Dont Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy | Chapter 3 of 5

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him for breach of contract. Then I met him in town a few days

later. He said, `How's it going?' I said, `You'll be hearing from

my legal representative'.

  "Douglas was appalled! He thought I was over-reacting; I

thought he was insensitive. These are the kinds of things that start

wars. . .

  "I saw an agent, and explained to him that we had agreed to

the contract, and on the strength of that I'd drunk a lot of

champagne, spent the money, and now wanted redress. My agent

phoned Douglas's and made some fantastic demand: he said he

wanted $2000 now, and 10% of Hitchhiker's in perpetuity, so

whenever the name The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was

used I'd get 10%. When he told me about this I was shocked - I

hadn't wanted anything like that!

  "At the time everyone, even Douglas's agent, thought that he

was in the wrong. Even his mum. Then I ran into Douglas, and he.

said, `What are you doing?' I said, `You told me to get an agent!'

He said, `Yes, I told you to get an agent to write your own

bloody book - not to sue me for mine!'

  "Eventually we did a deal, whereby I took half of the

advance, and that was the end of it.

  "But we had booked a holiday in Greece that September to

write the book together, and I had nowhere else to go. So, despite

all that had happened, I went on holiday with Douglas. He stayed

in his room and wrote The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and

I went down to the bar and the beach and had a good time.

Douglas showed me the first version of his first chapter, and I

read it, and it was a Vonnegut novel.I told him that, and he tore

it up and started again, and after that it started to come good. I

have always thought the books were the best bits of Hitchhiker's

by miles: you could see that they are so original, and so different

that it was obvious that he had made the right decision.

  (A number of other things occurred on this holiday, the most

notable of which was the creation of what was to become The

meaning of Liff. But that will be told in its place.)

  As Douglas explains, "It was very silly. On the one hand I

thought, `It might be a nice idea to collaborate', and on sober

reflection I thought, `No, I can do it myself'. It was my own

project, and I had every right to say, "No, I'll do it myself'. John

had helped me out, and been very well rewarded for the work. I

rashly talked about collaborating, and changed my mind. I was

within my rights, but I should have handled it better.

  "You see, on the one hand, Johnny and I are incredibly good

friends, and have been for ages. But on the other hand, we are

incredibly good at rubbing each other up the wrong way. We

have these ridiculous fights when I'm determined to have a go at

him, and he is determined to have a go at me. So... I think it was

an over-reaction on his part, but on the other hand the entire

history of our relationship has been one or the other over-

reacting to something the other has done."

  So Douglas wound up receiving a $1500 advance for his first

book. (He would get over five hundred times that amount as an

advance for his fifth novel.)

  When the series had started, BBC Publications were offered

the idea of doing the book, and quite sensibly turned it down.

After the contracts were signed with Pan, BBC Publications

asked to see the scripts, since it had occurred to them that they

might possibly do a book of Hitchhiker s. On being told that Pan

had already bought the book rights BBC Publications asked

bitterly why the book had not been offered to them.

 

**************************************************************

ARTHUR: You know, I can't quite get used to the feeling that

  just because I've spent all my life on the Earth I am

  therefore an ignorant country bumpkin.

TRILLIAN: Don't worry Arthur, it's just a question of

  perspective.

ARTHUR: But if I suddenly accosted a spider I found crawling

  under my bed, and tried to explain to this innocent

  spider in its spider world all about the Common

  Market, or New York, or the history of Indo

  China....

TRILLIAN: What?

ARTHUR: It would think I'd gone mad.

TRILLIAN: Well?

ARTHUR: It's not just perspective, you see.I'm trying to make

  a point about the basic assumptions of life.

TRILLIAN: Oh.

ARTHUR: You see?

TRILLIAN: I prefer mice to spiders anyway.

ARTHUR: Is there any tea on this spaceship?

  - Dialogue cut from the first series

***************************************************************

 

As with everything Douglas had done, the book was late.

  Apocryphal stories have grown up about Douglas Adams's

almost superhuman ability to miss deadlines. Upon close

inspection, they all appear to be true.

  The story about the first book is this: after he had been

writing it for as long past the deadline as he could get away with,

Pan Books telephoned Douglas and said, "How many pages have

you done?"

  He told them.

  "How long have you got to go?"

  He told them.

  "Well," they said, making the best of a bad job, "Finish the

page you are on, and we'll send a motorbike round to pick it up

in half an hour."

  Many people have complained that the first book ends rather

abruptly. That is the main reason why, although it is also true

that Douglas knew he was going to have to keep the radio

Episodes Five and Six (which he was still less than happy with)

back for the end of the second book. If there was a second book.

  Meanwhile, Pan were going through the normal pre-

production actions of publishing: getting covers designed,

accumulating quotes from celebrities to put on the covers,

wondering how many copies they would sell.

  The initial print run of 60,000 copies betrayed a healthy

optimism about sales, and showed that the publishers knew they

were not dealing with just a new science fiction book (for which

an initial print run is more like 10,000), but with something

slightly special. The earliest promoted cover design showed a

Flash Gordon-type in a bulky spacesuit with his thumb stuck

out, holding a sign that said, in crude letters `ALPHA

CENTAURI'. It was not used, although it was distributed on

fliers at the 1979 World Science Fiction Convention.

  Douglas had suggested a number of people who might be

willing to give cover blurbs for Hitchhiker's to Pan. These

included the Monty Python team, Tom Baker (then Dr Who), and

science fiction writers Christopher Priest and John Brunner.

  None of these blurbs were ever used, although Terry Jones

from Python turned in at least a page of possible quotes. These

included:

 

  The funniest book I have ever read, today. Terry Jones

 

  Every word is a gem... it's only the order they're put in that

  worries me. Terry Jones

 

  Space age comedy for everone... except for (insert the name of

  the man who writes worse poetry than the Vogons and whose

  name I can't remember). Terry Jones

 

  Probably the funniest book in the universe. Terry Jones *

   *dictated by D. Adams.

 

  One of the funniest books ever to have quoted what I said

  about it on the cover. Terry Jones.

 

In the end the only quotes used were in some press releases:

 

  Really entenaining and fun. John Cleese

 

and

 

  It changed my whole life. It's literally out of this world. Tom

  Baker

 

The final cover design, by Hipgnosis and lan Wright, better

known for their record covers than their book covers, was ideal,

and provided a uniformity of design with the first record, which

was released at the same time as the book, during the second week

of October 1979. The front cover showed the title in `friendly' red

letters, and on the back the words `DON'T PANIC' appeared, in

a similar, colour-videoscreen-style typeface.

  It is worth commenting here on the anomalies of the title.

The mould was cast by Adams, on his original three-page outline

for the series, which was titled THE HITCH-HIKER'S GUIDE

TO THE GALAXY (with hyphen) but referred to the book as

THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE (without hyphen) throughout.

The cover of the first book included the hyphen, but lost the

apostrophe, while the spine, back and insides wrote Hitch and

Hiker's as two words. The tradition continues to the present day.

British copies of So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish, for

example, hyphenated Hitch-Hiker on the cover, but wrote it

Hitch Hiker inside; while the radio scripts book hyphenated all

the way through, except at the back, where advertisements appear

for the book under both titles, with hyphens and without.

  In America, the problem is very sensibly avoided by

referring to it as Hitchhiker (without a hyphen, and making it

into one word). The matter will not be referred to again.

  The book went straight to number one on the bestseller lists,

and stayed there. This surprised a number of people, not least

Douglas Adams: "Nobody thought that radio had that much

impact, but it does. I think a radio audience has a greater overlap

with a solid reading audience than television does. All power to

radio, it's a good medium."

  Within the next three months, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the

Galaxy sold over a quarter of a million copies. Douglas sent a

note to booksellers when sales reached 185,000:

 

  "I can only assume that you have all been giving away pound

  notes with every copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,

  or possibly even sending press gangs out into the streets,

  because I have just been officially notified that the sales have

  now passed the point of being merely absurd and have now

  moved into the realms of the ludicrous. Whatever you have

  been doing to get rid of them, thank you very much."

 

Although later Douglas was to express dissatisfaction with the

instant success of the first book ("It was like going from foreplay

to orgasm with nothing in the middle - where do you go after

that?"), at the time he was jubilant.

  The beauty of Hitchhiker's was that it came at just the right

time. The success of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third

Kind had created a willingness among the public to regard science

fiction as an acceptable form of entertainment; science fiction

readers had long been in need of something that was actually

funny; and the radio audience who picked up the book

discovered very quickly that there was far more in the first book

than there had been in the radio series (in fact, it can come as

something of a surprise, relistening to the original radio series, to

discover quite how many of the more familiar aspects of

Hitchhiker's were not in it - towels, for example). The book

garnered rave reviews. Douglas found himself compared to Kurt

Vonnegut, (a comparison that was to persist until the release of

Vonnegut's Galapagos in 1985, at which point some reviewers

stated comparing Vonnegut, slightly unfavourably, to Douglas

Adams), and the book found itself on many critics' `year's best'

lists for 1979.

  If the radio series had been a cult success, then the book took

Hitchhiker's beyond that, to a place in the popular consciousness.

It was not long before a lot of people found their perceptions of

towels, white mice and the number Forty-Two had undergone a

major readjustment.

 

 

*************************************************************

WHY WAS HITCHHIKER'S SO SUCCESSFUL?

 

John Lloyd:

"It's what William Goldman, in his book Adventures in the

Screen Trade calls a non-recurrent phenomenon. Before

Hitchhiker's came along there was no reason why it should, and

once it's there it seems the perfect idiom for its time. I don't

know why, but it catches the spirit of the moment. The title says

it all for me - with hitchhiking and galaxies you have this

curious mixture of post-hippie sensibilities and being interested

in high tech, digital technology and all that stuff. But it's

impossible to say why Hitchhiker's is so successful - it's just one

of these great original products of a diseased mind. It makes no

concessions to popularity, it just gets on and does it. Not once

has Douglas toned the thing down so it would sell more copies.

Douglas really was as surprised by its success as anyone - he had

no idea whether it was any good or not. He used to sit around

going, `Is this good? Is this funny? What do you think of this

script?' He really didn't know. But you can't explain it. And

because you can't, you can't write another book like it. And

that's what makes it a work of genius."

 

Jacqueline Graham (Press officer, Pan Books):

"Because it was such a wholly original idea, and you don't get too

many of those. And because it was funny, but intelligently funny.

And because it started as a sort of cult thing. Mostly because it's

so original, and secondly because it makes you laugh."

 

Geoffrey Perkins:

"I know at the time we made the radio series I felt that it was the

logical successor to Monty Python, really. There's no doubt that

Hitchhiker's appeals to the same kind of audience and has the

same sort of comedy. That was an initial reason for the success.

The title plays an important part. Somebody once described it in

an article as `a programme somewhat clumsily entitled The

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy', which is a very erroneous

judgement. I knew it hit a nerve from the start, when the letters

started pouring in. The timing was obviously good. It was Star

Wars time, there was a lot of interest in space. Also, when people

think of space they tend to think of something very comic-strip

and here was something very erudite and witty. That surprised

people. But it appealed to everyone. The intellectuals compared it

to Swift, and the fourteen-year-olds enjoyed hearing depressed

robots clanking around."

**********************************************************

10

 

All the Galaxy's a Stage

 

 

 

 

 

THERE HAVE BEEN THREE major productions of Hitchhiker's in the

theatrical world. Two of these have been successful. The other was

a disaster of epic proportions. It is somewhat unfortunate, in this

case, that the disaster is the one that got noticed. The first

production was put on at the ICA [Institute for Contemporary

Arts] in London on 1st-9th May 1979; presented by Ken

Campbell's Science Fiction Theatre Company of Liverpool.

`Staged' might be the wrong word for this production. The actors

performed on little ledges and platforms, while the audience, seated

on a scaffolded auditorium that floated around the ICA on air

skates, filled with compressed air, was pushed around the hall at

the height of 1/2000th of an inch by hardworking stage hands.

  The 90-minute-long show was a great success.

  Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters were on sale in the bar, and, for

the 80 people who fitted into Mike Hust's airborne seating

system, it was a great evening. Unfortunately, every hour brought

150 phone calls for tickets, all doomed to failure as the 640 tickets

for the show's run had been sold out long before it opened.

(Apparently an organisation with the same initials as the ICA, the

International Communications Association, got so fed up with

misrouted calls for tickets that they wound up closing their

switchboard for a week, and stopped Communicating.)

  The reviews were unanimous in their praise. A typical review

from The Guardian having praised the costumes and hovercraft,

stated, "Chris Langham is an utterly ordinary Arthur... and is

thus a beautiful counterpart to the cunning Ford (Richard Hope),

the two-headed schizophrenic Beeblebrox (Mitch Davies and

Stephen Williams, as a space-age version of a pantomime horse

with two heads, two legs, and three hands) and the pyrotechnics

of Campbell's production." At the time it was announced that

they were hoping to revive the show "as soon as they could find a

hall large enough to accommodate a 500 seater hovercraft".

  This was, it should be borne in mind, before the publication

of the book or the release of the first record, when nobody knew

how much of a cult success Hitchhiker's was or was going to be.

  The next performance began life some 300 miles due west in

the Theatr Clwyd, a Welsh theatre company. Director Jonathan

Petherbridge had taken the scripts of the first radio series and

transformed them into a play, performed around Wales from 15th

January until 23rd February 1980.

  Announced as the `First Staged Production of Douglas

Adams's Original Radio Scripts' the company would either

perform two episodes an evening, or, on certain long evenings, the

entire three hours of script in `blockbuster' performances, during

which `essential space rations' were handed out to the audience at

half-hourly intervals. (Not only did the bar sell Pan Galactic

Gargle Blasters, but the Coffee Lounge sold Algolian

Zylbatburgers.) The Theatr Clwyd performance was so successful

that they were offered the opportunity to take their production to

London's prestigious Old Vic Theatre. Unfortunately, by this

time Douglas had offered the stage rights to Ken Campbell, who

had decided to stage another production at the Rainbow Theatre

in London, a rock venue that seated 3,000 people, in August.

  Douglas Adams, displaying perfect hindsight, says, "I should

have known better, but I had so many problems to contend with

at that time I really wasn't thinking clearly. The thing at the

Rainbow was a fiasco."

  Douglas wrote additional material for the play (including the

Dish of the Day sequence in Milliways, which subsequently

found its way into the literary and televisual version of the show).

  An article appeared in The Stage, the theatrical newspaper,

about the Rainbow production, in July 1980:

  "A five-piece band backs the twenty-strong cast of The

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a musical (No, it wasn't a musical, although there was a backing group) based on the radio

series that opens at the Rainbow for an e week run on July 16th

1980. Production has a $300,000 budget, and the front of the

Rainbow will be redesigned as an intergalactic spaceport. Tickets

$5, $4 and $3.

  "The foyer of the theatre is being converted into the control

deck of a spaceship, with banks of video screens, flying saucers

hanging from the ceiling, and possibly a talking computer to

advise passengers when the trip is going to begin. There will be

usherettes dressed like aliens - `Probably coloured green', says

co-producer Richard Dunkley - and a `space bar' selling

galactic-sized burgers and the now famous Pan Galactic Gargle

Blaster.

  "One of the diversions will be rock musician Rick Wakeman

soaring down from the roof on a flying saucer and dressed like

the legendary Mekon, SF's most endearing little green man.

  "This week workmen installed a vast revolving stage while

others completed a backdrop for the day the Earth gets

demolished.

  "In California, the people who brought the Laserium to the

London Planetarium were devising a spectacular new bag of

tricks. Co-producer Philip Tinsley said, `This will be the first

show since Rocky Horror to appeal directly to young people'."

  As the publicity for the show gained momentum a 25-foot

inflatable whale was thrown off Tower Bridge into the Thames,

and made almost no splash in terms of news. ("'The police were

very, very cross", said The Standard in the 3/4 of an inch they

devoted to it.)

  Then the show opened.

  In retrospect this may have been a mistake. Such descriptions

as "I cannot imagine a more tedious way to spend an evening

(Daily Mail), "clumsy without ever being cheerful" (Time Out),

"embarrassing" (Observrer), "never-ending and extremely boring"

(Standard) melt into insignificance when placed beside the actual

reviews, most of which dissected the show with fine and sharp

scalpels and left nothing wholesome behind. A fairly average

example of the put-downs was Michael Billington's in The

Guardian, which stated that, "What happens on the Rainbow

stage is certainly inchoate and barely comprehensible... Ken

Campbell has directed this junk-opera and I can only say he gave

us infinitely more fun in the days of his Roadshow when the

highlight used to be a man stuffing a ferret down his trousers."(The man who stuffed the ferrets down his trousers was Sylvester McCoy, later the seventh televisual Dr Who.)

  What went wrong? A number of things. The length, for one.

The laser beams, sound effects and backing band for another.

What was almost universally acknowledged as appalling acting

for a third.

  Douglas Adams explained it as, "The size of the Rainbow - a

3,000 seater theatre - and, because Hitchhiker s tends to be rather

slow-moving and what is important is all the detail on the way. . .

you put it in something that size and the first thing that goes out

the window is all the detail. So you then fill it up with earthquake

effects and lasers and things. That further swamps the detail and so

everything was constantly being pushed in the wrong direction

and all the poor actors were stuck on the stage trying desperately

to get noticed by the audience across this vast distance. If you'd

put the numbers we were getting into a West End theatre they

would have been terrific audiences - 700 a night, or whatever.

But 700 people isn't much when the producers are paying for

3,000 seats. So the whole thing was a financial disaster."

  Ken Campbell, a man almost impossible to get hold of,

claimed the reason for the success of the ICA and failure of the

Rainbow was simpler than that. "In the ICA we put everybody

on a hovercraft. We just never found a hovercraft big enough for

the Rainbow", he told me in the shortest interview I did for this

book.(That was it.)

  Four weeks into the run the show was in financial difficulties.

  On 20th August The Standard reported co-producer

Dunkley as saying, "I think we should struggle on. The cast and

crew agree with me, and a certain number of them agreed to wait

for their money. We had a very negative press, and it wasn t

known at the beginning how many Hitchhiker's fans there were."

The next day, however, The Standard reported that, "Last night

the big musical (It wasn't a musical, honestly.) version of the cult radio show did not go on

and after playing at times to twenty percent capacity [ie. 600

people] its season has been ended three weeks prematurely.

Richard Dunkley reported that everybody concerned had lost a

lot of money, but it was impossible to say how much."

  It is easy to be wise after the event, but it would appear that

the biggest mistake was that of trying to create a Cult Success.

You don't gain a cult following for something big and bold and

heavily hyped: a smaller, less flashy, less expensive production

might well have succeeded where the galumphing Rainbow

production failed.

  As indeed, it has. Helping the fans and public to get over the

Rainbow disaster was the Theatr Clwyd production. It surfaced

again quietly a year later, and has been regularly and successfully

staged since. This production, which, alone of all post `79

versions includes the Haggunenon sequence, and indeed actually

has an inflatable Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, is uniformly

popular with critics and public alike, and will, one hopes, still be

revived and performed when the Rainbow fiasco has completely

been forgotten.

 

 

************************************************

FORD AND ZAPHOD: Zaglabor astragard!

                     Hootrimansion Bambriar!

                     Bangliatur Poosbladoooo!

ARTHUR: What the hell are you doing?

FORD: It's an ancient Betelgeuse death anthem. It

        means, after this, things can only get better.

        THEY START TO SING AGAIN.

        THE COMPUTER BANK EXPLODES.

        END CREDITS.

  - alternative version.

************************************************

11

 

  "Childish, Pointless, Codswalloping

  Drivel..."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON MONDAY, 21ST JANUARY 1980, at 10.30 pm, the second series

of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy went on the air. It was

heralded by a cover feature in the BBC television and radio

listings magazine, Radio Times - it is almost unheard of for a

radio programme to get such exposure, despite the name of the

magazine - and the five episodes were broadcast at the same

time every evening through the week.

  This caused problems.

  To begin with, as already detailed at length, in 1979 Douglas

was under a great deal of pressure as far as other work

commitments were concerned, and his normal tendency to put

off writing until the last deadline had safely passed was displayed

in full when it came to getting the scripts written. However, when

he had agreed to produce the second radio series, Geoffrey

Perkins had taken this into account.

  Perkins went on holiday in September 1979, and before

leaving spoke to David Hatch, controller of Radio 4, about the

new series. Hatch wanted to know if they could have the second

series of Hitchhiker's ready to be broadcast in January.

  There had already been a seventh episode of Hitchhiker's, the

`Christmas Special', recorded on 20th November 1978, and

broadcast on Christmas Eve. It had been recorded as a one-off,

but had basically taken the plot strands from the end of Episode

Six (ie. everybody was either stranded back in time with no hope

of ever returning, or had been eaten by a carbon-copy of the

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal), and had started them off in

a different direction, which involved Zaphod's mysterious quest

to find the guy who was running the universe. ("This Christmas

Programme was basically done by my moving into Douglas's flat.

He scribbled upstairs, and I was downstairs typing. That's how

we got that together" - Geoffrey Perkins.)

  Fit the Eighth, the first episode of the second series, reunited

Zaphod, Ford and Arthur. Recording of the second series had

begun in May 1979, so Hatch's request for the show to begin in

January 1980 was not really that unreasonable. Geoffrey Perkins

thought it was a good idea: "We were working on them at a fairly

leisurely pace, and I said, `Yes'. We needed a deadline, or we

could have gone on till the crack of doom. I thought, `We'll have

made three episodes by then, and we'll do the rest of them over

the next five weeks.'

  "Then I went on holiday. I came back to find David had done

a deal with the Radio Times - they would put us on the front

cover if all the shows went out in a week. It was madness, really."

  The second radio series was onerous for everybody. For

Douglas Adams it was especially difficult: "I was terrified of

doing the second series, because the first time it was just me in

my own private little world writing this thing. Nobody expected

it to be any good. The second series, the eyes of the world were

upon me. It was like running down the street naked, because it

had suddenly become everyone else's property as well."

  Due to the deadlines there was another problem: much of the

second series was a first draft. For the first series, Douglas had

written and rewritten, self-editing mercilessly. On the second

series, there simply wasn't the time. While Fit the Eighth had been

started on 19th May 1979, Fit the Twelfth was still being mixed

shortly before it was due to be broadcast, on 25th January 1980.

  The recordings soon reached the point at which the cast had

caught up with the author: "They were recording part of the show

in one part of the studio, while I was in another part of the studio

actually writing the next scene. And this escalated to the point

where the last show was being mixed in Maida Vale about half an

hour before it was due to be broadcast from Broadcasting House.

At which point the tape got wound round the capstan, and they

had to take the tape recorder apart to unwind it, then get it onto a

motorbike to be taken to Broadcasting House. At one point, we

nearly sent them the first half of the tape, then we were going to

unwind the second half and get it down to Broadcasting House

before they had finished playing the first half. Geoffrey Perkins,

Paddy Kingsland and Lisa Braun all deserved medals for that!"

  The reviews for the series were almost all excellent, despite the

fact that many of the reviewers had only heard extracts from the six

episodes (due to the fact that the bits they didn't hear hadn't yet

been mixed but no-one was going to tell the reviewers that...).

  The only voice raised against the series came from Mr Arthur

Butterworth, who wrote to the Radio Times, saying, "In just

about 50 years of radio and latterly TV listening and watching,

this strikes me as the most fatuous, inane, childish, pointless,

codswallopping drivel... It is not even remotely funny."

  The Radio Times cover feature was a source of satisfaction to

the cast and crew, but an irritant to Geoffrey Perkins, who felt

the article was abysmal and overwritten, and requested that

certain changes be made in it before it was printed "to prevent us

all from looking like idiots."

  A discussion on Radio 3's Critics' Forum programme found

the panel of critics ranged between enthusiasm and bafflement.

Perhaps the most perceptive comment was that of Robert

Cushman, the chairman, who said "[Hitchhiker's has...] the sort

of effect that a Monty Python programme actually has, of making

everything that appears immediately after it on radio or television

or whatever, seem absolutely ludicrous. It does have that

marvellous cleansing thing about it."

  The second radio series contained some excellent sequences,

some of which, like the body debit cards and the robot disco,

have not been repeated elsewhere. Other sections were unwieldy

and overly strung out: the shoe material, for example, which

correctly merited about half a page when it appeared in book

form. Overall, though, it was less successful than the first series;

something Douglas planned to sort out when he wrote the second

book.

 12

 

Level 42

 

 

 

 

 

WHEN THE PAPERBACK OF The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

appeared, the last page, instead of carrying the usual

advertisements for other titles by the same publisher, carried an

advert that read:-

  "DON'T PANIC!

  "Megadodo publications, in association with Original

Records, brought (sic) you the Double L.P. of the radio series.

Fill out the form and send it off, with your cheque or postal order

attached..."

  Despite the fact that it might well have meant the loss of

Chapter 35 (on the back of which the advert was printed), a large

number of people sent off for their mail-order copies of a record

called The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

  A number of record companies had expressed interest in

making the vinyl version of the show, following the radio

broadcasts. One company had already got an option on it, but,

since they were not doing anything with it, Original Records

stepped in and got the recording rights.

  Geoffrey Perkins says of the first record, "It was very

difficult. We knew it was going to be a double album, but we

could not very well put half an hour on each side. So we sat down

and worked out - reluctantly - which bits to cut. I was very

happy with it. There were a number of things that were

improvements, like the voice treatments. And when Trillian says,

`Please relax...', and we put this lovely little tune behind it. The

infinite improbability sequence itself had only a fraction of the

elements that went into the same scene on the radio series, but it's

actually far more telling because they're clear. On radio we had

thought that if we threw absolutely everything in, it would come

out fascinating. Instead it came out a complete jumble - there

were bits of everything in it; people had left records around in the

studio from a previous show and we put a bit of that on, anything

lying around. But when we mixed it all together it was a jumble

and a lot of it was completely dropped. It was a definite

wankoff." The cast of the radio show was almost the same as that

of the record, although the late Valentine Dyall, radio's `Man In

Black', replaced Geoffrey McGivern as Deep Thought. (He was

also to play Gargravarr, with a similar voice treatment, in the

second series.)

  Considering the record was only available by mail order, at

least initially, it sold amazingly well. Over 120,000 units were

sold in the first year, and it made a number of the music charts.

The cover was an expanded version of the Hipgnosis book cover,

including some entries from the Guide that have never appeared

elsewhere. The record essentially covered the first four episodes

of the radio series, edited down somewhat.

  The second record, The Restaurant at the End of the

Universe, was slightly less successful. Geoffrey Perkins again:

"We all found the first record a very interesting experience. By

the time we got to the second record, it was less so (partially

because none of us had been paid for the first record).

  "Now a lot of people like the second record, because it's

more definitive and much more complete than the first.

  "Unfortunately that is because it is far too long on each side.

It's just a rough cut. We had decided to leave it a few days, and

come back and edit it with a fresh mind - I went up to

Edinburgh for the Festival, and when I came back, three days

later, they had rushed through the record and cut it! I felt it was

flabby, and I wanted to speed it up."

  (Adams agrees: "The second record is (a) very long on both

sides, and (b) full of blah.")

  Perkins is still a fan of the first record: "The nice thing about

doing the record was you stuck in bits that you knew people

could only pick up on the second or third time through. Whereas

the radio transmission had to be clear the first time."

  In terms of plot, the second record is most similar to the last

two episodes of the TV series: the Haggunenon material is

missing, replaced by Disaster Area's stuntship.

  The cover of the second record showed a yellow rubber

duck, presumably in deference to the B - Ark Captain's immortal

comment that one is "never alone with a rubber duck". As a

publicity stunt related to the duck theme, on the release of the

second record, the window of the HMV record shop in London's

Oxford Street was filled by a display that involved a bathtub

filled with twelve live week-old ducklings. The stunt, brainchild

of Original Records' director Don Mousseau, finished rather

earlier than expected when complaints were received from animal

welfare groups.

  When released in the US the records carried the text of a

version of `How to Leave the Planet' (see Appendix IV).

  The two albums were not the only Hitchhiker-connected

records, though. There were also two singles released by `Marvin

the Paranoid Android', Stephen Moore. These were:

  `Marvin' ("Ten million logic functions, maybe more. They

make me pick up paper off the floor... You know what really

makes me mad? They clean me with a Brillo pad. A car wash

wouldn't be so bad... Solitary solenoid, terminally paranoid

Marvin...") c/w `Metal Man', about a spaceship out of control

trapped in a black hole, trying to persuade Marvin to rescue it. It

got a limited amount of airplay, and made it into the lower

reaches of the British charts.

  `Reasons to Be Miserable' ("... give my brain a pain, very

little turns me on, Marvin is my name..."), a titular parody of the

lan Dury `Reasons to Be Cheerful', c/w `Marvin I Love You', the

story of Marvin's cleanout of old data tapes, discovering a love

message ("Marvin I love you, remember I'm programmed for

you..."), a weird combination of narrative over electropop and

fifties love song. This got a very limited airplay and didn't do

very much at all.

  Douglas Adams acted as consultant on the songs, and when

asked about them plays a sweet lullaby on one of his many

guitars (Marvin's song from Life, the Universe and Everything,

with a tune by Douglas) maintaining that he always thought they

should have released that as a single. If the Life, the Universe and

Everything radio series ever gets made listeners may finally get to

hear it.

  (A fairly complete listing of all the songs used in Hitchhiker's

can be found in the radio scripts book.)

 

13

 

Of Mice, and Men,

and Tired TV Producers

 

 

 

 

 

 

  "AT PIRST, I WASN'T THAT INTERESTED in doing a visual version

  of Hitchhiker's. But while I was working on Dr Who I began to

  realise that we have an enormous amount of special effects stuff

  which is simply not being used as it might be. If it turns out the

  way I'm beginning to visualise it, I think it could actually look

  very extraordinary."

  - Douglas Adams,1979.

 

  "The Hitchhiker television series was not a happy production.

  There was a personality clash between myself and the director.

  And between the cast and the director. And between the tea

  lady and the director...."

  - Douglas Adams,1983.

 

 

*********************************************************

  TELEVISION: EPISODE THREE.

 

  MODEL SHOT:

  THE HEART OF GOLD SPEEDING

  THROUGH A MURKY SKY. VERY FEW

  OF MICE AND MEN AND TIRED TV PRODUCERS

  STARS, AND WHAT STARS THERE ARE ARE

  DARK AND VAGUE.

  WE HEAR WHAT SOUNDS LIKE KISSING,

  AND THEN A LITTLE RATTLING NOISE.

  JUST AS WE ARE BEGINNING TO WONDER

  WHAT IS GOING ON, WE CUT TO

  TRILLIAN'S CABIN. IT, AND THE OTHERS

  WE SHALL SEE IN A MOMENT (REDRESSES)

  IS SMALL AND CRAMPED. IT INCLUDES A

  BED WHICH APPEARS TO FLOAT IN

  POSITION.

  TRILLIAN IS GIVING HER ATTENTlON TO

  A SMALL MOUSE CAGE WITH A COUPLE

  OF WHITE MICE IN IT. ONE OF THEM IS

  RUNNING IN A TREADWHEEL (HENCE

  THE RATTLING NOISE) AND TRILLIAN IS

  MAKING SOPPY SUCKING NOISES AT

  THEM (HENCE THE KISSING NOISE).

  AFTER A MOMENT OR SO SHE TURNS

  AWAY FROM THE CAGE. THE BED MOVES

  TOWARDS HER INVITINGLY.

TRILLIAN: No thanks, I can't sleep.

  SILENTLY A TV SCREEN ABOVE THE BED

  LIGHTS UP WITH A PICTURE OF A FLOCK

  OF SHEEP MOVING PAST CAMERA. SHE

  PUSHES A PANEL NEXT TO IT AND THE

  PICTURE WINKS OUT AGAIN.

  ONE OF THE UBIQUITOUS COMPUTER

  CONSOLES NEXT TO HER BED LIGHTS UP.

EDDIE: Just trying to help. A little soothing music tuned to

  your personal Delta rhythms?

  MUSIC FLOODS THROUGH THE ROOM.

  SOMETHING VERY NAUSEATING AND

  SACCHARINE.

TRILLIAN: No thank you.

  THE MUSIC STOPS.

EDDIE: A story? Once upon a time there were three

  computers - an analogue computer, a digital

  computer and a sub-meson computer. They all lived

  happily in a complex three-way interface...

  TRILLIAN LEAVES THE ROOM IN

  IRRITATION.

EDDIE: Wait a minute... I haven't got to the really tiring

  bit yet.

  CUT TO TRILLIAN WALKING DOWN THE

  DARKENED CORRIDOR. SHE IS GOING

  TOWARDS THE BRIDGE. SHE PASSES

  ANOTHER COMPUTER CONSOLE. IT

  LIGHTS UP.

EDDIE: I can skip right on to the section where they try and

  find a binary model for the ineluctable modality of

  the visible. That's very, very soporific.

  TRlLLlAN IGNORES THIS AND ENTERS

  THE DOOR OF THE BRIDGE.

  CUT TO THE INTERIOR OF THE BRIDGE.

  THIS TOO IS IN SEMI-DARKNESS. A

  COMPUTER CONSOLE LIGHTS UP.

EDDIE: Especially if I tell it in my slow... deep... voice...

  (HE MATCHES HIS VOICE TO THE

  DESCRIPTION, AND HIS CONSOLE LIGHTS

  DIM APPROPRIATELY.)

TRILLIAN: Computer!

EDDIE: (BRIGHTLY AGAIN.) Hi there!

  ALL THE LIGHTS ON THE BRIDGE LIGHT

  UP SIMULTANEOUSLY WITH THIS.

  TRILLIAN WINCES.

TRILLIAN: Just tell me where we are, will you?

  CUT TO MODEL SHOT, AS BEFORE, OF THE

  HEART OF GOLD IN MOTION THROUGH

  THE DIM SKY.

  THIS TIME WE HEAR SNORING. NOT L.E. (Light Entertainment.)

  SNORING, BUT DRAMA SNORING.

  CUT TO ANOTHER SLEEPING CUBICLE.

  THIS IS ARTHUR'S.

  HE IS FAST ASLEEP.

  HANGING UP ON ONE WALL OF HIS

  ROOM ARE HIS CLOTHES, I.E. HIS

  TROUSERS AND DRESSING GOWN.

  THE PANEL AGAINST WHICH THEY ARE

  HANGING LIGHTS UP VERY DIMLY. LINES

  CRISS-CROSS IT. THEY ARE MEASURING

  HIS CLOTHES. AFTER A FEW MOMENTS,

  ANOTHER SUIT OF CLOTHES

  MATERIALISES NEXT TO THEM. TH15 IS

  FAIRLY CONVENTIONAL SCIENCE

  FICTION GEAR, PROBABLY SILVERY.

  CUT TO THE NEXT CUBICLE. FORD

  PREFECT IS HAVING DIFFICULTY

  SLEEPING BECAUSE OF ARTHUR SNORING

  NEXT DOOR.

  HE TURNS OVER. BECAUSE THE BED

  COVERING IS VERY THIN SPACE BLANKET

  HE IS FRUSTRATED IN HIS ATTEMiT TO

  WRAP IT ROUND HIS HEAD TO KEEP OUT

  THE NOISE.

  HE PICKS UP HIS TOWEL FROM BESIDE HIS

  BED AND PRESSES THAT AROUND HIS

  EARS.

  CUT TO THE NEXT CUBICLE CABIN.

  THERE IS SNORING EMANATING FROM

  HERE TOO.

  WE GO CLOSE UP ON ONE OF 2APHOD'S

  HEADS. IT IS FAST ASLEEP AND SNORING.

  THE CAMERA PASSES OVER TO HIS OTHER

  HEAD WHICH OBVIOUSLY CANNOT

  SLEEP ON ACCOUNT OF THE SNORING OF

  THE FIRST HEAD.

  QUIETLY, THE DOOR TO HIS CUBICLE

  SLIDES OPEN. TRILLIAN IS OUTLINED IN

  THE DOORWAY.

TRILLIAN: Hey, Zaphod ?

ZAPHOD: Er, yeah ?

TRILLIAN: You know what you came to look for?

ZAPHOD: Yeah?

TRILLIAN: I think we just found it.

  ZAPHOD SITS UP.

ZAPHOD: Hey, what?

TRILLIAN: You called it "the most improbable planet that ever

  existed".

  INTO OPENING CREDITS.

  - Draft opening to Episode Three of TV series (never used).

*********************************************

 

The television version of Hitchhiker's begins with a computer

read-out of time remaining until the end of the world, while the

sun rises over a quiet English landscape.

  The computer printout was faked; so was the English

landscape. What the audience saw was imitation computer

readout while a light bulb was lifted over a model of a landscape.

The ingenuity and the casual faking of something that seems so

natural exemplify the six television episodes of Hitchhiker's.

  For many people the first, perhaps the only, exposure to

Hitchhiker's came from the BBC television series. Certainly it

was responsible, from its first airing in 1981 on BBC 2, for

millions of extra sales of the books.

  The idea was first mooted in late 1979, by john Lloyd,

Associate Producer of the television series. He explains:

  "I was in TV at the time of the TV show, and I had done one

series of Not the Nine O'Clock News, and I was looking around

for something new to do - I didn't know at that time that

NTNOCN was going to be the absurd success that it became, so I

was wondering what to do next, and Hitchhiker's was the

obvious thing - it had been a great success on radio, and would

obviously be great fun to do visually.

  "Douglas and I had always been fascinated by science fiction.

Now this was before Star Wars and all that, we're still back in the

time when people said that science fiction would never get

anywhere commercially.

  "Anyway, I wrote to my head of department saying, `There's

this great radio series, it would make great TV, it's just what I

want to do.' He told me he didn't know anything about it, so I

wrote him a memo saying what Hitchhiker's had done, and how

it had been nominated for a Hugo award, and how it had been

repeated more times than any other programme in history, that it

had been a stage show and a bestselling book... this huge long

list of credits. He said, `All right, let's give it a go', and he

commissioned the first script, which Douglas wrote.

  "It was an extraordinarily good script. Douglas had done

what he did earlier with the books, which was to turn the radio

series into something which you would never know had been

based on a radio show. lt used the medium to the fullest. My boss

said that it was the best Light Entertainment script he had ever

read - he was that excited!

  "As I remember, Alan Bell started off as director and I was

producer for the first episode, although it shaded into a co-

production as I didn't have much experience with TV budgeting.

But then the BBC went and scheduled the second series of Not

the Nine O'Clock News on top of the recording of Hitchhiker's.

NTNOCN was a real seven days a week job, and I couldn't do

both.

  "I was really angry about it. I felt at the time like the BBC

felt that (as NTNOCN was beginning to get successful) they

didn't want the junior producer in the department (me) to have

two successes at once. So they used Hitchhiker's to give someone

else some work. I was really furious as I became perforce

`Associate Producer'. Which meant nothing. I didn't have any

clout at the BBC, being just a junior producer on attachment-

theoretically they could have sent me back to radio. I said I'd try

to keep an eye on the occasional recording and rehearsal, but

frankly I didn't have the time, and basically I had nothing to do

with the TV show.

  "Alan Bell made a big point of this in the TV show, as when

my credit comes up in the titles it explodes and shoots off into

space...(It is true that John Lloyd's Associate Producer credit does explode during the end titles. However, according to Alan Bell, this is pure coincidence.)

  "Really, the only thing I did on the TV series was writing the

original memo, and being in on a few early discussions to get things

moving, and the BBC corporate machinations booted me out."

  Lloyd has mixed feelings about the director and producer of

the series, Alan J.W. Bell, and on how the television shows

eventually turned out.

  "I didn't like working with Alan. He's one of this breed of

TV producers who... I'm not saying he isn't hardworking,

because he is, but he wouldn't ever run over time, or overspend.

He just wanted to get the job done. He's less interested in the

script or the performance than he is in the logistics of how the

programme gets made.

  "In some of the rehearsals I attended actors were saying the

words in the wrong order, and mispronouncing them, and Alan

wouldn't correct them. He was much more interested in the

technical side - and technically he knew an awful lot. He was

very bold and brave on the technical side. Some of the actual

shots in Hitchhiker's are wonderful.

  "But it didn't work for me as a comic performance, because

it wasn't being directed. They hadn't got old Perkins there; he's a

real nitty-gritty man, the sort who would spend hours getting one

sound effect right, worrying about the script and the attitude and

all that, things which Alan would see as trivial and irritating.

  "I remember going to the editing of the pilot, and there were

some terrible edits, and I told Alan he had to go back and do it

again, because it just didn't work. His attitude was, `We haven't

got any time - we've got to go on.'

  "Personally, I think Hitchhiker's on TV was not all it could

have been. If it had been done properly it would have won all the

awards. And the only evidence there is that it was a really original

show are the computer graphics. Reading the scripts you'd think

`Suddenly television has gone into the 1990s. This is unbelievable!'

But then, most of the performances and filming were nowhere

near as good as, say, Dr Who.

  "Alan is not a great original mind. Douglas is.

  "To give Alan Bell credit, it was a difficult job to do

logistically, and you can't Belgium with TV the way you can with

radio - the way Geoffrey would keep going till the last minute

and keep actors hanging around while stuff was written. You

can't do that with TV - there's a limit. There does have to be a

grip on things which Douglas, well... I've co-produced things

with him on radio, and he does tend to be a bit daffy. He tends to

think you can go on forever. I suppose he's been a bit spoiled.

  "Alan did get the thing onto the air, which probably Douglas

would never have done - and I can't say that I would have done,

either!"

  It was the first time that Douglas had worked with someone

on Hitchhiker's who he felt was less than sympathetic to his ideas

and work. He wanted John Lloyd as producer, and he wanted

Geoffrey Perkins around: the radio people he knew understood

Hitchhiker's.

  This was not to be. Alan Bell was a television person, and

had, as he admits, little time for people from radio who attempted

to tell him his job.

  Geoffrey Perkins explains, "Television people tend to think

that radio people don't know anything, which has an element of

truth in it, but they tend to know more about scripts than people

in TV ever do. And the TV people tended to think that Douglas

didn't know what he was talking about.

  "Now, on radio, when Douglas burbled, one could say,

`Okay, might try that,' or, `No, shut up'. But the TV attitude was

that he didn't know what he was talking about. I read the first TV

script and I thought it was one of the best scripts I'd ever seen.

He'd thought up all that graphics stuff. It was absolutely brilliant."

  Ask people what they remember best of the Hitchhiker's TV

series, and the answer is usually `the computer graphics'. The

graphics - sequences apparently from the screen of the actual

Hitchhiker's Guide - were incredibly detailed, apparently

computer-created animated graphics, full of sight gags and in-

jokes, and presumably designed for people with freeze-frame and

slow-motion videos, since there was no way one could pick up on

the complexities of the graphics sequences in a single watching at

normal speed.

  Would one have noticed, for example, the cartoons of

Douglas Adams himself, posing as a Sirius Cybernetics

Corporation Advertising Executive, writing hard in the dolphin

sequence, and in drag as Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings?(Douglas also made a couple of real-life appearances in the TV series. In Episode One he can be seen at the back of the pub, awaiting the end of the world with equanimity; in Episode Two he is the gentleman who withdraws large quantities of money from a bank, then takes off all his clothes and wades into the sea. Rumours of an out-takes tape (in which more of Douglas than is seemly is seen in this seene) abound. Douglas played this part because the actor who was meant to be doing it was moving house that day, and, an hour away from filming, Douglas stepped into the breach. As it were. During the filming of the series, and while he wasn't running naked into the sex, Douglas generally sat in a deckchair and did crosswords. Sometimes, according to a number of the netors and technicians, he fell off the chair, although none of them were quite sure why.)

Could one have picked up on all the names and phone numbers

of some of the best places in the universe to purchase, or dry out

from, a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster?

  One of the phone numbers in the graphics of Episode Six

was that of a leading computer magazine who phoned Pearce

Studios, responsible for the graphics, to ask which computer it

was done on, and whether a flat-screen television was built into

the book prop used on the show. The comment beside the phone

number was not flattering.

  The computer graphics were all done by hand.

  In January 1980, animator and science fiction fan Kevin

Davies was working for Pearce Studios in Hanwell, West

London, when he heard the blipping and bleeping of Star Wars

droid R2D2 from the BBC cutting rooms down the corridor. He

wandered down to the cutting rooms and met Alan J.W. Bell, at

that point engaged in cutting a sequence of Jim'll Fix It in which a

child got to visit the Star Wars set.

  Bell discovered in Davies not only a Hitchbiker's fan with

communicable enthusiasm, but also through Davies, he discovered

Pearce Studios, led by Rod Lord, who were commissioned to do

the graphics for the TV show (their quote for Episode One was

half that of the BBC's own animation department, while the trial

section produced by the BBC's own animators was so appalling it

was unusable).

  Pearce Studios, under animator Rod Lord, did not possess a

graphics computer. What they did have was animators, who

worked in a very computerish style.

 

 

WARNING! TECHNICAL BIT - HOW IT WAS DONE:

The sound track of Peter Jones's voice was broken down for

timing, and notes of frame numbers per line of dialogue were

taken. Pencil drawings were made, then punched acetate cels were

laid on top, and the pictures were traced with pens. The lettering

was a combination of dry transfer and set on an IBM typewriter.

The artwork (black drawings and lettering on a clear cel) would

then be photographically reversed out, to clear letters and drawings

on black backgrounds.

  These were back lit under an ordinary 16mm film rostrum

camera, the colour being added with filter gels. Each line of lettering

and each colour required a separate exposure and a separate piece of

artwork (the babel fish sequence, for example, needed about a

dozen passes under the camera). The main difference between this

animation and the more usual version was that instead of animating

a single frame per drawing, several frames at a time were taken to

give any moving objects the slightly jerky, staggered feel that people

expect from computer graphics. [The television series was entered

into the innovation category at the Golden Rose of Montreux TV

Festival. It won absolutely nothing (the Golden Rose went to the

US-made Baryshnikov on Broadzaray, in case anyone is interested)

and apparently left foreign audiences confused and reeling. At home

it did rather better. In the BAFTA Awards for 1981, Hitchhiker's

received two of the ten awards. Rod Lord gained a BAFTA award

for the graphics(Rod Lord received his second graphics BAFTA for the `computer graphics' in   the Max Headroom TV movie, four years later. Now I bet you thought those were computer generated...), and Michael McCarthy received one for being

Sound Supervisor of Hitchhiker s.]

END OF TECHNICAL BIT

 

 

I asked Paddy Kingsland, responsible for most of the music and

sound effects in the TV series (and the pilot for the radio series, as

well as the second radio series) what was so special about the

Hitchhiker's sound effects, and what the differences were between

radio sound and TV sound. "I suppose the difference between

doing TV and radio was that for radio they'd say, `We need The

End of the World as a sound effect - go away and do it.'

  "On TV The End of the World is composed of hundreds of

shots with a close-up of the Vogon ship, then a close-up of

screaming crowds, a shot of a laser in space, and so on. You don't

just have one sound effect, you have a bit of this and a bit of that

ending with a bang which actually then cuts off because you're

back inside the spaceship again very quickly. The shape is all

finished and all you can do is do stuff to fit the pictures that have

been done.

  "I thought the TV show was good in parts. I thought the

computer graphic stuff was very good, very well thought out.

And some of the performances were marvellous.

  "But inevitably there were things that didn't hang together

too well. It's a problem you get when you mix together film and

TV studios and doing it all to a deadline - there's no time to sit

back and look at the thing and say, `Is that all right?' And if it

isn't, to do it again.

  "I don't think it had the magic of the radio series, because

you could see everybody. Like Zaphod's extra head - that was

one of the more spectacular failures of the T'V show. A tatty prop

can be amusing, but if you don't have the money to do it right it's

sometimes better not to do it at all.

  "I was pleased with the sound effects of the TV series

however. It was the detail that did it. Alan Bell had everybody

miked up with radio mikes to start with so that they only got the

voices of the people and none of the exterior effects. So we did

things like overdubbing all the footsteps in the spaceships-

which is never done for British TV.

  "To give the effect of them walking through spaceships we

got a couple of beer kegs from the BBC club and actually walked

around on the beer kegs while watching the screen, so when

they're walking along you get these metallic footsteps instead of

the rather unconvincing wooden ones you would have got. It

took ages to do, but it paid off.

  "I did all the effects for the computer graphics - the film

would arrive with nothing except for Peter Jones's voice. I had to

go through it doing all the sound effects and the music tracks as

well. All the little beeps and explosions and things, which took

ages to do - quite time-consuming. The TV series was interesting

to work on, although frankly I preferred the radio series."

  The necessity of getting the Hitchhiker's scripts to the screen

somewhere within the budget was responsible for a certain

amount of technical innovation. Alan Bell is proudest of his

development of a new special effects process of doing `glass shots'.

  A glass shot, in cinematic tradition, consists of erecting a

tower with a painting done on glass, high in the studio, then

filming through it, thus giving the illusion that the glass painting

is part of the picture. (The long shot of the Vogon hold in the first

episode, for example, was done like this.) It's a complicated,

fiddly, and expensive process.

  Bell's solution was simple: scenes requiring matte shots were

filmed or taped, then a photographic blow-up of one frame

would be made. From the photos, paintings would be made. The

paintings would be photographed as slides, and the previously

filmed segment would be matched up and inlaid into the painted

shot. This was quicker and easier than painting on glass, and is

perhaps best displayed in the `pier at Southend' sequence, when

only a small section of the pier was built in the studio. The rest is

a perfectly aligned matte painting.

  The plot of the television series is nearest to the plot of the

two records. From Magrathea the travellers are blown straight to

Milliways, and, leaving there in a stolen stunt ship, we follow

Arthur and Ford to prehistoric Earth, where the series finishes.

  The places where the Hitchhiker's TV succeeded best and

failed worst were places where Douglas had written something

into the radio series that could not be done on television. The

narration sequences are an excellent example: one does not need

lengthy narrations on television; however, being stuck with them,

Douglas needed to work out how to make them work, and came

up with the graphics concept.

  As Douglas explained: "What made it work was the fact that

it is impossible to transfer radio to television. We had to find

creative solutions to problems in a way you wouldn't have had to

if you were writing something similar for television immediately.

  "The medium dictates the style of the show, and transferring

from one to another means you're going against the grain the

whole time. It's the point where you go against the grain that you

come up with the best bits. The bits that were the easiest to

transfer were the least interesting bits of the TV show.

  "The idea of readouts from the book itself done in computer

graphics form was that kind of thing. So you get little drawings,

diagrams, all the words the narrator is saying, plus further

expansion - footnotes and little details - all coming out at you

from the screen. You can't possibly take it all in.

  "I like the idea of a programme where, when you get to the

end of it, you feel you didn't get it all. There are so many

programmes that are half an hour long and at the end of it you're

half an hour further into your life with nothing to show for it. If

you didn't get it all, that's much more stimulating.

  "I wasn't as pleased with the TV series as I was with the

radio series, because I missed the intimacy of the radio work.

Television pictures stifle the picturing facilities of the mind. I

wanted to step over that problem by packing the screen with so

much information that more thought, not less, was provoked by

the readers. Sometimes what you see is less exciting than what

you envisage.

 

*************************************************

  CUT TO MODEL SHOT OF THE SHIP.

  THE MISSILES ARE ON THE POINT OF

  HITTING IT WHEN THE SKY EXPLODES

  WITH BEWILDERING COLOURS AND A

  MONTAGE OF TOTALLY INCONGRUOUS

  IMAGES. THESE SHOULD INCLUDE

  DISTORTED PICTURES OF THE

  PASSENGERS, STARS, MONKEYS, STAPLING

  MACHINES, TREES, CHEESE SOUFFLES... IN

  OTHER WORDS, A BRIEF VISION OF

  MADNESS. INCLUDED SHOULD ALSO BE A

  SPERM WHALE AND A BOWL OF

  PETUNIAS. WE GO BACK INSIDE THE

  BRIDGE.

  EVERYTHING IS HIGGLEDY-PIGGELDY.

  THERE ARE A VERY LARGE NUMBER OF

  MELONS LYING ABOUT.

  THERE IS ALSO (THOUGH NO ONE CALLS

  ATTENTION TO IT) A GOAT WITH A SCALE

  MODEL OF THE EIFFEL TOWER STRAPPED

  TO ITS HEAD STANDING ABOUT. THIS

  GOAT IS NEVER EVER REFERRED TO, BUT

  IT WILL CONTINUE TO BE WITH THEM

  FOR MOST OF THE REST OF THE SERIES.

ZAPHOD: (DAZED.) What the photon happened?

  - Draft script for Episode Three (unused).

******************************************************

 

It was all too easy for Douglas to give Zaphod Beeblebrox an

extra arm and an extra head during the radio series. No one ever

saw him; it was a one-off throwaway line. But if one has the

televisual task of transforming this into something that works on

the screen one thanks one's lucky stars that Douglas did not give

Beeblebrox five heads, or fifty...

  Unable to find a bicephalic actor (or at least, one who could

learn his lines), the BBC resorted to Mark Wing-Davey, Zaphod

on radio, and built him an animatronic head and an extra arm

(mostly stuffed, but occasionally, when all hands needed to be

seen to be working, the hand of someone behind him, sticking an

extra arm out, as can be seen quite clearly in the Milliways

sequence of Episode Five).

 

********************************************************

  ASTONISHINGLY ENOUGH, ONE WALL OF

  THE BRIDGE APPEARS TO GIVE DIRECTLY

  OUT ONTO QUITE A LARGE SUNNY

  PATIO, WITH GRASS, A DECKCHAIR, A

  TABLE WITH A LARGE BRIGHTLY

  COLOURED SUNSHADE, EXOTIC

  FLOWERS AND SO ON. SEATED IN THE

  DECKCHAIR WITH A DRINK IS AN

  EXTRAORDINARY LOOKING MAN. HE

  HAS TWO HEADS. OBVIOUSLY ONE OF

  THESE IS GOING TO BE A FAKE UNLESS WE

  CAN FIND AN ACTOR PREPARED TO

  UNDERGO SOME VERY EXOTlC SURGERY.

  THE REAL HEAD AND THE FAKE HEAD

  SHOULD LOOK AS FAR AS POSSIBLE

  ABSOLUTELY IDENTICAL: ANY

  SHORTCOMINGS IN THE REALISM OF THE

  FAKE HEAD SHOULD BE MATCHED BY

  THE MAKE-UP ON THE REAL ONE. THE

  FAKE SHOULD HAVE AN ARTICULATED

  MOUTH AND ARTICULATED EYES.

  - Draft TV script for Episode Two.

****************************************************

 

There was a problem with Zaphod's head. It looked false, and

stuffed, and stuck there. This is not because it was a less than

sterling piece of special effects work (although it wasn't that good),

but also because things went wrong, and even when they didn't

the batteries tended to run down in rehearsals, so by the time a

scene was filmed, the head just lolled around expressionlessly. As

Douglas Adams says, "It was a very delicate mechanism, and it

would work wonderfully for 30 seconds and then break down or

get stuck and to get it working properly you'd have to spend an

hour taking it apart and putting it back together again, and we

never had that hour so we fudged as best we could."

  As Mark Wing-Davey remembers, "The difficulty with the

television series for me was Alan Bell (who we all know and

love). I don't think he wanted the original members of the radio

show at all, because he wanted the freedom to pick and choose a

bit, but we were supposed to have first option so we came in and

read for it. They didn't want any input from me on the way the

character would look (I'd visualised him as a blonde beach bum).

I quite liked the final design, but I refused to wear the eyepatch

- I said, `Give the other head the eyepatch, because I'm not

having one! It's hard enough acting with another head, but with

one eye as well...' (This was decided after the initial animation had been done, so the Zaphod graphics in Episode One sport two eyepatches. Come to that, in the graphics of Episode One Arthur Dent doesn't have a dressing gown...)

  "The other head was heavvvvvy. Very heavy. I was wearing

armour plating made of fibre glass, and because I wanted to be

able to alternate the two right arms I had a special cut-out.

  "There was a little switch hidden in the circuitry of my

costume which switched the head on and off. We were under

such pressure in the studio that occasionally I forgot to switch it

on, so I'm acting away and it's just there. It cost f3,000 by the

way - more than me!"

  Costume design for the series was primarily the responsibility

of Dee Robson, a veteran BBC designer with a penchant for

science fiction. It was she who designed Ford Prefect's precisely

clashing clothes - based on what could be found in the BBC's

wardrobes, and it was she who gave Zaphod Beeblebrox yet

another additional organ: examining the costume worn by Mark

Wing-Davey reveals two trouser flies (one zipped, one buttoned)

and, Dee's original costume notes explain, Zaphod has a "double

crotch, padded to give effect of two organs. "

  As Mark Wing-Davey explained, "I said to wardrobe, you've

seen Mick Jagger in those tight trousers - make me a pair. So I

had these nine inch tubes down the front of the trousers for

filming. When we got into the studio Dee came up to me to say

she was `worried about those... things. I thought they might be

a bit obvious, so I've cut them down to six inches.'"

  One of the most famous costumes, however, was Arthur

Dent's: a dressing gown, over a pair of pajamas. The dressing gown

first appeared in the books following the television series: there is

no mention of what Arthur is wearing in the first two books. That

Arthur remained in the dressing gown throughout the TV series

was Alan Bell's idea: Douglas had written a sequence on board the

Heart of Gold in which the ship designed Arthur a silvery jump-

suit. The whole sequence was scrapped, and Alan ensured that

Arthur stayed in his dressing gown. As Bell explained, "What was

special about Arthur was that he was in a dressing gown. Silver

jump-suits are what they wore in Star Wars."

  Alan J.W. Bell is a BBC Light Entertainment director and

producer; having worked on such shows as Maigret and

Panorama as a film editor, he won a BAFTA award for Terry

Jones's and Michael Palin's Ripping Yarns, a BAFTA nomination

for the long-running geriatric comedy Last of the Summer Wine,

and a Royal Television Society Award for Hitchhiiker's.

  I met him initially in his office at the BBC, which still

contains a number of items of Hitchhiker's memorabilia. It's a

show he is proud of, and has many fond memories of. On his

desk was a small plastic fruit machine which he urged me to try. I

pulled the handle, but nothing happened; it should have squirted

me with water. Alan pointed out to his secretary that it was her

job to keep it filled, and we began the interview: this was BBC

Light Entertainment.

  "The first time I heard of Hitchhiker's was in a bar

somewhere - I was asked if I'd heard it on the radio. I hadn't, so

I listened to it, and I thought it was marvellous, inspired stuff, but

there was no way it could be done on TV. It was all in the mind,

all in the imagination.

  "So about three months later I was asked to do it, and I said

that I thought it couldn't be done, but they said `We're going to

do it!', so that was it. I had to do it.

  "Now, I work for Light Entertainment, not Drama (who do

Dr Who and have experience of things like this), and we had no

idea what the budgeting would be. All I could do was put down

what I thought it would cost, and I was out by thousands of

pounds. For the first episode, for example, we had to throw away

$10,000 of model shots of spaceships, because they wobble, and

they looked like models. That first episode was about $40,000

over budget, which is vast in TV terms. But it had to be done

right. Otherwise it would have been awful."

  The first episode of Hitchhiker's was made very much as a

pilot, and Alan Bell presented it to the heads of department at the

BBC. Some of them didn't like it. They didn't understand it, nor

for that matter did they realise it was meant to be funny. And the

cost of the first episode = over $120,000 - was about four times

as much as an equivalent episode of Dr Who.

  In order to demonstrate the humour of the show, Alan Bell

arranged for a laugh track. This was done by assembling about a

hundred science fiction fans in the National Film Theatre, playing

them the first episode, and taping their reaction. As a warm-up to

this a ten minute video was played, featuring Peter Jones reading

hastily felt-penned cue cards in a bewildered fashion, assuring the

audience that Zaphod Beeblebrox would be in the next episode,

and, with the ubiquitous Kevin Davies, demonstrating the use of

the headphones.

  This is Peter Jones's only on-screen appearance in the

Hitchhiker's television series.

  The audience loved the show, laughed on cue and generally

had a good time, and while the BBC hierarchy had agreed that the

next five episodes should be made (although they were made for

more like $40,000 a show - one reason why the sets begin to get

a little rudimentary towards the end), it did not insist on a laugh

track. This was undoubtedly a good thing.

  As Bell remembers, "The first episode was only a pilot, but

by the time we had got half-way through, they had already

commissioned the series, but we still didn't know the resources

that would be required because all we had to go on were the radio

scripts.

  "When we'd finished it, the Powers That Be thought that the

viewers wouldn't know that it was comedy unless we added a

laughter track. So we hired the National Film Theatre and

showed it on a big screen and gave all the audience headphones so

they could hear the soundtrack nice and clearly, and they laughed

all the way through. It did help that that audience was composed

of fans..."

  While much of the casting was the same on television and

radio, there were a few variations.

  "I wanted to keep everyone from the radio series, but

sometimes people's voices don't match their physical appearance.

  "For example, I wanted someone for Ford Prefect who

looked slightly different, and when I saw Geoffrey McGivern I

thought he looked too ordinary. Ford should be human but

slightly unnerving, so we looked around for someone else. My

secretary (It should be noted that most of the really important pieces of casting in Hitchhiker's seem to have been done by secretaries. Whether this phenomenon is unique to Hitchhiker's, or whether it is extant throughout the entertainment industry has not been adequately investigated, at least, not by me.) suggested David Dixon. He was great, but I thought

we'd change the colour of his eyes and make them a vivid blue, so

we got special tinted contact lenses which looked marvellous in

real life, but when it came to television the cameras just weren't

sensitive enough to pick up on it - except in the pub scene at the

beginning.

  "Sandra Dickinson got the part of Trillian after we had

interviewed about 200 young ladies for the role. None of them

had performed it with the right feelings. The girl had to have a

sense of humour. And then Sandra Dickinson came in and read it

and made the lines more funny than any other actress who'd done

an audition. "

  Sandra Dickinson was a surprising choice for Trillian; the

character was described in the book as a dark-haired,

dark-complexioned English woman; Sandra played it (as indeed

she is in real life) as a small blonde American with a squeaky

husky voice. As Douglas Adams said of her, "She could have

done a perfect `English Rose' voice, and looking back I think

perhaps we should have got her to do it. But it was such a relief to

find someone who could actually read Trillian's lines with some

humour, and give the character some life, that we just had her do

it as herself, and not change a thing."

  Another surprise casting came with Episode Five: Sandra's

husband, Peter Davison, the fifth and blandest Dr Who. He

played the Dish of the Day, a bovine creature which implores

diners to eat it. As Alan Bell explains, "Sandra came to me and

said that Peter wanted to play a guest part in Hitchhiker's and she

suggested the Dish of the Day. I said, `You cannot put Peter

Davison in a cow skin', but she said, No, really he wants to do

it!'. I said OK, and we booked him. We didn't pay him star

status; he just did it for the fun of it. And he played it very well."

  Early on in the press releases for Hitchhiker's, great play was

made of the fact that they would not be filming in the quarries

and gravel pits in which Dr Who has always travelled to distant

planets. And they wouldn't have any of the plastic rocks that

made Star Trek's alien worlds so strangely unconvincing.

  Instead, they would go abroad. Iceland, perhaps. Or Morocco.

The Magrathean sequences, one was assured, would be filmed

somewhere exotic.

  Alan Bell: "Douglas wanted us to film the Magrathean

sequences in Iceland. So I looked up the holiday brochures, and it

was very cold and there weren't any hotels of any note, but I had

been to Morocco years before and I remembered there was a part

of Morocco that was very space-like. We went to look, but we

had so much trouble getting through customs - without cameras

- and we met a Japanese film crew who said, `Don't come

because they deliberately delay you so you'll spend more money!'

- they'd had all their equipment impounded for three weeks.

  "So we ended up in this rather nice clay pit in Cornwall,

where we also did the beach scenes: Marvin playing beach ball

and Douglas going into the sea."

  Most of the cast and crew have memories of the Cornish clay

pit. Some of them have to do with the fact that there were no

toilets down there. Others have to do with David Learner, the

actor inside Marvin, who, due to the length of time it took to get

in and out of the Marvin costume, was abandoned in the clay pit

during the occasional rain showers during filming, protected from

rust by an umbrella.

  Prehistoric Britain was filmed in the Lake District, during a

cold snap, which meant that Aubrey Morris (playing the Captain

of the B - Ark, in his bath), and the extras clad in animal skins

who played the pre-Golgafrincham humans, were all frozen to

the bone, and spent all their time when not on camera bundled up

in blankets and drinking tea.

  The other interesting location was that of Arthur's house-

discovered by Alan Bell while driving, lost, around Leatherhead.

(The gate, which is all one sees knocked down by a bulldozer,

was built especially).

  It was while the pub scenes at the beginning were being

filmed that the union troubles began for Hitchhiker's - the

precise nature of which no one seems clear on anymore, but

which apparently involved a trip to the pub by some members of

the cast and crew which might have been recreational, but which

the union representatives assumed was professional, and as such

they felt they should have been invited, or something.(The story changes according to who you talk to and I never really understood any of the versions. I also had the impression that nobody telling me quite understood their version either. This is one of the few examples of woolly reporting in an otherwise excellent book, and should not be counted against it.)

  The computer room at the end of Episode Four (the Shooty

and Bang Bang sequence) was actually filmed on Henley Golf

Course. "We wanted somewhere near at hand which we could

build and blow up", Alan Bell remembered. "It was just

sufficiently out of London that we could warn the locals that if

they heard a bang at two in the morning, don't pay any attention

to it - it's only us! You can't see it on the show, but it's actually

raining into the set - it was open at the top."

  Union problems continued when the filming returned to the

studios: "The Milliways set was actually the biggest set they've ever

put into the BBC's biggest studio. The unions said they wouldn't

put the set in, and we had to cut bits out, which was a pity.

  "But the way we filmed it you never saw it all at once

anyway, just parts at a time. My reason for that was that. . . well,

if you've ever watched a variety show, they'll spend all their

money on a set, the singer sings, the camera pulls back, and you

see the set. And song after song you see the set, and you get

bored with it.

  "So I said, when we do Hitchhiker's we'll leave things to

people's imaginations, so even though we had this huge set there

isn't one shot where you see it all. Only parts of it, because then

you think it's even bigger than it is. You never see the edges of it.

  "Things got very rushed toward the end. The series was

structured to be made on a daily basis, so that, once all the

graphics work and location work for each episode was done, the

studio filming could be done in one day in the studio. It should

really have been five days at the studio, so there was an enormous

panic to get everything done in time. And the Electricians' Union

were in dispute, so at 10.00 pm every night the lights went out,

the plugs were pulled, and that was it. There's a scene where you

see Arthur Dent running to hide behind a girder - we actually

used a shot of Simon Jones, the actor, running across the studio

to get to his mark."

  The show was a success. The fans loved it, it garnered

excellent reviews, most people were pleasantly surprised and

befuddled by the computer graphics, and it won the BBC a few

awards in a year otherwise dominated by ITV's Brideshead

Revisited.

  Everybody waited expectantly for the second series. And

waited. And waited. There are conflicting stories of why the

second series never came to be made...

  John Lloyd: "They asked Douglas to do a second series. As

far as I know, he went to the BBC and said, `I'd be delighted, but

I never want to work with Alan Bell again.' And the BBC most

untypically supported Alan - they said he was the only person

to do it. That was the end of it. (I say untypically because if, say, a

comedy star didn't get on with a producer he'd go to the head of

department and they'd give him a new one. They'd do it for a

star, but not for a writer.)"

  Geoffrey Perkins: "Douglas wanted me to produce it. I heard

that Alan Bell refused to direct if I were producer, and instead

said how would I like to be script editor? This seemed to me the

most thankless task imaginable - for the first TV series they

didn't know how lucky they were - they already had the script

from the radio series and records, they were in clover. They

hadn't been through the whole thing of getting scripts out of

Douglas. Now I knew that getting those scripts for the second

series without any say in the way they were done would be an

appalling, heartbreaking thing, possibly the most thankless task I

could ever think up.

  "I said no.

  "My own impression is that the second series really got to

brinkmanship. Douglas gave the BBC an ultimatum. They said

no, fully expecting him to back down. And of course he didn't

and neither did they."

  Alan Bell: "There was going to be a second series. It was all

commissioned, we had fifty per cent more money, the actors were

told the dates, and during that time Douglas went past his script

deadline, and time was running out, we needed to have the

information because otherwise, six weeks before production,

what can you do? We needed sets built - there's no way you can

build them in that time. The deadlines to deliver the scripts came

and went, we gave him another three weeks and meetings were

going on - and that was it, it had to be cancelled.

  "It was going to begin with a test match in Australia, but we

checked it out and the timing wasn't right, so we were looking at

Headingly or somewhere. That was all I knew about the second

TV series - it wasn't going to be the second radio series at all.

  "Douglas is very strange. He believed that radio was the

ultimate series and that TV let him down. I don't know. Maybe it

did. I had to change a lot of things in production to make it

stronger, like Slartibartfast's aircar: anyone who had seen Star

VfJars would think we'd stolen it from there, so I changed it to a

bubble, and he was upset about that.

  "We started making lists of his wild ideas. He wanted to

make Marvin a chap in a leotard painted gold - if you see it on

TV you'd know it was an actor. The fun of the script is that

Marvin is a tin box that's depressed. If you see a man in a leotard

you know it's an actor straightaway, and what's so unusual about

an actor being depressed? And anyway there was that gold robot

in Star Wars. That impasse went straight to the Head of

Department.

  "He wanted the Mice to be played by men in mouse skins. It

wouldn't have worked. It would have looked like pantomime. He

wanted it to be faithful to the radio, but you couldn't be faithful

to the radio as it's visual, people have to walk from one side of the

set to the other.

  "So Douglas and I were fighting, not that that matters,

because that's what life's all about. If you're on a production and

everybody's enjoying themselves it's generally a load of rubbish,

because people feel passionately about things. It was my job to

throw out the bad ideas and keep the good.

  "The change in role for the black Disaster Area stunt ship

was done by Douglas himself. John Lloyd was the co-writer of

some episodes of the radio series, when Douglas was script editor

of Dr Who and also writing Hitchhiker's, and he was quite happy

to farm out to John to write the bits he couldn't write, and the

Black Ship bit was one of them. When it became a big success,

Douglas very much regretted having shared the credit with John

on those episodes so when it came to the TV series he wouldn't at

any cost do anything that John Lloyd had written because he

wanted it to be all Douglas Adams. I think if I was Douglas

Adams I'd do exactly the same thing.

  "We got on quite well, but I thought he was a hindrance. We

used to tell him that the dubbing dates were in three weeks' time

when we'd done it the day before, because if he came along he

interfered all the time, and, I have to say, not necessarily for the

better."

 

***************************************

PRODUCTION SUGGESTION: Mice.

I've suggested using the eidophor images in case we can manage

to do some very convincing puppetry to give us the appearance of

talking mice, like the Muppets, or indeed Yoda in the otherwise

terribly boring Empire Strikes Back. If we do that, then of course

the mice must look as real as we can possibly make them, and not

simply joke mice. That means that on the actual set, in the glass

transports, we either use little life-size models, or indeed real

mice, which would be preferable.

  Obviously, if we can make them appear to be speaking very

convincingly, then it obviates the need for the very extreme voice

treatments we had to use on radio, which were detrimental to the

actual sense of the lines.

  - Douglas Adams's production notes for TV, Episode Five.

********************************************

 

Douglas Adams: "A lot of what Alan says is simply not the case.

Whether his memory is at fault or not I don't know. All I would

say is that as he cheerfully admits he will say what suits him

rather than what happens to be the case. And therefore there's no

point in arguing.

  "I wouldn't start seriously moving on the second TV series

until we'd sorted out various crucial aspects of how we were

going to go about it. I felt very let down by the fact that though

John Lloyd was meant to be producer he was rapidly moved

aside, much to the detriment of the show. I'd always made it clear

that I wanted Geoffrey Perkins, at the very least as a consultant.

  "Neither of these things transpired in the first series. It was

perfectly clear to myself and the cast that Alan had very little

sympathy with the script. So I didn't want to go into the second

series without that situation being remedied in some way, and the

BBC was not prepared to come up with a remedy. That was the

argument going on in the background, that was why I was not

producing the scripts. I wasn't going to do the scripts until I

knew we were going to do the series."

  In 1984, when John Lloyd and Geoffrey Perkins were both

involved, as producer and script editor respectively, in Central

Television's Spitting Image, there were noises made that the

Spitting Image company would have been interested in making a

version of Life, the Universe and Everything. It would have been

interesting - one feels that they would probably have been able

to get Zaphod's head right - but the television rights were tied

up with the film rights and nothing ever came of it.

 14

 

The Restaurant at the

End of the Universe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

**********************************************

MARVIN: It's the people you meet that really get you down in

  this job. They're so boring. The best conversation I

  had was over thirty-four million years ago.

TRILLIAN: Oh dear.

MARVIN: And that was with a coffee machine.

ZAPHOD: Yeah, well, we're really cut up about that, Marvin.

  Now, where's our old ship?

MARVIN: It's in the restaurant.

ZAPHOD: What?

MARVIN: They had it made into teaspoons. I enjoyed that bit.

  Not very much though.

ZAPHOD: You mean they're stirring their coffee with my ship?

  The Heart of Gold? Hey, that was one of the

  creamiest space strutters ever stacked together.

  - Cut from script, radio Episode Five.

**********************************************

 

"Each time I come to a different version, I always think I could

do it better; I'm very aware of what I feel I got wrong, what was

thin or bad in the first version of it. Pan of it is that I wrote it

serially, so I was never sure where it was going. And no matter

how frantically I'd plot it out, it would never adhere to the plot I

had mapped out for it.

  "You map out a plot, and you write the first scene, and

inevitably the first scene isn't funny and you have to do

something else, and you finally get the scene to be funny but it's

no longer about what it was meant to be about, so you have to

jack in the plot you had in mind and do a new one...

  "After a while, it became pointless plotting too far in advance,

because it never worked, since the vast body of the material arrived

serially. I'd often reach a point where I'd go, `If I knew I was going

to wind up here I would have done something else there.' So

writing the books is usually an attempt to make sense of what I've

already done, which usually involves rather major surgery.

  "Especially with the second book, I was trying with

hindsight to make a bit of sense out of it all. I knew how it would

end, with the prehistoric Earth stuff, and I found myself plotting

the book backwards from there..."

  The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is Douglas

Adams's favourite of the Hitchhiker's books, although the

circumstances under which it was written were somewhat less

than ideal and they were to be far from unique.

  "I had put it off and put it off and got extension after

extension (all sorts of other things were going on at the time, like

the stage show and the TV series), but eventually the managing

director of Pan said, `We've given you all these extensions and we

have got to have it: sudden death or else, we have to have it in four

weeks. Now, how far have you got with it?' I didn't like to tell

him I hadn't staned it; it seemed unfair on the poor chap's hean."

  Jacqueline Graham, who was working for Pan, explains the

predicament: "After the first book, our attitude was a mixture of

resignation and exasperation with Douglas's lateness. By the

second book, we expected him to be late, it was built into our

planning, but at the same time we thought, `Well, he can't do it

again, surely! This time he'll start on time, or he'll have a schedule

and stick to it...'

  "But he didn't. The whole thing was tremendously late, and

Douglas was getting into a bit of a state about it because it was

getting later and later. He was sharing a flat at the time with a

friend called Jon Canter, and Douglas found it impossible to work

as the phone kept ringing and Jon was always there. In the end I

said to him, `Why don't you just move out?' as he had written the

first book at his mother's. He thought that was a very good idea

so I rented him a flat, and moved him in that afternoon."

  Douglas found the experience more than slightly weird: "I

was locked away so nobody could possibly reach me or find me. I

led a completely monastic existence for that month, and at the

end of four weeks it was done.

  "It was extraordinary. One of those times you really go

mad... I can remember the moment I thought, `I can do it! I'll

actually get it finished in time!' And the Paul Simon album had

just come out, One Trick Pony, and it was the only album I had.

I'd listen to it on my Walkman every second I wasn't actually

sitting at the typewriter - it contributed to the sense of insanity

and hypnotism that allowed me to write a book in that time."

  When the manuscript for The Restaurant at the End of the

Universe was turned in, Douglas stated that that would be the

final Hitchhiker's book. "It's the last of all that, I hope," he

announced to one daily paper, " I want to try another field, now,

like performing."

  The book, again a paperback original from Pan, was a critical

success. While most critics had been a little wary of the first book

initially, mostly not reviewing it at all, its sales had made it a

major book. Oddly enough, the only part that British critics

found too highly Monty Python, and too down-to-eanh, was the

colonisation of Eanh by the Golgafrincham detritus; the `oddly'

because this is the section most American critics picked up on

most easily and singled out for praise.

 

****************************************

  MARVIN TURNS FROM THE TELEPORT

  AND TRUDGES AWAY.

MARVIN: I suppose some people might have expected better

  treatment after having waited for five hundred and

  seventy-six thousand million years in a car park. But

  not me. I may just be a menial robot but I'm far too

  intelligent to expect anyone to think of me for a

  moment. Far too intelligent. In fact, I'm so

  intelligent I've probably got time to go through the

  five million things I hate most about organic life

  forms. One. They're so stupid...

  - Cut from TV script.

*****************************************************

 

15

 

Invasion USA

 

 

 

 

 

  "AND NOW," BEGAN THE PRESS RELEASE, "for something

  completely different..."

  As has been seen, Douglas Adams's contribution to Monty

Python was neither major nor earth-shattering, consisting as it

did of having had an old sketch rewritten by diverse hands for the

soundtrack album of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and two

walk-on parts (once in drag and once in a surgical mask) in the

final series.

  This was not, however, the impression one got from the

American PR for The Hitchhiker's Guide to tbe Galaxy, which

represented Douglas as a "former scriptwriter for Monty

Python". In addition to which, the initial press release for the

hardback copy of Hitchhiker's (published by Harmony/Crown

in October 1980) contained the following praise for the book:

 

  "Really entertaining and fun" -John Cleese

  "Much funnier than anything John Cleese has ever written"-

  Terry Jones

  "I know for a fact that John Cleese hasn't read it" - Graham

  Chapman

  "Who is John Cleese?" - Eric Idle

  "Really entertaining and fun" - Michael Palin

 

An American fan might have been forgiven for supposing that

Douglas Adams, not Terry Gilliam, was the sixth member of the

Python team.

 

 

*************************************************

  MONTY PYTHON AND HITCHHIKER'S

"It's funny. When I was at university I was a great Python fan. I

still am, but that was obviously when Python was at its most

active. So I have very much an outsiders view of Python; an

audience's view. As far as Hitchhiker's goes I'm the only person

who doesn't have any outsider's view whatsoever. I often wonder

how I'd react to it if I wasn t me, but I still was me, so to speak,

and how much I'd like it, and how much I'd be a fan or whatever.

The way I would perceive it in among everything else. Obviously

I can't answer that question. I have no idea, because I'm the one

person who can't look at it from outside.

  "You can see all the elements in Hitchhiker's in which it is a

bit this or a bit that. I mean, it's an easy line for people wanting to

categorise it in the press to say it is a cross between Monty Python

and Dr Who, and in a sense it is, there are all kinds of elements

that go into making it what it is. But at the end of the mixing you

have something which is different from anything else in its own

peculiar way.

  "But then, everything is like that. Python was a mixture of all

kinds of things thrown together to give you something different

from anything else. Even the Beatles (let's get really elevated here)

were a mixture of all kinds of elements drawn from other things,

mixed together and they created something which was

extraordinarily different.

  "Although Hitchhiker's does not have any real political

significance, there is a theme there of the ubquity of bureaucracy

and paranoia rampant throughout the universe. And that is a

direct debt to Python, along with the comparative style of

`individual events, little worlds'. The difference comes with the

narrative structure, so the world of Hitchhiker's is based outside

the `Real World' while still co-existing with it. It's like looking at

events through the wrong end of a telescope."

********************************************************

 

In 1980 a few American radio stations had already broadcast

Hitchhiker's and National Public Radio was just waiting for its new

stereo system to begin operating before it started to broadcast the

radio series nationally. Even so, the show was not going to have the

same effect on the States that it had had in England through radio,

and a new tack was needed.

  The book had done moderately well in hardcover on its

release but did not reach the cult status it had in England and

that, it was imagined, it had the potential of reaching in America.

The radio series was finally broadcast by National Public Radio

member stations in March 1981. (National response was so good

that the twelve episodes were rebroadcast six months later.)

  [Douglas Adams had paid his first visit to America in

January 1981, on completion of the BBC television series. He

lived in New York, had a wonderful time (despite contracting an

ear infection) and visited Mexico before returning to England

where he was to begin working on Life, tbe Universe and

Everything.)

  In many ways, the paperback release of The Hitchhiker's

Guide to the Galaxy had a lot in common with the promotion of

the cult film The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In order to get

people along to Rocky Horror the film company realised that the

public had to `discover' it for themselves, there had to be a word-

of-mouth campaign among the right sort of people.

  It is peculiar that, even more than favourable reviews or

national advertising (neither of which, admittedly, ever hurt

sales), the factor that seems to sell most books is word-of-mouth

promotion: people reading books and recommending them to

friends. It was to be hoped that Hitchhiker's could have the same

kind of impact that some of the `campus classics' of the sixties

and seventies had had - books that had built up high sales, and

then remained perennial bestsellers. Could it be the next Catcher

in the Rye? The next Lord of the Rings, or Dune?

  Hitchhiker's needed advance word-of-mouth among science

fiction fans and - more importantly - among the college crowd

and the kind of people who would appreciate its humour. The

solution? An advertisement in the 20th August Rolling Stone,

giving away three thousand copies of The Hitchhiker's Guide to

the Galaxy ("FREE!") to the first people to write to the

"Hyperspace Hitchhiking Club - Earth Div. c/o Pocket Books"

by 27th August. This was combined with many "advance reading

copies" and "give-away promotions" which were distributed by

Pocket in the months before publication to ensure that people

would begin to read Hitchhiker's and that they would, Pocket

hoped, tell their friends how much they had enjoyed it.

  Pocket did not skimp on the promotion, however. "England"

they explained in their press release, "the country that gave

America the Beatles and Monty Python's Flying Circus has just

exported another zany craze - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the

Galaxy by Doug Adams, a wild spoof available in October from

Pocket Books."

  The book was released in October, and did reasonably well.

  Douglas was again in America at this time, in Los Angeles,

while ABC tried to put together the ("thank heaven, abortive")

American version of the television series.

  "It was like every horror story you have ever heard," says

Douglas. "They weren't really interested in how good it was

going to be, they just wanted to do lots of special effects, and they

also wanted not to have to pay for them."

  The show was to be one of the many British comedy shows

that had been turned into American comedy shows. (There is a

long and noble tradition of this, that includes dragging such

shows as Steptoe and Son, Fawlty Towers, and The Fall and Rise

of Reginald Perrin across the Atlantic, recasting them, rewriting

them, and frequently removing whatever it was that happened to

  make the show funny in the first place (It is interesting to note that quiz shows tend to cross the Atlantic in the opposite direction. Such shows as The Price is Right and Hollywood (`Celebrity') Squares have all reached the UK from the US.).)

  Quite what ABC planned to do with Hitchhiker's is unknown.

The script was to be by other people than Douglas, and was being

written and put together by various committees:

  "There were terrible stories coming back after meetings with

executives, they'd make remarks like `Would an alien be green?'

Eventually everything got abandoned because the first episode's

budget came to $2.2 million. It would have been the most expensive

twenty-two minute show ever made. The script was terrible."

  Douglas's sole contribution was to "come in and hang around

the production office for a week". As he later pointed out, "It

gives you an idea of the crazy proportion of this thing, when you

think that they paid me four times as much for that one week as I

was paid to write the whole series for radio!"

  It was with the release of The Restaurant at the End of the

Universe, shortly afterwards, that Douglas first made it onto the

US bestseller lists, and, with the American broadcast of the BBC

television series, Hitchhiker's popularity was assured.

  Many people were surprised that something as essentially

British as Hitchhiker's took off in America. Not Douglas Adams.

  "One is told at every level of the entertainment industry that

the American audience does not like or understand English

humour. We are told that at every level except that of the audience,

who, as far as I can see, love it. It's everybody else, the people

whose job it is to tell you what the audiences like; but the people I

meet here, and in the US, who are fans, are very much the same

type of people.

  "The most commonly heard plea from American audiences is

`Don't let them Americanise it! We get all sorts of pabulum over

here...!'

  "In terms of sales these days, it is more popular in America

than England (it sells twice as many books to four times as many

people, so it's either twice as popular, or half as popular). I think

too much is made of the difference between US and UK humour.

I don't think there's a difference in the way those audiences are

treated. Audiences in the US (through no fault of their own) are

treated as complete idiots by the people who make programmes.

And when you've been treated as an idiot for so long you tend to

respond that way. But when given something with a bit more

substance the tend to breathe a deep sigh of relief and say

`Thank God for that!'

  "There are things that the British think are as English as roast

beef that the Americans think are as American as apple pie. The

trick is to write about people. If you write about situations that

people recognise then people will respond to it. The humour that

doesn't travel is stuff like the Johnny Carson monologue, for

which you needed to know precisely who said what about who

that week and how it affected the performance of the LA Rams. If

you don't have the information then it isn't funny.

  "But anything that relies on how a person works is

universally accessible. (How it works in translation is another

matter, as in that respect comedy is a fragile plant, and very often

I suspect it might not stand up in translation. I don't know.

Hitchhiker's has been translated into all kinds of languages, and

I've no idea which ones work and which ones don't.)"

  As it is, Life, the Universe, and Everything and, more

especially, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish have sold

amazingly well in the US, the latter riding high on the US bestseller

lists for over eighteen months. The computer game, which was not

a big hit in the UK, was the number one game in the US for a year,

selling over a quarter of a million copies. Much of Douglas's mail

and the greater part of his income, now comes from America.

 16

 

Life, the Universe, and Everything

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

************************************************

ZAPHOD: There's nothing wrong with my sense of reality. I

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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