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I listened to these tapes before I ever read the books, and I must say I’m glad I did so. Douglas Adams was a great writer, but his characterisations were inconsistent to say the least; he is said to have arbitrarily swapped lines of dialogue between characters to give them all some air time, and to make the jokes work. In some cases, without the different voices of the actors to let you know who’s speaking, it would be difficult to put a name to the character.
Having said that, these tapes are otherwise absolutely amazing. Not the place to go for finely-structured plot or characters, but absolutely amazing for the use of subtle and intelligent humour throughout all the episodes, or “fits”, even to the end of the credits.
The basic concept is both incredibly simple and incredibly audacious: in the first episode, the main character’s house is unexpectedly demolished to make way for a new bypass. This however shortly fades into the background when the Earth itself is demolished, also to make way for a new bypass, though this is of course on a slightly larger scale. The main character, Arthur Dent, is saved from this destruction by his friend, an alien hitch-hiker who accidentally got stuck on the Earth fifteen years ago and adopted the name Ford Prefect because he thought it would be “nicely inconspicuous”. Arthur agrees to help Ford revise the book “The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, mainly because since his planet’s been demolished, there’s not much else for him to do. Hilarity ensues.
There are continuity flaws galore, but they’re the beautiful sort that go away if you ignore them. And Marvin the Paranoid Android, brought brilliantly to life by Stephen Moore, isn’t so much paranoid as manically depressed. You can’t be too much of a pedant in the Hitch-Hiker universe. You’d go mad. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Hitch-hiker is the sort of comedy you can listen to again and again without it losing any of what makes it so incredibly funny. In this respect, it’s a lot like Blackadder and Terry Pratchett, and most of the people I know who like one like the other two. One slightly annoying thing about the way it’s presented on the tapes is that one and a half episodes are on every side, meaning that if you’re relaxing on the other side of the room from your cassette player, you have to get up and turn the tapes over halfway through some of the episodes, if you don’t have the sort of tape player that does it for you, but that’s a small price to pay for the hours of amusement you can get out of listening to Hitch-Hiker. And once you’ve listened to it, it’s as if you’re part of a huge club of people with their own private in-jokes, like knowing the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, and understanding the psychological benefits of knowing where your towel is.
I’d definitely recommend Hitch-Hiker to anyone, and I personally like the radio series a lot better than the books (the radio plot’s better) or the TV series (the radio pictures are better). The radio series is the original incarnation of Hitch-Hiker, and so you can experience Douglas Adams' universe in the media for which it was devised and written, and in which it works best. And unlike the tapes you can get of Douglas Adams reading the books (which in my opinion are inferior anyway) you don't have to worry about abridgement; the series on the tapes is exactly the way it was on the radio, even down to the credits. And of course, Peter Jones as The Book is brilliant.
The four-cassette box containing all 12 episodes will set you back about Ł35 from WHSmith's or Waterstones, which some people may think expensive, but it's really worth every penny.
OOH OOH OOH OOH OOH On the radio last night just before "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue" the announcer said that the Tertiary Phase is going to be broadcast on BBCR4 in September! This hopefully means they've sorted out the broadcasting rights (something to do with the Hollywood film, they've been delaying playing the Tertiary Phase for months now) and we'll even get the fourth series eventually!
Now I'll put my excitement aside and explain what I'm talking about. Douglas Adams had long ago been asked to dramatise the 3rd and 4th books for the radio (just to confuse people) and the project was started, with him producing some material (and even playing a small part!) and others contributing both before and after his tragic death. All the surviving original cast members are involved, so we're FINALLY getting some more radio Hitch-hiker! So now would be a very good time to become a fan, or relive childhood Hitch-hiker memories.