The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Further Radio ScriptsDouglas Adams
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Foreword by Simon Jones
Introduction by Bruce Hyman
Introduction by Dirk Maggs
Notes from the Cast
THE TERTIARY PHASE
THE QUANDARY PHASE
THE QUINTESSENTIAL PHASE
Complete Cast and Production List
Foreword by Simon Jones
Well, Douglas, old bean, I know you’d find it hard to believe this, but we’ve done it. It’s taken nearly a quarter of a century to do it, and it’s an evil injustice that you weren’t here to see it, but the job’s done. The entire saga of Arthur Dent, as I like to think of it, has now been recorded for the world’s auricular pleasure, and here are the scripts to prove it.
I’d like to say that I always knew we’d make it across the finish line. I’d like to, but it would be a lie. I really had my doubts. In fact, I gave it the same odds as a snowball’s chance in hell.
I’m not sure you ever knew, but after the second series Peter Jones and I made it a habit to meet for an annual lunch. Needless to say we would soon get around to weighing the latest rumours of a recording reunion, and usually ended up dismissing them as fantasy. In 1994 our rendezvous, at Peter’s suggestion, was at the Explorers’ Club, and we greeted each other in a state of high excitement. You had indicated to me that there just might be a further series, and, more concretely, a radio producer with the suitably science-fiction name of Dirk Maggs had been contacting the cast to check our availability. Peter was feeling particularly available at the time, and, come to think of it, so was I.
But, alas, it was not to be – at least, not then. You weren’t at all keen on the scripts that a third party had written, and having no time yourself to produce them, the moment passed. I recently found a letter from Peter in a long-neglected desk drawer – he hardly ever wrote letters, so I kept it for its rarity. (Actually, at the time, that wasn’t a consideration; I simply never throw anything away.) It’s dated December 22nd 1994, and says, among other things, ‘I hear from Dirk Maggs that there’s not much chance of a radio series as Douglas is working on a script for a film.’
Film was the medium you wanted to crack, and the more it remained closed to you, the more you became determined to see it achieved.
At that time also you were saying that you wanted to move on from Hitchhiker’s, and making a radio series out of what you’d already published seemed too much like a step backwards. After all, the first two books had come as a result of the story’s popularity on radio, hadn’t they? The last three sprang fully-formed straight onto the printed page. (Well, not exactly ‘sprang’; they were cajoled, bullied, you might even say tortured out of you by grimly determined editors, while you listened to the gentle ‘whooshing’ of deadlines passing by.)
As the years passed, my lunches with Peter became more concerned with talk about other things, including whether your pursuit of ‘the movie’ would ever come to anything and, if it did, whether we’d be too old to appear in it. Time continued to pass. Then the old team started to lose members – David Tate (the voice of Eddie the shipboard computer), Richard Vernon (Slartibartfast) and then Peter himself. I decided it was all over.
But Dirk stayed with it. He refused to be discouraged, though even he too must have lost hope when we were all hit by the ultimate disaster in May 2001 – your shockingly sudden death. He became, if anything, more determined to complete the work – as a tribute to you.
Ironic, isn’t it, that the whole idea truly came back to life at your memorial service, the following September, when he had a talk with your friend Bruce Hyman. It turned out that Bruce shared Dirk’s vision for the project, and was eager to proceed as soon as possible, as a tribute to you.
So it was with mixed emotions that I turned up that November morning in 2003 at the Sound House. I was furious that you weren’t going to be there, saddened by the similar absence of three old chums, anxious to hitch up with the others, and blissfully happy to be putting on the dressing-gown, literally and metaphorically, of good old Arthur Dent.
Incidentally, for all these years when it’s crossed my mind, it’s been a bit of a puzzler as to whether I could truly be, along with the likes of Christopher Robin Milne, Alice Liddell, and Peter Llewellyn-Davies, the unwitting inspiration for an enduring character of fiction. Just about the same time I found the letter from Peter, I also discovered a poster for the first three paperback novels of Hitchhiker’s. You had, in an even more expansive moment than usual, autographed it with the following dedication: ‘To Arthur, both in origination and realization, you will probably end up wishing I hadn’t signed this but here’s my signature anyway, love, Douglas.’ I have absolutely no memory of when you wrote that, so I can only assume that it was one of those evenings of which nobody present would have much recollection when the sun rose the following morning. However, I did begin to wonder, after speaking at the funeral and the memorial and reading the excellent biographies of you by Mike Simpson and Nick Webb, whether Arthur isn’t in a good part actually you. For example, you were the champion bath-taker, though it is true that I tend to avoid showers even when in America, where hardly anyone takes a bath (if you see what I mean). I hardly ever drink coffee and complain vigorously if my cuppa isn’t up to scratch. But there are other Arthurian characteristics that seem definitely more you than me. Whatever the truth of it, I perpetually thank my lucky stars that I treated you decently that day in Cambridge, when we were both undergraduates and you came to audition for the Footlights. I hardly knew you then but I really did think your sketch was funny – much more so than the pseudo-intellectual claptrap I’d had to endure before you arrived.
But that’s ancient history.
What were the recording sessions like? Well, for me they were unalloyed pleasure. I was relieved to find that the years had been kind to those of us who remained. Susan Sheridan, whom I hadn’t seen in an age, looked exactly the same – younger, perhaps. Geoff McGivern and Mark Wing-Davey I’d seen frequently over the years, so if they’ve deteriorated I’ve not noticed. I would, and I’m sure they would, prefer to say they’d matured, like fine old bottles of port. I have to admit, having lost most of my hair, and seen the remnant turn grey, that I felt more battle-scarred than the rest. But regardless of how we look, we sounded exactly the same, and thanks to the miracle of radio we were, and are, the same people we ever were. By the way, Dirk says he applied some arcane electronic test that proves my voice has dropped a semitone in the intervening
twenty-five years; funny, I always thought men’s voices became higher as they grew older.
Both Geoff and I, it might be amusing to note, found ourselves seriously challenged dentally, before we came to record So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish. I had had two front teeth knocked out on the forehead of a stagehand during a performance of My Fair Lady in Hartford, Connecticut, in the previous July. The insurance company had been, at first, reluctant to meet their obligations, and my permanent replacements were only installed three weeks before we started recording.
Geoff arrived at the Sound House with two lower teeth missing, after a dispute with a Christmas nut. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘it won’t make the shlightesht differensh.’ It’s amazing how effective emergency dentistry can be. Within a day he sounded less like a leaking steam engine, and more like the usual smooth-running Ford.
It was really striking, the ease with which we assumed our old characters. Perhaps we never really shed them. Geoff and I became Ford and Arthur straightaway, gossiping away with that tetchy affection that marks their fictional relationship. Somehow we recorded an episode a day, with Dirk complaining that if we were a film we could take a week to do four minutes. He was a splendid director, by the way, and I’m not saying that just because I want to work with him again. He was very good at tweaking a scene with just the right suggestion to the actors, and was very clear about preserving the primacy of the words above all the hubbub of special effects and Dolby 5.1 Surround sound. Believe me, you would have approved.
You’ll never guess what else has happened since those days in the late seventies in the Paris Studio. We’ve become a revered institution, and people who might have sniffed at the offer of a part in the old days were this time only too eager to join in the party. A good number of old friends have come back too – to tie things up. Roy Hudd returned as Max Quordlepleen, the irrepressible host of the cabaret at Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Rula Lenska flew in to reappear as the clone Lintilla from Perth (Scotland not Australia). Mark Wing-Davey was the one to come from Australia, where he’d been directing a musical. He came the furthest, though I came over from New York. David Dixon and Sandra Dickinson (Ford and Trillian, respectively, in the TV version) were invited along all the way from East Sheen and Chiswick, respectively.
Among the veteran radio comedy great and good, June Whitfield and Leslie Philips, whose careers in radio stretch back as far as the 1940s, graced our microphones for the first time with their charm and good humour. For Hollywood glamour, Christian Slater popped in with his two very well-behaved children to play Wonko the Sane. I’m not at all sure he knew what we were up to, but he played along with convincing gusto. Joanna Lumley was a very feasible alien lady with a head shaped like the Sydney Opera House. Jonathan Pryce was gratifyingly unhesitating in his determination to reprise his role as Zarniwoop, the editor of the Guide, while Miriam Margolyes, fresh from a series of ten documentary films following in the footsteps of Charles Dickens when he toured America, wasted no time in realizing the potential of Smelly Photocopier Woman. To fill the places of absent friends: Richard Griffiths amply took the place of Richard Vernon; the director of the Dublin-based Crazy Dog Audio, Roger Gregg, came in to do Eddie; and William Franklyn, an old friend of Peter Jones, brought a very similar and inimitable air of sophisticated bewilderment to the Book.
But the star of the show was, believe it or not, you. Your performance in reading the audio version of the books was so animated that your voice was transferred to our dramatization. You are playing the role you always fancied playing: Agrajag, the creature who is inadvertently killed by Arthur whatever life-form he adopts. It was distinctly surreal playing the scene with you in the Cathedral of Hate, exchanging dialogue with a speaker in a box – but the result is great.
Obviously I’m biased. I think Dirk has done an exceptionally good job in adapting the books for radio, and I’m sure the readers will agree. I hope that they will provide as much pleasure in printed form as they gave to those of us who were lucky enough to perform them. Quirky and bizarre, they capture precisely your unique way of looking at the world. Frankly, I don’t believe anyone, apart from you, could have done better – and as a tribute to you, and your remarkable mind, I am happy to endorse them without hesitation. So here they are. We dedicate them to you with our love.
We miss you.
Introduction by Bruce Hyman
I remember being at a BBC meeting for comedy and drama radio producers in about 1997. Most of us were from the independent sector and we’d been invited to Broadcasting House to hear what the network was looking for, in the way of new comedy.
‘I’d like to get out of the drawing room,’ said the BBC person. ‘What I want is, y’know, something bold. Wit and imagination, maybe something surreal, something that looks to the future . . . rather than the present.’
At the back of the room someone murmured in a wry, Ford Prefect-type tone, ‘You mean, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.’
Because the truth was that even in the late nineties, some twenty years after its first broadcast, Hitchhiker was still ahead of its time. As it happened, earlier that year I’d talked to Douglas about the idea of completing the series. We chatted about how it might happen, he mentioned the conversations he’d had with Dirk Maggs and we agreed that we’d keep talking. But Starship Titanic by then was in full sail, the Hitchhiker film (which was completed this year) was heaving into view – albeit at a distance – and somehow the time was never right. Until now. So here we are in 2005, once again celebrating Douglas’s quirky, wildly imaginative, thoughtful, witty, universal – and yet very English – creation. But the difference is that this time Douglas isn’t here to keep a watchful eye or to revel in the whole delightful process of dramatizing his much-loved masterpieces.
In fact, as Simon Jones says, the spark which brought these particular productions to life was Douglas’s memorial service in September 2001. I knew Simon, and I’d met the rest of the cast at various social events – usually at Douglas and Jane’s – but to see everyone assembled in one place just reminded us all how tantalizingly close the project really was. Dirk Maggs and I chatted and inevitably the conversation turned to Hitchhiker.
‘We have to do it.’
‘We can’t not do it.’
‘We should ask the cast now, all of them.’
‘Well, perhaps not this minute, but soon.’
That is as accurate an account of the conversation as I can give, although I can’t be sure who said what. Still, I was determined that this time it would happen and I knew we had the right team to do it. All it would take was, well, to get Jane’s blessing, persuade the BBC, agree terms with Douglas’s über-agent Ed Victor, produce the scripts and then find six consecutive days in which the entire original cast would be willing and able to record. In the event, that whole process took about two and a half years, much more than we imagined, but by the time we signed the last contract and sent off the final script we knew we were in good shape.
Some decisions had been more delicate than others: crucially we’d needed to find a replacement for the much-loved Peter Jones, although that actually turned out to be less arduous than it might have been. We wanted a familiar, reassuring voice, but one which also conveyed that laconic, irreverent tone which Peter had in abundance. It seemed to me that Bill Franklyn fitted the bill perfectly – he understood comedy, he had vast experience as well as one of those voices which makes you smile the moment you hear it. It also transpired that he and Peter had been friends for years, so it all just sort of made sense. The difficulty was to explain this change of voice to the satisfaction of the millions of existing Hitchhiker fans. Life, the Universe and Everything contains several references to the Book being upgraded, so we thought: why not introduce Bill as the Voice
of the Upgrade?
We also had to cast Agrajag, the constantly reincarnated creature whose mission in life is to enjoy just one ripe old age. In one of the most satisfying pieces of casting I have ever been a party to, we managed to get Douglas himself; it was the part he had always wanted to play, and we were able to use extracts from his recorded reading of the book. Thus Episodes 1 to 6 began to take shape.
It is tempting to say that these were the first steps in an epic struggle, but actually the journey, although slow at times, was relatively painless. Helen Chattwell, my fellow producer, had the great advantage of a superb ready-made leading cast, though with the huge drawback that they were dispersed not just across the country but around the globe, but she managed the entire process with the military precision of a Vogon. On the other hand she discovered what we had always suspected, that Hitchhiker had become a much-loved institution, and wonderful actors (just have a look at the cast list) needed little persuasion to join the team, even in the smallest parts – I think Chris Langham, Griff Rhys-Jones and Joanna Lumley have no more than a page or two between them, but what performances they all gave.
The other major decision to be made was about the music. It was Jane’s outstanding idea to ask Douglas’s great friend Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens to compose the score, and although you obviously can’t tell from the printed page, it is magnificent. A special mention too, for Philip Pope’s song in Episode Three, which is a brilliant homage to – well, it should be obvious. And Philip didn’t stop there, because he also appears throughout the series in a variety of undetectable guises.
It is a tribute to Douglas that he was able to inspire such dedication from so large and distinguished a team. Simon Jones, Geoff McGivern, Stephen Moore, Sue Sheridan and Mark Wing-Davey led the way, with all the kindness and quiet authority of a group of benign school prefects. As soon as they spoke, we relaxed – we were back on familiar ground, home territory, and the recording sessions were remarkably good fun, especially given the weight of Hitchhiker history behind us. There was scarcely a day without visitors, from Douglas’s family to press to our resident cameraman, Kevin Davies, and even some competition winners (their prize was to feature in one of the crowd scenes). I’ve said this a few times, but how the producer of the original series, Geoffrey Perkins, and his team managed to make Hitchhiker 1 and 2 with just quarter-inch tape and a razor blade I cannot think. Our studio looked like the flight deck on the Heart of Gold.