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Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The (1981)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The (1981)
BBC1, 5/01 - 9/02/1981
6 x 30 minute episodes, colour
ProducerAlan J.W.Bell
Associate ProducerJohn Lloyd
ScriptDouglas Adams
Adapted from the series onBBC Radio
Animated sequencesRod Lord

Cast: Simon Jones (Arthur Dent); David Dixon (Ford Prefect); Peter Jones (Voice of the Book); Mark Wing-Davey (Zaphod Beeblebrox); Sandra Dickinson (Trillian)

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After the destruction of Earth to make way for an intergalactic by-pass, 'monkey-man' Arthur Dent and best friend Ford Prefect go in search of the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything, armed with a towel and the indispensible Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

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Like Hancock's Half-Hour (1956-61) and dozens of other TV comedy hits over the decades, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981) began life as a cult BBC radio show. It also spawned a bestselling series of novels, turning its creator, Douglas Adams, into the most successful British comic writer of the decade.

The TV series retained the imaginative and endearingly daft humour of its predecessors but is, by general consent, the least successful of the three incarnations, partly because it condenses Adams' sprawling narrative into just six episodes but mostly because of the particular challenges of realising Adams' spaceships, aliens and other creations - not a problem for radio. Especially unconvincing were the lifeless third arm and the my-first-animatronics extra head sported by the extraterrestrial rogue and galactic fugitive Zaphod Beeblebrox (Mark Wing-Davey).

Where the series did score highly, however, were the passages from the book of the title - a sort of interstellar Rough Guide. Narrated by the honey-voiced Peter Jones (who had performed the same task in the radio series), these sequences were witty, fresh and visually inventive, adopting a style equivalent to the most cutting-edge computer graphics of their day, but using painstaking cel animation techniques. These animations brought to life such classic Adams ideas as the Babel Fish - a creature which, when placed in the ear, acts as a simultaneous translator from any language to any other, and whose extraordinary usefulness offers proof of the existence and, therefore, the non-existence of God. Such philosophical musing was typical of a show which revealed the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything - but not the question.

Most of the key players from the radio series reprised their roles - a vital factor in the show carrying across its audience - with Simon Jones irreplaceable as the dressing gown-clad, perpetually perplexed earthling Arthur Dent and Stephen Moore again providing the voice of the priceless Marvin, the paranoid, pathologically depressed android. The only major change was David Dixon, who replaced Geoffrey McGivern as Arthur's (largely) unflappable friend, Ford Prefect. Future Doctor Who Peter Davison, Darth Vader actor (but not voice) Dave Prowse and Adams himself were among the cameos.

For all of its imperfections, the series remains a cherished part of the 'H2G2' firmament for legions of fans, who were devastated by the unexpected death of Adams in 2001, at the age of 49.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
Episode 5: Fit The Fifth (32:50)
Red Dwarf (1988-99)
Adams, Douglas (1952-2001)
Jones, Peter (1920-2000)
TV Sci-Fi