Celebrating The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

Feature Zoe Bond 16 Jan 2013 - 07:31

Zoe provides an introduction to the TV version of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, a television series unlike any other...

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable series. In fact it's arguably the most remarkable series ever to come out of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Not only is it a remarkable series it is also a highly successful one, having already been produced as a radio series, novel, LP and stage show.

Labelled by unimaginative producers as ‘unfilmable’, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was aired on BBC two in January 1981 to an eagerly awaiting audience of fans and hoopy froods alike. The award winning series starred many of the original cast members including Simon Jones as Arthur Dent, Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox and Peter Jones as the voice of the guide; however for the TV series a new Trillian and Ford Prefect were required. The part of Ford went to David Dixon as he was more visually suited to the role and Sandra Dickinson starred as Trillian when Susan Sheridan was unavailable for filming.

The TV series used the same script as the radio version and followed the adventures of hapless Englishman Arthur Dent who, after having his planet demolished by the Vogons one Thursday morning, is saved by his best friend Ford Prefect - who isn’t actually from Earth but a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse. Hitching a lift on a passing spaceship he begins a wild adventure hitchhiking around the universe with nothing but a towel and a book with the words DON’T PANIC written in large friendly letters on the cover.

The plot focuses on Arthur Dent who is brilliantly played by Simon Jones – which isn’t surprising considering Adams’ wrote the part for him. Jones plays the typical Englishman perfectly as he tries to navigate his way around the universe moving from crisis to crisis all while searching for a good cup of tea. Simon Jones does a wonderful job reacting to bug-eyed monsters and strange new planets, and stumbles around the universe with a permanently confused expression on his face. This strongly contrasts with all the other characters; Ford in particular who is the most alien out of them all. He is bursting with energy and childish excitement and doesn’t look at home anywhere. Dixon gives a fantastic off-the-wall performance with his peculiar facial expressions and a carefree, flippant approach to everything. 

Accompanying them is Zaphod Beeblebrox. Mark Wing-Davey is clearly very confident in the role of Zaphod and gives a very theatrical performance as he swaggers around the Heart of Gold with an ego larger than the universe itself both acting and looking like a rock star. Trillian, the only female character in the series, is portrayed very differently to the both the novel and the radio version, in the TV series she is blonde, American, and doesn’t seem to have much of a role in the overall plot. However Sandra Dickinson makes the most of the script and gives Trillian a stronger personality.

Also travelling on the Heart of Gold is Marvin, a manically depressed robot with a brain the size of a planet who, despite his continuous moaning about everything in existence, is one of the most loved characters out of the series. Afflicted with GPP (genuine people personalities) Marvin has some of the best lines in the script and is absolutely hilarious with his deadpan personality and wit, “...parking cars what else do you do in a carpark?”. 

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is filled with many other quirky characters who are all given enough time on screen to allow their big personalities to come across, from the two cops on Magrathea, to the Vogon Guard in episode two and even the Dish of the Day played by Peter Davison at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Adams himself makes anon screen appearance too and in the guide as numerous characters including the Sirius Cybernetics marketing Division.

The plot largely revolves around the Guide, which is a character in itself. It defines the series and brings all the characters together. Voiced by Peter Jones, the guide’s satirical entries are parodies of modern culture, as is the entire series. Adams pokes fun at the new power and money-crazed culture that would continue through the eighties, for instance, the mice want to know the question to the answer so they can appear on chat shows and Disaster Area lead singer Hotblack Desiato spends a year dead for tax reasons. 

The series is visually very impressive. The scale of the sets and their level of detail is striking, as are the model shots. A great deal of the effects used were still at the experimental stage during the time, such as the establishing shots, which were created using a mixture of photography and live-action footage cleverly arranged to make the sets look full-size. While the sets and their colour scheme look understandably dated now, especially aspects of the Heart of Gold and Milliways, nevertheless they are still very effective. Deep Thought particularly stands out as one of the most impressive designs, the endless darkness that surrounds it and the intimidating look of the great computer coupled with the subdued lighting really sets the tone of the scene. One of the most distinguishing features of the series are the amazing hand-animated graphics, particularly those of the guide which won a well-deserved BAFTA for graphics and editing.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series was made with to sound like an experimental rock anthem and this feeling was carried across into the TV series. The plot is fast-moving and there is very little time between each crisis and life-or-death situation for Arthur or the audience to recover. Every scene is pure genius and enriched with Adams’ insanely clever wit. 

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a series that will always stand alone in terms of both script and production values. The series takes its audience on a wild adventure full of unexpected twists and turns and a profound discovery in the last episode is the perfect ending for the series and Arthur Dent’s onscreen journey. It's a British classic that has captured audience's imaginations for over thirty years, and no doubt will continue to do so.

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not a patch on the brilliant Radio serial but still a very funny series, the animation is excellent for the time and pretty much the only ropey part of the production is Zaphod's second head but overall well worth a DVD purchase IMHO

This was my first introduction to The Hitchhikers's Guide. It's a brilliant series and a genius set of books.

Alas, I never had the chance to hear the radio series, being too young and in Australia... This was my first introduction to HHGTTG and of course I loved it!... I understand the unfilmable tag as this was such a product of its time... It's 80s all the way... I miss it :-(

The original radio series was excellent, as was the TV series shown here.

The radio series was continued recently on radio4 to include all the later books using as many of the original cast as possible. The new book, 'And Another thing', by another author was OK too. But for the best experience, the original books are the best.

The good thing about HHGTTG is that the books,TV,radio and film all have slightly different plots so each can be enjoyed even if you have seen/read/listened to the other formats.

I named a rock climb in the UK "We Apologise for the Inconvenience' when Douglas Adams sadly passed away :(

It's worth getting hold of the radio series. It really is one of the best things going.

'And Another Thing' was pretty terrible for me. It felt like Colfer hadn't even read the original books and it was too focused on Zaphod. I only got about half way through before giving up on it.

The Quandry and Quintessential parts of the radio show have some great moments in them.

Love this show and all the geeky little stories that come out of it...

Like the one about the badge on the Golgafrinchan Captain's hat - it was re-used by the BBC props department years later (albeit upside down) for the insignia Rimmer wore on the breast of his uniform from series 3 onwards.

I gave up on "and another thing" too. It just didn't hold my interest, so while there were some good elements too it, it felt like I was always pushing myself to keep going instead of excitedly trying to read as much as i could. Not like the originals in that sense

seconded, there is a fairly cheap MP3 CD with the first 2 series on, it, £6 in the UK well worth double that price!

Great article. This was my introduction to Hitchhiker's Guide, so it is the definitive one for me. I vividly remember the first time I saw this on PBS. It was Channel 17 out of Buffalo and as soon as I heard that Simon Jones intro, I immediately ran to my VCR to hit record. I try and rewatch it every year. I love the cast, I love the music, I love the guide graphics....heck, I love every single frame of it!!! It truly brings this remarkable story to life!!! RIP, Douglas.

Lord knows, I loved this show. Too bad the other books weren't adapted. The ending left me sad and wanting more.

Good ol' Ch17 and TVO....my Doctor Who fix for all of my childhood. For some reason I feel like the first time I saw it on Ch17, they were airing it immediately following Doctor Who...that's why I already had the tape in the VCR ready to go. However, that could just be my memory playing tricks on me. I'm sure they broadcast it many times.

Glad I wasn't the only one who gave up, it just seemed so forced and confused - I got totally confused in the battle.

Love this. Remember watching it first time round on Beeb 2. Went straight out and bought the cassettes (remember them!) of the radio show - which I've still got :-)
For those in the UK I can heartily recommend trying to catch the HHGTTG Radio Show Live! Caught it last year & really enjoyed it!

Not quite sure how one could write an article describing rudimentary information about H2G2 without the two words "Douglas" and "Adams" appearing together at all. A quick glance at a Guide entry entitled "Article Writing 101" might suggest the name appear in one of the first few paragraphs. Just a thought.

One of my earliest TV memories is watching this. Still love it.

David Dixon was brilliant.
The Deep Thought "You're really NOT going to like it!" speech is my fave.

Early 80's BBC SFX budget kind of limited what they could do with the head. With those limitations in mind, it wasn't that bad.

Reading it right now. Can't agree more. Very disappointing.

"which isn’t surprising considering Adams’ wrote the part for him."

I was a teenager when the radio series was broadcast. My friends and I were avid fans. To me, the radio and book will always be where it's at.

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All you fans of the BBC show: the theme is "Journey of the Sorcerer" by the Eagles from the One of These Nights album. Awesome tune to have.

I'm gonna look into it... Thanks for the Cd tip!

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