A Dent in the univers

Interview with Simon Jones

Radio 4 concludes its adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy with an eight-part series, starting on May 3, taken from Douglas Adams’s third and fouth books, So Long And Thanks For All The Fish and Mostly Harmless.

Although the hugely successful idea started life as a Radio 4 series back in 1978, it almost never happened, as original producer Geoffrey Perkins recalls: ‘Douglas at that point was on his last throw of the dice as a comedy writer. He was about to give up and go and work in Hong Kong.

‘He’d written one sketch, which was a sketch about a Kamikaze pilot who is on his 20th mission – he keeps failing to kill himself – which had rather tickled the fancy of a guy who was briefly the head of the entertainment department on radio (who wasn’t necessarily noted for his sense of humour) and out of that he got commissioned to do the script.”

Simon Jones, who played wandering hero Arthur Dent in the original Radio 4 series and on TV, reflects on finally completing the story for radio.

‘It’s taken nearly a quarter of a century to do it, but the job’s done. The entire saga of Arthur Dent, as I like to think of it, has now been recorded for the world’s auricular pleasure.

‘I’d like to say I always knew we’d make it across the finish line ... but I really had my doubts

‘Around 1994, Douglas was saying that he wanted to move on from Hitchhiker’s, and making a radio series out of what was already published seemed too much like a step backwards.

‘After all, the first two books had come as a result of the story’s popularity on radio, while the last three sprang fullyformed straight onto the printed page.

‘But [producer] Dirk Maggs stayed with it. He refused to be discouraged, though even he too must have lost hope when we were all hit by the ultimate disaster in May 2001 of Douglas’s shockingly sudden death.

‘He became, if anything, more determined to complete the work as a tribute to him. So eventually I turned up at a studio once more – furious that Douglas wasn’t going to be there, but blissfully happy to be putting on the dressing-gownof good old Arthur Dent.’

And the experience of recording the new episodes didn’t disappoint: ‘For me it was unalloyed pleasure. I was relieved to find that the years had been kind to those of us who remained. I have to admit, having lost most of my hair and seen the remnant turn grey, that I felt more battle-scarred than the rest.

‘But regardless of how we look, we sounded exactly the same – and, thanks to the miracle of radio, we were and are the same people we ever were.’

Bizzarely, both Geoffrey McGivern, who plays Ford Prefect, and Simon found themselves seriously challenged dentally before recording So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish.

‘I had had two front teeth knocked out on the forehead of a stagehand during a performance of My Fair Lady in Connecticut in the previous July,’ explains Simon. ‘And my permanent replacements were only installed three weeks before we started recording. Geoff arrived at the studio with two lower teeth missing, after a dispute with a Christmas nut. “Don’t worry,” he said, “it won’t make the shlighteshtdifferensh”!

‘It’s amazing how effective emergency dentistry can be ... within a day he sounded less like a leaking steam engine, and more like the old smooth-running Ford.’

‘It was really striking, the ease with which we assumed our old characters. Perhaps we never really shed them. Geoff and I became Ford and Arthur straightaway, gossiping away with that tetchy affection that marks their fictional relationship.’

But Jones said the star of the show was always Adams – both in spirit and, eventually, in acting when he took the part of Agrajag.

‘His performance in reading the audio version of the books was so animated that his voice was transferred to our dramatisation, playing the role he always fancied playing: Agrajag, the creature who is inadvertently killed by Arthur whatever life-form he adopts,” Jones says.

‘It was distinctly surreal playing the scene with him in the Cathedral of Hate, exchanging dialogue with a speaker in a box – but the result is great.

‘Obviously I’m biased, but I think Dirk has done an exceptionally good job in adapting the books for radio, and I’m sure the readers will agree. Quirky and bizarre, they capture precisely Douglas’s unique way of looking at the world. Frankly, I don’t believe anyone, apart from him, could have done better.’

First published: April 24, 2005

Published: 22 Mar 2009

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.