Metal Mickey, 1978 – 1983

Exhibit / May 23, 2017

Object Name: Metal Mickey
Maker and Year: Johnny Edward, 1978-1983
Object Type: Robot
Description: (Richard McKenna)

After first appearing as a recurring character on British children’s TV show The Saturday Banana and scoring a hit record with his 1978 novelty cover of “Lollipop,” five-foot-tall remote-controlled robot Metal Mickey caught the eye of LWT producer Humphrey Barclay, who commissioned a self-titled spin-off series. The 41 episodes of Metal Mickey were broadcast on ITV, the newest of the three television channels then available in Britain, between 1980 and 1983. They featured the titular character cohabiting peacefully with British family the Wilburforces and becoming something of a flagbearer for a future of normalized human-robot interaction. Directed and produced by Micky Dolenz, formerly of The Monkees, the series was watched by 12 million viewers a week at peak—almost a fifth of the country’s population, testament to the prominent position robots held in popular culture. (It helped that the show aired directly after the Saturday evening football results.) The show’s cast included Gary Shail—best known for his appearances in Quadrophenia and Shock Treatment, the sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show—as the yobbish Steve, Lola Young (now Baroness Young of Hornsey) as Janey, prolific character actor Michael Stainton as “father,” and, as “Granny,” iconic actress Irene Handl, whose film appearances ranged from Carol Reed’s landmark 1940 thriller Night Train to Munich to 1979’s The Great Rock & Roll Swindle and 1986’s Absolute Beginners

Mickey himself was created, controlled, and voiced from off-stage by his creator, Johnny Edward, who on set refused to answer questions addressed to him, insisting that the crew speak directly to the robot. A guitarist, songwriter, and producer, Edward (born John Edward Flux) was an ex-member of The Manish Boys, a British R&B group whose vocalist was David Jones (later styled David Bowie) and whose 1965 cover of Bobby Bland’s “I Pity the Fool” featured a solo from popular session musician Jimmy Page. Edward had a huge pop hit in the UK with 1982’s “Save Your Love,” featuring Renée and Renato. The record, originally conceived as a satirical riposte to what rock ’n’ roll lover Edward saw as the loathsome kitsch of songs like The Brotherhood of Man’s 1976 Eurovision Song Contest entry “Save Your Kisses For Me, was the first from an independent label to reach the number one position in the UK charts, where it remained for six weeks until it was displaced by Phil Collins’ cover of “You Can’t Hurry Love.”

The same year that Metal Mickey disappeared from the air, Barclay—an ex-member of the Cambridge University Footlights Review, where he had appeared with John Cleese and Graham Chapman of Monty Python—commissioned No Problem!, British TV’s first sitcom to feature an all-black cast. Also directed by Dolenz, it ran for two years on the then-new fourth British TV channel, the nascent Channel Four.

Mickey’s cover of The Beatles’I Wanna Hold Your Hand” (which bore an unlikely resemblance to Neil Young’s Trans, released the previous year)—the last of his five singles, all released on his own Mickeypops label—came out in 1983.

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