Don’t Panic! Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Turns 42

At 4PM on Saturday, the BritTrack celebrated the 42nd anniversary of the original radio broadcast of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (HGttG) on the track’s YouTube channel.

The panel was moderated by Rob from the BritTrack. Panelists included podcasters Rob Levy, Mike Gordon, Brian Doob, and Rox of Spazhouse, as well as fan and frequent BritTrack panelist Matthew Brewer. With towels at the ready, but not preventing the viewers from seeing them, we were off on a journey through the history of HGttG.

Most of the panel first learned of the world of HGttG through the books, but many were also early listeners of the original radio show or the BBC television show. Doob noted that in North America, most people are familiar with the books first, however in the UK and other parts of the world, the radio show is the definitive edition of the story.

Is it Science Fiction or is it Comedy?  The consensus answer is and emphatic YES!

For those who are unfamiliar with the history of HGttG, it started life as a radio show on BBC radio in March of 1978, followed by a second edition in 1980, and the BBC Television series in 1981. Douglas Adams was the primary writer for the first two series of the radio show and adapted those series of the radio show into the first book, the quintessential The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in 197. It was followed by the later books in the series such as The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe and Everything, and So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. Yes, there are a few more in the series, but the panelists generally agreed they weren’t up to the quality of the first.

HGttG is one of the early examples of the impact British humor has had on the world, and more specifically the US. When it was first introduced, the US didn’t have much in the way of radio dramas. In addition there weren’t many science fiction shows on the airwaves so there was room for an irreverent and satirical comedic science fiction show and book. Levy pointed out that HGttG has humor that is wickedly terrific. It has bureaucracy in layers, but it also plays up the everyday drag of having a job of things you have to do. It was so unlike anything else at the time. There was still room for it. Odd and weird and quirky enough to make it.

Much of the discussion centered on the success, or lack thereof, that the series has had in translating to the big screen. The humor in HGttG is subtle and satirical. It broaches dark subjects, but stays lighthearted. Doob pointed out that it is very much a condemnation of austere English society. In addition the construction of the story isn’t meant for the big screen. Arthur Dent is not your typical hero, he lets the world happen to him, he doesn’t seek out adventure. Also the pacing of the story lends itself to much downtime and wandering, which in the radio and book formats is taken care of by the narrator/guide entries.

The panel ended with the panelists discussing their dream cast for the upcoming Hulu adaptation of the series. Consensus was that they wanted to keep it British. Find a writer for the series who would keep as faithful to the original vision as possible. One suggestion was British author Jasper Fford, with some assistance from Neil Gaiman. As for the cast itself, some favorite ideas were Ian McKellan or Patrick Stewart as the narrator. Tilda Swinson was suggested as Zaphod Beeblebrox, Tom Baker as Marvin, Benedict Cumberbatch as Ford Prefect, Michael Gambon as Deep Thought, Anthony Hopkins as Slartibartfast, Jonathon Groff as Arthur Dent, and Eric Idle as the Bowl of Petunias. Other names that were mentioned were Stephen Fry, John Cleese, and Richard E Grant. No one had a suggestion for Trillian, sadly.

Whether the show runners will be faithful or get lost in the visuals, remains to be seen. Most HGttG fans, however, will be withholding judgement. Until such time, our panelists will be enjoying the world that was built in their own imaginations from the books and the radio shows.

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