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Welcome to viewdata.org.uk!

It's over 30 years since the GPO launched Prestel on the unsuspecting public.  Over the fifteen or so years of it's existence, it became everything that the Internet is today, and spawned an entire industry of competing and complimentary services, plus more than a few hobby based systems, not to mention a multitude of companies dedicated to supporting those publishing or using the services.  For the most part, outside some specialist applications, these have all now disappeared without trace.  Our aim here is to celebrate the heyday of this industry, and not let what was a revolutionary concept be totally forgotten.

Image "Prestel:room1982thumb.jpg"
Being on-line, 1982 style
We're especially disappointed that there was no celebration of the 30th anniversary; apparently nobody cares any more about such an important milestone in the history of "being on-line".  We appreciate that many people will consider Viewdata to have been a dead-end technology, but it laid the groundwork for much of what was to come.  Would the UK have become such a major player in the provision of on-line services were it not for the experience already gained by many companies in running consumer-facing online services?  Who knows, but it must have had an impact.

On viewdata.org.uk, we celebrate all aspects of Viewdata in the UK, and beyond.  Obviously we're concentrating on it's heyday of the 1980s, however that doesn't stop us from covering current systems too!

We have screenshots, brochures, memories and stories, downloads, and even interactive access to demonstrations.  We plan access to systems that are still running, and emulations of past services.

We've got examples from commercial systems (Prestel being the biggest) and from non-commercial and hobbyist systems; we're not fussy! We would especially like to add information from systems which were not generally publicly accessible, as those are the services most likely to have vanished without trace.


Please feel free to contribute anything you have!  If you were an IP on Prestel or elsewhere, and have a copy of your pages from the time, we're able to republish them in an interactive format.   Individual screenshots are still welcome, of course, as are brochures and other documents.  Old backup tapes of entire systems would be especially welcome, however we're also very interested in publishing your memories and experiences of being involved with, or just using, viewdata systems.

Our main hope is for the discs from, or a backup of, the Prestel computers themselves to surface.  It seems that when they were finally switched off, nothing was officially retained.  Surely somebody took home a disc or tape?

To write privately, the contact page gives our details, or you may wish to contribute to our forum where you can reminisce in public.

We're also happy to exchange links with other relevant websites!  Just Contact us with the details!


Latest News

17th February 2016 rob A couple of links to very interesting videos from the BT Film Archive have been added to the Videos page.

8th August 2015 rob Back in the mists of time, (well, 1988..) I recorded one of my Prestel sessions to disc.  This was the first day of the new off-peak time charges, and many people were upset and leaving.  This session included my checking of emails, replying to a couple, and then browsing the chatlines.  Through the magic of emulation, and a bit of BBC BASIC, you now have the opportunity to watch me doing this all over again.  This is how we really used to use Prestel! See the Videos page to view it!  And PS: yes, I know more updates are long overdue!

17th January 2015 rob A long log time ago, in a world far far away, a young rodent by the name of Micromouse kept the nascent generation of online addicts informed and entertained by his news and opinion column.  A "blogger" before such terms were invented.. We won't mention the Prince Philip Prestel Hack.. As time marched on, so did Sqweeeks, becoming a well known, indeed world renowned, and highly respected IT Journalist and commentator.   On 12th January, Steve Gold died from complications arising from a heart operation, just days before his 59th Birthday.  He was a friend, and a great chap.  He will be sorely missed.  A memorial site is here.

21st October 2012 rob Wiki version is now available here although woefully incomplete.  Help and contributions are more than welcome!

9th July 2012 rob A little bit of breaking news from 1990 (Thanks Ant)

7th July 2012 rob We have moved site to a new host; if you see this, it's working! Phew..

26th May 2012 rob Blimey, an update! Just a note about cookies, sorry!

13th July 2011 Rob A new page and some new documents - read a little about CitiService, the link to the stock market!

18th March 2011 Rob Merry Red Nose Day!  Added two new old leaflets to the Silicon Village page.

9th February 2011 Rob Added a set of nice Prestel leaflets from September 1984.  

5th February 2011 Rob Created an overdue introduction page for Suppliers, and included some pages from a trade directory listing various suppliers.  Also added a page with brochures for Tandata, one of the major player in domestic hardware!

24th January 2011 Rob Added an experimental RSS Feed to the main website to keep you updated with the latest news.  Please let me know if there are any problems with this through the Contact page.

22nd January 2011 Rob Added a section on Healthdata, including a complete copy of their Offline Database! Thanks, David.

7th November 2010 Rob Added a Prestel Directories page, and added the first (of many!) directory to it.  See the breadth of information available!

31st October 2010 Rob Gosh is it that long since the last update? I'll have to get the scanner connected.. I've added another YouTube Video that mentions, and shows some pages from, Prestel.  It's an American item, but still interesting!

Older News



Sally Fraser
29 Oct 2012, 13:34
Hi, do you have any high res images of the Prestel system please? I'm holding an event and want to show a history of banking including Homelink the 1st home banking system which used prestel. Thanks.
21 Jan 2013, 14:45
please help trying to use an itu t v44+IPR=921600 v92 modem with a hi speed serial uart from sunix @921600bps
older slower itu t v42mnp5 v34bis modem conencts faster and works faster - why cant i use teh modem at teh speed the modem manufacturer designed it to work at is this BT hacking our computers as per?...

kevin darcy
13 Mar 2013, 12:34
I worked for some time at ITN providing typography and news copy for what I thought was the first commercial use of viewdata in the UK, called Oracle, competing very hard with the BBC, whose technical problems persisted for some time at the start. But I can find no mention of this on your pages. Can anyone help?
13 Mar 2013, 13:54
Hi Kevin,

If you wander over to www.teletext.org.uk you will find all the teletext stuff, including a copy of Oracle from it's last day!

Viewdata is usually distinguished from teletext by virtue of it being interactive - teletext was a pure broadcast medium, but viewdata could take back input from the user, at minimum for navigating through the database, but also for sending emails, purchasing goods, contributing to forums,etc. They used the same display technology, to pacify the TV manufacturers, whom were initially the people providing the means for us mortals to access the different services.

17 Mar 2014, 21:26
Screwdriver may be recognized as the handle of what Prestel themselves acknowledged as the number one (by way of accesses) company operating on Prestel. 818 was the node and the title, Timefame, included 'Leterbox' 'Microboard' etc. . Prestel was not happy with us - at one stage they cut us off with the pretext that our claim to having third parties access and amendment our data was not bona-fide. Later it was independently published that we had been 'hacked' (to use the word loosely. It was nothing more than a member of Prestel staff having been careless and left the door open to reveal all providers passwords). It took a London High Court action to reinstate us, but not before we 'admitted' our claim had been false!
Timefame quickly went on to develop their own system (Epnitex) that the Times, Financial times, BBC, ITV and others endorsed as more advanced than Prestel. It was interactive. That is to say businesses could link stock control, drug companies could use for drug trials (Adverse Drug Reactions), and supermarkets to warn their branches of faulty/bad stock to be removed from the shelves. Screens would automatically update to the user if head offices or others changed its data while it was being read. The software still exists. Until two years ago it was still set up, and fully operational (but not in use). The complex software is fully documented. To anyone reading this and reminiscing for 818's Letterbox pages (the first automatic publishing in the World of users interesting comments on any reasonable subject), then THANK YOU for having contributed to the enjoyment of many. (About 1.3 million monthly accesses - official figures). I hold many original Timefame on Prestel and later Epnitex screen shots that I had professionally taken, showing the likes of Harrods, Bejam (Iceland), Sainsbury's Army & Navy, Habit, Mothercare and numerous other clients who kindly contributed to our success, including providing promotional material and prizes for our many monthly quizzes.
A major problem marketing the operation was businesses could not understand the concept. "We have just had fax machines installed in all our branches" was a typical type of comment. The internet last week celebrated 25 years (1989-2014). Its first pages were simply white text on blue screens. It was many years before the internet 'caught up' and then passed anything the Timefame /Epnitex operation had been able to provide since about 1981.
I am in the process of moving home again for the second time in under three years. As a result any replies I may make to potential comments on here are likely to be delayed. (Many of our original readers are likely to be deceased by now). rwn 17/03/14
Neil McSporran
01 Dec 2014, 16:50
We have recently updated the 4 computers in our office. Unfortunately the Viewdata emulation software we were using does not work on the new computers. Any idea where I can get the necessary software allowing me to still use Viewdata on the new PC's?
Tony Metcalf
14 Jan 2015, 12:42
I have just posted a request for old viewdata kit. I also would be interested in emulation software.
How is the hunt for tapes and discs from Prestel going? My main interest is page 556.
And how about a few more mentions of Private Viewdata? I set up and operated the Philips MOVIES system. BMC had one as did Midland Bank. I am sure there were many more.
Louis Smith
29 Dec 2015, 17:17
Long ago and far away, I was the young engineer on the GTE Viewdata project - using the code from SDL in Camberly - running on a PDP-11/70 and using Intelligent Systems (ISC/Compucolor) terminals. We even did a demo at Interface '80 in Miami. Ran on dial-up lines over Telenet with x.25 addresses! Those were some fun days.
Colin Rothery
12 Jun 2016, 10:05
I worked for Telefusion PLC in the 70,s and 8o,s selling and renting viewdata terminals,into all markets ie credit scoring,transport(RHA)travel,our customer base grew into many thousands over a ten year period,Telefusion were dedicated to Prestel investing in a sales force over the UK with service centers in most major towns and cities,offering on site support and repairs by viewdata hardware trained engineers.
I have lots of information on the market bases we aimed for,and some stories of the early day,s of visiting customers to give on site demonstrations of the prestel databases relevant to their business.Regards Colin Rothery
Colin Rothery
07 Oct 2016, 12:51
contact me if you worked at Telefusion
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