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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Original Radio Scripts

Douglas Adams

  To the BBC Radio studio managers

  Publisher’s Note

  Hitchhiker’s was spelled in almost all possible ways from its creation in 1978: in October 2000 Douglas Adams decided that everyone should spell it the same way from then on. In the 25th Anniversary Edition we have used his preferred spelling in the new material, and in the original material it is printed as it was in 1985.


  Introduction to the First Edition

  Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition

  Foreword by Douglas Adams

  Complete Cast List













  How a ‘Lost’ Episode was Rediscovered

  Fit the Six-and-a-halfth or ‘Sheila’s Ear’

  Transmission Schedule

  A Note on Episode Titles

  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Who’s Who

  Introduction to the First Edition

  The first time I can remember coming across Douglas Adams he was standing on a rickety chair making a speech., and the thing I remember most about that was that it was really rather a strange thing to do, since he was already some six inches taller than anyone else in the room. He also pressed on with his speech despite being aggressively heckled by members of the cast of the Cambridge Footlights show that he had just directed.

  It was plain here was someone prepared to stick his neck out further than most people, someone who would carry on in the face of adversity, and someone who would shortly fall off a chair. I was right on all three counts.

  Some years later when I was producing the radio series of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy I was also to learn that he was an amazingly imaginative comic writer whose desire to push back the barriers of radio comedy was only matched by his desire for large meals in restaurants.

  I came to work for BBC Radio from a shipping company in Liverpool. I only went there because when I told the University appointment board that I didn’t know what I wanted to do they immediately told me to go into shipping. It was only afterwards that I realised they probably recommend everyone who comes in on a Wednesday and doesn’t know what they want to do to go into shipping. On Thursdays it’s probably accountancy, and so on. I sat around wondering what I was doing there for six months until I was recommended to the BBC as a potential producer by Simon Brett, who also started Douglas off with Hitch-Hiker’s. We both owe him an enormous debt.

  Prior to the shipping company I had been at Oxford and directed the University revue at the Edinburgh Festival for the previous two years. This made me an unlikely person to work with Douglas, he being a Cambridge man, not to mention nearly twice my size. If you saw us together you would immediately think of Simon and Garfunkel. Except that I don’t write songs and Douglas doesn’t sing. Well, he does, but he shouldn’t. He is, however, a very good guitarist (unlike Art Garfunkel) and is very keen on Paul Simon, whom he exactly resembles in no way at all. In fact Paul Simon actively refused to meet Douglas in New York when he heard how tall he was. This may have been because he had heard that Douglas was prone to falling off rickety chairs and to breaking his nose with his own knee and so was liable to step on him accidentally and squash him.

  Douglas is also the only person I know who can write backwards. Four days before one of the Hitch-Hiker’s recordings he had written only eight pages of script. He assured me he could finish it in time. On the day of the recording, after four days of furious writing, the eight pages had shrunk to six. Some people would think this was a pretty clever trick but I’ve been with Douglas when he’s writing and I know how he does it. When he wants to change anything, a word or a comma, he doesn’t just cross it out and carry on; he takes the whole page out of the typewriter and starts all over again from the top. Yes, he is something of a perfectionist but he would also do almost anything to avoid having to write the next bit. His other favourite way of putting off writing the next bit is to have a bath. When a deadline is really pressing he can have as many as five baths a day. Consequently, the later the script the cleaner he gets. You can’t fault him for personal hygiene in a crisis.

  But of course much of the strength of Hitch-Hiker’s comes from the fact that Douglas has sweated over every word of it. It’s not just funny, it is also very good writing; and one of the few comedy shows where people don’t think that the actors have made it all up as they went along. And at least Douglas was never quite as bad at overrunning deadlines as Godfrey Harrison, who wrote the popular 50s radio comedy show The Life of Bliss, who often finished the script some hours after the audience had all gone home.

  Fortunately we didn’t have to worry about the audience leaving. Amazingly there was some debate when the programme started about whether we should have a studio audience, since at that time nearly all radio comedy shows had one. In fact an audience for Hitch-Hiker’s would have needed about a week of spare time, since that’s about how long it took to make each show.

  They’d also have been thoroughly confused by the whole thing, since much of the time the show was recorded out of order, rather like a film, and only half the actors in any scene would actually be visible on stage. In fact we evolved a whole new form of radio performance, which Mark Wing-Davey called ‘cupboard acting’. All the various robots, computers, Vogons and so on had their voice treatments added after the recordings, so it was necessary to separate them from the other actors, and this we did by putting them in cupboards. During the series several elderly and very distinguished actors were reluctantly shut up in cupboards and only got to talk to the other actors through a set of headphones. Sometimes we would forget all about them and long after their scenes had finished a plaintive voice would be heard in the control box, saying, ‘Can I come out now?’The experience was all the odder because we recorded the shows in the Paris, BBC Radio’s main audience studio, in London’s Lower Regent Street, since at the time it was the only stereo studio with a multi-track tape recorder (albeit only eight tracks). The actors would consequently perform in front of rows and rows of empty seats, and sometimes when three or four aliens were taking part in a scene you could look out of the control box and there would be nobody on the stage at all. They’d all be in various cupboards dotted around the studio. Sometimes the actors played more than one part, sometimes as many as five parts. This of course was so that they could show off their versatility. It was also so that we could manage to bring the show in somewhere in the region of the budget.

  The actors were recorded without all the backgrounds and effects, which were put on afterwards. Contrary to many people’s beliefs most of the sounds are not pure ‘radiophonic sound’ but were made up by playing around with some of the thousands of ordinary BBC effects discs. Most of the synthesised effects and music were done on an ARP Odyssey, which sounds impressive unless you happen to know that it is in fact a tacky little machine which can be found irritating people in cocktail bars all over the world. The Radiophonic Workshop itself (housed in a pink painted converted ice rink in Maida Vale) is a marvellous lash up of bits and pieces of gadgetry gradually picked up over the years. When we started the series we spent many hours just finding out what some of the equipment could do (or not do in the case of their vocoder, which must have been one of the first ones around, took up a whole room and stubbornly refused to do
anything other than emit various vaguely unpleasant hums). However, if we had known how all the equipment worked we’d have missed all the fun of playing around with it, and I’d have missed all the fun of finding out what the pubs are like in Maida Vale.

  More playing around went on in the Paris Studio, where most of the shows were put together. Many of the backgrounds and incidental noises (like Marvin’s walk) were put on loops of tape which went round endlessly. Sometimes we would have three or four of these loops on the go at any one time and the cubicle would look as if it had been strewn with grim black Christmas decorations. But I can’t speak too highly of the efforts of the technical team, led by Alick Hale-Munro. I particularly remember one occasion when, after we’d overrun our mixing session for the umpteenth time, I received a stern phone call strictly forbidding me from incurring any more overtime for the studio managers. So at six o’ clock sharp, I said, ‘Right, that’s it,’ whereupon they all looked at me rather incredulously and said, ‘But we’re half way through this scene.’ When I explained I wasn’t allowed to let them run over they insisted on finishing the scene and said they had no intention of claiming any overtime. That sort of attitude was undoubtedly a great factor in the success of the show.

  The first time that we realised the show might not just be different but also successful was probably when a letter managed to find its way to my office addressed simply to Megadodo Publications, Megadodo House, Ursa Minor. Now if the British Post Office knew about the show then we really must have been on to something.

  Hitch-Hiker’s became rather a freak success for a radio show; after all, good as it was, Under Milk Wood didn’t go on to spawn a spin-off towel. Feeling, however, that radio shows were not big money spinners, BBC Enterprises turned down the suggestion of doing a book or a record of the show and the last I heard they were fiercely trying to win back lost ground by obtaining the soft toy rights. We were soon deluged by letters, some of which are quoted from in the footnotes (and some of which sadly seem to have disappeared somewhere between the BBC and Original Records, with whom we made the two Hitch-Hiker’s albums).

  The show was lavishly praised by all of the radio critics (except one who found it ‘noisy and confused’) and it went on to win a variety of radio awards (though it failed to win a European award, possibly because of a rather erratic translation into French).

  The show was also a big hit when it was transmitted on the BBC World Service, though there were one or two interesting criticisms. One listener in Belgium (excuse my language) asked, ‘Why should humour be frantic? Do we have to get it over quick, so that the smile can appear on the face, like when a doctor swiftly jabs a hypodermic into the bottom of a luckless child?’ A listener in Sierra Leone thought that ‘as a source of information it is misleading’ and asked if it could be ‘replaced by something more educative, such as a programme on National Anthems of the world’, and a listener in India strongly objected to ‘Robots taking part in a comedy show’. Who knows, we may start receiving messages from beings who have picked it up on the other side of the galaxy complaining about our inaccurate portrayal of the Vogons and saying how much they prefer their own comedy spectacular, Eg Twonkwarth El Ploonikon.

  The people who heard the show on the BBC World Service will have heard a slightly different version from the original BBC Radio 4 transmission. Those people who heard the BBC transcription service disc will have heard another version and those who heard the commercial records will have heard another version again. Those people who saw the television show will have seen another different version, and those people who have read the books will have come across yet another different version. But this book contains the original radio scripts, Hitch-Hiker’s as it was originally written, and exactly as it appeared for the very first time.

  Well, all right, like everything else involving Hitch-Hiker’s that is not exactly what it seems. These scripts include numerous alterations, amendments and additions, often made during recording, which helped to make a little more sense of the whole thing and gave us something to do while we were waiting for Douglas to come up with the next page. In addition some bits have been restored which were cut from the original transmission. Some of these bits were cut because, although they read well, they slowed down the dramatic pace of a scene. Some were cut simply for reasons of time, since each show had to be exactly twenty-eight minutes and thirty seconds and unfortunately twenty-eight minutes and thirty seconds is not a magically perfect length for every single show that is made. The pieces that have been restored are indicated in the script in italics.

  The short captions at the start of each episode, or fits as they were called (from Lewis Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark), are the original billings from the Radio Times, and the Announcer lines appeared at the end of the programme credits and were thought up either by me or Douglas.

  I have added some footnotes at the end of each episode which are not in any way intended to be comprehensive but simply contain one or two things that might interest people. They may not always be absolutely true or accurate, but where they are inaccurate I hope that (to quote the Guide) they are at least ‘definitively inaccurate’.

  I was aware of the sort of things people might be interested in from some of the letters. About half of them asked what the signature tune was, and since one person said they would ‘like to be able to hear the excellent background music without the annoying intrusion of the voices’,1 have included details of the main pieces of music that we used in the series.

  Most of the effects (called EX) directions that Douglas wrote have been retained. One critic wrote that Hitch-Hiker’s often sounded like somebody thinking out loud, and nowhere does Douglas do that more evidently than in these notes.

  My warmest thanks to the cast, who are all named in the footnotes, to Simon Brett, who has helped me to be accurate about the early days, to Paddy Kingsland for great help and moral support at the time and some memory-jogging lunches that helped me with the footnotes, to Alick Hale-Munro for his fantastic hard work on the shows and his magnificent door clunks, to Paul Hawdon, Lisa Braun and Cohn Duff, who helped him, to Dick Mills and Harry Parker at the Radiophonic Workshop, to my then head of department, David Hatch, who helped me make the impossible deadline of the second series, to Richard Wade, who kept repeating the show on Radio 4 at all hours of the day and night, to my ex-secretary Anne Ling, who was superbly unflappable at the time, who typed the script whenever she was given a chance and who has been of great assistance in getting various bits and pieces together for this book, and finally to Douglas for giving me such a tremendous opportunity as a producer. May we share many more large meals.

  Geoffrey Perkins

  July 1985

  Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition

  Having just re-read my first introduction I was reminded that we did indeed share and enjoy many more large meals but it was poignant to read this introduction again with its constant referrals to Douglas as if he is still with us.

  The morning that John Lennon was shot I remember being woken up by Douglas, who just wanted to talk about his shock. In a terrible echo, on 11 May 2001 I was woken up to be told of Douglas’s own sudden death and, in turn, I phoned several other people wanting to talk about the shock and to share memories of him.




  Often enthusiastic and clumsy at the same time. Things that weren’t nailed down were in trouble once Douglas got going.

  Tactless. I got quite a few calls over the years about exciting-sounding projects only to find out that he was actually phoning me to see if I had the number of someone else who he would rather like to do it; or that a project which sounded fantastic and involved travelling round the world for six months would actually involve me being in London for six months editing random bits of tape that he would send back from exotic places.

  Impractical. The Footlights show where I first came across him was pure Douglas. Inspired ideas
crashed up against impossible staging. I remember an endless blackout while a huge pillar was manhandled on stage with an actor sitting on top of it. Some twenty years later I was in Douglas’s flat with Jimmy Mulville (curiously the same person who had been heckling Douglas as he went through the chair at that Footlights after-show party). We had come to talk to Douglas about working with us at Hat-Trick and for about an hour Douglas, with all the huge enthusiasm he could muster (which was quite a bit), talked about some of his ideas. The main one seemed to involve sending him round the world (there’s obviously a theme here) to deliver a lecture. This would be exactly the same lecture in each place, but the big thing was apparently going to be that people would then be able to access any part of this from a whole range of different lecture halls. When Douglas finally paused to take breath and left the room for a second I turned to Jimmy and said, ‘Any idea what Douglas has been talking about for the last hour?’ and Jimmy replied, ‘No. Absolutely none.’

  Generous. He could be enormously kind. At a moment some years ago of personal tragedy he was the person who dropped everything to be with us and was hugely generous in ways which we only found out about quite a bit later.

  Brilliant. Like Marvin, he had a brain the size of a planet. And he had a breadth of interests that I hadn’t fully appreciated until someone at his memorial service berated me for a fixation with Hitchhiker’s as Douglas’ one big thing, pointing out that his knowledge and enthusiasm for both conservation and computers had had a massive impact on saving wildlife in Africa.

  It’s hard to remember now that the radio series of Hitchhiker’s was almost Douglas’ last attempt to make it as a comedy writer. He had been struggling to get anything on a variety of topical shows like the long- running Radio 4 series Week Ending. But the other side of someone who was a bit of a flop as a topical one-line-joke writer turned out to be someone who was just about the best ever writer of sustained, inventive surreal comic narrative.