If at first you don't succeed
The next attempt to raise Hitchhikers for radio was in 1997 when Douglas invited me to visit his new company HQ, Digital Village, to talk about possible projects. I pitched up at Camden to meet his partner Robbie Stamp about an idea for a computer game with no pictures - a brave idea that sadly did not happen (well, not yet).
After a bit, talk turned back to resurrecting a radio Hitchhikers, given that the movie didn't appear to be moving; it had been in the pipeline for nearly twenty years at that point and seemed destined to remain in Development Hell. (Ironically Robbie is now executive producer of the Hitchhikers film).
Douglas pondered a moment and said he liked the idea of trying to get a radio version underway again. It helped that I was now freelance and we could offer it to the BBC as co-independent producers.
So much to my surprise and delight he found his own rewrites for the rejected radio scripts and emailed them to me. For a brief shining moment it looked like we might be working together on this once more.
I was just getting down to detailed work on the idea about two months later when I received an email from Sophie Astin, Douglas's assistant, saying "Hold on, Disney has just signed a movie deal with us." So the radio show was put on the back burner again.
Then Douglas died.
A lucky coincidence
By September 17th, 2001 the Hitchhikers film seemed to have gone into another, ominous limbo, and any hope of a radio revival was long gone. It seems ridiculous now, but at Douglas's Memorial Service at St Martin-in-the-Fields it seemed as if his creative legacy would not include at least one of these projects, both of which he had cared so much about.
As I walked into the subdued interior, Bruce Hyman of Above The Title Productions handed me an order of service. Bruce is a creative producer with terrific instincts and we had worked together for the first time not long before. I had been thrilled to find that he feels as I do about radio - a unique - visual - medium. Now here he was, an usher at the service! It turned out he was great friends with Douglas and Jane.
At our next meeting I told Bruce how Douglas had wanted me to complete the Tertiary, Quadrenary and Quintessential phases of Hitchhikers on radio, and that I was still keen to make it happen, but it wouldn't be easy. Bruce was willing to take up the challenge, and has heroically stood fast through much uncertainty to see it through. These new series of Hitchhikers would not have happened without him, and also owe their survival to the hard work of our co-producer Helen Chattwell and the very active support of Douglas's wife Jane Belson and his agent Ed Victor.
It's the saddest irony that Douglas is not here to enjoy this Hitchhikers rennaissance. However it is possible to grant him a wish. One day in 1993, while discussing casting, he sat me down and played me a chapter from his audiobook reading of Life, the Universe and Everything. Then he asked me who I thought should play the paranoid creature on a mission of vengeance, Agrajag. Trying very hard to interpret his manic performance on the tape, I crossed my fingers and suggested, weakly, "John Cleese?" "No, you idiot!" thundered Douglas. "Me! But do you think Equity would allow me to play a part?"
"I'd insist on it.", I replied.
And so he does.
Back to the books
Originally the Tertiary Phase - Life The Universe And Everything - was going to be eight episodes, but I found it broke down more dramatically into six, which rattle along at a good pace.
On the other hand Douglas felt that So Long And Thanks For All The Fish was a book which would not adapt to radio easily. It's very much Arthur's love story. As for the last book, Mostly Harmless, at the time he'd only just written it (he gave me a hardback copy which I gave away when the original plans fell apart - I could kick myself now for that lack of vision!).
I think he was still a bit close to Mostly Harmless and he suggested that it, too, would be better adapted into only four episodes. On reflection I tend to disagree - for me it's a terrific book and it contains some of his most visionary stuff.
The story continues >>>