TV - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

For Towel Day, the hoopy frood Susan Omand tells us how one TV series changed her life...

"Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space."

I believed them. The year had just become 1981 and I was 12. I was hooked on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and could quote swathes of dialogue word for word - I still do (sorry). Over the next few years, I got the requisite towel-with-a-quote-on, all the books in every format, the pewter figures, the vinyl records, a low-number membership card to the ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha fan club, a Zaphod Beeblebear (yes really, 2 heads and 3 arms) and far too many badges and stickers. My mum even knitted me a jumper with "Don't Panic" written in large friendly letters on the front.... and I actually wore it. I was a fan. However, this was not due to reading the books (I didn't even know at the time who Douglas Adams was), nor listening to the now iconic radio series. I was introduced to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by the short-lived BBC2 TV series.

The story starts with Arthur Dent standing in his dressing gown shouting at a man in a bulldozer who wants to demolish his house to make way for a new bypass. He is taken to the pub to calm down by his friend Ford Prefect who explains that there are slightly bigger problems afoot since the Vogon constructor fleet has just arrived in the Earth's atmosphere to destroy the planet and make way for a new inter-stellar bypass. Ford goes on to explain that he is not in fact from Guildford but from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse, sent to Earth to update its entry in the reference almanac, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and, in order to get off the planet, he is going to hitch a lift with the Vogons and invites Arthur along. With nothing to lose, his house having been demolished as they went to the pub, Arthur agrees.

So begins an adventure across space, time and imagination, that begins at the end of the world and ends at the beginning. Along the way there's Vogon poetry, there's an infinite improbability starship, stolen by the 2 headed, 3 armed President of the Galaxy (and Ford's semi-cousin) Zaphod Beeblebrox, there's a girl Arthur met once at a party in Islington and there's a very paranoid android. Between them they find out about a large computer built by the Magratheans to work out the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, then an even larger computer built to work out what the question actually was, with award winning fjords designed by Slartibartfast. After a visit to Milliways, the restaurant at the end of the universe and an ill advised dive into the sun in a pre-programmed band prop ship, they eventually discover that the crew of the Golgafrinchan B Ark managed to screw everything up from the start anyway so the whole project was pointless. All this carries on with a background of narration from The Book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy itself, explaining all the locations, people, history and technical bits and basically carrying the story forward.

I really identified and connected with all six of the main characters in the show. Zaphod Beeblebrox was basically Captain Jack Sparrow with an extra head and arm and was played to great over-blown rockstar effect by Mark Wing Davey. I must admit to being a little bit in love with Zaphod when I was 12. Trillian (Sandra Dickinson) managed to turned the pretty but dumb blonde cliche on its head, being a mathematician and astro-physicist, proving to me that it was possible for women to actually be seen to be clever. Ford Prefect (David Dixon) was bright, bouncy and generally one of these annoying, always cheerful types - like Tigger. Continuing the analogy, in perfect Prefect contrast Marvin the Paranoid Android out-Eeyored Eeyore for marvellous moroseness. Arthur Dent (Simon Jones) was basically my Dad in a fictional character - grumbly, negative, but willing to try new technology as long as there was tea involved. The best thing about the show for me though was The Book. Presented as animated sequences throughout the live action of the rest of the show and voiced in calm authority and measured tones by Peter Jones, I wanted to read everything in it and learn about the Universe from it because it sounded fascinating.

Starting in January 1981 and running for only 6 episodes, this single series basically changed the way I looked at the world and made me who I am today. I found it at the right age for it to be an influence on me, as it got me into learning stuff, sparking my logical brain with mathematics and science - yes, I now know what Brownian motion is. It also fired my imagination, taught me that things don't have to be real to exist, that normal things in odd places are much more interesting and that I was allowed to explore every possibility, however improbable. It got me interested in science fiction, in computers, technology and the possibilities of the future. Through this one series I found my inner geek and learned the real question of life, the universe and everything....

"Do you know where your towel is?"

Image - IMDb