Huffpost UK Tech uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

John Giacobbi Headshot

Last Days of Disco

Posted: Updated:

As with The-Last-Days-of-Disco, the glitterball that was analogue TV has stopped spinning and, in the very worst form of collateral-damage, the music stopped for Ceefax too - RIP British Technology.

For those of you who literally thought that Ceefax ended when John Travolta's flairs were replaced by Don Johnson's shoulder-pads, this British, televisual-wonder miraculously survived up to the end of October 2012. For anyone unfamiliar with the pleasures of trying to look-up the football scores via Ceefax on a teak-effect, Grundig television, while waiting for Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks to finish wrestling on World-of-Sport (another long-gone British institution), it is - or rather was - a bit like a cross between Miscosoft DOS and Space Invaders, with bright colours and clunky graphics that loaded so slowly you had time boil-a-kettle between pages ... .. which was actually a cleverly-built-in, British design feature.

As Sir Michael Caine would say - "Now, not a lot of people know that", but Ceefax's design origins date-back to the late 1960s and its original name was 'Beebfax' ... .. created by lab-coated BBC engineers in an ingenious use of license-payers' money, the system was the world's first teletext information service ... it was Sky News before we had Sky News and the internet before we had internet ... .. in fact, in the pre-broadband days of dial-up, it was actually quicker to turn your telly on and type-in 101 for news, than it was to boot-up your PC and then wait interminably for the internet to load. Incredibly, people also used Ceefax to 'watch' sports such as football, tennis and even Grand Prix racing ... .. now that sounds like a fun evening - pass the Blue Nun !!

And it wasn't only Britain's precursor to 'internet-enabled-television' (40 years ahead-of-time) that bit-the-dust. October also saw Carbodies of Coventry fall into administration, as well as Comet (like Rumbelows and other household names before it) and even The Famous - a sort of Are-You-Being-Served 'meanswear' shop in Cheltenham that has been going since 1896 and which still operated one of those Victorian 'vacuum tube' systems, that sent your money off to some unseen cashier's office, via little containers that scuttled along miles of pipe like Derby Day rats. Chr*st - even copies of Hansard aren't being given to MPs anymore, who now have to read-up on Parliamentary debates via the interweb.

For those of us now unable to look-up 'Carbodies' on Ceefax, this is the company that has been making London taxis since they stopped being 'Austins' back in the early 70s. Already part-owned by the Chinese and now possibly never-to-return, the Government should nationalise this once-proud company, preserving a national institution and saving jobs in the process - why pay these skilled men and woman to be on-the-dole, when they could be churning-out iconic Black Cabs for the enjoyment of Londoners and tourists for many years to come ?? As it is, one-in-three new taxis bought in London this year are Mercedes 'Vitos' ... .. if there was ever an example of Britain winning-the-war-and losing-the-peace (World War 2 that is - for those of you not on Cefax), then this is it ... .. Boris - please do something about this travesty while Cameron dithers and before our London taxis go the way of red phone boxes and Routemaster buses.

And while Cameron dithers, Hague slithers - literally ... .. as his Foreign Office have just paid £10,000.oo to have a - thankfully long dead - 20ft snake re-stuffed, so it can be displayed in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office Library ... .. I wonder what the newly unemployed of Carbodies will make of that, while the Government refuse state aid. Even the Russians are re-investing in their car industry, in the shape of their iconic, ZIL limousines, that used to ferry Russian dignitaries since the days of Brezhnev in the Soviet era and which are now being brought-in-from-the-cold to replace the ubiquitous Mercedes ... .. seeing as we don't make any British cars any more, maybe Putin can lend one to Call-Me-Dave.

With sadly ironic timing, just as Britain turns-off the information-superhighway of the 1970s from our small screens, our American cousins are introducing more small screens that you can shake-a-stick-at. Yes, Microsoft's Surface takes-on Apple's iPad range and Google's Nexus and Amazon's Kindle and and and - seeing which one shall come-out-on-top this Christmas (sorry - 'Winterval') shall be fascinating ... .. although, if you live in India, £21 for an 'Aakash' tablet has got to be worth-a-punt - even if its processing power is still slower than a Texas Instruments calculator.

In other internet related news, Louise Mensch has been having a spat with the Labour Party over Austin Mitchell's "be a good wife" taunts on Twitter, while Queen Sophia of Spain is suing an internet dating web-site (for married people) that has used her image to promote their 'services' ... .. and Good Luck to her, as everyone should - and in fact does - have the right to control the use of their image on the internet, particularly where exploited for commercial purposes and false-endorsements.

Although the past month hasn't exactly put the Great back into Britain, when it comes to out-doing the technological advances of the Americans, the Chinese and the Russians - and in the words of Corporal Jones - we really do know how to "Stick-It-Up-Em" ... .. forget your Commie limos and your iPod minis, Britain is heading full-steam-ahead into the 21st Century - literally ... .. for the first time in half-a-century, London Underground has secretly been running steam trains on the Tube late-at-night. Well, one steam train actually and for testing ahead of the 150th anniversary of the 'Metropolitan Railway', otherwise known as the Underground. The first-ever 'Tube' train departed from Paddington on the 9th of January 1863 and, to celebrate the anniversary of the event, an 1898 steam locomotive (that was also used to celebrate the centenary back in 1963), will be running from Padders to Farringdon with no less than 5 carriages in-tow and with tickets available for sale to the public ... .. who needs National Express when you can take the Hogwart's Express ?!

And no round-up would be complete without a brief mention of the men and, er, men of the Roundabout Appreciation Society, whose members organise day-trips to places like Milton Keynes and Swindon's famous 'Magic Roundabout' (really), complete with anoraks and Tupperware lunches ... .. perhaps unsurprisingly, this group of die-hards was set-up by a bloke called 'Kevin' - although, hugely surprisingly, this was following the success of a photo-calendar of 'The Roundabouts of Redditch', which sold 100,000 copies !! Their Wikipedia entry says that they are "trying to attract more women members" (Good Luck Fellas) and maybe we can turn their undoubted enthusiasm to good use by asking them to set-up a much needed Ceefax Appreciation Society ... .. Roundabouts AND Ceefax - they'll be beating-the-women-off-with-a-stick !!