Laments about the death of Ceefax are many. Somewhere a man has been awake for three weeks, pressing ‘Hold’ twice to try and shift the goodbye page on to 2/2.
I was schooled on Ceefax and Teletext. The former gave me playground tittle-tattle (p. 312 News in Brief) the latter exam-standard general knowledge (p. 452 Bamboozle). Watching the combination-lock numbers run up to page 140 on ITV bred an anticipation defiantly unmatched by clicking to read someone’s lies on an internet messageboard.
Once or twice my team, Middlesbrough, even filled the prized page 141 headline slot. I’ll never forget reading the leader ‘Boro Snare £1m Star’ and then pressing Red to learn we’d just paid out our record transfer fee for Aston Villa reserve right-back Neil Cox.
At their foot, Teletext pages carried adverts that gleefully flashed messages such as ‘Samba Star Set for North-East Move’ and implored readers to call a premium rate phoneline. Besides glances at the back pages in the village newsagents (‘This is not a library, son’), such lines became my other portal into Middlesbrough gossip.
Each week, I was allowed to call Middlesbrough Clubcall for two minutes, as a treat. These were the kind of concessions you could win if you claimed upset at your parents’ drawn-out divorce proceedings. I was a bit like the kid in Kramer vs. Kramer, only with a fanatical devotion to Derek Whyte.
Timing my call meant a waiting game that involved judging when the Middlesbrough headlines at the foot of page 140 had reached their juiciest. The scale ran from ‘News From Training’ (an update on Robbie Mustoe’s ankle trouble) to ‘International Maestro Jets In’ (Someone had seen Vladimir Kinder at Teesside Airport). Commit early and I might miss a ‘New Signing Speaks’; leave it late and by Sunday all I’d be left with was ‘Exclusive Ticket News’.
0898 12 11 81. Numbers I’ll never forget. Numbers I should use as an online password when next I’m stumped (no-one’s reading this, are they?) Once the line had connected – and Mum, don’t start that stopwatch till it has – music would fade and a Scottish voice kick in: ‘Hello this is John Hendrie, and you’re through to Middlesbrough Clubcall.’ ‘Hi John, mate’ I’d reply. It was like being on the phone to John Hendrie.
Despite fifteen seconds squandered to a recorded greeting, my hopes remained high for the next minute and three quarters, which went a little something like this:
15 seconds to 30 seconds: further greeting from presenter voice. Reminder of number I had just called.
30 seconds to one minute: ‘coming up today on Middlesbrough Clubcall, 0898 12 11 81…’
One minute to two minutes: ‘…but before we hear that sensational transfer news, here’s an interview with groundsman David Rigg.’
‘Mum? MUM?! Can I use my other minute tomorrow instead?’