Max Headroom

Real Name:
Matt Frewer
Max Headroom was a fictitious British television character created by directors Rocky Moreton and Annabel Jankel with writer George Stone to present the Channel Four music video series The Max Headroom Show. Although he was supposed to be the world’s first computer generated artificial intelligence television presenter, Max himself was a combination of various elements without the use of any CGI. He was portrayed by American born Canadian actor Matt Frewer (born 1st January 1958, Washington D.C.) wearing special prosthetic make-up in a fibreglass suit created by John Humphreys. Traditional hand drawn animation was used to create the rotating lines behind him and innovative video editing techniques by Roo Aiken added to Frewer’s performance, which was so convincing that the viewing public at large believed that Max was really computer generated.

The background story of Max Headroom was told in a one hour television film entitled Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into The Future that was centred around the character of TV reporter Edison Carter (also portrayed by Frewer) being silenced by the network he was working for, before being left for dead after his mind had been copied and transferred inside a computer. It was shown in April 1985 just a few days before the first episode of The Max Headroom Show, both film and series were instant hits.

The character was originally intended to be a talking head that linked music videos together using witty and often nonsensical dialogue throughout each episode of the show, but that all changed when he became more popular than the music promos being shown. The viewing audiences were fixated on the strange looking stuttering host and nobody involved in the making of the series had envisaged the huge response from the public. By the end of the first season the format had been altered to include segments where Max interviewed some of the biggest names in music asking them random questions from shoe sizes to golf and occasionally made fun of them. Max Headroom had become a huge phenomenon in the UK. His new found rise to fame saw him appear on the front cover of various publications, guest on chat shows and star in a series of television commercials for Radio Rentals.

Chrysalis Visual Programming, the company that owned the Max Headroom franchise began licensing Max Headroom merchandise including posters, postcards, t-shirts, a video game, a home video release and a story book of the TV movie. A second book Max Headroom’s Guide To Life by the shows writers Paul Owen & David Hansen was also published that included some of Max’s best monologues from his TV show.

In 1986 an extended version of the Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into The Future that included segments from the The Max Headroom Show along with a six part compilation series from the first season were shown on the US cable television channel Cinemax. Max had also hit the big time there, duplicating the success found in his country of origin although instead of starring in commercials for a TV rentals firm, he was starring in a series of advertisements for the Coca-Cola Company’s New Coke campaign.

In June of the same year Max appeared with the Art of Noise, the creators of The Max Headroom Show’s theme tune on their hit record Paranoimia and in its accompanying promotional video. The record was a huge hit and it introduced Max to an even larger audience around the world. A discussion was then made to show the second season of the Channel Four series in the US first instead of the UK because of his high rising popularity there helped by the huge sales of the track that was still in the charts at the time of transmission. Max appeared as an interviewee on one of America’s highest rated chat shows to promote the new season.

The format of the second season had changed drastically to that of the first as non of the music videos were shown in full giving more prominence to Max so that he could talk about various things in length and also to sing his own songs. Every episode featured big name guests. The series was a smash hit and was followed by the Christmas special, Max Headroom’s Giant Christmas Turkey that aired first in the UK. A single was taken from it entitled Merry Christmas Santa Clause (You’re A Lovely Guy) that surprisingly failed the make any chart impact partially due to the late release date of the record. After Channel Four had shown the festive episode they then aired the delayed second season of The Max Headroom Show which would be the last chance for British audiences to see Max Headroom, the talking head as the star of his own show as in the USA things were taking a different direction in 1987.

The UK company Chrysalis/Lakeside were commissioned by ABC to produce in association with Lorimar-Telepictures a new Orwellian science fiction reboot series for American audiences based upon the adventures of Edison Carter entitled Max Headroom. The original TV movie had to be remade with some variations to allow for the change of location from the UK to the USA and for subsequent episodes to follow. Apart from Frewer, only Amanda Pays and William Morgan Sheppard reprised their roles as the original cast was replaced with a US one. The groundbreaking cult series became a hit with fans but Max Headroom himself became something of a secondary character to that of Carter. The show was unique and the first for an unknown actor in the States (Frewer) to star as the two leading characters in a major network series. The show ran for two seasons with a total of fourteen episodes before it was cancelled.

The third and final season of The Max Headroom Show under the new title The Original Max Talking Headroom Show, again for the USA. The season was once again reformatted as a pure chat show that ran once fortnightly and ran for just six episodes.

New Coke was a complete failure and with no further episodes of The Max Headroom Show or Max Headroom being made the worldwide phenomenon of Max Headroom was over. He disappeared in late 1987, never to be seen again until twenty years later when Channel Four used an elderly version of the character to promote the UK’s digital television switch over from analogue, again portrayed by Frewer.

For years there have been rumours of Max Headroom returning to television either as the talking head of his show or as a character in a new series of the science fiction series or even a theatrical movie, but nothing has surfaced. In the USA a box set of Max Headroom – The Complete Series was released on DVD, containing all fourteen uncut episodes and a single release disc was issued in Japan Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into The Future.

Due to music publishing rights it is very unlikely that The Max Headroom Show will be officially released as a DVD or Blu-ray set, however countless bootlegs are in circulation proving that Max Headroom is still popular today, more than 28 years after he first appeared on our screens.

Singles & EPs

Max Headroom - Merry Christmas Santa Claus (You're A Lovely Guy) album art Max Headroom Merry Christmas Santa Claus (You're A Lovely Guy) (Single) Chrysalis Canada 1986 Sell This Version
Max Headroom - Paranoimia album art The Art Of Noise With Max Headroom The Art Of Noise With Max Headroom - Paranoimia (Single, Maxi) China Records Spain 1986 Sell This Version