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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 September, 2004, 00:49 GMT 01:49 UK
Thirty years of text
By Ian Westbrook
BBC Sport

Ceefax has been an institution to sports fans for years.

Page 302 for football news, 324 for the Premiership table, 340 for cricket, 370 for rugby, and many more, have become numbers ingrained in the hearts of fans around Britain.

The BBC's teletext service is much valued and much loved, as has been shown this week by the tributes that have poured in from sports stars like Alan Shearer to mark its 30th anniversary on 23 September.

But the 150-page sports output, including 10 regional pages in each of the BBC's 15 nations and regions, started from much humbler beginnings.

England's squad for the fifth Test against West Indies in 1980
England's squad for the fifth Test against West Indies in 1980 on Ceefax

When Ceefax started 30 years ago it was operated by one man - Colin McIntyre - who typed out a 24-page magazine on his own. It was only updated when he was on shift during the week and not in the evenings or at weekends - hardly ideal for sports fans.

However things changed in 1975 when experienced sports journalist Bob Paterson was appointed as the first sports editor.

He was given 20 pages, 10 on BBC1 and 10 on BBC2, to provide as good a coverage as possible.

Ceefax already provided a basic football results service, but quickly got these into lightning fast order.

Bob recalls: "Ultimately it was a Ceefax claim to fame that we could get up the final scores before any of the TV channels and in some cases before the games had finished!"

Once Paterson had the football results working efficiently he turned his attention to horse racing.

"I devised the racing results section with the help of graphic genius Ian Irving and we even launched a tipping service," he explains.

"Would you believe, the layout of results was so successful Ladbroke's actually asked permission to copy it for their betting shops!

Ceefax started in 1974
It now has 150 sports pages
Main page numbers are 301 Headlines; 302 Football; 340 Cricket; 370 Rugby

"At the time, we were operating probably the first VDU's in the country and our printer was a small, gun metal box that made a terrible racket and coughed out a slip no bigger than the average cashier roll.

"I also devised the popular Ceefax sports quiz with the first prize of a BBC long-playing record.

"In that era we had a delegation from just about every country in the world coming to see the new toy.

"Eventually, Sport expanded so much it needed more elbow room and was moved to a small back room in Portland Place, where I operated alongside Des Lynam, Alan Parry, John Helm, Derek Thomson, Bryon Butler and others."

Sport progressed to evening racing, greyhound results, sport from abroad, diary, feature and gossip under Paterson's leadership and continued to evolve over the years.

Daley Thompson's gold captured on Ceefax
Ceefax reported Daley Thompson's glory live from Moscow

In 1980, the service enjoyed another first with sports journalist Audrey Adams providing live copy from the Moscow Olympics directly from a primitive version of a laptop in the BBC studio at the Games.

Subsequent years have seen regular outside broadcasts from Wimbledon and The Open, where Ceefax take live scores direct from the official tournament scoring systems.

And Ceefax staff are also regulars at the World Snooker Championship and other golf and tennis tournaments.

The service grew over the years and in 1997 a regional service was added to serve the BBC's nations and regions.

Latest scores are a crucial part of the service with football updates inputted by staff from the news agency wires, match feeds and the radio and county cricket scorecards updated directly from every scorebox in England and Wales.

The cricket pages are so popular that a series of televisions in the Lord's pavilion display the complete set of the day's scorecards.

Many sports stars find out their futures via Ceefax, with cricketers using it to learn if they have been selected by England and football manager Bruce Rioch once discovering he had been sacked by dialling up 302.

One of the most famous stories involves Wycombe Wanderers who asked for a message to be put on the football news in brief page appealing for a striker.

Roy Essandoh answered the call and within days was scoring the goal which took the then Second Division club into their first-ever FA Cup semi-final.

But what of the future?

For as long as the analogue signal is around, Ceefax will be there.

But once British broadcasting becomes fully digital and the analogue signal is switched off, Ceefax will be succeeded by its already flourishing little brother digital text - accessed by the now familiar red button.

Ceefax marks 30 years of service
22 Sep 04  |  Entertainment

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