In the beginning
In 1993 Douglas Adams approached BBC Radio Light Entertainment about finishing the saga of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy based on the three novels which had not started life as radio series.
He had heard the Adventures of Superman serials and the Batman Lazarus Syndrome docu-drama I'd made for Radio 4 and believed - because Geoffrey Perkins had by now gone off to a successful TV career - I was the radio producer to do the job.
I was hugely honoured to be asked and on meeting Douglas discovered that we shared a lot of enthusiasms - the latest in audio gadgets, rock music (he a guitarist, myself a drummer), and science fact and fiction.
I proposed to him that, in the spirit of Hitchhiker, we should explore the latest audio technology to make the production. In 1978 Geoffrey Perkins had fought to use multitrack analog tape machines and audio sampling technology; in 1993 I felt we should adopt the same approach and ask to use Macintosh-based digital sound editing and Dolby Pro Logic Surround Sound.
The BBC was at first very worried at this idea in case grannies in the Orkney Islands would not be able to hear the words! But we overcame some problems, ignored others and soldiered on.
Everything was looking very rosy - but then a writer was selected for the project by the powers-that-were who was a terrific talent, but not in tune with what Douglas wanted at all, and Douglas, deeply disappointed upon rejecting the draft first episode, declared sadly that he couldn't write the thing all over again himself, even if he had the time.
The best laid plans
At one of the increasingly desperate planning sessions that ensued, I arrived at Douglas's home in Islington and was taken aback to find him furiously banging out his own version of an Episode One of Life The Universe And Everything.
I watched over his shoulder as he laid out the scenes between Arthur and Ford and it was clear that he was trying not to introduce anything too clever into the adaptation, but tell the story as accurately as possible (the rejected draft had introduced a talking dinosaur, which offended Douglas's need for some kind of scientific rigour).
Douglas hit 'Save' and sat back from the Apple Powerbook with a sigh. This was a futile effort; there was no way he could find time to adapt all six episodes. Thinking that if he had enjoyed Superman and Batman, he was also enjoying my adaptational skills, I diffidently suggested that I could continue what he had started and he could script edit the result.
It seemed like a plan and we were hoping to proceed on that basis, but so much time had passed by then that even though we had pre-booked studio time and approached the original cast for availability, the project died on the vine.
Thus my attempts to use digital editing and surround technology seemed to be dashed - let alone the chance to 'complete' Hitchhikers. I was trying to think of another project, and that's when the Superman and Batman serials for the 'old' Radio 5 and the 'new' Radio 1 came about - and they were great playgrounds for pushing the envelope for what is possible in radio.
I believe it is the most visual of all media - it bypasses the optic nerve, sneaks in through the side door and imprints visions in your mind that are more vivid than any tv image or cinema screen...
The story continues >>>