These are the words emblazoned on front cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a repository of knowledge on how to make your way through the universe for less than thirty Altairan Dollars a day. Provided you don’t stop at too many bars along the way.
The TV series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (known here on out as H2G2 for ease typing) is an almost direct adaptation of the original radio play of the same name, written by Douglas Adams. The series also features all (save two) of the original actors (Geoffrey McGivern (Ford Prefect) was replaced by David Dixon because he didn’t look “weird” enough and Susan Sheridan (Trillian) was replaced by Sandra Dickinson due to scheduling conflicts). Peter Jones is the voice of the eponymous guide, whilst Simon Jones (no relation) plays the “Last Earthman,” and audience surrogate, Arthur Dent. A man who wakes up one Thursday morning to discover that his house is about to be demolished and his friend of fifteen years is actually from Betelgeuse, not Guildford. Then the Earth gets destroyed to build a hyperspace bypass.
The series covered the Primary Phase of the radio play, with the script remaining largely unchanged. The series primary source of humour was found in both the reactions of Arthur Dent to the wider galaxy and the Guide’s explanations of various pieces of trivia (narrated in the soothing vocals of Peter Jones).
The aliens themselves were generally larger than life, in particular, Zaphod Beeblebrox – two headed, three armed, President of the Galaxy – who stole a prototype new ship is a particularly eccentric persona, whilst Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz, the alien in charge of Earth’s destruction, is decidedly less so, although the costume for the latter is certainly an impressive feat.
The series was rather impressive with special effects. Of particular note is Zaphod’s second head, a full-sized, mechanical monstrosity that would break down during filming and loll around next to Mark Wing-Davey’s real head. It was rumoured at one time, that the cost of repairing it outstripped some of the actor’s salaries. The CGI effects have not dated particularly well, though for the time of making the series (1981) were considered to be high quality. The graphical layouts that accompany the Guide’s explanations are also fairly rudimentary by modern standards, but help to convey the charm and tone of the series.
The show only ran for one series, leaving Arthur and Ford stranded on Earth, two million years in the past, and the fates of Zaphod and Trillian unknown. There was talk of a second series, but it ultimately fell through, with the stories being continued through the Secondary, Tertiary, Quandary and Quintessential phases. With the Secondary phase being aired before the show, and the phases three through five airing in 2004.
The H2G2 franchise has generated enough popularity to see a Trilogy of Five books written by Douglas Adams, (plus a sixth by Eoin Colfer), a text adventure video game and a film starring Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent. Whilst the film itself was received to generally middling reviews, the books have seen widespread popularity.
H2G2 is one of those concepts that endures, the TV series can be found quite cheaply, and the radio plays, film and books still command a strong following, with even a National Towel Day on the 25th of May to celebrate one’s love for the series, even so many years after its initial outing.
H2G2 is a classic that still stands the test of time, whilst listening to the radio plays, watching the series, reading the books or even watching the film you can’t help but wonder where the whole affair might have gone next were it not for the unfortunate death of Adams. However his numerous words of wisdom on various topics keep many a struggling writer going, particularly his views on deadlines.
So long and thanks for all the fish!