Douglas Adams - a science fiction writer?

3. The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

3.1 Multimedia - short introduction to different kinds of Hitch Hiker

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As already stated, The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy had many different appearances. The long-running saga began life modestly as a late-night radio serial and flourished phenomenally into several sorts of bestsellers. At the end of 1979 Pan Books sold Hitchhiker paperbacks at an amount of 100,000 a month and Virgin sold 300 record albums a day. The tale of an earthling named Arthur Dent suddenly became "an In-Thing. People talked about it." (cf. Sunday Times, 2.Dec.79)

The at that time 27-year-old and somewhat diffident Douglas Adams foresaw the following for the hardback version of The Guide: "I don't know who'll buy it at the hardback price after it has already sold hundreds of thousands (as paperback). As far as I'm concerned it's really for the archives." (Sunday Times, 2.Dec.79)



3.1.1 Radio Series

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The very first appearance of The Guide was on BBC Radio 4 on 8 March 1978 at 10.30. "One thing that everyone involved in the creation of Hitchhiker's is clear on is how definite Douglas Adams was on what kind of show it was he wanted: how it would sound, what it would be. (...) he was sure that it would be (...) a 'sound collage', unlike anything done on radio before. Epoch-making. A milestone in radio comedy." (Don't Panic, p.31)

DNA had some difficulties in achieving this as, on the one hand, nothing remotely similar had ever been done before, so there were absolutely no specialists to be invited to do the work, and, on the other hand, it got blocked by some lifted eyebrows at the BBC, who didn't know what to do with their first radio science fiction since Journey into Space in the 1950s being simultaneously a comedy, but in contrast to common comedy productions without a studio audience. And all this was to be broadcast in stereo. (16272 byte)

But this was precisely the essence of its great success: Science fiction fans liked the extraterrestrical touch and radio lovers were impressed by the quality of the 'wizardry of the Radiophonic Workshop', which it cost sometimes days to get the particular sound effect right.

"The only voice raised against the series came from Mr Arthur Butterworth, who wrote to the Radio Times, saying, "In just about 50 years of radio and latterly TV listening and watching, this strikes me as the most fatuous, inane, childish, pointless, codswallopping drivel... It is not even remotely funny."" (Don't panic, p.70)


3.1.2 Stage plays

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The Hitchhiker was produced as a stage play three times. The first theatrical production was put on at the ICA (Institute for Contemporary Arts) in London on 1st-9th May 1979 by Ken Campbell's Science Fiction Theatre Company of Liverpool. It was more a show of 90 minutes than a conventional stage play. The actors performed on little platforms while the auditorium floated around the ICA on air skates. The 640 tickets that were available altogether had been sold out long before the show opened. All in all the audience had a great evening and the show was a great success.

The second performance was directed by Jonathan Petherbridge and given by the Theatr Clwyd, a Welsh theatre company, around Wales from 15th January until 23rd February 1980.

The last Hitchhiker incident in the theatrical world was at the Rainbow Theatre in London. The first two productions had been successful, but this last one that got noticed on a larger scale was, according to DNA, a fiasco. (cf. Don't Panic, p.63)


3.1.3 Novels

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The first two Hitchhiker novels ("The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe") are almost only the novel version of the radio series. A few new ideas have been added to round the story up, and admittedly the order of things has changed a lot, but more or less it becomes quite clear that the plot has been invented in episodes. And, of course, all the cut lines and ideas were then finally published. An interesting fact is that in some cases DNA extremely changes cause and effect from the radio series to the novel version. For example, on radio one could hear that the protagonists get blown to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe by an exploding computer bank (cf. Radio Scripts, Fit V, p.90-91) and then steal the ship of an admiral of the space fleet who is the cause for their parting. In the novels the Infinite Improbability Drive blasts them to the Restaurant and they steal the stunt ship of a rock band which dives into a sun as a show effect and in their effort of getting away from this ship they are separated.


3.1.4 TV Show

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"At first, I wasn't that interested in doing a visual version of Hitchhiker's. But while I was working on Dr Who I began to realise that we have an enormous amount of special effects stuff which is simply not being used as it might be. If it turns out the way I'm beginning to visualise it, I think it could actually look very extraordinary." - Douglas Adams, 1979 (Don't Panic, p.76)

"The Hitchhiker television series was not a happy production. There was a personality clash between myself and the director. And between the cast and the director. And between the tea lady and the director...." - Douglas Adams, 1983 (Don't Panic, p.76)

The TV series was first aired in 1981 on BBC 2. It made Hitchhiker known to those who had not yet heard of the radio series or the novels. A very complicated aspect of the story was the narrator which was on radio a natural and easy thing to realize. But on television the book had to factually be there. The computer read-outs of The Guide in the television series were all hand-drawn by Pearce Studios under animator Rod Lord. The animated sequences of Hitchhiker's received two of ten awards in the BAFTA Awards in 1981.

Those scenes in which the book is seen hand-held while showing its read-outs, were projected from behind onto the screen of the book with a conventional movie projector.


3.1.5 Computer Games

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DNA has also turned the Hitchhiker saga into a computer game. It is a text adventure which goes beyond the known story. One slips into the role of Arthur Dent and has to face the complications of the universe. The game is nearly impossible to complete as DNA calls for the same flexible and inventional mind his novels reveal. It is merely based on the first two-thirds of the first book and leaves its plot almost completely at the Heart of Gold where the GPP machines become a real problem.


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Douglas Adams - a science ficion writer? (c)1995 Oliver Creighton