The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (BBC2, 1981) The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy which was created by Douglas Adams is widely regarded to be one of the greatest radio comedies of its era. There had been plans for a while to transfer the show to TV, and it finally came to the screen at the start of 1981. This is a little before my time, but I remember watching the show during one of its many TV repeat runs in more recent years which was how I got into it, and I also have the DVD.
The idea of the show is bizarre to say the least, and it featured some of the strangest science-fiction situations and characters that there have been. Arthur Dent gets something of a shock one morning when he is told that the Earth is about to be destroyed because it is going to be replaced by a bypass. Isn’t it annoying when that happens?
Thankfully his friend and alien-type thing Ford Prefect is at hand to rescue him before the big explosion. Arthur needn’t worry about how to cope in space though because Ford has written a book all about that. The cover is inscribed with “DON’T PANIC” and it features some other comforting advice about how to deal with these peculiar aliens, and its contents are voiced by Peter Jones.
Arthur also meets many other wonderfully odd characters including Zaphod Beeblebrox and his two heads, Trillian, and Marvin The Paranoid Android who isn’t very happy about all of this, or anything else. They then all go on to try and discover what the meaning of life, the universe and everything is, and are surprised by what they discover. There are also lots of other brilliantly creative ideas such as the Babel Fish and a PanGalactic GargleBlaster.
When the TV version was shown, it seemed to get a mixed response from viewers, mostly because the imagery that was created in the minds of listeners to the radio version was so lavish that it was always going to be difficult to replicate, especially with the technology that was available at the time, and a planned second series never happened, meaning that only six TV episodes were ever made.
People felt that justice could finally be done to Adams’s work when a film version was released a few years after his death which was to be on a much bigger scale, and for this Martin Freeman donned the old dressing gown to play the lead role for this. Again, the response was rather mixed from fans.
The DVD release of the TV series contains an impressive amount of extras. Among my favourites were some BBC2 continuity clips going into the first episode when it was first shown in 1981, and the production notes which revealed a lot more about how the TV version was put together. One of the things that I found most interesting was that the production team were often used what computers they used to create the animated sequences from the book, and they said that none were used at all. The show was put together before computer technology was advanced enough so all the text and pictures had to be animated frame-by-frame. The show also won some awards for its pioneering work in prosthetics and graphics. No wonder it’s considered to be a cult classic.