the inexorable march of progress? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook page.

Image credit: BBC