0. Sunk Head

May 15th, 2011 | spirit tracks

Pirate television used to be a science fiction signifier. MAX HEADROOM, for instance. Its overwhelming mediapocalyptic televisionscape may kindly be considered prescient, if not obvious, but one of its more charming elements was the pirate tv station Big Time, run from a converted Winnebago by ancient British punk Blank Reg. The first MAX HEADROOM tv film, aired in 1987, was subtitled 20 MINUTES INTO THE FUTURE. Pirate television was already 22 years old. The first pirate television broadcast that I know of was transmitted from Sunk Head, an illegally-occupied Sea Fort off the coast of Essex.

On 9 November 1965, at around 4.20 in the morning, a hundred-foot aerial atop the four-storey-high Sunk Head tower chucked a signal across eleven miles of water and fourteen miles inland. The broadcast was reportedly a still image, ghostly and monochrome: a white globe with a star and two Ts atop it, and the name of the nascent pirate tv station: Tower TV.

Sometimes I think that the real world was always moving faster than science fiction: it’s just that back then the real future was broadcasting at 4.20 in the bloody morning and no-one was around to see it.


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  1. You can find Warren on Twitter: @warrenellis