I think we certainly will do more radio, it's just a matter of time and opportunity.
- Douglas Adams
In 1978 the first series of radio comedy The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, written by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 to great acclaim. This, later called the Primary Phase, was retold across different media, with a television series in 1981, numerous (largely unsuccessful) theatre shows, five books (published 1979-1992), a computer game, a record and eventually even a film.
In June and July 2012 many of the surviving cast reunited to recreate the original radio series, with some bits from the television series and novels thrown in for good measure, but this time live on stage for a touring show. Don't Panic!
Radio Ga Ga
The first six episodes, called 'Fits', of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy were written by Douglas Adams with his former flatmate John Lloyd. These were followed by a seventh episode or 'Fit' broadcast in time for Christmas that year. The Secondary Phase radio series of five further episodes, also co-written with John Lloyd, was broadcast in 1980.
In 1992 Douglas Adams approached radio producer Dirk Maggs to see if he would be interested in adapting his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels from Life, the Universe and Everything onwards for radio, although Douglas did not want to write the series and had hired another writer. Dirk Maggs has since said, 'The proposed third series quickly ground to a halt due to contractual and script difficulties.' Another attempt in 1997 was halted by Adams' attempts to adapt the story for film, as film companies were unwilling to invest with potential rival productions underway.
Radio - Someone Still Loves You
Then sadly in 2001 Douglas Adams suddenly died. With Douglas' widow Jane's permission, Dirk Maggs and Bruce Hyman of Above the Title Productions completed the radio adaptations. The Tertiary, Quandary and Quintessential Phases were broadcast to great popular and critical acclaim. The Tertiary Phase was adapted from Adam's novel Life, the Universe and Everything and broadcast in 2004. This was followed in 2005 by the Quandary Phase, based on So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, and the Quintessential Phase, based on Mostly Harmless1. As many of the original cast returned as possible, but some roles were recast, most notably the Book, as Peter Jones had passed away in 2000.
All the Galaxy's a Stage and Small Furry Creatures from Alpha Centauri Merely Hitchhikers
Simon Jones enjoyed the experience so much that he later discussed the idea of a live show with Dirk Maggs, although the cast had never performed in character in front of an audience before. After triumphant performances at the Sixth Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture in 2008 and the Hitchcon in 2009 to see if the idea was feasible, a full-scale touring production was prepared.
The original radio scripts had been written by Douglas Adams with John Lloyd, and both series had been edited for broadcast2. Dirk Maggs felt that, as the live show did not need to conform to a half hour time slot, lines that had been edited out of the original radio series for timing reasons could be reinstated. Similarly, as the novels were entirely written by Adams, Maggs chose to follow the events of the novels rather than events in the radio series that had been written by John Lloyd. Another scene, in the Vogon Court of Enquiry, was written to be a slapstick sketch as a tribute to Douglas Adams' original Cambridge University Footlights writing style.
The show took the format of a limited performance, as well as reading from the script. The characters appeared in costume and interacted with a small number of key props, most notably Marvin the Paranoid Android. The sound effects and props team were dressed in black and appeared on stage during the show, enabling the audience to see how the sound effects were being made but not distracting audience attention away from the actors. For example, when Arthur encounters the demonic bat-like Agrajag, one of the sound effects team repeatedly opened and closed a small, black umbrella near Simon Jones' head to make the flapping wing sound.
Have you heard of the Shoe Event Horizon? The B-Ark? Old Thrashbarg and the Perfectly Normal Beasts? All of these events should be in your past but they have not occurred. According to our records you have missed out whole chapters of your life.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show Live! opens with Douglas Adams' answerphone message saying he is out at the moment, which is followed by some extracts from radio interviews with him. After a moment of silence, the audience hears the unmistakable tone of the Doctor Who theme before the Vogons threaten to cut the audience 'into little pieces'. And then it is time for the curtain to rise as the show begins.
You won't enjoy it.
The first Act consists primarily of material from the first four Fits, with the story rushing through really very quickly. The Vogons announce the demolition of Earth and it is demolished immediately. The Book then provides an explanation, stating that Deep Thought was created to discover the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. A scene then features Deep Thought as it completes this task. This leads into the Earth's creation as a computer designed to find the Question to fit the Answer of 42 and the Book explains that the Earth's demolition took place just before the time of readout.
Most of the scenes with Arthur and Ford set on the Vogon spacecraft are retained. The emphasis on the importance of towels comes much earlier than in the radio series. Zaphod Beeblebrox is not mentioned until 35 minutes in: in other words he and Trillian do not appear in the first quarter of the live show at all.
A lot of the comedy comes from the extras dressed as the various props, such as the Nutrimatic Machine. Its failure to make tea is also heavily featured, leading to the Sirius Cybernetics Company Jingle, which the audience is encouraged to sing along to. This is much to Arthur Dent's disgust - he doesn't want a song but a cup of tea. It is also impossible to envisage a more camp door than that leading to the bridge of the Heart of Gold, with it delightfully saying risqué phrases such as, 'Please enter me from any direction'. The Heart of Gold is a highly advanced prototype spaceship - it is equipped with the Infinite Improbability Drive that allows it to travel to anywhere in the universe - but has no security features to speak of, as it has been stolen by Zaphod Beeblebrox.
They all travel to Magrathea and the first half ends with Arthur, Ford, Zaphod and Trillian being exploded after being shot by the Galactic Police who are out to recover the stolen spaceship.
Ghastly. It is all absolutely ghastly.
The second half begins with coughing Vogons reporting that the Earth has reappeared due to it being in a Plural Zone. Arthur is diverted to Agrajag's cave. Ford is in the Megadodo Publications' Hitchhiker's Guide Building on Ursa Minor, which has new owners, and he rescues Zaphod from an artificial reality.
When Ford, Zaphod and Arthur all think they are dead, they are teleported by their Babelfish, who can use the same method of transportation (continuous probability transference) as the dolphins who left the earth before its destruction. The Babelfish returned to the same probability arc on the pico-moment before certain death.
They reunite at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where host Max Quordlepleen heckles the audience before a choir from Krikkit perform the 'Beneath the Ink Black Sky' song from the Tertiary Phase. The audience witnesses Zaphod Beeblebrox order a Pan-galactic Gargle Blaster and sympathise with the long-suffering barman while the plot, such as it is, follows the television series with Hotblack Desiato and the Dish of the Day appearing.
Slartibartfast appears at the Restaurant, warning Arthur about polluted time streams and the sense of Déjà vu. Arthur is reunited with a much-older Trillian, and their daughter Random, who encounters the Guide Mark II (which is out to destroy the universe). Fortunately the universe is saved by Marvin's bleak outlook. Marvin then proceeds to sing his 1981 hit 'Marvin' and Slartibartfast flushes Arthur and Ford back to the start of the story from the gentleman's toilets, leading directly into the original radio series.
Of course it is well known that the show isn't over until the fat lady3 - or in this case the manically depressed robot with a brain the size of a planet - sings, so Marvin once again demonstrates his vocal talents with the lullaby 'How I Hate the Night'.
Slartibartfast: Earthman, you need to avoid spending time with these people if you possibly can.
Arthur: You'll get no argument from me.
Characters and Actors in Bold appeared in the original 20th Century radio series.
|Arthur Dent||Simon Jones|
|Ford Prefect, Deep Thought||Geoff McGivern|
|Zaphod Beeblebrox||Mark Wing-Davey|
|Marvin the Paranoid Android, Whale, Gag Halfront||Stephen Moore|
|Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz, Slartibartfast||Toby Longworth|
|Colin the Robot, Max Quordlepleen||Andrew Secombe|
Although most of the actors had appeared in the original broadcasts, there were some changes, especially as some actors had died since then or were otherwise unable to reprise their roles. Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz had originally been played by Bill Wallis (1936-2013), Slartibartfast was originally Richard Vernon (1925-1997). Toby Longworth stepped up to play Slartibartfast, having previously played Wowbagger in the 21st Century Tertiary Phase, in which Slartibartfast had been played by Richard Griffiths (1947-2013). Max Quordlepleen was originally Roy Hudd. Garkbit was originally Anthony Sharp (1915-1984), and of course The Book was originally Peter Jones (1920-2000). Recordings of Stephen Moore's voice were used as he was unable to attend in person due to touring in a production of Oliver! at the time.
Of the 21st Century radio cast, Toby Longworth had been Jeltz from the Quandary Phase onwards. Andrew Secombe (who had radio comedy in his veins, being the son of Goon Sir Harry Secombe CBE) had played Colin the Robot, and Samantha Béart had played Random in the Quintessential Phase. A recording of Douglas Adams enacting Agrajag was taken from his audiobook reading of Life, the Universe and Everything (1982).
Booking the Book
It's the people you meet who really get you down.
It was apparent that no single person was capable of replacing Peter Jones as the Voice of the Book, and so it was decided that a series of guest VIPs would play the Book. Those chosen for the 2012 tour were all male; however, female Books including Anita Dobson, Rula Lenska4 and Miriam Margolyes were cast for the (truncated) 2013 tour. Other performers due to play the Book in 2013 included Colin Baker, Barry Cryer, Anthony Daniels, Graeme Garden and Danny John-Jules. Usually all the performances in one venue were performed by the same artist; however, residents of Brighton, Manchester and Northampton had the choice of multiple Books.
- Clive Anderson: Woking
- Billy Boyd: Glasgow and Newcastle
- John Challis: Manchester, Southend, York
- Jon Culshaw: Leicester, Manchester
- Hugh Dennis: Brighton, Southampton
- Neil Gaiman: Edinburgh
- Terry Jones: London
- Phill Jupitus: Aylesbury, Basingstoke, Birmingham, Cardiff, Northampton
- John Lloyd: Cambridge
- Miriam Margolyes: Edinburgh (2013)
- Rory McGrath: Northampton, Plymouth
- Roger McGough: Blackpool, Brighton, Liverpool, Oxford
- Andrew Sachs: Bromley
- Christopher Timothy: Llandudno, Nottingham
The story just passes the Bechdel Test. The main female character, Trillian, only appears 35 minutes into the first half and 42 minutes into the second half. Even when there is only one surviving human male left in the universe (Arthur) the two female humans, Trillian and Random, spend most of their time talking about him, although they have several short exchanges on other topics. Conversely, Arthur spends much of his time talking about tea. Two artificial intelligences appear to be female, namely the Nutrimatic Machine and the Guide Mark II. Random and the Guide Mark II, which has adopted Trillian's voice, have a long conversation about changing probabilities.
Tour Unexpectedly Demolished by Vogons to Make Way for a Hyperspace Bypass
The show proved so successful in 2012 that it was proposed for it to return for a longer tour from mid-September to the end of November 2013. However, this time there would be no real Zaphod Beeblebrox - Mark Wing-Davey was to be replaced by Mitch Benn. Despite character Gag Halfront's insistence that 'Zaphod's just zis guy, you know?' the resulting poor ticket sales meant that the tour was cancelled days after it began5.
There's a lot of money tied up in that head thing of yours, I mean, just think of the merchandising: Ultimate Question T-shirts, Ultimate Question Biscuits...
- Zaphod Beeblebrox
Accompanying the tour was an extensive range of merchandise. This ranged from souvenir programme brochures to tour t-shirts, Milliways mugs, Babelfish keyrings and of course towels. However, perhaps the most popular items were the giant foam speech bubbles labelled 'Don't Panic', which could fit over a hand. A ticket to see the show additionally allowed the holder to purchase and download a recording of the performance they had seen.
I've seen it; it's rubbish.
The live radio show provided a highly enjoyable summary of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. There are some new bits, and old bits rearranged into a new order, so even those who know the radio series by heart (or should that be by heart of gold?) will not only be continuously surprised but may even have to resort to astonishment. And another thing that really pleased fans of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is that the plot remained uncontaminated by any trace of Eoin Colfer's superfluous novel And Another Thing... (2009).
With a two-hour run time it would be impossible to encompass all the series and so the show concentrated on the core set-up of Arthur Dent leaving Earth with Ford Prefect before encountering Zaphod, Marvin and Trillian. The show then takes an enjoyable 'greatest hits' approach, featuring highlights and dialogue from the television series and novels, not just the radio series. The downside of this is that if you are inexplicably unfamiliar with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the plot might be difficult to follow. There are also many favourite characters who are completely left out: the Captain of the B-Ark, the Haggunenons, Lintilla, Lintilla and Lintilla, the Wise Old Bird, Eddie the Shipboard Computer and Fenchurch, to name but a few. Yet it would be impossible to include them all.
That said the dialogue is witty, the jokes are first class and the performances top notch. You do not need to understand the plot to understand the jokes, which can be shared and enjoyed by fans and non-fans alike.
Of course, Marvin the Paranoid Android stole the show. A new design of Marvin was created for the show, based on the appearance of an old-fashioned radio for a head and a reel-to-reel recorder-shaped chest, like all the best robots.