TV 1981: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

Article by Chris Hallam. First published: 2017.

It was the TV version which got me first.
Yes, I know this isn’t what I’m supposed to say. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy was, first and foremost, a radio series. It was here Douglas Adams first introduced us to Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Marvin, life, the universe and everything and all the rest back in 1978. In fairness, as I was less than two years old then, I think I can be excused for not tuning in on the opening night. However, yes, I am fully aware that it was original I should have come to first, not the TV re-tread.
But, to be honest, I was never a big radio listener as a child or even now really. It was thus inevitable I’d find it on TV first, after glimpsing a tantalising extract of a sequence about Vogons on Noel Edmonds’ Telly Addicts first.
The series itself was a repeat showing. I was again (probably) too young for the original screening when I was just four in 1981, particularly as my younger brother seems to have been born virtually simultaneous to the broadcast of the first episode. I was nine years old by 1986. And while, I know, the TV version has its critics, it remains one of the greatest viewing experiences of my life.
Why?
Well, let’s begin at the beginning. The title sequence is brief but strangely brilliant. There’s just something wonderful about the use of The Eagles’ Journey of the Sorcerer. Check out the full version on You Tube. To be honest, I think the way it is used very sparingly as the theme tune to both the show on radio and TV works much better than the full-length version which to me sounds overlong and overindulgent.
Why is there an astronaut floating around in the titles when there aren’t any in the actual series? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I still like it.
Then there’s the late Peter Jones’ masterful narration. A clever trick is how the narrative of Adams’ overall story is cleverly merged with that of the contents of the book, that is The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, the book within the book. And Jones did a great job. Even Stephen Fry, a real-life friend of Adams, couldn’t really compete in the film version.

Then there’s the book itself! So marvellously realised on screen, it still looks great today, thirty-six years later. If there is anything better in existence than the Babel fish sequence, I am not aware of it. And the book. A portable digital source of information? Remind you of anything? You probably have something very similar in your pocket right now.
Then, there’s the cast. With the exception of the excellent (and still very prolific) Geoff McGivern who was replaced by the equally wonderful (but for some reason, far less prolific) David Dixon as incognito visitor from Betelgeuse Ford Prefect and the late Susan Sheridan who was replaced by Sandra Dickinson in the perhaps underwritten role of Trillian, the main cast were mostly drawn from the original radio series too. And while Martin Freeman did a reasonable job as the hapless Arthur Dent in the 2005 film version, for me, Arthur Dent will always be the exasperated but well-mannered version played by the wonderful Simon Jones.
The series is not perfect, of course. The terrible prosthetic on Zaphod Beeblebrox (played by Mark Wing-Davey, son of the late Anna Wing, best known for playing EastEnders matriarch Lou Beale) proves definitively that two heads are not always better than one.


The story also fizzles out somewhat. There was talk of a second series which never came but in truth a narrative arc was never the greatest strength of a story originally conceived as a weekly serial by an overworked twentysomething Douglas Adams.
There are other quibbles. Marvin, the paranoid android, who gave his name to a Radiohead track isn’t strictly speaking paranoid. But again, who cares?
Forty-two. So long and thanks for all the fish. Don’t panic. Life, the universe and everything. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
I would argue the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series in whatever form it takes, has injected more memorable phrases into the English language than anything else in the past fifty years.

THE WIT AND WISDOM OF DOUGLAS ADAMS (1952-2001)

“Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”

“For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.”

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”

“I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don’t know the answer.”

(On religion): “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”

“Reality is frequently inaccurate.”

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”

“I’d far rather be happy than right any day.”

“All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.”

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

“It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression, ‘As pretty as an airport.”

2000AD timeline 4: 1980

1980 (Progs: 146-192)

January (Prog 149): With Dan Dare gone and the character’s appearance now firmly established, it is to be a very good year for Judge Dredd. This prog sees his first encounter with his most famous adversary, Judge Death (John Wagner/Brian Bolland). Judge Anderson makes her first appearance in Prog 150.

February (Prog 152): Sam Slade Robo-Hunter now joined by sidekick, Hoagy returns in the epic, Day of the Droids. (Wagner/Gibson). Fiends of the Eastern Front (Finley-Day/Ezquerra) also begins in this issue.

March (Prog 155). A rare Dredd-free issue!

(Prog 156): The comic’s third birthday. The Judge Child mega-epic begins in Judge Dredd (written by John Wagner). The Angel Gang including Mean Machine make their first appearance in April (Prog 160).

June (Prog 166): Slippery Jim diGriz returns in The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World (Gosnell/Ezquerra), based on Harry Harrison’s third SSR novel. The second, The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge is never adapted in 2000AD.

Nemesis and Torquemada make their first appearances in the experimental Terror Tube in Prog 167 and Killer Watt in Progs 178-179 (Pat Mills/Kevin O’Neill). Nemesis is not actually seen in the first of these – he is inside his ship, the Blitzspear.

August (Prog 173) The price rises from 12p to 14p. (Prog 175): The VCs finishes.

September (Prog 178): 2000AD ceases to be 2000AD and Tornado. A new logo which will see the comic through most of its 1980s golden age includes the sub-title ‘Featuring Judge Dredd,’ a sign of the character’s increasingly exulted status. The cover hails him as ‘Britain’s No-1 Sci-Fi Hero!’

October (Prog 181). The Judge Child saga ends. Alan Grant joins John Wagner as a regular writer on Dredd after this. He has already written many episodes of Strontium Dog this year, having previously written the ex-Tornado strip, Blackhawk.

December (Prog 189): Abelard Snazz first appears in a Ro-Jaws’ Robo-Tale written by Alan Moore.

Other stories this year include Dash Decent (Dave Angus/Kevin O’Neill), The Mean Arena (Tom Tully/John Richardson) and Meltdown Man (Alan Hebden/Massimo Belardinelli), Return to Armageddon (Malcolm Shaw/Jesus Redondo) and Mach Zero (Steve MacManus). Blackhawk, Wolfie Smith and other ex-Tornado strips all end by September.

This year’s Sci-Fi Special features the 2000AD debut of 26-year-old writer, Alan Moore. Moore becomes a prolific writer of Futureshocks in the years ahead. His first contribution to the regular comic appears in Prog 170.

The first ever Judge Dredd annual is published (dated: 1981). As of 2020, Dan Dare, Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper are the only 2000AD characters to ever get their own annuals. 2000AD and Star Lord annuals also appear dated 1981.

Elsewhere:

May: The first – or, if you prefer fifth, – Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back is released in the UK.

August: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century debuts on UK TV. Rock Hudson stars in a TV version of The Martian Chronicles.

September: Battlestar Galactica and Metal Mickey both arrive on British TV screens.

October: Douglas Adams’ Restaurant at the End of the Universe is published.

November: Marvel UK launch Future Tense (it ends in 1981).

Doctor Who Weekly goes monthly this year. The long-running TV series is nearing the end of the Tom Baker era.

December: Flash Gordon and Superman II are released in UK cinemas.

Chris Hallam is a freelance writer. Originally from Peterborough, he now lives in Exeter with his wife. He writes for a number of magazines and websites including The Companion, Yours Retro, Best of British and Comic Scene – in which he wrote about Judge Death, The Ballad of Halo Jones, Dan Dare, The Eagle, Metalzoic and Alan Moore’s Watchmen. In the past, he wrote for Metro.co.uk, Radio Times, DVD Monthly and Geeky Monkey. He co-wrote the book, Secret Exeter (with Tim Isaac) and wrote A-Z of Exeter – People, Places, History. He also provided all the written content for the 2014 annuals for The Smurfs, Furbys and Star Wars Clone Wars as well as for sections of the 2014 South Park annual and all the 2015 Transformers annual.

2000AD timeline 2: 1978

1978 (Progs 46 – 93)

April: Judge Dredd begins his first major mega-epic as he ventures into The Cursed Earth (Prog 61). The story (which at one point leads to a threatened lawsuit over its content) is mostly written by Pat Mills with art provided by Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland.

May: A new comic, Star Lord begins. Originally planned as a monthly sci-fi alternative to 2000AD, it in fact, is released as a weekly, just like its sister comic, 2000AD, a decision which ultimately dooms it from the start.

The quality is high, however. Readers are introduced to mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha in Strontium Dog (John Wagner/Carlos Ezquerra) while Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein form part of a 21st century android international rescue service in Pat Mills’ Ro-Busters. Other stories include Timequake and (later) Mind Wars.

Star Lord’s editor is actually called Star Lord himself and is engaged in an ongoing battle with the forces of the interstellar federation. Behind the scenes, 2000AD’s editor, Kelvin Gosnell helps out. The new comic is 12p. 2000AD is 9p, rising to 10p in September (Prog 83). Other 2000AD stories this year include Dan Dare, Flesh, The Visible Man, Ant Wars and MACH Zero.

October: After 22 issues, Star Lord merges into 2000AD (Prog 86). Strontium Dog becomes one of 2000AD’s most enduring and popular stories. Ro-Busters only lasts until 1979 (largely because writer Pat Mills has lost interest) although Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein continue to reappear in the comic for decades. Hammerstein even crops up in the 1995 Dredd film.

Another Star Lord story, Timequake briefly resurfaces in 2000AD in 1979.

November: (Prog 87): Having survived The Cursed Earth, Dredd launches almost immediately into another mega-epic, The Day The Law Died in which Mega City One is taken over by he tyrannical Chief Judge Cal, who models himself on the insane Roman emperor, Caligula.

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The 2000AD annual and Sci-Fi Special are released as usual, alongside a new Dan Dare annual. Although the comic itself lasted less than six months, one Star Lord summer special (1978) and three annuals appear in the years ahead.

Elsewhere:

The first Space Invaders arcade games appear this year.

January: Blake’s 7 arrives on BBC1.

March: Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series is first aired.

UK premiere of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

May: The Incredible Hulk starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno debuts on UK TV.

June: Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds is released.

October: Omni magazine is launched. It continues until 1997.

December: Superman: The Movie starring Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman is released in UK cinemas.

Chris Hallam is a freelance writer. Originally from Peterborough, he now lives in Exeter with his wife. He writes for a number of magazines and websites including The Companion, Yours Retro, Best of British and Comic Scene – in which he wrote about Judge Death, The Ballad of Halo Jones, Dan Dare, The Eagle, Metalzoic and Alan Moore’s Watchmen. In the past, he wrote for Metro.co.uk, Radio Times, DVD Monthly and Geeky Monkey. He co-wrote the book, Secret Exeter (with Tim Isaac) and A-Z of Exeter – People, Places, History. He also provided all the written content for the 2014 annuals for The Smurfs, Furbys and Star Wars Clone Wars as well as for sections of the 2014 South Park annual and all the 2015 Transformers annual.