Max Headroom

I said to her that, you know, this is a really boring idea. We’re taking these music videos, which are really incredible, and then linking them together with stupid bits of graphics. It’s just not interesting.
I thought, maybe I should go with the whole idea of it being boring. What’s the most boring thing I could do just to annoy everybody? And the most boring thing that I could think of to do, which would really go against the grain for the MTV generation … was a talking head: a middle-class white male in a suit, talking to them in a really boring way about music videos.

And I thought, “Oh yeah, I’m on to something here. This is really dull and uninteresting.”

[…]

As a consequence, national car parks spent about 3 million pounds changing all their “Max Headroom” signage to “maximum height”. […]

The Max suit was in two fiberglass pieces, and they screw you into it. [Later on] we had different versions of the suit. There was the tuxedo suit, there was a sort of golf suit, and then there was a white tuxedo — all equally cumbersome, and they went right down to your elbows, and you couldn’t move around. But in a way, you compensate, and it becomes even more computer-generated [looking], because you’re sort of rocking back and forth to make up for the gestures that you can do with your arms or your feet or whatever. So you end up looking like this sort of jack in the box, squirming around. The TV gods giveth, and they taketh away. And what they tooketh away, I added. […]

For a time it was… I won’t say it was infuriating, but it was frustrating — you wanted to go, “That’s me, that’s me, it’s not a computer-generated man.” But of course they wanted to swear me to secrecy because otherwise anybody could make a computer-generated man if they knew that it was as easy as putting on all this make-up.

John Humphreys: I have to say, it was being presented as computer graphics, and I had people even say to me, who worked in some big companies in Britain, “Oh, you’ll soon be out of a job, look at this, it’s all done with computer graphics!”

Peter Litten: It was very galling. It won a BAFTA for graphics, and of course other than a few lines, there weren’t any graphics. A few wobbly lines. And they refused to enter us in the make-up [category] because they didn’t want anyone to know it was make-up. […]

One of the most bizarre things that ever happened was that Rocky and I were in LA, and the ABC version of 20 Minutes into the Future came on. We could not believe our eyes: it was a shot-by-shot identical retelling, with American actors that kind of looked like the English actors. We were flabbergasted that they would do this. They would go to such lengths to recreate props that we’d found in skips and we’d found in old junk shops and things.

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It was vicious in its condemnation of the way television worked. If you were a fan in those days, you’ll remember lines like, “The ratings are plunging, we’re down to 58 million!” and the one says, “Well, we could go porno early.” Of course we absolutely were biting deep into the bones and ligaments of the hand that was feeding us. And I don’t think they noticed, I truly don’t think they bothered to look at it until somebody somewhere said, “This is the fifth column, these are all probably communists or something.” […]

The problem was we never had a lot of pushback from the network on anything we were doing. Let’s face it, we were out there trying to do Blade Runner every seven or eight days. And for all my affection and respect for Peter Wagg and Steve Roberts, to some degree they were guys who not only had never done American network television — I’m not sure they ever actually watched it.

Max Headroom

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