The Quandary and Quintessential Phase surround mixes are pencilled for early April 2005 but as we get closer and closer to deadline the complexity of finishing the final episodes of the Quintessential Phase mean they are getting pushed back and squeezed up against the first transmission date of Quandary Phase. In the end the only way to keep the workflow running is to divide and conquer - for Paul Deeley to start the surround mixes while Dirk simultaneously continues the tracklays and stereo mixes for CD and transmission.
This is complicated by the fact that there are two versions of the signature tune to put on the episodes, the Eagles (traditional) version which is for broadcast, and the Phil Pope-arranged version (featuring The Illegal Eagles tribute band) which is cleared for use on the CD and cassette versions (previously this was used on the Tertiary Phase USA release only). This means that Dirk and Paul must tracklay, edit, mix and master variations on each episode in four separate ways:
1 - 27'30" stereo mix version for broadcast with Eagles sig
2 - 27'30" 5.1 Surround mix version for Listen Again (BBC Website) with Phil Pope / Illegal Eagles sig
3 - Full Length (up to 40'00" on some eps) stereo version for CD/Cassette with Phil Pope / Illegal Eagles sig
4 - Full Length (up to 40'00" on some eps) 5.1 Surround version for CD/Cassette with Phil Pope / Illegal Eagles sig
Somehow it all comes together and sounds okay, though there are the inevitable last minute tweaks as Dirk thinks of ways to finesse certain jokes or effects, and of course any changes have to be carried through all four versions. So a lot of coffee is drunk and much hair pulled out in this period. To compensate, Dirk grows back the beard, a big relief to everybody.
Quandary begins and seems to be well received, coming in the wake of the Hitchhikers movie premiere we are curious to see what the reactions are and happy that both iterations of HHGG seem to co-exist happily in the same universe. For us involved with the radio version, this book is Arthur's love story and although there has been speculation as to how well SO LONG AND THANKS will translate into dramatised action the script and casting seem to work very well, though in the case of both these phases Dirk maintains that the 'full' versions on CD & cassette are the 'Directors Cut', of necessity cut to fit transmission slots. In short, knowing this is maybe the only opportunity ever, he's tried to fit everything in from Douglas's books that he possibly can!
Having been nominated for a Sony Award for Episode Three of the Tertiary Phase, Bruce, Helen, Simon Jones, Ed Victor (Douglas's agent), Jane Belson (Douglas's widow) and Dirk get dressed up their party frocks for the Sony Awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel Ballroom in Park Lane, but to no avail - the episode utterly fails to win a 2005 Sony Award For Best Radio Comedy. However the evening is still a triumph for Above The Title as their production of The National Theatre Of Brent's Complete And Utter History Of The Mona Lisa wins the gold. The Hitchhiker contingent comfort themselves by thinking that they could be back next year, with what they feel are their best series. As Ed Victor (Douglas's agent) rightly observes, the main thing is to be nominated. Afterwards we chat to many friends who say nice things, including Simon's pal Terry Gilliam, and meeting him makes the evening
With all the various masters delivered to both BBC Broadcasting House and BBC Audiobooks there are inevitable bits of paperwork to complete - such as this diary - and so on, but the operation to complete the radio version of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy winds down at last. It has been a gruelling two years with many setbacks and many hours squinting into computer screens while the sun shines and the world turns invitingly outside, but there have been moments of genuine magic including wonderful supportive feedback from many people who have listened and loved Hitchhikers since the late 70s, many who have discovered it since, and - best of all - many who have been inspired to discover the breadth of Douglas's genius in all his works.
Thanks are due to so many people, and the anecdotes from behind the scenes on these new episodes are so numerous, that only the Hitchhiker's Tertiary, Quandary and Quintessential Scripts Book has the scope to include them all. But in this limited space all of us at Above The Title Productions would like to thank the Radio 4 website team for their inventive, dedicated and creative work in helping enhance the experience for all involved with the new series - from the production team to the actors, the musicians and the listeners.
Dirk Maggs, Bruce Hyman, Helen Chattwell, Jo Wheeler, Susie Matthews & Ruth Waites.
The cast recordings complete, there are barely ten weeks to edit, tracklay and stereo mix both series to meet BBC Audiobooks deadlines. This is not to say that it's impossible to turn around a half hour radio sitcom episode a week, in fact many are edited and have signature tunes and linking music added in a single day; but this is Hitchhiker's, where expectations of the sound effects and general audio production are - understandably - more like those for a commercial album or film soundtrack, and despite lack of time (and anything like the budget!), these requirements - AND those of both the stereo and surround mixes - need to be borne in mind.
So for Dirk it's a series of seven day weeks editing all the takes into the best possible performances, adding the various backgrounds and building hundreds of individual sound effects and panning the results to appropriate points in both the stereo and surround 'picture'. Many headache tablets are consumed in this period, also a fair few litres of imported Dutch beer.
As time goes by the style of the productions evolves. In the case of THE TERTIARY PHASE, Douglas asked Dirk for utter fidelity to the text and the promise was honoured as far as possible. Douglas was more inclined to think the QUANDARY and QUINTESSENTIAL PHASES needed more editing (it was he who suggested only four episodes each), and as they have taken shape Dirk has had to gather up the strands of not just the two novels but all the loose ends that have been left hanging from the original Primary and Secondary Phases (Radio Series 1 & 2). As a result, while staying true to its sources, the production loosens up and, more in Dirk's own style, the sense of action is increased - and Wix works up some lively new cues which introduce a fresh and airy feel to the stories.
In amongst all this the Pan Macmillan book of scripts is going to press before the edit is complete. It is a balancing act to know which bits of scripts will survive the editing process. In the end most of the major changes are incorporated into the book at proof stage, although a brilliant, totally improvised Vogon Poem by Toby Longworth looks like surviving the edit but not making it onto the printed page!
Following the fabulous Hitchhiker website team's well-deserved BAFTA triumph, in the first week of April Helen rings Bruce and Dirk with a superb piece of news - we have been nominated for a Sony Award! This is a huge thrill for everybody involved with a production which for so long looked as if it could never happen. But there's precious little time to savour the moment. With all the publicity hoopla of the film in full flow, and with the Quintessential Phase nearly complete, the 5.1 mixes are upon us.
It's a last gruelling lap for us and our esteemed movie colleagues Robbie Stamp, Nick Goldsmith and Garth Jennings, but a
win-win situation for Hitchhiker fans - as their movie creates a new version of the first chapter in the saga, the Tuesday after its opening weekend, we begin an eight-week run on BBC Radio 4 bringing forth the epic conclusion of Arthur Dent's adventures. Douglas's vision remains at the core of both projects, and all of us on the Hitchhiker's radio team are looking forward to hanging up our headphones, cracking several bottles and enjoying the finished results - in both the cinema and on
the kitchen ghetto blaster!
Continued from last month...
RECORDING DAY FIVE
After a weekend to vaguely recover it's back into the maelstrom with MOSTLY HARMLESS. Mike Fenton Stevens, Andy Taylor, Philip Pope and Roger Gregg are The Grebulons, aliens with no idea of who they are or what their purpose is. Much improvisation goes on looking for a 'style' that is funny without being unintelligible. Roger Gregg confesses afterwards that he has been in a state of panic - as an American living in Ireland he has NEVER been asked to act with an English accent before!
At lunchtime Rula Lenska arrives to record her part in various episodes. She is in a play in Perth, Scotland, so we must squeeze her studio time into as short a period as possible. Having played Lintilla in The Secondary Phase she is now semi-reprising this part but with a lot more sinister plot undertones. Lots of story threads are being drawn together in this final Hitchhikers series, which is why also in this session Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox returns to the Hitchhiker's Guide Headquarters Building ... still bugged by Trillian's refusal to accept his side of the story, he's going to find out what's REALLY been going on ...
RECORDING DAY SIX
Pleased with the effect created by the 'double stereo 5.1 microphone rig' last week, Dirk and Deeley decide that all the scenes involving Ford Prefect and Colin The Security Robot (played by the brilliant Andy Secombe) should be recorded the same way. It means Geoff is acting in a sort of holographic space with Andy's voice (through a portable speaker) but the results are brilliant, it's truly theatre-in-the-round - with the audience in the middle.
Trying to add the robot's whirrings and geographically plot them in post-production would be too time consuming for the schedule, so to achieve this in one 'hit', we need also to feed through the portable speaker Colin's voice - suitably treated -
plus some kind of machine effect, changing pitch and timbre to suggest the robot manoeuvring or under strain, or moving at high speed, all in three dimensions. Ideally someone with a superb instinct for sound and the real time physics of the scene would provide a 'live' performance of Colin's antigravity motors alongside the actors. This someone proves to be Paul Weir, a musician and sound designer of daunting ability, introduced to us by the Hitchhikers movie exec producer, Robbie Stamp. Paul has a Douglas-like fascination with gadgetry and provided some additional sound effects for the movie. Now he has very kindly agreed to come in and supply and perform a Colin motor effect for us. The result perfectly complements Andy Secombe's very funny vocal gymnastics.
RECORDING DAY SEVEN
Everybody is in good spirits but getting very tired. Dirk and Helen spend a lot of time with their fingers crossed, praying no-one comes down with flu. Today in the Smelly Photocopier Woman Scene the prayers nearly fail, as Miriam Margolyes performs just two takes, uncharacteristically losing her voice during the second. But as the first take was perfect anyway (a safe bet with actors as good as Miriam and Simon), and the second just for insurance, we are home and dry.
This scene is a great opportunity for broad humour and we do not hesitate to grab it, Ken Humphrey in particular. His role is to provide 'spot' or 'live effects' (or 'foley') for these series. These are the immediate physical sounds characters might make whilst moving around, handling props like tea cups, glasses, cutlery, and over the
years we have developed a very intense and layered approach to creating a reality beyond just the sound of actors speaking lines of dialogue.
In the case of the Smelly Photocopier Woman, Ken arrives with a carrier bag filled with whoopee cushions to simulate ruptured goats bladders; kiddie pots of fart gel as the source of some of the smells; buckets of soggy papier mache as something nasty Arthur treads in; and a little battery-powered fan to make a noise like an expiring giant bluebottle. It's just as well Miriam is playing the part, no other actress could fend off such a battery of effects. Actually that could be the reason she has lost her voice - maybe she got a sneak preview of Ken's carrier bag and decided to go for broke ...
RECORDING DAY EIGHT
This is the biggie. It's a huge final episode with a coda that attempts to suggest some kind of closure to the Hitchhikers saga, which comes to a very sudden end in the book, a bit too sudden for many readers, and perhaps even for Douglas, who later hinted he had not necessarily finished with Hitchhikers just because MOSTLY HARMLESS ends the way it does. At one point on this day we have nearly thirty actors in the studio, we have to schedule time out for publicity photos, welcome some VIP guests (and we are very pleased to welcome Douglas's siblings Sue, James and Jane) and, in amongst all this, record something like 42 pages of script (in fact the first draft of the final episode did come in at exactly 42). It's a brutal day but we keep going because we can't afford not to.
Special mention in despatches for Samantha Béart who plays Arthur's daughter Random, an actress suggested by our video diarist and Hitchhikers über-aficionado, Kevin J Davies. As Simon and Sam spent time with Dirk working up the Arthur/Random scenes over and over in different ways it was fascinating to find out what emerged. Douglas's lines were not changed, but trying differing approaches brings out a whole other layer in the relationship.
Other features of the day include a massed rendition of Auld Lang Syne led by Bruce; the return of Thor the Thunder God and his pals from Valhalla; and a guest appearance by the Prophet Zarquon. The day ends with a quick pickup from Arthur and Ford's scene when they are riding Perfectly Normal Beasts to The Domain Of The King. This rolls at around 7pm. The take is in the can. It's over. Arthur and Ford exchange a farewell kiss, and part forever - well, in studio terms. It's a sad moment and there are a few sniffs audible around the studio.
RECORDING DAY NINE
Poor Bill Franklyn's turn. Eight hours of tortuous language, unpronounceable words and endless sub-clauses. "Is there a full stop in my future?" is once more the plaintive cry. But at 6pm the series is in the can - from the actors' point of view, anyway, Thank Bob.
But now for the tracklay and mix ... we are just at the beginning of THAT journey ...
RECORDING DAY ONE
At last we are back at The Soundhouse, it's a bright cold Tuesday
morning and the cast assembles somewhat nervously for read-through on
Episode One of SO LONG & THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH. Everyone looks and
sounds the same - well ALMOST everyone - Geoff McGivern rolls up with a
big gappy smile - his lower front teeth are missing. 'Over Chrishmash
I had a bit of an encounter with a Brashil nut', he says. 'But no
worriesh. It won’t advershley affect my shpeech.' Grateful thanks to
Helen, who finds a dentist who provides replacements within 24 hours
The lines delivered by the Alien Teaser who gives Arthur a ride home
were the easiest lines to write in all 14 episodes. Just close your
eyes and hit keys, and this alien language comes out. Then get Bob
Golding in to play the part, and it turns out he can speak the
language! Amazing coincidence.
RECORDING DAY TWO
Jane Horrocks' first day as Fenchurch. She is concerned as to what
voice to use, 'Received Pronunciation' or her own? Dirk insists on her
own, it's what makes Fenchurch fresh and interesting and it's a
complete contrast from Simon's patrician tones, as if Arthur has found
something new, something he wasn't expecting.
Jane is thrown in the deep end - we must record the final SO LONG
scene, Marvin And God's Last Message, today, because Stephen Moore has
to be available to rehearse in a new cast for the play FESTEN on Friday.
The result is poignant and very funny, and Jane hits just the right
RECORDING DAY THREE
Tricky start to the day - we are continually up against the clock and
Paul Deeley and Ken Humphrey have already accumulated a backlog of
studio effects to record, so read-through must be held in the very
public waiting area rather than in the peace and quiet of the studio.
It's disruptive both to the read-through and to other productions in
The Soundhouse but we need those effects ... from the sound of a grey
glass bowl being 'pinged' to the snap of a babel fish being removed
from a human ear.
Very funny session after lunch with The Vogon Court Of Enquiry.
Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz must answer for his failure to demolish Earth.
Toby Longworth is playing the older, seedier Jeltz in these series and
his ad libs are very funny, calling the Clerk Of The Court
'girlfriend'. Simon Jones and Geoff McGivern get to play Vogons in this
extremely violent scene. In amongst Arthur's love story it's a chance
to cut loose and have some fun.
RECORDING DAY FOUR
We're just about on schedule, but to keep it that way Dirk, Helen and
Production Manager Jo Wheeler have had to keep back lots of Arthur and
Ford material till this afternoon. It coincides with the visit of
Andrew Wyld and Nolan Worthington, winners of the Picture Competition,
also Nicolas Botti who runs the French Douglas Adams Hitchhiker
website. All three provide bloodcurdling screams for the Han Dold City
scenes in Episode One.
The Arthur and Ford pickup session gives us a chance to have the double
act together again, and because Simon and Geoff are so willing to try
new things we take the opportunity to experiment technically - Paul
Deeley rigs two stereo pairs of microphones to capture events
simultaneously in the ‘living room’ and ‘kitchen’ of Arthur’s house,
intending to put these ‘back to back’ for listeners in surround sound,
so that they can hear what is going on as the action happens in both
rooms at once, being literally in the middle of it all.
Later, while Paul Deeley is changing backup DAT tapes there is a
discussion between Simon, Geoff and Dirk about the characters of Arthur
and Ford and their situation at this point in the narrative. This gets
so involved that on looking up they are greeted with a blank sheet of
glass and a dark Control Room beyond - “Deeleya” has switched off all
the lights, as if everyone has gone home ...
One of the most instantly gratifying parts of recording this episode
was having Peter Donaldson and Charlotte Green ‘play themselves’ as BBC
Radio 4 Newsreaders. They needed no direction, for a start! Simon Jones
was particularly thrilled to witness Charlotte reading the news in her
distinctive husky tones, especially as she is dressed in her usual
leather basque, fisherman's waders and welder's mask ...
To be continued next month...
Friday 17th December
The first recording for Hitchhikers Quandary Phase takes place almost a
month before main cast recordings, it's a New York recording studio
session set up by Bruce with Dirk directing a legendary US comedy
talent down the line from London. The result is one half of a very
funny conversation with Ford Prefect which will be completed by
Geoffrey McGivern in January. More news on casting will follow,
including the voice behind this character ... sorry to tease ... it's
worth the wait ...
Very little Hitchhikers preparation is undertaken due to Christmas
festivities, then everything stops with the horror and feeling of
helplessness at the unfolding events in South East Asia. If you haven't
donated to the Tsunami Relief Fund, it's easy to do it online, just log
on to www.dec.org.uk
January 1st 2005
The Big Hitchhikers Year begins with eight knockout scripts and most of
the key casting done. Just a few final actors for production manager Jo
Wheeler to sound out, nail down and sign up.
January 5th 2005
Simon Jones catches the overnight flight from New York to London. He
gets upgraded to First Class due to his Frequent Flyer Status As Arthur
Dent (and no-one will sit next to that Dressing Gown in steerage). He
spends the entire flight complaining that Dirk has forbidden him to
switch on the little airconditioning nozzle over his seat "because it's
a germ distributor". In fact he holds his breath for the entire flight
over and is bright blue on arrival at Heathrow, where he jumps in a cab
and takes his first deep breath just as its driver has a huge
bronchiole-rupturing sneezing fit.
January 6th 2005
Nearly there. Scripts are being bundled up and sent out. Helen
Chattwell confirms that actors definitely signed up and being fitted
for babel fishes as this is written include:
Jane Horrocks as Fenchurch,
Miriam Margolyes as The Smelly Photocopier Woman From Hawalius, Chris Emmett
as The Evil-Looking-Bird From The Old Pink Dog Bar and ... Secondary Phase fans,
take heart ... Rula Lenska is back.
January 11th 2005
... recordings begin. Fingers, tentacles or pseudopodia crossed,
Meeting at Pan Macmillan to discuss Tertiary, Quandary
and Qunitessential Phase scripts book. It is realised that Wix had the
only copy of the Tertiary Phase script with music notes, scribbled on
in pencil by Dirk - frantic phone call to Wix just as he is about to
use them to prop up his piano saves them for the nation ...
Dirk attends BBC Audiobooks sales conference in Bath. Now
attention turned to the future - plans are under discussion for release
of the next phases. Basically if the master tapes can be delivered
before the cast are even recorded, there's a slim chance of keeping to
deadline. Bulk order of Prozac ensues.
Final polish begins on last 8 scripts. Casting begins in
earnest. Original cast contacted, other Hitchhiker names are looking
promising. However the usual radio game starts - some actors we really
really want seem to be fleeing the country in January to make films. We
can't lure them back on a radio budget, all we can do is brush our
hair, shine our shoes and ask ever, ever so politely. Thinking caps
pulled firmly on and fastened round chins with towels to come up with
the best possible cast to do Douglas justice.
9th December (DAYTIME)
Auditions for the part of Arthur's daughter
Random, at Above the Title offices in Primrose Hill. All turn out to be
excellent young actresses, the choice is agonising (almost as agonising
as Dirk's impression of Simon Jones, as he reads them in) but we plump
for a terrific talent new to radio. No names can be released yet but
we're all very excited about this choice.
9th December (EVENING)
Dirk & Bruce attend Helen Boaden's belated
farewell bash as Radio 4 Controller at RIBA in Portland Place. A very
jolly occasion attended by the Great And Good including a certain
Geoffrey Perkins. Hitchhikers is mentioned twice in despatches as a a
highlight of Helen's tenure in the job; lots of very nice comments from
old friends in the ensuing chat. And a useful bit of networking which
may result in some really fun bits of casting for the next two series.
Will the scripts be polished in time? Who will be in the next series?
Can we afford them? Answers to some of these questions will no doubt
The Hitchhikers Production Team Wish you a Merry Christmas!
Having completed all six episode drafts of LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND
EVERYTHING (Tertiary Phase), Dirk drafts Episode One of SO LONG, AND
THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH, to see if it can be turned into any kind of
November 2003 onwards
Recording The Tertiary Phase
... see Dirk's Behind the Scenes account and Bruce's Report
Dirk decides his first draft of SO LONG Episode One is indeed a kind of
radio programme, basically it's the Shipping Forecast and he starts
again. A highly energised rewrite on a trip to Wales comes to nothing
when the iBook battery dies before he has saved. Hair tearing ensues.
July - August 2004
... much rewriting and re-reading of all five Hitchhiker novels is
undertaken on various campsites around Europe ... Dirk drops his
paperback of 'Mostly Harmless' into a swimming pool near Fréjus ... it
now has interesting crinkly pages and indecipherable smears of ink
where some quite useful notes once were. They are now lost forever.
August - September 2004
16-27th August: Last-minute tweaks to the many tracks of The Tertiary
Phase are made in preparation for the surround mix, which is scheduled
for mid-August. The surround mix itself sounds great but the computers
are maxed out and tend to fall over. Hair tearing ensues. Paul Deeley
nearly bald by end of week. Dirk offers to swap wigs. Useful exercise
for the next two phases - surround positioning is much easier to
achieve in Dolby Digital than Dolby Pro-Logic. Ideas for treating
certain sections of the next two books are made clearer.
2nd September 2004
Playback of Tertiary Phase to Cast, Crew and
friends including Douglas' widow, Jane Belson. Bruce and Helen down
tools from legal work, logistics, and contracts to relax for the first
time in 11 months. Hair tearing suspended for two hours.
6th September to 6th November 2004
Final script drafts written for the
eight episodes that will comprise the Quandary (SO LONG, AND THANKS FOR
ALL THE FISH) and Quintessential (MOSTLY HARMLESS) Phases. Much
re-reading (yet again) of all 5 novels and 12 original radio scripts,
also referral to (the more helpful) message board comment on the
Tertiary Phase as it rolls out from 21st September. Douglas's comments
that in a new Hitchhiker book he might have revisited certain sections
of the other novels to give the story a more positive edge are firmly
borne in mind, as well as the slight return of certain disappearing
characters to give more 'shape' to the overall story arc.
8th September 2004
All eight script drafts passed to John Langdon and
Bruce for elimination of hesitation and deviation, and humour
tittivation. Hair tearing on 'hold'. Thought for the day: In 1993
Douglas told Dirk he felt most worried about adapting these novels into
radio comedy, but SO LONG and MOSTLY HARMLESS have translated into a
back-to-back series of eight programmes which, unconstricted by the
tight plotting of LIFE THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING, can weave emotion,
humour and action more freely. We are getting excited about these
Friday 22nd October
Re-recording our signature tune 'Journey Of The
Sorceror' with Philip Pope re-creating that mid-70s Eagles sound in London's Mark Angelo studios with ace tribute band The Illegal Eagles,
a 14 piece string section and banjo and mandolin players! This has
belatedly come about because the agreement for the US release of
Hitchhikers Tertiary Phase does not cover use of the original track.
Philip's arrangement is totally authentic and the musicians create a
worthy successor to the original Hitchhikers signature tune. One can
never replicate a recording down to the tiniest detail - too much
technology has changed, for a start, and the Eagles had 6 months, not 6
hours in a studio. But the result is terrific and enhances the
Tuesday 23rd November
Dirk and original Hitchhikers producer/director
Geoffrey Perkins have a lunchtime drink to catch up on news and chat
... there ensues much reminiscing about life in BBC Radio Light
Entertainment in the 70s and 80s ...
Cast requirements are drawn up from draft scripts.
Returning cast are being contacted for availability on recording dates;
new cast are being approached and/or auditioned. Hopefully these will
include more Hitchhikers alumni from across the decades ...