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The BBC TV series adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was first shown on BBC 2 from the 5th January – 9th February 1981 in the form of 6 thirty-minute episodes.

Simon Jones as Arthur Dent
David Dixon as Ford Prefect
Sandra Dickinson as Trillian
Mark Wing Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox
Peter Jones as The Guide

Written and produced by Douglas Adams and Alan J.W Bell
Incidental music by Roger Limb, title music by Tim Souster (a remake of The Eagles's song “Journey of the Sorceror”)
Guide animations by Rod Lord

The series itself is quite faithful to the books and radio series, the plot mainly deviates just to suit the medium. Casting is a sore point with many fans of the book – most would agree that Zaphod and Arthur were cast perfectly (Douglas Adams actually wrote the character of Arthur around Simon Jones’s persona for the script of the original radio series), though many people complain that Trillian is badly cast as a blonde American ditz, and that Ford is simply too spaced out.

Despite the fact that the production values for the series were relatively high, Marvin looks like a left-over Doctor Who costume, and most probably is. The ship models are terrible, as are the chroma-keyed shots – but hey, this was the early 80s. Zaphod’s extra head was inexcusable however. It didn’t just look bad; it looked like a dead fetus grafted on the actor’s shoulder, occasionally moving slowly and speaking in a manner which is intended to comedic but turns out to be rather creepy. It’s a challenge to watch it without hoping it will fall off and get kicked under a table somewhere.

In general the series was well-stylized and very original. The music is synthy, dreamy and gives off a great new-age futuristic atmosphere. Famed above all else are Rod Lord’s guide animations. These were entirely hand drawn, with pieces of black card covering up letters to be revealed one-by-one in a computer terminal style. The result leads to a very futuristic looking computer interface, extremely well executed and impressive even by today’s standards.

In total the series covers roughly the same material as the first two books (that is from Arthur and Ford first escaping Earth up until the cavemen spelling words on a Scrabble board).

An episode guide follows. Please ignore if you don’t want any spoilers!

Episode 1

(First screened Monday 5th January 1981 on BBC 2)

Additional roles: Joe Melia (Foreman)
Martin Benson (Vogon Captain)
Micheal Cule (Vogon Guard)

Guide sequences: Ford’s Bio/Galactic map showing Betelgeuse, explaining Ford Prefect’s choice of Earth name
Pan Galactic Gargleblaster/Zaphod Beeblebrox teaser
Vogon Constructor Fleet/Getting a lift from a Vogon Babel fish (this was Rod Lord’s pilot animation, and perhaps the most famed of all. He was given quite a few awards for this short piece)

Synopsis: Arthur Dent wakes up to find a man and his nasty yellow bulldozer trying to knock down his house. Ford arrives and they strike a deal with the demolition men so that they can nip off to the pub where Ford explains to Arthur about his alien heritage and the fact that the world is about to end. Arthur’s disbelief is interrupted by the sound of his house being smashed to pieces. While Arthur directs a torrent of abuse towards the demolition men, a Vogon craft appears and announces the destruction of Earth. They follow through.
Arthur and Ford are ‘safely’ beamed aboard the Vogon ship, courtesy of the Dentrassi cooks working on board. After putting the translating Babel fish in his ear, Arthur hears a Vogon announcement warning that he and Ford are not at all welcome on the craft. After a short trip into hyperspace the pair are captured by a Vogon guard who has come to throw them into space – or if they’re unlucky, the Vogon Captain will want to read them some of his poetry first…

Trivia: Ford strikes the deal between the demolition foreman and Arthur rather than Arthur himself, unlike the original radio script.
The scenes at Arthur’s house were filmed at Edmonds Farm in Surrey.
Douglas Adams appears in the background of the bar scene. The tower from where some of the London aerial views were shot was later renamed to “Tower 42”.
The Vogon mask was crafted by a costume designer who often worked on Doctor Who.

Quote: “Barman: Do you really think the world’s about to end?
Ford: Yes, in just over 3 minutes and 5 seconds.
Barman: Well, isn’t there anything we can do?
Ford: No. Nothing.
Barman: I thought we were supposed to lie down, put a paper bag over our head or something…?
Ford: Yes, if you like.
Barman: Will that help?
Ford: No. Excuse me, I’ve got to go.
Barman: Ah, well. Last orders please.”

Episode 2

(First screened Monday 12th January 1981 on BBC 2)

Additional roles: Martin Benson (Vogon Captain)
Micheal Cule (Vogon Guard)
Rayner Bourton (Newscaster)
Gil Morris (Gag Halfrunt)
David Learner (Marvin)
Stephen Moore (Voice of Marvin)
David Tate (Voice of Eddie)

Guide sequences: Ford Prefect Bio (revised)
Worst poetry in the Universe
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book introduction/foreword Space: Survival Of
Sirius Cybernetics Corp
Various star charts appearing on the Heart of Gold screens

Synopsis: …unfortunately, the Vogon Captain does want to read them some of his poetry. Ford and Arthur suffer through it, but despite their attempts to offer up a flattering critique, the Vogon Captain to throw them into space.
Arthur and Ford find their selves in a dream world generated by the Infinite Improbability Drive, where Trillian announces that they are returning to normality. They learn about the power of the drive in the rec. room of the Heart of Gold as they awake, and are subsequently greeted by Marvin the Paranoid Android. Ford learns that an old acquaintance Zaphod Beeblebrox is aboard the ship, and also that he has stolen the ship from the government. As they meet, Arthur realizes that he has also met Zaphod before; and Trillian too. Is this sort of thing going to happen every time they use the Infinite Improbability Drive? Probably.

Trivia: Doug Burd, who created the opening credits and piloted the aircraft in this episode was killed in a flying accident a few months later in April.
Douglas Adams appears in a full guest role as the unhappy businessman who strips naked, throws his money on to the beach, and walks back into the sea representing primordial soup.
Fenchurch is shown in a shot of a café just before Earth’s destruction, although the script doesn’t actually reference her by name.
The trippy improbability drive sequence with Arthur and Ford on Southend Beach was mainly composed of matte paintings and digital effects.
Marvin is played by David Learner in the costume, and Stephen Moore as his voice.

Quote: “Arthur: Ford, you’re turning into a penguin! Stop it!

Episode 3

(First screened Monday 19th January 1981 on BBC 2)

Additional roles: Richard Vernon(Slartibartfast)
John Daire (Rich Merchant)
David Learner (Marvin)
Stephen Moore (Voice of Marvin)
David Tate (Voice of Eddie)

Guide sequences: Intergalactic Empire
Custom planet building
Stress reduction information (petunias, whales, bruise on mystery person’s arm)
Death of the bowl of petunias
Man as the 3rd most intelligent life form on Earth (So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish)

Synopsis: The Heart of Gold turns out to be orbiting Magrathea, a legendary planet and home of the incredibly rich custom planet builders. Slartibartfast hails the crew members and warns them about the nuclear warheads being aimed at their ship. Whilst the crew flail around wildly as the missiles threaten to destroy them, Arthur has the bright idea of activating the Infinite Improbability Drive. This has the fortunate effect of turning the missiles into a bowl of petunias and a sperm whale (unfortunate for the whale and bowl of petunias, however). One crew member however, has bruised his arm. In order to convey a sense of intrigue and mystery, the unlucky recipient of the injury will not be named until the end of this synopsis*. Safe again, the ship is landed on the surface of Magrathea. They find an opening and enter the interior of the planet, sans Arthur and Marvin who are left to ‘guard’ on the surface. Inside of the planet the rest of the team are knocked unconscious.
Slartibartfast meets Arthur on the surface and invites him inside of Magrathea to be reunited with the rest of the crew. They learn that the Magratheans made the Earth as part of a biological supercomputer used to compute the question belonging to the ultimate answer, “42”. An experiment conducted by… mice?

*Arthur has bruised his arm.

Trivia: Eddie was originally going to be a jukebox, but instead a full prop was commissioned. It looks uncannily like a Playstation 2.
Douglas Adams performed Eddie’s voice for the benefit of the actors, and the real voice was dubbed on later.
The revolving platform on the Heart of Gold’s bridge was borrowed from the game show “Blankety Blank”.
The whale is voiced by Stephen Moore, the voice of Marvin.
The BBC received letters of complaint about the whale’s death.
The planet surface of Magrathea was filmed at a clay pit in Cornwall.
Douglas Adams wanted Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” to be playing as they landed on Magrathea, but the copyright clearance was too expensive.
Richard Vernon (Slartibartfast) fell down a hole in the clay pit.

Quote: “Slartibartfast: It may disturb you… scares the willies out of me.”

Episode 4

(First screened Monday 26th January 1981 on BBC 2)

Additional roles: Richard Vernon (Slartibartfast)
David Learner (Marvin)
Stephen Moore (Voice of Marvin)
Antony Carrick (Lunkwill)
Timothy Davies (Fook)
Devid Leland (Majikthise)
Charles McKeown (Vroomfondel)
Matt Zimmerman (Shooty)
Marc Smith (Bang Bang)
Valentine Dyall (Deep Thought)

Guide sequences: Arthur/Ford/Zaphod/Trillian history
Deep Thought
Scene cuts (Seven and a half million years later…)
Space Invaders-style alien war

Synopsis: Slartibartfast shows Arthur the history of Earth, telling of the computer Deep Thought which was built to compute the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything and which later commissioned the building of the supercomputer Earth. The entire crew then meet for a large feast, hosted by the mice. They proceed to sack Slartibartfast and explain that they need to buy Arthur’s brain to retrieve the ultimate question from it (no matter, they offer to replace the brain. A simple one will do). The arrival of galactic police enable the crew to make their escape, only to be cornered in a large bay of the planet. The trigger-happy cops demand to take custody of Zaphod for stealing the Heart of Gold, but lose track when a nearby computer blows up.

Trivia: As before with Eddie, Douglas Adams originally voiced Deep Thought before it was dubbed.
An animation was originally intended to be projected on to Deep Thought’s wall of smoke. This proved unsuccessful, but traces of the attempt can still be seen in the finished footage.
The warring aliens are both played by “Doctor Who” alien actors.
The aliens each score 1900 points each in the war computer-game sequence.
The mice share voice actors with Eddie and Marvin.

Quote: “Arthur: Now? To meet mice? You want me to meet mice now?”

Episode 5

(First screened Monday 2nd February 1981 on BBC 2)

Additional roles: Jack May (Garkbit Head Waiter)
Colin Jeavons (Max Quordlespleen)
Barry Frank Warren (Hotblack Desiato)
Dave Prowse (Bodyguard)
Colin Bennet (Zarquon)
Marvin (David Learner)
Voice of Marvin (Stephen Moore)

Guide sequences: Milliways (note how the letter tones fit the tune wonderfully)
Disaster Area

Synopsis: The team awake to find their selves in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Milliways. Ford meets a brain-dead (literally) friend Hotblack Desiato, and gets his arse royally kicked by the rock star’s bodyguard. The gang sit down for a spot of dinner and a short conversation with the main course. A phone call from Marvin leads them to meet him in the parking lot, and then to steal Hotblack Desiato’s ship. As they launch it they realize that it’s stuck on auto-pilot and heading straight for the sun...

Trivia: The ancient manuscripts about Deep Thought and the ultimate answer were drawn by Douglas Adams. The binary value for 42 appears amongst the graffiti.
The snooty waiter was played by the actor who voiced Igor in “Count Duckula”.
Hotblack Desiato’s bodyguard is the man who played Darth Vader, David Prowse (also seen in “A Clockwork Orange”).
Some of the audio of the audience applauding was recorded from the set of the talk show “Parkinson”.

Quote: “Guide: If you’re done six impossible things this morning, why not round it off with breakfast at Milliways?

Episode 6

(First screened Monday 9th February 1981 on BBC 2)

Additional roles: Rayner Bourton (Newscaster)
Aubrey Morris (Captain)
Matthew Scurfield (Number One)
David Neville (Number Two)
Geoffrey Beevers (Number Three)
Beth Porter (Marketing Girl)
David Rowlands (Hairdresser)
Jon Glover (Management Consultant)
David Learner (Marvin)
Stephen Moore (Voice of Marvin)

Guide sequences: Human’s stating the obvious to stop their brains from working
Earth scanning to book (fantastic!)

Synopsis: Zaphod suggests that they try to work out the question from Arthur’s brain. Marvin takes this is his cue to admit that he can read it from his brainwaves, but is interrupted as the ship turns sharply and careers towards the sun. They devise an escape route via the ship’s teleport which involves Marvin staying behind to operate it and meet certain doom.
Arthur and Ford appear on a strange ship, but Trillian and Zaphod are missing. They aren’t seen again in the series. Further investigation of the ship leads to a cryogenics bay containing a large collection of frozen crew, each labeled with their associated professions – telephone sanitizer, hairdresser…
A guard takes Arthur and Ford prisoner and brings them to the bathing captain. The ship turns out to be an ark full of middle-men and women, destined to crash into a small blue/green planet. After thorough exploration of the planet, Arthur and Ford find Slartibartfast’s signature on an iceberg, and come to the realization that this is Earth and they’ve cocked up the experiment.

Trivia: Simon Jones has kept Arthur’s dressing gown.

Quote: “Captain: Excuse me for not getting up. I’m just having a quick bath.”

Sources: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy DVD. Trivia is selected from the alternate subtitles on the DVD.