In the early summer of 1997, my wife and I went round for lunch to Douglas and Jane's in Islington, and within minutes of arriving Douglas said, "Quick, come upstairs! There's something I want to show you!" With all the infectious enthusiasm and fervour which everyone so loved in Douglas, he bounded up to a room at the top of the house, followed - somewhat less energetically - by me.
We entered a darkened room which looked like the bedsit of a cyber-dweeb - with copies of Co-axial Monthly and Which Diode? scattered around the floor, a huge mixing desk, and several Apple Macs, all cocooned in thousands of feet of cable. Douglas grinned, his eyes widened and he said, "Just look at THIS!" He pressed a button, and I witnessed approximately 50 seconds of what was soon to become the remarkable Starship Titanic. It was short, but it was brilliant; rather like Douglas, except of course that he was quite tall.
By then my company, Above The Title Productions, was getting into its stride and so I broached the idea of completing Hitchhiker's on radio.
"Well, I tried to do it a few years ago," he explained, "and approached Dirk Maggs."
I knew Dirk's work well and thought that he was the ideal choice. In fact, I felt that together we could do justice to Douglas' vision, and I told him so.
"Yes, great let's talk about it ..."
I was obvously delighted, in fact I'd already started mentally drawing up the agreement when he added: "Thing is, I've just started my own production company [which was Digital Village] and I sort of thought we might do it ourselves."
"Oh, right ... absolutely."
"Although, ummm, I'm so immersed in Starship Titanic and, of course, there's the Hitchhiker's film ... "
"We should talk about it."
And we did. From time to time. In greater and lesser detail. But Starship Titanic was launched, the movie was back on, Douglas, Jane and their daughter Polly relocated to California, and the project slipped away.
CUT TO ...
2001. After Douglas' death at an absurdly young age, Dirk and I were determined to complete the mission. We knew that the entire original cast - except Peter Jones - were still with us because they were all at Douglas's memorial.
I approached Jane, who was extremely supportive, and then Helen Chattwell and I started painstakingly to re-assemble the cast.
This wasn't quite as straightforward as it sounds. Simon Jones was by now based in New York, Mark Wing-Davey was jetting all over the world as a theatre director, Stephen Moore and Sue Sheridan were busy actors moving swiftly from job to job plus, of course, we had to find a replacement for the much-loved Peter Jones.
Curiously, that latter task turned out to be less arduous than it might have been. We needed a familiar, reassuring voice, but one which also conveyed that laconic, irreverent tone which Peter had in abundance. It seemed to me that Bill Franklyn fitted the bill perfectly - he understood comedy, he had vast experience as well as one of those voices which makes you smile the moment you hear it. It also transpired that he and Peter had been friends for years, so it all just sort of made sense. The difficulty was to explain this change of voice to the satisfaction of the millions of existing Hitchhiker fans: Life, The Universe and Everything contains several references to the Book being upgraded, so we thought why not introduce Bill as the Voice of the Upgrade. And thus Episode 1 began to take shape.
We were fortunate to be making the programmes at a time when digital editing had come of age. How Geoffrey Perkins and his team managed to make the original series with quarter-inch tape and a razor-blade I cannot think. But what it meant for us was that we were able take advantage of an array of digital techniques for both the effects and the music. I just wish Douglas could have been involved in that part of the process - he'd have loved it. It was actually Jane's suggestion to ask his great friend, Paul "Wix" Wickens, to compose the score, and it is magnificent. A special mention too, for Philip Pope's song in Episode 3, which is a brilliant homage to ... well, it should be obvious.
Finally, on November 12 2003, around 20 people (cast and crew) trundled through the doors of The Soundhouse Studios in Shepherd's Bush to start recording Episode 1. The first read-through was like the first day back at school, terribly familiar but still daunting. Those much-loved voices and characters sprung back to life AND we even managed to cast Douglas.
But then, as Dirk explains, we couldn't have done it any other way ...
Bruce & Dirk's Production Diary