‘Black Mirror’ is one of those shows where everyone has a theory about their favourite episode, everyone wants to know about how their favourite scene came to be and everyone wants to know what those behind the scenes have up their sleeve.
To help answer some of those questions, and treat fans to an unprecedented stroll behind the scenes, producers Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones have helped put together ‘Inside Black Mirror’ a new book offering the inside scoop on one of the most talked-about shows of the last decade.
With the pair taking each episode in turn and picking it apart as they reminisce, ‘Inside Black Mirror’ is chock full of trivia and facts about the popular anthology series. While we won’t spill all of the book’s secrets, here are just some of the most intriguing facts we found out along the way...
1. ‘I’m A Celebrity’ was an unlikely inspiration for the very first episode of ‘Black Mirror’
“The National Anthem was about humiliation and the public’s appetite for humiliation,” Annabel says. “The public will celebrate anyone if they are prepared to humiliate themselves for the public’s entertainment. Celebrities had begun to realise this: some were going on I’m A Celebrity for redemption, and others to try and extend their careers.”
2. The episode famously centres around a fictional Prime Minister and a pig, but there had been other animals in the frame for a while too
Channel 4’s Head Of Comedy Shane Allen recalls “a debate about why it had to be a pig”, claiming a duck would have been “too small and absurd”, while a “horse or donkey” would be “too cinematically cumbersome”.
3. ‘The National Anthem’ was named, in part, after a Radiohead song, though it didn’t make it into the episode
“Often I’ll name things after songs,” Charlie explains. “But that one just came up on Spotify and I thought it was a good title… there’s a sort of chorus of people throughout the whole episode and there’s something about doing your duty.”
4. Those shiny sets in ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ are a lot less elaborate than they appeared
Annabel reveals: “We reused sets. Everything seen is in that one set that we’ve redressed for the bedroom, or the bathroom, or the lift. They’re modular sets being reused and reused.”
5. Simon Cowell was also a lot less of an inspiration for Judge Hope than you might have thought
Director Euros Lyn says: “Our touchstone was some of the larger-than-life 70s Radio 1 DJs from my youth. At one point, [Rupert] wanted to wear a jumpsuit with a pilot’s hat!”
There was also concern that his character’s sunglasses bore too strong a resemblance to George Michael, with a compromise being reached that he would only wear them in one scene.
6. Multiple scenes from ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ which were eventually thrown out would have made the tone of the episode even darker
“On a hard drive somewhere, there’s an even worse version of the ‘WraithBabes’ video featuring Abi,” Euros recalls. “I shot something that was far too horrible to show. Oh God, I remember this awful phone call one Saturday morning. Charlie and Konnie [Huq, who co-wrote the episode] had watched the scene and been utterly speechless!”
An alternative ending would also have seen Bing and Abi living together, but unhappily, with the former becoming obsessed with ratings for his show, and the latter having become addicted to plastic surgery and the compliance drink she consumes earlier in the episode.
7. That eerie sex scene in ‘The Entire History Of You’ almost happened completely differently too
Initially, when Liam and Ffion are having sex, they were supposed to have been watching a previous encounter filmed through their “on their bedroom TV, like a couple watching porn”.
It was only when the logistics of this became complicated that Charlie Brooker had the idea that the replayed footage was played on the implants in their actual eyes.
He notes: “It made everything feel much more intimate and invasive and eerie… it made a scene that might’ve been amusing and a bit sad into something downright haunting.”
8. By the time Domhnall Gleeson’s inanimate robot body for ‘Be Right Back’ had been designed, the team had already changed their mind about what they wanted it to look like
“I was adamant that this thing should have no features,” Charlie reveals. “No hair, nothing… and then we ended up shooting this thing with ginger hair. We finally altered the shot using CGI to put more foam chips in the box and cover the hair up.”
9. But this wasn’t the only time that hair that posed a problem making ‘Be Right Back’
Charlie adds: “Ash in the attic was one of the most expensive shots in the whole series! Domhnall was about to shoot something else, and at that point in the schedule he had a beard that contractually we couldn’t shave off… ultimately we had to CGI out the beard. So the bottom half of his face is a fucking CGI reconstruction.”
10. The idea for ‘White Bear’ dates all the way back to another Charlie Brooker project, ‘Dead Set’
“Riz Ahmed was running up the road being chased by zombies,” Charlie remembers. “Some local kids turned up, just to watch what was going on. They got their phones out and started taking photos… so Riz runs past and they don’t help him because they’re taking photos. I was struck by that as an image.”
11. Incidentally, ‘White Bear’ is the only episode that there’s talk of a follow-up to in the book
Charlie says: “There’s a sequel idea that we’ve discussed for ages. What if the memory-wipe thing stops working? What if Victoria does start to get déjà vu? There was an idea where she does try to break out of the prison. I would never rule out a ‘Return To White Bear’.”
12. There’s also quite a bit of chat about how ‘Black Mirror’ wound up making the jump from Channel 4 to Netflix, and it involved Bryan Cranston’s anthology show ‘Electric Dreams’
“Maybe, they suggested, I could write one of those,” Charlie recalls. “They’d just told me they couldn’t afford to do our show, but what they were doing sounded conceptually similar. I couldn’t believe it.”
Annabel adds: “You can see why, from the outside, it looks like the Americans came in waving a load of dollar bills around and we all jumped. It wasn’t that at all. But once again, I do have to say that if it wasn’t for Jay Hunt and Channel 4, ‘Black Mirror’ would never have existed.”
13. Bryce Dallas Howard had only seen one episode of ‘Black Mirror’ before signing up for ‘Nosedive’, and it did not sit well with her
“I had quite the night, let me tell you!” she jokes. “I sent [her husband, who encouraged her to watch the episode] a series of videos of me crying, saying ’How could you do this to me? Why would you make me watch this?”... I just felt total betrayal.”
14. And her dad, director Ron Howard, reacted much the same after he saw her episode for the first time
Bryce remembers: “Afterwards, he shot up and started backing out the door… he then told me later that he was having a panic attack! He found it so unnerving and uncomfortable.”
15. You might have missed some of the more intricate details of ‘Playtest’
“The idea was that every experience Cooper has had, to the point where he plays the game - the pubs he’s visited, the places abroad - all get sucked up into his memory and then are used again,” Annabel explains. “Or he uses them as textural details within the world.”
We reckon this’ll make the next time we watch ‘Playtest’ an interesting experience…
16. The team had a bit of trouble finding a child for Alex Lawther to take an interest in at the beginning of ‘Shut Up And Dance’...
… “so I got my own daughter to do it,” Annabel reveals. “It’s what any proud mum would do.”
17. There was an important detail in the twist of ‘Men Against Fire’ that Charlie Brooker thinks people have overlooked
He says: “It’s easy to miss, but we explain in passing that the villagers don’t have this MASS system in their eyes. So the soldiers see the system to allow them to kill people, but the public don’t need that to demonise and hate people.”
18. The title of ‘Crocodile’ is actually a leftover from when the episode was very different
“Imagine,” Charlie reveals, “that your life is a simulated boat ride down a river… as a VR experience, it could be sunny and beautiful and you love it. But if it’s scripted that occasional random events will happen, such as a crocodile attacking you, well now that’s slightly different.
“And if you are really unlucky, and a crocodile attacks you in the first minute of you playing that game, then you think you’re in a horror game. You think, ‘from that point on, I could get attacked at any moment’... so that’s what Crocodile is: an analogy for somebody who’d been traumatised at an early age, and might be troubled by life forever and never be able to relax.”
19. Once and for all, the robot dog in ‘Metalhead’ is not real
“Just in case there’s still some uncertainty,” says VFX supervisor Michael Bell, “It’s all CG [computer-generated].”
20. A familiar face from the early days of ‘Black Mirror’ helped Letitia Wright land her role in ‘Black Museum’
Annabel remembers: “When Letitia did a self-tape audition for us, we were mesmerised by her performance because she gave it so much more than what was on the page.
“Like most actors, she had someone off-screen reading in the other lines, but we were distracted by this person’s voice… because it was Daniel Kaluuya [from ‘Fifteen Million Merits’], who was starring in ‘Black Panther’ with her!”
21. There was a lot for diehard ‘Black Mirror’ fans to take in during ‘Black Museum’
Among the subtle easter eggs you might see in the museum set are video screens showing a violent scene from ‘White Bear’, a dummy wearing an outfit from ‘San Junipero’, military gear from ‘Men Against Fire’, the bath from ‘Crocodile’, a scanning device from ‘USS Callister’, the “cookie-egg” from ‘White Christmas’, the robot body from ‘Be Right Back’ and a recreation of the ‘National Anthem’ scene, with a pig eating sweets from ‘Metalhead’.
And believe it or not, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
22. And, of course, there’s a little look to the future of ‘Black Mirror’ too
Including the promise of “new genres”, “the usual departures from the norm” and, according to Charlie Brooker, “the most complicated thing” the show has ever attempted in series 5.
‘Inside Black Mirror’ is available to buy now.