THE Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy grew from an obscure late night BBC radio series to a cult global phenomenon.
Expanded via a series of books written by its creator, the late Douglas Adams, the sci-fi comedy spawned a television show and, decades later, Hollywood film.
Now, the original series is being brought back to life with a twist in a new stage adaptation, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Radio Show — Live! Geoff McGivern, who reprises his role as hitchhiking man about the galaxy Ford Prefect, explained the series’ enduring appeal to Mail reporter TIM FLETCHER.
TO use one of the lines from the cult sci-fi creation he dreamed up, Douglas Adams had a brain the size of a planet.
The writer, who died 11 years ago at the age of 49, created a monster when he wrote the BBC radio sci-fi comedy The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, which grew to be a cult classic after airing for the first time in 1978.
Geoff McGivern, who would play the character of Ford Prefect in the radio series (but not the later television adaptation), well remembers the first time he encountered Adams, as a Cambridge undergraduate.
“He was one of the first people I saw in my first week there,” he recalls. “We were watching a full-scale debate with everyone in black tie and then in walked this very casually-dressed, incredibly tall man with a big nose eating cereal while making a speech.
“Douglas was a genius and had a very unique mind. He was really a scientist but he had these two huge hemispheres of the brain, with his humanist philosophy alongside his scientific understanding of what was really going on.”
Adams would share his unique world view with millions through the Guide, the tale of Arthur Dent, the unsuspecting humanoid who wakes up one morning to discover his planet is being demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass, exposing him, and by extension the listener, to a hitherto unknown world of louche, inter-planetary hitchhikers and the pursuit of the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.
The protagonists are aided in their travels by the eponymous Guide, conceived by Adams, with remarkable prescience and long before the arrival of the World Wide Web, as a kind of proto-Wikipedia, an interactive, electronic oracle holding forth with dubious accuracy on every conceivable subject.
“The BBC top brass just didn’t get it but said to the producer: ‘If you think it’s funny, you can do a series’,” recalls McGivern.
“It grew from this small show on 10.30 on a Tuesday night to be a cult phenomenon, purely by word of mouth.”
The success of the radio series would drive Adams to expand on his ideas in book form, via a ‘trilogy in five parts’, which forms the basis of a new stage adaptation currently wowing fans across the country.
It features most of the original cast including McGivern, Simon Jones as Arthur Dent, Mark Wing-Davey as twoheaded fugitive former president of the galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox and Susan Sheridan as Trillian, the Bonnie to his Clyde.
The voice of ‘the book’, a character in itself, is provided by a variety of guest stars including comedian and television presenter Phill Jupitus, who takes on the role when it visits Birmingham, impressionist Jon Culshaw (Leicester) and actor Christopher Timothy (Nottingham).
However, the real star of the show is down-in-the-dumps robot Marvin The Paranoid Android, his disembodied voice provided in digital form by its original creator Stephen Moore, who can’t appear live due to other commitments.
“Stephen is immortal in that role and we’ve allowed for the five-minute ovation Marvin will get when he says: ‘I think you all ought to know I’m feeling very depressed’,” says McGivern.
“We might as well just go and have a glass of water while we wait for the applause to die down.”
The Guide remains as popular as ever, its idiosyncratic appeal unveiled to a whole new audience via the 2005 film version starring Martin Freeman, about which McGivern is ambivalent at best.
To what, then, does a show first aired more than 30 years ago owe its enduring appeal?
“Simon was saying that the whole thing, and the reason the English love it so much, is that it’s basically all about Arthur Dent’s pursuit of a decent cup of tea,” says McGivern.
“Douglas captured all of that, along with the banality of life and the frustration people feel with bureaucrats and the inflexibility of people in power.
“I always think a really good comedy programme is based on what a 14-yearold teenager would like, what they think is funny and talk about on the school bus the next day.
“At that age you’re trying to find out what’s going on in the world and people are giving you a lot of very dull answers, so you latch on to anything that gives you an alternative view and helps you to start making sense of it all.
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide has got that thing great humour has where you suddenly see the world in a completely different and more optimistic light, stop being depressed about it and see the wonder and humour of it all.
“It will always be there to say there are other ways of looking at life and enjoying this incredibly brief time we have on this insignificant planet in the western spiral arm of the galaxy.”
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Radio Show — Live! comes to Birmingham’s New Alexandra Theatre on Tuesday.
Tickets, are available online at www.atgtickets.com/birmingham or by calling the box office on 0844 8713011.
The show appears at Leicester de Montfort Hall on Wednesday, June 20, and Nottingham Royal Concert Hall on the following day.