The British Post Office, now British Telecom, experimented with videotex in the early 1970s. In 1979, it launched its videotex service, also called viewdata. The technology was to have mixed fortunes.
     It used expensively adapted television sets and telephone lines to connect to remote databases and  was able to allow users access to thousands of pages of information. But those users proved to be elusive.
The technology was a forerunner of on-line services today. Instead of a computer, an television set hooked to a dedicated terminal was used to receive information from a remote database via a telephone line. The service offered thousands of pages ranging from consumer information to financial data but with limited graphics. The service was too expensive to attract consumers in any significant volume. The cost of the adapted 'televisions' was nearly three times a normal set, certain pages were charged and telephone bills were additional.
     The system proved to be prohibitively expensive for the consumer market. British Telecom was to focus on the business sector by the late 1980s, but the service was still struggling to make any commercial impact. Ahead of its time, without the benefit of cheap personal computing, the technology was to be an expensive failure.
     Sam Fedida, Computer Applications Manager British Post Office Research Laboratories, was the acknowledged inventor. He was a research engineer who had been at the fore of a host of cutting edge projects. The first public demonstration was in late 1974 on a Hewlett-Packard minicomputer. Its commercial launch was effectively early 1979. It was a sad irony that Clive Fedida, son of the inventor and British Telecom executive, was to be instrumental in closing the service in the spring of 1994.
     British Telecom all but dropped the general consumer, concentrating on a supposedly more lucrative market in the business subscriber. By some it was considered to be ahead of its time, a visionary product of a design engineer. Others considered the experiment an expensive research toy with little commercial value.
     The inventor of Prestel is currently (Fall 1995) in retirement in Felixstowe, East Anglia, on the east coast of England.

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