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40 years of 'Hitchhiker's Guide' shenanigans

40 years of 'Hitchhiker's Guide' shenanigans

“In the beginning, the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move,” wrote Douglas Adams.

But moving ahead a bit, in the mid-1970s a drunken, penniless Adams collapsed in a field in Innsbruck, Austria, clutching a stolen copy of “The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to Europe.” As he stared at the stars above, a thought occurred to him: Somebody really ought to write a “hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy.”

And 40 years, a radio series, a television adaptation, a “trilogy” of six books and a feature film later, Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” has continued to take the world by storm.

The “Hitchhiker’s” franchise originally began as radio series produced for the BBC, first airing on March 4, 1978. In it, Arthur Dent (Simon Jones) finds out that not only is his best friend Ford Prefect (Geoffrey McGivern) an alien “from a planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse,” but that planet Earth is scheduled for demolition to make way for a new Hyperspace Bypass.

Earth is subsequently destroyed and Ford and Arthur escape, launching the two on a marvelously absurd adventure across the cosmos, narrated by that “wholly remarkable book,” the titular “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (voiced by Peter Jones).

The first season of the radio show, known as the “Primary Phase,” was a massive success, spawning a bestselling book adaptation in 1979 and a sequel, “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe,” in 1980. A “Secondary Phase” of the radio show was produced, followed by a television miniseries in 1981.

While three more books: “Life, the Universe, and Everything,” “So Long, And Thanks For All the Fish” and “Mostly Harmless,” were written by Adams over the next 10 years, the Guide wouldn’t return to radio until after Adams’ untimely death in 2001.

In 2003, the “Tertiary Phase,” “Quandary Phase” and “Quintessential Phase” were created, which are basically full-cast audiobooks of the last three novels with very little changes made to the stories, unlike the “Primary” and “Secondary Phases,” which were written deliberately by Adams to be different from the books which they contained elements of.

The only notable change is the ending of the “Quintessential Phase.” In contrast to the ending of the book it was based on, which involved all the characters being killed off on account of Adams not being in the best of moods at the time, each of them receives more or less a happy ending.

Unlike the changes that were made to the 2005 film adaptation, this change was very well received. Adams infamously regretted giving the book series such a sad ending and was planning on writing a sixth book to correct it before his death.

Enter Eoin Colfer, author of the “Artemis Fowl” series. In the late 2000s, Colfer was given permission to write said sixth book, so as to give it the proper send-off Adams wanted. This gave us “And Another Thing...,” released in 2009 for the 13th anniversary, to mixed reception.

In October 2017, it was announced that Dirk Maggs, producer of the “Tertiary,” “Quandary” and “Quintessential” phases, would be producing a sixth season of the radio series, the “Hexagonal Phase,” based on Colfer’s book as well as unreleased material written by Adams before his death. 

Like the previous phases, much of the original cast will be returning: Jones will reprise his role as Arthur, McGivern as Ford, Mark Wing-Davey as the two-headed renegade President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox and Sandra Dickinson as Trillian, reprising her role from the TV series but replacing the late Susan Sheridan of the prior radio adaptations. Previously voiced by the late Peter Jones and William Franklyn, the Hitchhiker’s Guide (officially known as “The Book”) will now be voiced by John Lloyd.

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Hexagonal Phase” is set to premiere on BBC Radio 4 on March 4, 2018 to coincide with the “Primary Phase’s” 40th anniversary. According to Penguin Books, the CD release will follow on April 19.

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