Headroom’s first appearance in Smash Hits came in 1985, following the debut on 6 April that year of his television series for Channel 4, ‘The Max Headroom Show’. Purporting to be computer-generated, Headroom assumed the role of VJ on his show and played music videos which he invariably interrupted with often somewhat disrespectful comments about the artists or their songs or the promotional clips they had filmed to promote their work. Sometimes his chatter would have nothing to do at all with the musical material he was broadcasting, his voice randomly increasing or decreasing in pitch, or becoming scrambled, or skipping like a stuck CD. It seemed that at least once in every edition of his show his speech would end up in a perpetual loop until he snapped himself out of it. Paranoimia made much use of his stuttering vocal delivery and his egotistical nature.
Smash Hits speculated on how Headroom was created: “Is he really a computer-copy of a human brain? Is he a man with make-up? Is he just a puppet tarted up with a bit of computer graphics?” they wondered. The producer of ‘The Max Headroom Show’ told them he was all of those things, but in fact he was portrayed by American actor Matt Frewer after over four hours in the make-up chair before each performance. Only Headroom’s head and shoulders were seen on screen; Frewer’s face and hair were fashioned to appear like moulded plastic, his eyes were often covered by large, dark Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses, and over what could be seen of a stiff white shirt he wore a shiny black suit jacket and tie which appeared to be made of stiff PVC: in reality, he stood in a rigid fibreglass mould. Frewer was raised in Canada and had an indeterminate mid-Atlantic accent that was deemed perfect for an artificial intelligence; once some effects had been added, he sounded not unlike early synthesized voices heard on devices like the popular 80s children’s educational toy Speak And Spell.
Smash Hits tried to establish the official Max Headroom story. His full name, they discovered, was Maximum Headroom 2.3m. This was the last thing that investigative journalist Edison Carter had seen on a sign in a car park before becoming involved in an accident that left him in a coma; a copy of Carter’s mind was uploaded to a computer by shadowy big corporate Network 23 and Headroom took his character from Carter’s memories. No such technology was available at the time of course, and the backgrounds Headroom stood in front of were not CGI: the designs were painted on glass screens. Headroom spoofed the insincere presenting styles rife on television then as it is now. Showing little interest in his audience or in the music industry and its artists, he was as likely to play a clip of a chart hit on ‘The Max Headroom Show’ as he was to play something by a very obscure artist; he often favoured songs by early 80s futurist acts. The show ended on 10 March 1987 after three series, but Headroom turned up in other media thereafter.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Jun. 9
The ART OF NOISE with MAX HEADROOM Paranoimia (China WOK9)
David BOWIE Underground (EMI America EA216)
Peter MURPHY Blue Heart (Beggars Banquet BEG162)