'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show Live'

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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 with former flatmate John Lloyd, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 to great acclaim. This, later called the Primary Phase, was followed by a seventh episode or 'Fit' broadcast in time for Christmas that year and a Secondary Phase radio series broadcast in 1980. The story was then retold across different media, with a television series in 1981, numerous largely unsuccessful theatre shows, five books published 1979-1992, a computer game, record, even a film and eventually more radio series, inspired by the novels.

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!

Plot

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 voice mail 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.

Act One

You won't enjoy it.

- Marvin

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 mentions Deep Thought and introduces the scenes in which Deep Thought is created to discover the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything then take place, with the Earth's demolition at the time of readout mentioned.

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 singalong to. This is much to Arthur Dent's disgust, who 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.

They then led to Magrathea and the first half ends with Arthur, Ford, Zaphod and Trillian exploded after being shot by the Galactic Police who are out to recover the stolen spaceship.

Act Two

Ghastly. It is all absolutely ghastly.

- Marvin

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. Ford rescues Zaphod from an artificial reality.

When Ford, Zaphod and Arthur all think they are dead, they are teleported by their Babel fish, who can use the same method of transportation (continuous probability transference) as dolphins who left the earth before its destruction. The Babelfish returned to the same probability arc on the pico-moment before certain death.

Reuniting at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the 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 witness Zaphod Beeblebrox order a pan galactic gargle blaster and sympathise with the suffering barman while the plot, such as it is, follows the television series with Hotblack Desiarto and the Dish of the Day appearing.

Slartibartfast appears at the Restaurant, warning Arthur about the Polluted time streams and sense of Déjà vu. Arthur is reunited with a much older Trillian, and their daughter Random, who encounters the Guide Mk 2 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 lady1 - 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 lullaby 'How I Hate the Night'.

Cast

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.

CharacterActor
Arthur DentSimon Jones
Ford Prefect, Deep ThoughtGeoff McGivern
TrillianSusan Sheridan
Zaphon BeeblebroxMark Wing-Davey
Marvin the Paranoid Android, Whale, Gag HalfrontStephen Moore
Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz, SlartibartfastToby Longworth
Colin the Robot, Max QuordlepleenAndrew Secombe
GarkbitPhilip Pope
RandomSamantha Béart
AgrajagDouglas Adams
AnnouncerJohn Marsh
The BookVarious

Although most of the actors had appeared in the original broadcasts, there were some changes, especially as some actors had died since original broadcast 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 steps 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. Garkbitt 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!2 at the time.

Of the 21st Century 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

- Marvin

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 VIP performers would play the Book. Although at first glance it appears that those chosen to play the Book in the 2012 tour were predominantly male, female Books including Anita Dobson, Rula Lenska3 and Miriam Margoyles along with Colin Baker, Barry Cryer, Anthony Daniels, Graeme Garden and Danny John-Jules had been cast for the truncated 2013 tour. 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

Radio Ga Ga

In 1992 Douglas Adams approached radio producer Dirk Maggs to see if he would be interested in adapting his Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy novels from Life, the Universe and Everything 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', with another attempt in 1997 halted by Adams' attempts to adapt the story for film as film companies were unwilling to invest with potential rival productions underway.

Then sadly4 in 2001, Douglas Adams died. With his widow Jane's permission, Bruce Hyman of Above the Title Productions and Dirk Maggs completed the radio adaptations, the Tertiary, Quandary and Quintessential phases, which were finally broadcast in 2004-5, to great popular and critical acclaim.

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 their characters in front of an audience. 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 adding much of the second series, and both series had been edited for broadcast5. Dirk Maggs felt that as the live show did not need to confirm 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, he chose to follow the events of the novels rather than events in the radio series which had been written by John Lloyd in many key scenes. Another scene, the Vogon Court of Enquiry scene, was written to be a slapstick sketch as a tribute to Douglas Adams' original Cambridge University Footlights writing style .

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 30 November 2013. This time there would be no real Zaphod Beeblebrox, with Mark Wing-Davey 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 began. 2013 was a particularly poor year for theatre shows, with other shows forced to cancel at the same time including The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and musical Molly Wobbly's Tit Factory.

Merchandising

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 the souvenir brochure programmes to tour t-shirts, Milliways mugs, babelfish keys and of course towels. However perhaps the most popular were the giant foam speech bubbles labelled 'Don't Panic' which could fit over a hand. A ticket to see the show also allowed the holder to additionally purchase and download a recording of the performance they had seen.

Review

I've seen it, it's rubbish.

- Marvin

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 concentrated on the core set-up of Arthur Dent leaving Earth with Ford Prefect before encountering Zaphod, Marvin and Trillian, who do not appear until after half of the first act. 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.

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.

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 reel-to-reel recorder-shaped chest, like all the best robots.

1The buxom valkyrie Brünnhildem, whose farewell scene concludes Richard Wagner's opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen.2A 1960 musical by Lionel Bart that became a popular 1968 film that was inspired by Oliver Twist (1837-9) by Charles Dickens.3Who had played Lintilla, Lintilla, Lintilla and the Stewardess in the Secondary Phase.4Unless you are Dmitri.5By Simon Brett and Geoffrey Perkins.

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