Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish
So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish (the fourth book in the inaccurately named HitchHiker's trilogy) was a bit of a departure for the series.

After years of swearing that he would never write another HitchHiker book, Douglas Adams finally caved-in and penned what some fans extol as the series’ finest entry. No doubt there must also be many who dismiss it as the weakest. Probably for the same reason.

It’s set on Earth. In any other science-fiction tale this would be a humdrummingly unoriginal location, but HitchHiker’s entire history is founded upon the Earth’s demolition. Having Arthur Dent later return to it was therefore going to be either magically unexpected, or frustratingly contrived.

I’m with the former.

The CD cover for The HitchHiker's Guide To The Galaxy - Quandary Phase.  I was listening to the transmitted version.
For Radio Four producer Dirk Maggs, adapting the most ‘ordinary’ book of the series was always going to be a challenge. Far from talking mice running planet-building economies, the marketing of the universe’s destruction as a tourist attraction, and spaceships that are powered by mathematical errors, suddenly Arthur finds himself going down the pub, meeting girls, phoning with his boss and generally having an all-round normal life again.

How on Earth do you broadcast that on Radio 4 without it sounding like The Archers?

By loving the material to bits.

Adapter Dirk Maggs clearly adores the late Douglas Adams’ work, and has equal respect for both his books and his original early-80s radio episodes. Maggs had had a bit of trouble adapting the previous book, if anything he’d been too true to the text – the opening episodes had been slow, relied on the narrator too often, and had begun by clumsily writing-off half of the original series as just a dream.

By this series however he’s learnt – the pacing is back to its old self, and he’s actually hinting at plans to go back and reinstate again the episodes that he’d previously written off.

Also in evidence is respect for the show’s many other incarnations.

David Dixon and Simon Jones recording The HitchHiker's Guide To The Galaxy - Quandary Phase
David Dixon - Ford in the TV version - plays a one-off character, and most appropriately the radio series’ original producer – Geoffrey Perkins – was cast as Arthur’s boss at the BBC.

Simon Jones, Geoffrey Perkins and Geoffrey McGivern at the recording of The HitchHiker's Guide To The Galaxy - Quandary Phase
I don’t normally like famous guest-stars as they break the illusion and remind you that you’re only listening to actors, but, like Douglas Adams’ appearance last season as Agrajag, these guys snuck past my attention until I heard their names in the closing credits. Which is of course how it should be.
Stephen Fry as Murray Bost Henson and Simon Jones as Arthur Dent in The HitchHiker's Guide To The Galaxy - Quandary Phase
Of particular note is a scene between Arthur Dent, still played as ever by the gibbering Simon Jones, and a newspaper editor, voiced by Stephen Fry. Simon Jones, and Stephen Fry. It was just an Adams-esque coincidence of course, but this was a scene between two actors from the recent movie version.

It did disappoint me that Paddy Kingsland had not also been retained from the original series, to score the music for all these wonderful new episodes. His jingley synth melodies, optimistically suggesting a wonderful technological future, somewhat defined the original HitchHiker’s ‘feel’ for me. The guys behind the new score however have created some sounds so out-of-this-world, that I’m won over. The scene at the end of fit the 21st, when Arthur listens to his goldfish bowl, made the hair all over my body stand on end.

Radio doesn’t get much more enthralling than this.

Curse you Dirk Maggs – 10 out of 10! :)

(Production company's website here)

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