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Live webchat with Simon Jones and Geoffrey McGivern
Geoffrey McGivern and Simon Jones
Simon Jones and Geoffrey McGivern, who play Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect in the Radio 4 series, joined us for a live webchat on 4 May. Their answers to your questions appear below.

You can also read the full transcript of the Tertiary Phase webchat with the Director and Co-Producer of the new series, Dirk Maggs.

Geoffrey and Simon

Geoffrey McGivern and Simon Jones visit the
Radio 4 Interactive office to answer your questions

From Alex:

When you recorded the original radio series, did you ever imagine how much of a cult it would become?


No, we didn't expect it to become a cult, not least because the BBC decided to put it out at 10.30pm on a Tuesday night without any announcement. This, they now say, whoever they are, was how the BBC sets out to create a cult. They figured that the typical Radio 4 listener would catch the programme as they boiled their milk for their cocoa or put on their fluffy slippers.


If the BBC knew what a cult it would become, why did they not produce the LP and publish the books that were offered to them and which they declined? They missed out on selling 20 million copies (and counting).


I know the answer to that one. Douglas told me that the BBC thought they wouldn't have sold enough, and they probably wouldn't. It was Douglas's luck that Pan took over.

From Sam:

Could you describe the differences between working on the original series and the new phases?


There's no difference in the actual recording. You're still faced with a microphone (though more sensitive nowadays) and you still have to keep your script turns silent - though some younger actors appear not to understand this rule! But the post-production is infinitely easier. As Bruce Hyman said last night (at the 'first night' cast party) "How Geoffrey Perkins did what he did on quarter inch tape is a miracle".


It should be noted that the scripts are printed on different paper. It was much quieter in the days of the first series but much noisier now!


But of course Simon Jones is much older than I have become and his knarled old fingers can't turn the pesky pages with the dexterity he was once reknowned for.

From Gretta:

Simon, what was it like doing the scenes between Arthur and Agrajag?


Well Gretta, as you know, the voice of Agrajag was Douglas taken from his recording of the book and it was very strange to hear his voice coming out of a box on a stick which moved around for stereo effect. He was there and yet not there. A virtual Douglas. Which, of course, he would have loved.

From Wayne:

Does the improvement in special effects over the last quarter century make any difference to the experience of recording for radio?


No, but the addition and subtraction of reading glasses makes an enormous difference. Poor old Geoff whith his rheumy old eyes really does need the artificial aids nowadays.

From Richard:

Which scene featuring Ford and Arthur has been your favorite to record? And have you enjoyed recording the new series as much - or more - than the first 2 series?


At the party last night we heard the big scene in the last episode where we're stuck on Lamuella and talking about a shock discovery and Arthur's sandwich-making career - and we both thought it sounded pretty fair. But my favourite scene with Arthur is the one where the telephone sanitation people and the marketing executives have ruined the planet and we look out over a devastated smoking wasteland - whichever episode that one's in.


It was great fun to get back together and revive the double act, which happened in about three seconds. Do you think we should take it on the road?

From Angie:

Is that the original dressing gown that you are wearing in the picture? If so where has it been kept? Do you have access to other pieces of the original sets?


Yes, it is. Except that of course I never wore it on the radio. And I keep it in a vacuum bag and maybe I'll pass it on to my favourite relatives! Other bits of set occasionally turn up on
e-bay, but not from me.

From Sarah:

How much like your characters are you?


Geoff is just like his character.


The description of Ford Prefect in the first book was read by my father who said "That's you when you were 21" and Douglas did once say that I could talk for half an hour about a new pair of shoes, so there are some similarities between me and an alien being!


Douglas said I was the only one who could play the part - at the time - I think he learnt better later. It was always interesting to reflect on whether he really thought I would spend an entire adventure in space looking for a decent cup of tea and whinging. I think there was a lot of him in it too.

From Stephen:

Some of the dialogue in the original series was amazing. Everyone has their own favourite quotes; what are your favourite lines from the show?


Slartibartfast's line "Hurry up or you'll be late"; Arthur: "What do you mean?"; Slarti: "Late as in the late Arthur Dent, it's a sort of a threat you see?"


"Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so".

From Emily:

What are your feelings on having become so identified with Hitchhiker's? It must be difficult to escape that recognition as the Hitchhiker people and not anything else.


It's not really so, because it's radio. You hopefully get more radio work and it doesn't matter for television or film because you're not typecast.


Yes, that's why I'm so glad not to be playing Arthur in the film or my career would have been over!


And I've managed to play the part as Mos Def and nobody has spotted my impersonation.

From Martin:

How does it feel to be back doing the last books of the 'trilogy'? Is it like slipping on an old pair of comfy slippers or like arguing with a vogon?


It was more like slipping into a full body catsuit with lots of talc.


I prefer mayonnaise to talc.

From David:

Did Geoffrey really come to blows with Douglas at a Footlights party?


Well, David, it was in the Trinity Old Kitchens and it was Douglas's birthday party. I had imbibed not wisely but too well and Douglas, to my mind, was being a little bit pompous in conversation to someone standing next to me. I impetuously swung a right hook and Douglas shied like a nervous horse and slipped on the polished flagstone and went down like a California Redwood. I later apologised. He accepted grudgingly. But I didn't connect and for that I am thankful.


Why, were you there, David?

From Lizzie:

What do you think of the way Ford and Arthur are being played in the new movie? Is it odd to see other people in your role?


I haven't seen it. I'll wait for it to come on the telly. Seven quid's seven quid - and I need new vests. But the clips I've seen don't seem to feature Ford being funny, so I can't judge. Get back to me in 2008. I got used to being usurped twenty five years ago in the TV version... [Ed: sorry, Geoffrey can't speak for the tears streaking his cheeks. He's taking a minute's break.]


I was of course ecstatic and thrilled beyond all measure to see Martin Firestone playing my part. When I say playing, perhaps I should say practising. I think the film is just about the most wonderful thing that has happened to civilisation since Tony Blair won the last election.


It's ok, I'm fine now. I'm just an old radio actor laddie and hope to finish my long career in The Archers playing the winner of the Village Idiot All-comers Competition in Penny Hassett.

From Andrew:

Dear Simon, Are you looking forward to becoming a sex symbol after the episode when you and Fenchurch join the mile high club is aired?


Andrew, what do you mean, "becoming a sex symbol"? In radioland, I'm everybody's fantasy sex symbol. It's just as well that reality in this case confirms everyone's imagination, in spite of my disguise as a grumpy old man on this website.


Geoff interrupts as usual: the pictures of me last year with the mullety hair provoked such a reaction in Angelina Jolie, that she wants a phial of my blood to add to her collection.

From Rob:

There is no 'one' question I could think to ask my role models, I just want to tell you guys how excellently you portray Arthur and Ford. Thanks, Rob, age 17.


Dear Rob, the cheque's in the post.


But please choose a more appropriate role model for a young shaver such as yourself. I would suggest John Prescott or Jose Mourinho, who reacted with such grace to the obliteration of Chelsea's cup hopes last night (you can't be the better team if you lose).

From John:

Simon, did you enjoy being part of the film? Who did you get to meet during filming for it? And did you know beforehand you'd be in 3D? How did it feel to work with Stephen Fry? Did you swap anecdotes of HHGG or of Douglas?


Hi John, well it was better than nothing. I had to threaten the executive producer with publishing his home address unless he cast me. He went white and agreed. I met Sam Rockwell who seemed very agreeable. I do think they ought to have provided 3-D glasses, perhaps they will with the DVD. I found it a singular honour to be the only thing in 3-D. Stephen and I probably exhausted our anecdotes years ago. We keep meeting each other here and there.

From Andy:

Thanks for making a simple fan very happy. Would either of you, given the chance, like to appear in a sequel to the Hitchhiker movie - and which part would you like to play?


I have no expectation or hope of any offer of work in any sequel, prequel or parellel version of Hitchhiker. However, if offered the role of Hotblack Desiato I would entertain cash offers.


Don't believe a word of it. Eeyore here would jump at the sound of jingling cash. Personally I'd settle for Max Quordlepleen.

From Ant and Tilly:

How was it working again with people from both the old radio and TV series, with both Sandra Dickinson and David Dixon coming in to work on the series? What was it like meeting up with another actor who'd portrayed Ford as well?


I'd met David Dixon before and we had agreed a state of neutrality between us. Sandra D I'd worked with several times before on radio stuff and I enjoy cuddling her. The celebs were excellent value, particularly the way the women reacted on hearing that Christian Slater was coming that afternoon. Nobody could get into the Ladies' loo for actresses doing their best make-up and hair and adjusting their undergarments with anticipation. I thought he was pleasant, but short. I am, of course, a towering Adonis. Though this doesn't show in photographs.


It was wonderful so many of us are still alive. It still is. It was not only fun to play with old friends again, but to watch all the celebrities stampeding towards the studio wanting to be part of radio history.

From Jon:

I can't think of anything to ask... but wanted to say thank you for more than 25 years of pleasure! (oh, sounds way too naughty...)

WAIT! I thought of one!

Mr. Jones (er, Simon...), It's clear that your character had evolved in the course of the Tertiary Phase series. Arthur has become a bit more cynical and sardonic, stands up to Ford a little more vigorously. Was this more in the writing or in your attitude towards Arthur Dent? Had you, in short, had enough?


I certainly had not become in any way cynical or sardonic about Arthur. He's a good chum and will be with me for a long time to come. It may be that Douglas was feeling contractual obligations in the third book. Clearly, as the books progressed, Arthur became more assertive and hands-on as you might expect from someone who'd seen most of the universe. You can't stay bewildered and complaining forever.


We had a moment, when we started the last eight episodes, when we and Dirk talked about how Arthur was now the one in charge. That Ford was taking a back seat in the scene and Arthur was leading. What the scene was about I can't remember, but that's my problem.

From Peter:

What sort of non-Hitchhiker things have you guys been up to recently?


Simon and I were both in an episode of The Club of Queer Trades, a gig I got him. I've also been in Ed Reardon and I did two shows of Bremner Bird and Fortune.


I played C S Lewis in a PBS special in America; produced a revival of Home by David Storey, in which I also played the Ralph Richardson role and to our surprise got a rave review in the New York Times. Anyone want to put on a transfer production??

From Jeff:

How do you both feel about finally coming to the end of Hitchhiker's, what are your favourite memories, and what will you both being doing next?


From radio it came and unto radio it has returned. Peter Jones and I always hoped we'd finish them off and I'm only sorry he's not here to do it. It's an immense sense of relief to achieve what most of us had hoped to do while most of us were at least half alive.


They're very happy memories throughout. The first lot and the latest lot, beause the memory isn't really of the scenes, but of the laughs in the Green Room and in the Studio as people come and go and running jokes run.


It was always with the greatest excitement I would go to the studio to have fun.


Actors have plenty to moan about (and do) but the great thing is that you do what you love, you have tremendous laughter doing it and you get paid. My favourite memory is of Douglas locked in a tiny room at the Paris Studio knocking out the final pages against the clock and us sight-reading those pages (very noisy onion-skin paper) and getting through it in one agonisingly tense take and finishing bang on 6.00pm. But I must say all the memories of old friends and laughter are tinged with the sadness that Douglas wasn't there to enjoy it, but was the reason that we were there to enjoy it.


Before Simon and I go back to our secret love nest in London's glamorous Bayswater, where we have happily lived together as life partners (soon to be recognised by the Inland Revenue as a funtioning tax deductible union) we would just like to say thank you, thank you, thank you for your interest, your questions, and frankly your love which has spilled through the ether of the world wide web thingamigig. Over to you Simon, honey:


Thanks luvvie, I can only echo the saccharine sentiments of my wife/husband/partner/colleague [Geoff: that's a lot of strokes] knowing that, if I don't, he won't have my pipe and slippers ready for me when I come back from a hard day at the office.

Geoffrey and Simon

So long and thanks for all the questions

That's all folks. Sadly we didn't have time to answer all the questions we received, but we passed on your messages of thanks to Simon & Geoff. Many of you commented that, as far as you are concerned, the voices of Arthur and Ford will forever be those of Simon Jones and Geoffrey McGivern.
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