The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
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Premiere January 5, 1981
Finale February 9, 1981
Creator Douglas Adams
Network BBC One
Style 30-minute science fiction comedy
Company BBC
Seasons 1
Episodes 6
Origin UK

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a television adaptation of a BBC radio series created and written by Douglas Adams, first transmitted in 1978. It is basically a satire of science fiction trimmings. The radio series was comprised of two series--the Primary Phase and the Secondary Phase (the second airing on BBC radio in 1980), each with six installments, or "fits." The first six "fits" were turned into two paperback books--the second being The Restaurant at the End of the Universe--then into this six-part BBC mini-series which found its way to PBS stations in the United States by the fall of 1982. Portions of the radio series' dialogue were deleted and additional material added to the books and the TV series. The theme music, "Journey of the Sorceror", was a song by the Eagles originally on their album One of These Nights.

The Hitchhiker's Guide in the story is an electronic device that has entries on anything you need to know about seeing the marvels of the universe (on thirty Altairian dollars a day). For the TV series the graphics for the Guide were animated by Rod Lord and the voice of the book is Peter Jones. Adams said it was based on a pamphlet he picked up on a continental tour called The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe.

The story starts with Arthur Dent, a "six-foot ape descendant lifeform" whose house is being razed for a bypass. His friend, Ford Prefect, takes him to the Red Lion pub and says he's actually from outer space (from Betelgeuse, which is a real star) and that Earth is about to be destroyed. While Arthur wonders if the world hasn't gone mad in his presence, a fleet of Vogon ships arrive to announce that Earth is being destroyed for a hyperspace express route. Just as the Earth is blown to smithereens, Arthur and Ford find themselves in the galley of one of the ships. They are soon captured and forced to sheer torture--listening to the Vogon captain's poetry--and then tossed off the ship.

Thirty seconds later, the pair are rescued by a ship--the Heart of Gold which was stolen by former galactic commander-in-chief Zaphod Beeblebrox (Ford's half-brother) and his mate Tricia McMillan (informally Trillian). Arthur had met Trillian at a party in Islington and lost her to Zaphod. Accompanied by their robot Marvin ("the Paranoid Android"), the foursome reach the planet of Magrathea where Zaphod seeks the secret of planet designs. Arthur is taken in by Slartibartfast, designer of planets. Arthur is told that he is the last surviving product of a 7.5 million-year-old computer program to find the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe and Everything. A race of pan-dimensional beings posited the question to a giant computer, Deep Thought, who eventually revealed that the answer was simply "42." Deep Thought would design the "ultimate computer" to discern the actual question--the Earth. But the Vogons destroyed the Earth five minutes before the program was affected completely. The two beings who programmed the question to Deep Thought back then were reincarnated as mice and commissioned Slartibartfast to design Earth Mk. II so they could merely be rich off it. But now they want Arthur's brain as the question is imprinted in his brain waves.

Having been reunited with the others, Arthur and our heroes are on the run from law enforcements after Zaphod. A computer explosion sends the four in time to Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. They meet Marvin in the car park where they make off with the scout ship of Hotblack Desiato, lead singer for the universe's loudest rock group Disaster Area. The ship has been programmed to crash into the sun as part of its finale in a concert. Marvin cavalierly sacrifices himself and beams Ford, Trillian, Arthur and Zaphod off the ship. Ford and Arthur land on a ship--a space ark--populated by Golgafrinchams being kept in storage bins for a repopulation of Earth, 7 million years in the past. They land on this Earth and find that their presence has caused the caveman to die out. They figure that if they've altered pre-history then the Ultimate Question in Arthur's brain has to be wrong in some retrospect. Using a prehistoric Scrabble game, Arthur draws tiles with his eyes closed and spells the question out: "What do you get if you multiply six by nine?" As Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" plays in the background, Arthur and Ford suck in their pride and join the human race.

Changes were made to the TV edition (distilled from the first two books). The christening of the bulldozer by Lady Cynthia Fitzmelton from the radio show was left out, as was the Guide dissertation on biro lifeforms (among a few minute bits). The portion about towels being a useful psychological tool used in part 1 of the TV series and the first book was originally used in the first "fit" of the second radio series. The Hotblack Desiato appearance and his concert scout ship replaced the radio show's Haggunenon commander's flagship and the subsequent devouring of Zaphod, Trillian and Marvin by the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal. The story was the influence for Yahoo's language translator site AltaVista Babel Fish.

A two-volume LP record soon followed as did a series of books (Life, the Universe and Everything and So Long and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless--the radio series continues off independently, although those books would eventually be adapated for radio in 2004 and 2005, known as the Tertiary Phase, the Quandary Phase, and the Quintessential Phase respectively). Marvin the Paranoid Android became such a hit as a character that Polydor U.K. released 45 rpm records of Stephen Moore as Marvin ("Marvin," "Metal Man," "Marvin I Love You" and "Reasons To be Miserable") and a Marvin Depreciation Society was organized. In 2001, Douglas Adams prepared the first draft of a movie screenplay to be made using a cast completely different than the TV show. Adams died that year, leaving the screenplay to be finished by Karey Kirkpatrick. This movie was released in the spring of 2005 and truncates a bit of the original story (the original Marvin appears in a cameo) while taking continuity liberties and adding things not in the radio or TV series.

Some of the notably quotable lines from the story:

  • "I've gone off the idea of progress. It's overrated." --Arthur, from the radio series
  • "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so." --Ford
  • "So this is it. We're going to die!" --Arthur
  • "You've really got to know where your towel is." --Ford
  • "If there's anything more important than my ego, I want it shot immediately." --Zaphod
  • "Life. Don't talk to me about life." --Marvin
  • "This must be Thursday. I could never get the hang of Thursdays." --Arthur
  • "The Great Hyperlobic Omnicognate Neutron Wrangler can talk four legs off an Arcturan Megadonkey but only I can persuade it to go for a walk afterwards." --Deep Thought
  • Do you want me to sit in a corner and rust or just fall apart where I'm standing? --Marvin
  • "Put your analyst on danger money baby, now." --Zaphod
  • "I think you ought to know I'm feeling very depressed." --Marvin

Cast

Actor Character Duration
Main Cast
Peter Jones The Guide 1
Simon Jones Arthur Dent 1
David Dixon Ford Prefect 1
Martin Benson Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz 1
Mark Wing-Davey Zaphod Beeblebrox 1
Sandra Dickinson Trillian 1
David Learner Marvin (costume) 1
Stephen Moore Marvin (voice) 1
Frankie Mouse 1
David Tate Eddie the Computer 1
Benji Mouse 1
Richard Vernon Slartibartfast 1
Antony Carrick Lunkwill 1
Timothy Davies Fook 1
David Leland Majikthise 1
Charles McKeown Vroomfondel 1
Valentine Dyall Deep Thought 1
Jack May Garkbit the waiter 1
Peter Davison Dish Of The Day 1
Aubrey Morris "B" Ark Captain 1

Seasons

Season Premiere Finale #
BBC
Season One January 5, 1981 February 9, 1981 6

DVD Releases

Title Release Date #
Complete Series: Region 1
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy April 30, 2002 2 purchase