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Live webchat with director Dirk Maggs - 22 June 2005
Dirk Maggs
Dirk Maggs, director and co-producer of the Quandary and Quintessential Phases, joined us for a live webchat about these episodes. The full transcript appears below.

Read Dirk's Behind the Scenes account of the origins of the new series, his Production Diary and the transcript of his Tertiary Phase chat.

You can also read the transcript of our webchat with Simon Jones and Geoffrey McGivern.

Geoffrey McGivern (Ford) and Dirk Maggs

Geoffrey McGivern (Ford) and Dirk Maggs


From Matt:

Dear Dirk - A magnificent job throughout! Just superb! Were any of the changes or additions (especially in the Quandary and Quintessential phases) from Douglas? It doesn't matter: it's all worthy of the master. I'm just curious :o)

Dirk:

Thank you very much Matt. The changes in the Tertiary Phase were Douglas's in episodes 1 and 2 except the part where Trillian dismissed Zaphod's experiences in The Secondary Phase as a dream. Douglas was happy to just ignore the Secondary Phase as if it had never happened (because the books worked in a different way to the radio series, and these new series were based on the books), but I thought that as we were continuing the 'reality' created by the radio series we couldn't just ignore it. Episode One wasn't the right place in continuity to 'rescue' The Secondary Phase at that point but I was able to adapt the scene in the novel where Trillian was fed up with Zaphod's egocentricity to add a disagreement between them as to what exactly HAD happened to Zaphod when he visited the HHGG Building. Zaphod's insistence it DID happen incidentally helped Trillian's motivation to leave him, so it was dramatically useful too, and was supposed to flag up the fact that this was an issue we'd be returning to later.

The rest of The Tertiary Phase stuck very close to the book because I had promised Douglas it would do so. On the other hand when we (briefly) discussed the last two books, he felt they would require more hands-on adaptation. Thus - he being now on another point in the probability curve - the additions and changes in the Quandary and Quintessential Phases are all mine, but I always looked for scenes by Douglas which could be extended or which implied later storylines, to connect up all the various story strands that had just sort of stopped in the books (and radio series). Thus later on in the Quintessential Phase the memory of Trillian dismissing Zaphod's very real (to him) encounter with the Total Perspective Vortex motivates him to go and find out what DID happen - thus restoring the Secondary Phase to its rightful place in the Saga.

From Joey:

How did you come up with the idea of turning Vann Harl into Zarniwoop Vann Harl, and why?

Dirk:

Hi Joey. Douglas was too full of brilliant ideas to keep looking backwards, and thus he happily abandoned many story strands over two radio series and five novels, picking them up again only if it suited him. I however needed to give the Hitchhiker's continuity some kind of dramatic purpose. It seemed to me a bit odd that the Vogons pretty much disappeared in the second book only to conveniently turn up right at the end of the fifth, so we could see them as the shadowy hand using the Guide Mk II to finally destroy ALL the Earths. Reading between Douglas's line through the books, on the evidence of this re-appearance there must be a parallel Vogon story running all the time Arthur is scurrying about chasing Krikkit Robots and finding Fenchurch and making sandwiches. The Vogons had to be planning this final blow for a long time, and it would take enormous, devious, ingenuity.

In 'Mostly Harmless' the character of Vann Harl is a sort of slimy business suit, whom Douglas says is in league with the Vogons, but I had not thought that his first name might be Zarniwoop until I worked last summer with Jonathan Pryce, who was intrigued that we were finishing Hitchhiker's and said he'd love to be involved. I had to go away and think about such a great offer. Looking at the available characters and the need to tie up the loose ends, given the Vogons' ruthless ways and the nature of Vann Harl it wasn't hard to be reminded of the slippery Zarniwoop in the Secondary Phase, another character who just, well, disappears from the Hitchhiker's books. Once Zarniwoop was back in the frame the whole business of artificial Universes could come back into play, the idea of using Hitchhiker's Guide Accounting software to "move bits of the Universe about" and the logical development and therefore practical use of the Total Perspective Vortex, once just an instrument of torture, but now an instrument of appalling power in its portable form, The Hitchhiker's Guide Mk II.

From Adrian:

The last episode was excellent! I remember you saying before that there would be a slight twist in the tail, and that DA had come to think that the book's ending was not right. You did it superbly.

Dirk:

Thank you very much Adrian, it was a tricky one as I wanted achieve some kind of closure but did not want to stray from situations and characters Douglas had established earlier. I think my major input was to give Arthur a happy ending ... which is perhaps not a Douglassy touch, but like many of us I've grown fond of the character and felt he'd been through enough!

From Daniel:

As a fan of the series yourself, how does it feel to think that it is now all over, and that you were the one that actually got to complete it?

Dirk:

It's sad in many ways, working with the material was tricky at times but very rewarding and - above all - an immense privilege. Working with the cast was simply terrific, they are as pleasant a bunch of people as you'll find anywhere. In other ways it's a huge relief. Ten years of frustration followed by two years of manic activity. In particular I won't miss the grind of the tracklay and mix, which adds up to something like nine months of twelve hour days staring at the computer screen and getting cabin fever!

From Walter:

Dirk, congratulations on a job well done! My question is with regards to the CD releases of the new series - how much material was cut for the radio broadcasts and how much, if any, of it can we expect to see on the CDs?

Dirk:

Hi Walter. There's approximately half an hour's worth on each of the two new sets. Over all eight programmes about another two-and-a-half programmes' worth.

From Jeff:

Could you explain the decision to edit the last three phases for Radio broadcast, and then release more complete versions on CD? As a radio listener (and license payer!!) I feel somewhat cheated by this! Was there a restriction on the total number of episodes that could be broadcast?

Having enjoyed listening to the 5.1 surround mix, when will the extended version of this be released?

Dirk:

Hallo Jeff. I understand your concern but the fact is that the BBC radio budget only covered 27 minutes and thirty seconds of each episode, which is what got aired, the 'extra material' was because we were determined to squeeze in as much of Douglas's genius from the books as possible, given this (one-and-only?) opportunity. The only place to park the extra stuff was on the CDs, frankly. As regards the 5.1 DVD-As I believe they are being released (as the extended versions) within the next twelve months.

From Caroline:

Well it's hard to say which bit I liked the most - your updated references to modern technology almost hits it, but definitely getting Patrick Moore to commentate on the flying saucer (and the ring tone joke) absolutely made my year. How did you do it? Were these wonderful people queuing up to take part (I know I would if I'd been famous enough).

Dirk:

Well, yes, Caroline, the reputation of Hitchhiker's certainly got their attention! We didn't get absolutely EVERYBODY we were after but we got most of 'em. As for Patrick, he is actually a pal of long standing and a terrific sport. But then so was Nick Clarke (surely one of THE great radio voices).

From Katherine:

In which episode did the Picture Competition winners appear?

Dirk:

Hi Katherine

Andrew was the bass player flung out of a window in Quandary One, followed by Nolan, who was thrown out by Nicolas Botti who runs a French Adams website!

From Bruce:

First, thank you for bringing back Hitchhiker's, I am forever grateful. Second, you had said that the Krikkit song was in its entirety at the end of episode 2 of the Tertiary Phase on the CDs. It wasn't, at least on my copy. Was it placed there in future pressings, and if not, will it be available at some point? What about the 'Elvis' version?

Dirk:

Er ... it's at the end of Episode Three, Bruce, could that be why you missed it? I do believe we are trying to reprise it as a singalong on the DVD-A version, though can't swear it will definitely happen as disc space is running out on that project!

From R Drew:

So long and thanks for the happy ending

Like many I was disappointed by Adams killing off the cast as he was fed up with it at the time. I'm so glad it finished alright in the end.

Happy Solstice

Dirk:

Glad you liked it!

From Brian:

So long in the making.

An end? Impossible, improbable, inevitable.

Yet still moved to tears...

You'all come back now.

(And if not, I will miss you forever and a day)

Go with Bob,

Dirk:

Yeah, there were a few tissues passed around at the cast playback 'do' in the final scene.

From Michael:

Mr Maggs,

First off, I'd like to compliment you and everyone at Above the Title: Very well done! I believe that Douglas would be proud. And I have to say that the production value of the Tertiary, Quandary, and Quintessential Phases has taken the listening enjoyment of the series to a new level. The way the Guide narrates, instead of being restricted to playing a bridge part as it did in the first 2 phases really brings Douglas' work to life. If they ever green light Dirk Gently, they'd better have you at the helm.

The question I would like to ask is this: We all know where Mostly Harmless ends, but Fit the 26th has material beyond it that I think does a very good job of ending things on more of a positive note. The whole Babel Fish / Milliways / Fenchurch / Marvin / Wowbagger thing - was that a creation of Douglas or based upon direction from him before we lost him? I don't think anyone would be at all upset if it was an invention of yours or the production staff. I was just curious. If it was your doing, I think it only solidifies further my belief that all of you truly understand the spirit of Douglas' wonderful creation.

Dirk:

Hi Michael, thank you for these kind sentiments which we all appreciate very much. With regard to the ending I tried to draw on material that Douglas had already created or hinted at. Obviously I did take a bit of licence with it but on the whole if it wasn't inspired by Douglas it didn't go in!

From Scott:

This is not really a question, I just wanted to say 'Thank You' to you and Above The Title for doing a great job. I'm from the UK, now living in Texas and have been a life long fan of Hitchhiker's since first hearing Fit The 1st on 8th March 1978 - anyway, thanks again!

Dirk:

Thank you Scott, we all appreciate your kind words, and isn't it cool and wouldn't it be something that would thrill Douglas that you could hear its beginning in the UK and its end in Texas?!

From Danny:

First of all, thank you for your fine work in putting the last three books so beautifully into their proper format. I used a lot of tissue listening to the last part of the final episode.

When Edith Meiser ran out of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, she went on writing scripts for that radio program and gave us wonderful new ones. Have you considered and/or been approached about creating new HHG episodes? If not, might you be persuaded?

Dirk:

Hi Danny, thank you. I personally don't feel Hitchhiker's should go on beyond this point without Douglas to mentor it. It's tempting to wonder where it might have led but better to leave it more or less in his hands, in my humble opinion!

From David:

You have done such a fantastic job. Although the ending seems a bit far fetched, it was so beautiful, I had tears in my eyes. Was it a hard one to come up with? It must have been pretty daunting to have faced the task of creating a happy ending from one which was so grim and absolutely final. Why did you tone down the Ford and Arthur argument? Is there going to be much more included on the CDs? And how long do you think it will take the BBC to sell all 5 series in one package? (It will take longer to get it down here in Australia but still I would like to know). Thank you so much for finishing Douglas's work, I am sure he would be proud.

Dirk:

Hi David. The ending you are hearing on the website is one of a total of three alternate realities on the extended version which Arthur may find himself in (yes there is a LOT more on the CDs - see other answers!). The idea being that as the Whole Sort Of General Mish Mash can be sliced into many layers, any of which someone can call home, the same can be said for Arthur's potential final resting place (or starting point for further adventures if you like). I wasn't aware of trying hard to tone down the Ford/Arthur argument, on the other hand some bits had to be sacrificed for purposes of dramatic structure and - hopefully - some jokes!

From Lori:

In the new series, what live effects were used and how did you make them?

Dirk:

Hi Lori - good question, and one which (forgive me for a plug) is answered in huge detail in the forthcoming book of annotated Tertiary, Quandary and Quintessential Phase scripts. Basically the live effects by my friend Ken Humphrey were those close, personal things like clothing movement, drinks poured (his pan galactic gargleblaster included snail shells to sound like ice cubes clinking - the sound was perfect but the drink looked yeuuchhh ...!), etc. etc. It's a real skill to blend in with the actors and if you check out the video clips on this website you'll see Ken weaving in and out of the cast to make noises, occasionally knocking them over brutally in his quest for the perfect effect. Generally speaking the violence was one-sided, I'm happy to say ...

From Scott:

What is your favourite book in the Hitchhiker's Saga?

Dirk:

Ooh er ... okay, Mostly Harmless. Because there are genuinely visionary things by Douglas in it to do with the nature of reality, the limits to our perception and the whole business of being human. Also because Arthur gets Random and has to deal with getting older and how sometimes you must put aside what you want to do in favour of what you have to do. Gosh, loads of themes resonate with me. But that's the great thing with Douglas, the layers and the brilliance of the mind that can think on several at once.

From James:

What made you decide to include original cast members from the TV series in the final episodes, as well as the late Great Douglas Adams himself. PS Thanks for ending the hitchhiking chain.

Dirk:

Hi James, thank YOU for the question ... well basically I knew we had just one shot at finishing this with the original radio cast and it seemed crazy not to try and get as many old 'Hitchhiker hands' in as possible. For a start they brought to the gig an understanding of the material and secondly it's a nice little tongue-in-cheek nod to Douglas's idea of parallel lives on parallel layers of reality. Like Rob McKenna the trucker being played by brilliant Bill Paterson who of course played a space trucker in the Secondary Phase. Also it was hugely useful to have two Trillians when I needed them, both equally qualified for the job, both brilliant actresses and neither sounding like the other!

From Vasco:

Congratulations on the show, Mr Maggs, it was more than miraculous, it was absolutely fabulous (though I can't really tell which is the better one: absolutely fabulous or miraculous. Pick whichever you prefer). My question: Was it Your idea to turn Zarniwoop into a Vogon? And what is exactly going on in these parallel Universes (Zarniwoop's artificial one and the real one)?

Dirk:

Given how many times I thought it was going to fall apart, I'll settle (with apologies to Douglas) for Miraculous. As regards Zarniwoop, yes it was my idea to reveal him as a Vogon. Frankly it worked within the unseen plotline which Douglas reveals at the end of Mostly Harmless - that the Vogons are behind the Guide Mk II and the final destruction of All The Earths. Also it gave me someone for Zaphod to come back looking for. Also it was Jonathan Pryce!

What is going on in the parallel universes? Well, I'd say quite a bit of The Secondary Phase, Zaphod's reunion with Ford in The Quintessential Phase, and a few spots in between. Life The Universe And Everything/Tertiary Phase is the one series which doesn't have them in. Well not obviously. But who knows where that bird was flitting about to, between all the Phases, using Reverse Temporal Engineering to get things to work out for the Vogons? It had Unfiltered Perception and existed in all places and at all times at once. My feeling is that it was a busy little thing from the off, frankly.

From Stephen:

Now that the series is over, will there be a Compilation CD set of the whole set 5 phases?

Dirk:

Hi Stephen. Based on the probability of, say, a marketing department colliding with, say, an obvious repackaging opportunity I believe that is a distinct possibility!

From Jonathan:

Thanks for a fantastic final episode to what has been a great new Trilogy of Phases.

The new ending seemed to go out of its way to make a happy ending for all the story's characters, and I liked it for that. Was it a deliberate choice to make almost over the top?

Also, was it deliberate to make this new ending separate from the original Douglas Adams ending, rather than trying to change the original to something more positive.

Dirk:

Hi Jonathan. I'm not sure if the extended version is a tad less Frank Capra-ish, the shower, the cottage, Milliways et al are only POSSIBLE ongoing realities for Arthur. One important thing is that we were first and foremost making these episodes for a comedy slot and although one can do bleak comedy, because this is Hitchhiker's with characters so loved for so long by so many, I was trying to counteract the horror at the end of the Stavromula Beta scene and rushing to put ointment on things and hand out hot sweet cups of tea. But I was determined to keep this coda separate from the 'proper' ending, so those who object to it can just stop their media players after the final demolition of the Earth(s). And for them the original reality is still there, in all its stark finality - Boom, they're all dead.

From David:

I was unable to get a chance to listen to the 5.1 surround version of the show - will it be available on audio DVD or will it just disappear forever, a week from yesterday?

Dirk:

It will be released on DVD-Audio around the world as far as I know, David. It will take a few months but I think you'll find it will be worth it!

From Gavin:

Congratulations. brilliant stuff. Best thing I have heard on radio. What are the chances of you producing / adapting Douglas's other works for radio?

From Phil:

Congrats on a great achievement! What next - the Dirk Gently novels on the radio? (and who would play Dirk, Dirk?)

Dirk:

Thank you Gavin and Phil. What next for me in terms of radio depends on whether the BBC commission any more programmes which I'm involved with. As to who might play Dirk Gently, should an adaptation ever happen, we can only hope it's someone who embodies the character as perfectly as Simon Jones did Arthur Dent!

From Chris:

Has the series been more difficult to produce as the story has become and more surreal?

Dirk:

Hi Chris ... actually no, in a way it has become less tricky because the Tertiary Phase was locked into a very linear story with a 'chase' plot which was a bit of a drag anchor on getting things moving along. Not Douglas's fault but I took seriously my promise to him to be faithful. These last two series were based on books which we agreed would need more creative handling and as a result I was able to take Douglas's ideas and run with them, blending elements he discarded along the way (like a whole radio series!). As more of a challenge, I enjoyed these much more.

From Bob: (ex BBC colleague)

Location: Light years away from BVSH HOVSE

Hi Dirk - not really a question - just want to say that the style of the additional material/alternate ending for the Quintessential Phase was a masterstroke. If I could be excused for daring to criticise DNA, Douglas's ending to the fifth book worried me, and some other readers; but perhaps he was feeling too much commercial or personal pressure at the time he wrote it. Anyway, well done, and best of luck with the next project.

Dirk:

Thanks Bob, long time no see! I too felt bereft at reading the end of the fifth book, so it was great to have an opportunity to soften the blow, but on the other hand leave the original resolution intact ... No planet Arthur ever visited was as weird as a Bush night shift, though!

From Sarah:

Where there any aspects of the new series that you specifically tried to change for today's audience, or did you consciously try and keep as faithful to the old format as possible?

Dirk:

Hi Sarah. Good question. Again I'll plug the scripts book in which I go into some detail about what intentions Douglas and I discussed for restarting things if we'd got it off the ground in 1993, suffice to say I was a bit cautious going into The Tertiary Phase with him not available to chat with, and tried to make the opening part feel very safe and as if the Guide was in familiar territory, as if for example the new series was made around 1982, and the Quand and Quint Phases in, say, around 84 and 86 respectively.

That's why Arthur's telephone has a bell, Ford makes references to late 1970s ads for Australian margarine, the Grebulons quote from Sooty and Cagney & Lacey. Some would say I played it too safe! But you will notice in these later series things have begun to move more quickly, using the sort of cross-cutting people are more used to given their exposure to film and tv these days. Though I should add (of course) that film and tv are second rate media compared to audio! This is where the best pictures are. And the human brain is the best Special Effects workshop in the world. Let's have more adventurous, exciting radio. Where else can you do the ironing while dodging Krikkit War Clubs in Digital Surround?!

From Lori:

Dirk, how did you feel about the Elvis version of the Krickkit song in Quintessential Phase? Did you like it better than the other one?

Dirk:

Ah, you're not going to get me into trouble with Philip Pope, Lori, he'll drop a piano on my head if I pick the wrong one. Piano roulette, it's called, it was featured in the original draft script of The Deer Hunter when Elton John was up for the Christopher Walken role ... no, hang on, I'm talking rubbish, where were we? Er - no comment - they're both great.

From Sarah:

The show sounds like it was a huge amount of fun to work on. Is this true and who did you enjoy working with the most?

Dirk:

Hi Sarah, it WAS fun in the studio, though very exhausting and a bit scary with the clock ticking and lots of material to cover. I can't possibly think of any favourite peoples, everyone is as terrific as you'd hope them to be, though I have to single out Simon Jones and Geoff McGivern as two IMMENSE talents, really excitingly good actors. Yes I know that they are Arthur and Ford and the original parts were written by Douglas with them in mind by Douglas, BUT they are simply brilliant actors. They could take the most involved, unlikely lines and deliver them with complete sincerity, AND make sense out of them. Top blokes, frankly.

From Theresa:

Greetings - Is there a chance that you could do the next Movie of Hitchiker's Guide ?

Dirk:

Hi Theresa. Oh, I wish! But I count myself lucky to have been allowed to complete the saga in a medium which - by avoiding the optic nerve altogether - can lock into your imagination and create a world you can visit over and over.

From Kris:

What is the deal with your hair Dirk? It's been bugging me for ages and I just have to ask.

Dirk:

Hey Kris, people look they way they want to look. It's a tough one but see if you can get over it.

From Sam:

At the beginning of the series who were you looking forward to working with the most? Did you make any friends because of it?

Dirk:

Everybody ... and ... Everybody ... I'm glad to say ...

From Peachey:

I was wondering if you have read "the lost chapters of HHGTG", it's basically an alternative ending to So Long and Thanks for All the Fish. It's an eBook one of my friends sent me ... Also, no one in the history of the world has EVER said curiouser and curioser ;)

Finally, any advice for a budding young sound engineer? (Not long left school!!)

Dirk:

Hi Peachey, No I did not read any fan fiction as I wanted only to be influenced by Douglas himself for reference. "Curiouser And Curiouser" was an affectionate nod towards Lewis Carroll, an author often compared to Douglas. If you're interested in Sound Engineering there are lots of really top courses at Universities, Colleges of Further Education and suchlike that are worth investigating. And Hospital Radio is still a great way to play with audio gear in a BBC-modelled environment and do some useful voluntary work into the bargain.

From Andrew:

You mentioned a DVD - Audio thing in the last web chat. Could you include all the fits as ACC files so I can stick them in my iTunes? Also is there much you had to cut out, and will that be on the DVD?

Dirk:

Andrew - I'm not sure iTunes currently supports 5.1 encoded source material, but maybe it will by the time the DVD-As are released sometime in the next few months, so you can buy the 5.1 versions and put them on your media player. And yes, they will consist of the full - "extended" - versions of the programmes.

From Friendly Freak:

How much of the expanded story-lines of 'So Long and Thanks for All the Fish' and 'Mostly Harmless' were based on Douglas' notes? For example, was it his idea to bring Zaphod back into the equation and to merge the characters of Zarniwoop and Vann Harl? Speaking of which, I feel the scene where Zaphod explains all to Ford in the Accountancy Department still left many questions unanswered. I won't go into details here, but was it Douglas' intentions to leave certain aspects of the story-line open-ended?

Dirk:

Thank you for not going into details! All of this new material is written by me, spun off from story points created by Douglas. It was my idea to merge Zarniwoop and Vann Harl (see above). Re unanswered questions in the reunion of Zaphod and Ford in the Accountancy Computer, it was never Douglas's style to go back and justify every plot point with pages of description for the very good reason that it would quickly make the story about as exciting as last week's shopping list. Thus in creating this new scene to help tie back what seemed the most important threads I took my cue from him. Any other inconsistencies not explained in that scene are either due to Zaphod not knowing them, being too fed up with the Man In The Shack's Smelly Virtual Cat to care, or that the Guide Mk II has caused them to happen when using Reverse Temporal Engineering to mess around with multiple realities to bring about its masters' wishes - in this case, the final and utter destruction of Earth By Any Means Necessary. With the Guide Mk II Douglas created a simple device which could be used to explain ANY inconsistencies over all five books, Thus he could happily leave anything open-ended that could not be comfortably resolved in an entertaining way - and so did I.

From Rufus:

I loved these Phases of the show, and I love the way Fit the 26th ended! How did you know this was the right way to do it?

Dirk:

Hi Rufus. I just typed with my fingers crossed. Painful but worth it ...

From Graham:

Did Douglas Adams write the scripts, in part or full, for the Quandary and Quintessential phases before he died? I am especially interested in the neat ending that has been added to Mostly Harmless, the Quintessential Phase. Did Adams write alternative endings?

Dirk:

Hallo Graham. No, Douglas did not write any of these episodes, nor did he write any alternate endings including these, that was all me.

From Nigel:

Great to hear DNA aka Agrajag! So long and thanks for all the episodes. Do you know know in the name of BOB where your towel is?

Dirk:

Thanks Nigel. Yes I do know where my towel is. It's out on the sun lounger where I want to be!

That's all folks. Many, many thanks to Dirk for taking the time to answer all your questions - and of course for giving us such a wonderful set of new phases to enjoy.

Dirk:

Thank you to everyone who has sent in questions or comments or emails today and over the months that these three concluding phases have run. The Message Boards have supplied lots of feedback - positive and not-so-positive - which has fed into these new series, and in many ways the whole Hitchhiker's experience has been an interactive one this time around, which Douglas would find wryly amusing! And, again, heartfelt thanks from myself and all at Above The Title Productions to the marvellous and hardworking Radio 4 website team featuring Roger Philbrick, Anna Cassar, John Partington and Chris Berthoud. Thank Bob for the lot of you.
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