ITV 59 - All Your ITV Favourites (And Here's Boomer) Part Five: Oracle

Well, it looks like it's one of those boring 'let's have a look at some of Britain's disappearing wildlife' bits in Tiswas/Good Morning Britain/That CITV One With The Family With The Teenage Son With The Ned's Atomic Dustbin T-Shirt, and so it's time to grab the remote and - after customarily hitting the wrong button three or four times - have a quick glance at Oracle!

Yes, Oracle - ITV's original Internet-trouncing teletext service, which if we're being honest about it sort of fulfilled a very different kind of purpose to its more celebrated BBC-catapulted counterpart Ceefax. Oracle nominally stood for Optional Reception of Announcements by Coded Line Electronics, and that 'Optional' bit was really what was important here; launched in the mid to late seventies (bafflingly, nobody seems to have any reliable idea of exactly when), at a time when ITV's broadcast hours were already wildly outstripping those of the BBC, there wasn't really very much scope or indeed need for a Pages From Ceefax-style out-of-hours promo/preview hoedown, and so people tended to alternate a quick adverts-averting glance at the blocky headlines with their regular ITV viewing, almost as if it was a separate channel in its own right. As such, and as we shall see, it didn't really need those same sort of attention-grabbing graphical splash screens that Ceefax routinely traded in, and was all a bit content-heavy as the youngsters have it, but there were still a few surprises along the way...

As you can no doubt deduce from the rather spartan Ipso-containers-turned-on-their-side logo, Oracle had an unnerving tendency to look somewhat more rickety and less solidly build than Ceefax, as though it was at risk of teetering over and collapsing in a pile of primary coloured lines at the bottom of the screen at any second. This structural uncertainty is also showcased in an example of a typical news menu page, featuring an almost comically quaint appeal to send in your newsworthy items by post, rare ITV showings for Newsround and Catterick, and the intriguing-sounding 'Report Froms'. And thirdly, here's some instructions on how to could get further info on something you'd seen in a TV show in the olden days before the coming of endless cascading flash menus that you can't work out how to navigate properly. £2.95? Getouddahere.

More staggering still than any requests for postal headline-lobbage or enthusiastically stated month-long wait for scrappy overpriced photocopied tie-in sheets was the fact that people really did genuinely used to rely on Oracle to keep them up to date with the latest up-to-the-minute football happenings. In the hope of drawing in further armchair rattle-rattlers who had thus far somehow managed to avoid TV, radio, newspapers and any actual football matches, Oracle would regularly deploy such attention-grabbing gambits as this quasi-animated logo variant apparently boasting a guest appearance from the thing off Entrance To Hades in Jet Set Willy, and a Video Nasty-fonted Bobby Moore writing 'exclusive' for Oracle. That's not 'exclusively'. Just 'exclusive'. Anyway, football fans should now be grateful we now live in a world where you can get all the latest soccertastic news by following Alan Sugar's football tweets as reinterpreted by Richard Herring.

Some rare excursions into Oracle-hewn graphic art next, and first up there's a TV Guide intro denoted by a telly with a stetson on it - no prizes for guessing that this hails from the era of Dallas-mania - followed by tediously typical learn-to-swim-young-man-learn-to-swim-era Thomas Cook-esque gender-politically-dubious 'holiday' iconography, and finally some Oracle-bigging-up newspaper-dissing facts and figures that were no doubt staggering for the time but now seem almost hilariously obsolete in the age of Caitlin Moran scurrying behind a 'paywall', which for some reason are accompanied by Mr. Noseybonk having a good peruse of his new remote control. Wonder if he's noticed the missing numbers yet?

Occasionally, and slightly more visually arrestingly, you would also encounter a rendering of an ITV region's ident. Though normally, for obvious reasons, you would only ever get your own regional insignia - above you can see STV and Central, both bewilderingly coming across as even more geometrically ramshackle than the originals, and TV-am's that-bit-at-the-end-of-The-Mr.-Men stripy blur (and yes, Roland's 'pad' will be getting its own entry in due course) - no doubt occasioning some disconcertingly thorough individuals to fashion their own makeshift I-Spy Book Of Teletext-Fashioned Idents to mark off whilst visiting ITV-disparate relatives across the country. You could have been watching unlisted Anglia-only repeats of The Secret Service, you fools!

One of the more ambitious uses of the angle-edged artistic effects at Oracle's disposal was Park Avenue, a daily soap opera ostensibly written by one 'Robbie Burns', which didn't so much deal in EastEnders (When It Was Good)-level taboo-challenging as it did those that might have been proposed by a writer spluttering "I have a horsey... neigh... neigh" at a Waggoners Walk script meeting. Some enterprising genius (sorry, we did try to find your name to credit you, but it was like trying to find the cinema listings on Oracle) has preserved an entire 'episode' and collated it into the animated masterpiece you see before you. People really did used to follow this, you know.

Meanwhile, seeing as how as it was really just mostly the same content as Oracle only with slightly different colours so nobody would ever suspect a thing, there isn't really very much point in running an individual entry on Channel 4's own Teletext service 4-Tel, so we'll just mention their even more ambitious daily running serial - the deeply hallucinogenic exploits of existential blue hound 4-T, seen here riddling with some Disney-qesue talking chess pieces - here. In the next frame he called them 'TVS Archive-Blocking Basts' and thew them in a bin.

Sadly, Oracle would end up losing out in the controversial (well, with fans of T-Bag) ITV franchise reshuffle of 1992, meaning that from 1st January 1993 it was replaced by Teletext, whose imaginative name tells you all that you need to know about how diverting their actual content was. Any reputation that Teletext may have seems to rest solely on Bamboozle, a bafflingly popular daily quiz in which The Dad From Happy Days posed such posers as "WHICH of the following is a popular Lenny Henry sitcom? A) CHEF B) DOG C) TACO D) LEDERHOSEN". Other than that, absolutely nothing controversial, noteworthy or in any way interesting happened on Teletext at all ever.