The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - From The Land Of Forgotten Television

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was a BBC television adaptation of Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy broadcast in January and February 1981 on UK television station BBC Two. The adaptation follows the original radio series in 1978 and 1980, the first novel and double LP, in 1979, and the stage shows, in 1979 and 1980, making it the fifth iteration of the guide.

The series stars Simon Jones as Arthur Dent, David Dixon as Ford Prefect, Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox and Sandra Dickinson as Trillian. The voice of the guide is by Peter Jones. Simon Jones, Peter Jones, Stephen Moore and Mark Wing-Davey had already provided the voices for their characters in the original radio series in 1978/80. In addition, the series features a number of notable cameo roles, including Adams himself on several occasions.

Although initially thought by BBC executives to be unfilmable, the series was successfully produced and directed by Alan J. W. Bell and went on to win a Royal Television Society Award as Most Original Programme of 1981, as well as several British Academy Television Awards for its graphics and editing.

After the success of the first seven episodes of the radio series, all broadcast in 1978, and while the second radio series was being recorded, Douglas Adams was commissioned to deliver a pilot script for a television adaptation on 29 May 1979, to be delivered by 1 August. A fully animated version was briefly discussed in the autumn of 1978, but it was eventually decided to make most of the series feature "live action" and only animate The Guide's entries. John Lloyd, who had worked with Adams on the first radio series, is credited with starting the process of adapting the series for television, after the receipt of the pilot script, with a memo to the head of light entertainment (John Howard Davies) in September 1979. Adams was still working on scripts for the second radio series of Hitchhiker's and working as script editor for Doctor Who, and thus the BBC extended the deadline for the pilot script of the television adaptation to the end of November. The script for the pilot was delivered in December 1979, and terms for the five remaining scripts were agreed upon in January 1980. While there was some resistance to a project considered "unfilmable," Alan J. W. Bell was given the duties to produce and direct the TV adaptation. John Lloyd was signed as associate producer.

In early 1980, production on the pilot episode began on several fronts. Rod Lord, of Pearce Animation Studios, directed a 50-second pilot, hand-animated, giving a 'computer graphic' feel to the Babel Fish speech of the first episode. Douglas Adams and Alan J.W. Bell were both pleased with the animation, and Lord was given the go-ahead to do all of the animation for Episode 1, and subsequently the complete TV series. Narration for the first episode was recorded by Peter Jones in March 1980. The filming of two green-skinned aliens reacting to Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters was done on 8 May 1980. Further filming of crowd reactions to the Vogons, location filming of Arthur's house and a scene in a pub were done between 11 and 16 May 1980. Scenes aboard the Vogon ship were recorded on 7 June 1980, in the BBC's TC1 studio. The final edit of the pilot episode was completed on 2 July 1980, and it was premiered for a test audience three days later (5 July 1980). Further test screenings were held in August 1980. Based on successful test screenings, the cast was reassembled to complete the six episodes of the series in September 1980. Production continued through the autumn, with filming and recording occurring out of order. Recording and production of the final episode continued into January 1981. - Source

Arthur Dent awakes one morning and finds his house is going to be demolished, but for Arthur, the demolition of his house is only the beginning, when his friend, eccentric Ford Prefect reveals to Arthur he is not a human and he is a alien from a planet called Beetleguise and is a researcher for a electronic book called "The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy." Ford saves Arthur when the Earth is destroyed by the Vogans so the Vogons can begin construction of a new hyperspace bypass. Joined by Ford's cousin, Zaphod Beeblebrox, a two-headed hippie-like former intergalactic President, Intelligent Human woman Trillian and Marvin, a depressed paranoid android, Arthur and Ford embark on a intergalactic adventure, which leads them to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, discovering the creation of Earth and discovering the meaning of life. - Source

Episode 1:

Episode 1 begins with a pre-credits sequence, the only one of the TV episodes to have such. A countdown to the end of the world is displayed through animation, and the narrator begins telling the story of the Guide and Arthur Dent's connection to it as the sun rises over the English countryside for the final time. Arthur wakes, discovers the threat to his house from a yellow bulldozer by looking out the window, and the camera pulls back to the credits.

This episode closely follows the plot and dialogue of the first episode of the radio series, cutting the speech by Lady Cynthia Fitzmelton. It ends at a slightly earlier point than the radio episode, after Ford's line "he might want to read us some of his poetry first", and on a cliffhanger that Arthur and Ford are about to be discovered in a Vogon storeroom, but before the Vogon poetry is actually read. - Source

Voiced by a bemused Peter Jones, who quite genuinely didn't understand some of the mind-boggling things he was often asked to read out – the nature and fate of the Babel Fish, the story of the planet Magrathea, the action of compound interest to ensure you a table at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, or the workings of the Infinite Improbability Drive - the Guide is a unique creation, backed by effects that were even more realized in the TV version where spare, clinical graphics illustrated Adams' ideas perfectly.

As Arthur Dent, Simon Jones is perfectly confused, the victim of the universe, and yet still a comic engine as well as a straight man. Geoffrey McGivern's louche tones make Ford Prefect the ultimate realist - while David Dixon in the TV version had a good stab at the role. Mark Wing-Davey made Zaphod Beeblebrox, ex-Galactic President, his own, utterly sybaritic creation.

But Adams' greatest character is undoubtedly Marvin, the Paranoid Android, depressed, hating everything, surviving every attempt to destroy him, and just feeling depressed some more. - Source

At the time of production, BBC policy required all television comedy to have a canned "laugh track". Before its broadcast debut, episode 1 was screened to 100 science fiction fans (with laugh track and a rather amusing introduction by Peter Jones). Armed with the fans' feedback, Douglas Adams and Alan J.W. Bell were able to convince BBC executives to change the policy, and the laugh track was removed before broadcast.

The wardrobe crew were shocked to discover, halfway through filming, that only one dressing robe had been purchased for Arthur, and the line had been discontinued by the manufacturer. The cast & crew were then ordered to be particularly gentle with the robe for the remainder of production. Towards the end of the series, it was rumored that a second series would be made, and when shooting wrapped the robe was locked away to preserve it in case it would be needed again.

Douglas Adams chose 42 as the Ultimate Answer of Life, the Universe, and Everything simply because he thought it was the funniest-sounding of all two-digit numbers. "A completely ordinary number, a number not just divisible by two but also six and seven. In fact it's the sort of number that you could, without any fear, introduce to your parents."

Zaphod's second, remote controlled mechanical head constantly malfunctioned on the set, resulting in it lolling to the side or staring blankly into the distance. In addition, if Mark Wing-Davey became overly active whilst wearing the costume (something that was very prone to happening, due to the show's plot and Zaphod's inherent character), the motion would often strip the gears inside the head. Wing-Davey later said in interviews that the cost of building and maintaining the head probably exceeded his salary for the program. - Source

Marvin: I think you ought to know I'm feeling very depressed.

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