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The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
Four radio series, five novels, a TV series, online games, a dance craze even, and of course a movie later, the Hitchhiker phenomenon continues.
Arthur Dent, wakes up to find bulldozers trying to build a bypass through his house. He's even more upset to find out that aliens are about to destroy his world to make way for a bigger bypass.
Fortunately his friend Ford is a researcher for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and takes him on board the hovering ship. The pair then travel on a quest for the Question to the Ultimate Answer of Life, the Universe and Everything, the frustrating and irritating answer to which was '42'.
Hitch Hikers the radio series dawned in 1978, no doubt after lots of sleepless nights for producer Geoffrey Perkins. Right from the start it was a first: first radio comedy to use stereo on the BBC; the first to give a real outing to the radiophonics workshop, and the first whose music was dictated by its creator to be done 'like a rock album'. Richly textured music and effects populate every episode, chief amongst them being the attention poured on the guide itself.
Voiced by a bemused Peter Jones, who quite genuinely didn't understand some of the mind-boggling things he was often asked to read out – the nature and fate of the Babel Fish, the story of the planet Magrathea, the action of compound interest to ensure you a table at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, or the workings of the Infinite Improbability Drive - the Guide is a unique creation, backed by effects that were even more realized in the TV version where spare, clinical graphics illustrated Adams' ideas perfectly.
As Arthur Dent, Simon Jones is perfectly confused, the victim of the universe, and yet still a comic engine as well as a straight man. Geoffrey McGivern's louche tones make Ford Prefect the ultimate realist - while David Dixon in the TV version had a good stab at the role. Mark Wing-Davey made Zaphod Beeblebrox, ex-Galactic President, his own, utterly sybaritic creation.
But Adams' greatest character is undoubtedly Marvin, the Paranoid Android, depressed, hating everything, surviving every attempt to destroy him, and just feeling depressed some more.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was an instant hit. Adams rushed novels out to match the success of his radio work, the TV series was produced, tapes sold, and everyone settled into a long wait to try and make the film, which tragically only turned up after Adams had passed away.
Recently, producer Dirk Maggs bravely turned other novels such as Life, the Universe and Everything into radio series which worked largely because Maggs kept much of the radio cast from the original, and didn't mess too much with Adams' words.
It's an overused word, but Hitchhikers is genuinely unique. Whereas the alternative comedians of the late 70s were creating an industry, Hitchhikers was Adams' mind alone - probably the best mind in modern comedy.
Not only funny, it contained concepts of true philosophy and (ironically) Deep Thought, as well as ideas that most science fiction writers would have spent years developing (Babel Fish, Infinite Improbability, planets as computers, mice as transcendental beings, towels as totems of power), which Adams made up on the spot.
Hitchhikers still sounds as fresh today as it did when first made, a fact recognized in its constant popularity - and the film of 2005, which was only so-so, but contained enough of Adams to still be wonderful.
Hitchhikers is filled with an urge to ask big questions, to see through hypocrisy and greed, and a need to understand what the future might bring. Nothing made before or since is like it.
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