Max was created by Peter Wagg, head of creative services at Chrysalis Records in
London and George Stone, then working for an advertising agency. The name came first
and after making connections with Andy Park at Channel 4 TV they were given the go-ahead
to make a series, but a team of animators and directors were then needed to bring
him to life.
Video directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel had been successfully directing promo
clips for the likes of Elvis Costello and Donald Fagen through their Cucumber productions
company since the late seventies, but were now considering moving in to TV and, eventually,
Morton and Jankel directed the initial one-off drama. Broadcast 4th April 1985 by
Channel 4 'Max Headroom Twenty Minutes Into The Future' saw video journalist Edison
Carter (played by Matt Frewer) working for Network 23, the only TV channel that employs
Blipverts, adverts whose content was been concentrated into three-second bursts intended
to get into the subconscious mind of viewers. Carter intends to expose the truth
that the adverts are actually killing viewers with neural overload. Pursued by the
baddies in a motorbike chase, Carter doesn't look ahead at a crucial moment, smashing
in to car park sign which said "Max Headroom 2.3M" The crash doesn’t kill him and
he is taken unconscious to the teenage computer prodigy who created Blipverts who,
when the network isn't looking, creates artificial intelligence video-generated personality
software. He loads Carter's consciousness into the software, creating the Max Headroom
character, named after the last thing Carter sees before the accident. However, the
technology is then stolen and given to pirate TV channel Big Time who use Max to
introduce and interrupt video clips, becoming a star in the process. His cheesy wit
and wisdom comes with an annoying mid-Atlantic accent and video stutter, but it was
a part of Max's charm and this trademark would become the hook for impersonators
around the world, while Max's character may even have had an influence on Jim Carey's
early hit movies like The Mask.
Having Chrysalis as the show's producer gave them access to Midge Ure and Chris Cross
from Ultravox to provide the score.
In the real world Max became a star very quickly, appearing in his own series on
Cinemax in the US and Channel 4 in the UK, while his image was used in Coke commercials
on TV and even having his own hit single, Paranoimia, with The Art Of Noise. Chat
show kings Terry Wogan and David Letterman had him as a guest, albeit on a video
screen, while he also guested on Channel 4’s Bliss and The Tube in the summer of
While the first series saw Max on his own, the second, beginning 22nd July 1986 on
Channel 4, made room for guests like Roger Daltrey, Duran Duran and Boy George, while
the third, beginning 6th January 1987 had an audience present and played host to
film stars and other non-pop celebrities. So popular was Max that Chrysalis even
dedicated a horse race in his honour, the Max Headroom Stakes in the summer of 1987.
Another series, The Original Max Talking Headroom Show was not shown in the UK, while
ABC in the USA developed a sci-fi series based on the pilot show which ran for two
seasons in 1987 - 1988.
Like Crocodile Dundee and John Hughes movies Max was everywhere in the late eighties,
and then suddenly nowhere. Bar a cameo appearance in the 2015 movie Pixels he was
absent for decades, while Matt Frewer continues to have a successful acting career.