Friday, 29 June 2012

Top 5 versions of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

Well, it's been a while but you know how it is. The glorious summer. The exciting football tournament. The massive Fulham article that you just didn't get round to writing until it was a week overdue. I'll try and get back on track with regular updates, you'll no doubt be excited to hear I have a stack of guest top fives to publish so you won't need to wade through too much of my waffle.

This week I had the thrill of going to see a Live performance of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy Radio Shows at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking. Hitchhiker's had as big an impact on my teenage years as Star Wars, the combination of humour and social commentary striking a chord at an impressionable time.

1. The Books (1979-92) - The second version of Hitchhiker's I obtained having enjoyed the TV series and being desperate to find out more. The original book remains one of my favourite books of all time and for a while I re-read it every year. "The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe" is not so much a sequel as the second half of the same story (elements from both made it into the TV show) and was just as hilarious as the first. My A-level English teacher almost had kittens when I included them in my list of "favourite" novels. Not suitable material for literary consideration she explained. I still think she was wrong, whilst they may not be the most challenging read, hardly a word is wasted that does not in some way lead to smartly observed humour. I found them hilarious and, most important of all, they made me want to read more often. Douglas Adams eventually produced five books in the "trilogy" and became the first author I'd purchase the day any new material came out.

2. The TV Show (1981) - My introduction to Hitchhiker's was thanks to the BBC television adaption of the Radio Show. A mere six half-hour episodes were made but these visual treats seemed light years away from anything else I'd ever seen. In particular the apparently computer generated sequences of section from the Guide itself provided a brilliant way to pull the story together and were actually pain-stakingly produced by hand using traditional cell animation techniques.

3. The Radio Series (1978-79) - The Radio Shows were the original format of the story enabled Adams' to really go to town with the story and of course set him up for years of production hell trying to get a film version off the ground. Many of the cast from the radio show went on to appear in the TV Series as well. Simon Jones as Arthur Dent, Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod, Stephen Moore as the voice of Marvin and most distinctive of all, the wonderful Peter Jones as the voice of The Guide. Though this is really where Hitchhiker's began, I did not get hold of the recordings until several years later. At first hearing Ford Prefect & Trillian voiced by different actors to the ones I knew from TV seemed odd, but both Geoffrey McGiven & Susan Sheridan were well chosen for the parts and soon won me over.

4. The Live Show (2012) - It's over 10 years since Douglas passed away but his Hitchhiker's legacy lives on. In 2009 Eoin Colfer wrote "And Another Thing… " a very passable sixth installment of the novels and from 2003 to 2004 Dirk Maggs produced further radio adaptions of Adams' later books. It was Dirk Maggs who then came up with the idea to take the original radio cast on the road with a live tour which provided me the opportunity to laugh uncontrollably at jokes I'd heard a billion times before. It was a real pleasure to see Simon Jones, Mark Wing-Davey, Geoffrey McGivern and Susan Sheridan reunited and clearly enjoying the opportunity to perform the show in a live environment. They still have shows to play and I recommend anyone who enjoyed Hitchhiker's in any of it's formats to go and see them.

5. The Audio Books (1981) - Narrated by Stephen Moore who was a founder member of the radio series cast. Best known as Marvin the paranoid android (not only on radio but on TV and the Live show) but also the provider of voices for many other parts including the Whale that appears suddenly several miles above the planet of Magrethea, and comes to an unfortunate, but unavoidable, ending. Stephen recorded audio versions of the first four books for EMI in the early 80s. Whilst these don't have the variety and interchange of the radio shows there is something magical about Stephen's voice that I have never forgotten.

A quick postscript to mention the Film version that did eventually get made in 2005. Had I not recently seen the Live show this could happily have made my top five, it's very different from the TV version of course, but then one of the joys of the alternative versions of Hitchhiker's is that they don't always follow the exact same script and in many cases completely contradict each other.