Max Headroom

  (Redirected from Max Headroom (character))

Max Headroom is a fictional artificial intelligence (AI) character, known for his wit and stuttering, distorted, electronically sampled voice. He was introduced in early 1985. The character was created by George Stone,[1] Annabel Jankel, and Rocky Morton. Max was portrayed by Matt Frewer and was called "the first computer-generated TV personality",[2] although the computer-generated appearance was achieved with prosthetic make-up and hand-drawn backgrounds.[3]

Max Headroom
Max Headroom character
First appearanceMax Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future (1985)
Last appearancePixels (2015)
Created byGeorge Stone
Annabel Jankel
Rocky Morton
Portrayed byMatt Frewer
Voiced byMatt Frewer
SpeciesArtificial intelligence
OccupationTelevision host



For his initial purpose of linking music videos, creator Rocky Morton conceived of Max Headroom as "the most boring thing that I could think of to do...a talking head: a middle-class white male in a suit, talking to them in a really boring way about music videos",[3] also deciding that he should be computer-generated. The character's personality was partly intended as a satire of insincere and egotistical television personalities. Morton described Max as the "very sterile, arrogant, Western personification of the middle-class, male TV host", but also as "media-wise and gleefully disrespectful", which appealed to young viewers.

Matt Frewer was chosen for his ability to improvise, and—according to producer Peter Wagg—his "ideally exportable" mid-Atlantic accent. The actor decided to model Max's personality after what he saw as the smarmy, self-important goofiness of The Mary Tyler Moore Show's Ted Baxter. In a 1987 interview, Frewer said: "I particularly wanted to get that phony bonhomie of Baxter ... Max always assumes a decade long friendship on the first meeting. At first sight he'll ask about that blackhead on your nose."[4]

The background story provided for the Max Headroom character in his original appearance comes from a dystopian near-future dominated by television and large corporations. The AI of Max Headroom was shown to have been created from the memories of crusading journalist Edison Carter. The character's name came from the last thing Carter saw during a vehicular accident that put him into a coma: a traffic warning sign marked "MAX. HEADROOM: 2.3 M" (an overhead clearance of 2.3 metres) suspended across a car park entrance.


The classic look for the character is a shiny dark suit often paired with Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses. Other than the publicity for the character, the real image of Max was not computer-generated. Computing technology in the mid-1980s was not sufficiently advanced yet for a full-motion, voice-synchronized human head to be practical for a television series. Max's image was actually that of actor Matt Frewer in latex and foam prosthetic make-up with a fiberglass suit created by Peter Litten and John Humphreys of Coast to Coast Productions in the UK. Preparing the look for filming involved a four-and-a-half-hour session in make-up, which Frewer described as "gruelling" and "not fun", likening it to "being on the inside of a giant tennis ball."[5] Only his head and shoulders were depicted, usually superimposed over a moving geometric background. Even the background was not created using computer graphics at first; it was a piece of hand-drawn cel animation produced by Rod Lord, who created similar computer-generated images for the TV series Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Later, in the United States version, the backgrounds were generated by a Commodore Amiga computer.[6] His chaotic speech patterns are based upon his voice pitching up or down seemingly at random, or occasionally becoming stuck in a stuttering loop. These modulations, achieved with a harmonizer, also appear in live performances.

The rights to the Max Headroom character were held by All3Media as of November 2007.[7]

TV historyEdit

TV movieEdit

Max Headroom originally appeared in the British-made cyberpunk TV movie Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future, which was broadcast on April 4, 1985.[3]

The Max Headroom Show seriesEdit

The TV movie consisted of material originally planned to be broken into five-minute backstory segments[3] for the British music video program, The Max Headroom Show, which premiered two days later. Max Headroom served as veejay, and its first episodes unusually featured no introductory title sequence or end credits. The show was an immediate cult hit, doubling Channel 4's viewing figures for its slot.

A second season, which broadened the original concept to include celebrity interviews and a studio audience, was produced in late 1985, and a third and final season ran in 1986. The second and third seasons were shown first on the US cable channel Cinemax, and on Channel Four an average of six months later.

A Christmas special was produced at the end of the second season and seen by UK audiences just before the regular run of the season, and just after the US season concluded.

Cinemax produced a fourth season of the talk show on its own, The Original Talking Max Headroom Show, which ran for six episodes in 1987. These episodes were never shown in the UK.

The series pilot won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award for graphics in 1986.[8]

Max Headroom seriesEdit

The final spin-off from the original film was the dramatic television series, Max Headroom, which was broadcast in the United States, running for two short seasons (mid-1987 and late 1987), with two more episodes shown later in 1988.

Shout! Factory released Max Headroom: The Complete Series on DVD in the United States and Canada on August 10, 2010.

Television hijackEdit

Unidentified man wearing a Max Headroom mask, as seen during the broadcast signal intrusion.

A broadcast signal hijacking of two television stations in Chicago, Illinois was carried out on November 22, 1987, in an act of video piracy.[9][10][11] The stations' broadcasts were interrupted by a video of an unknown person wearing a Max Headroom mask and costume, accompanied by distorted audio.

The first incident took place for 25 seconds during the sports segment of WGN-TV's 9:00 p.m. news broadcast; the second occurred around two hours later, for about 90 seconds during PBS affiliate WTTW's broadcast of Doctor Who.

The hacker made references to Max Headroom's endorsement of Coca-Cola, the TV series Clutch Cargo, WGN anchor Chuck Swirsky; and "all the greatest world newspaper nerds", a reference to WGN's call letters, which stand for "World's Greatest Newspaper". A corrugated panel swiveled back and forth mimicking Max Headroom's geometric background effect.[12] The video ended with a pair of exposed buttocks being spanked with a flyswatter before normal programming resumed. The culprits were never caught or identified.[13]

In other mediaEdit

Max became a celebrity in every medium outside his own television series, making cameo and sampled appearances or being parodied in other TV series, books, music,[14][15] movies, and advertisement campaigns.[7] He was the spokesman for New Coke (after the return of Coca-Cola Classic), delivering the slogan "Catch the wave!" (in his staccato, stuttering playback as "C-c-catch the wave!"). His own movie titled Max Headroom for President was discussed and canceled.[16] In 1986, Quicksilva released a Max Headroom video game, which was sold in the UK for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64.

Pixels (2015)Edit

In 2015, Max Headroom appeared in the film Pixels. Matt Frewer reprised his role in a cameo as the ominous alien liaison just before the final showdown between the Arcaders and the leader of the invading aliens, who have been posing as 1980s video game characters and celebrities.[17][third-party source needed]


  1. ^ YouTube video at the ICA with Stone, Morton and Jankel
  2. ^ Wogan, Terry (host) (14 August 1985). |url= missing title (help). Wogan. BBC1.
  3. ^ a b c d Bishop, Bryan (2015-04-02). "Live and Direct: The definitive oral history of 1980s digital icon Max Headroom". The Verge. Retrieved 2020-01-30.
  4. ^ "Mad About M-M-Max". Newsweek. April 20, 1987.
  5. ^ "Max Headroom's Matt Frewer Interview",, retrieved March 3, 2010
  6. ^ Foust, John (October 1987). "Max Headroom and the Amiga". Amazing Computer Magazine. Vol. 2 no. 10.
  7. ^ a b Mark Sweney (November 29, 2007). "Channel 4 resurrects Max Headroom to promote digital channels | Media". Retrieved November 29, 2013.
  8. ^ "Explore the Awards | BAFTA Awards". Retrieved November 29, 2013.
  9. ^ Ross, Andrew (1990). "Techno-Ethics and Tele-Ethics: Three Lives in the Day of Max Headroom". In Mellencamp, Patricia (ed.). Logics of Television: Essays in Cultural Criticism. Indiana University Press. p. 138. ISBN 0-253-33617-1.
  10. ^ Schwoch, James; White, Mimi; Reilly, Susan (1992). Media Knowledge: Readings in Popular Culture, Pedagogy, and Critical Citizenship. SUNY Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-7914-0825-4.
  11. ^ Forester, Tom; Morrison, Perry (1994). Computer Ethics: Cautionary Tales and Ethical Dilemmas in Computing. MIT Press. p. 74. ISBN 0-262-56073-9. [S]several other instances of uplink video piracy have occurred [...] WTTW (Channel 11 in Chicago) was also overridden by a 90 second transmission, this time by a man in a Max Headroom mask smacking his exposed buttocks with a fly swatter.
  12. ^ Knittel, Chris (November 25, 2013). "The Mystery of the Creepiest Television Hack". Motherboard. Vice.
  13. ^ Gallagher, Sean (November 22, 2017). "Thirty years later, "Max Headroom" TV pirate remains at large". Ars Technica.
  14. ^ "Muse Unveil New Song 'Dig Down', Video Starring Lauren Wasser". Retrieved May 21, 2017.
  15. ^ "Double Experience Resurrect 1980's Max Headroom in Music Video "AI Freaks Me Out"".
  16. ^ "Max Headroom On Way To B-b-big Screen - Chicago Tribune". December 10, 1987. Retrieved November 29, 2013.
  17. ^ "Max Headroom On Pixels Movie (2015)". Vimeo. 16 September 2019. Retrieved 16 September 2019.

External linksEdit