Interview with Kevin Davies, an Hitchhiker’s legend!
Published the 08th August 2004
Those who don’t really know “The Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy” and all his various versions, will maybe ignore who is Kevin Davies. So let’s go straight to the point. Kevin Davies is a legend. This man worked on TV series guide entries, and made the famous TV series making of. He worked on the infamous Rainbow stage version. He was also artistic director of the fabulous “Illustrated guide”. And now he’s working on the third radio series’ making of and hopefully a third radio series’ audio DVD! Though, he’s currently not involved directly in the movie (damn it!), he’s visited twice the Elstree studios, last time just a few weeks ago.
> H2G2 & DOUGLAS
Nicolas Botti : Before being involved directly in the h2g2 myth, you were at first a big fan. How and when did you discover Hitchhiker’s in the first place?
Kevin Davies : I had always followed the TV series DOCTOR WHO, and as a teenager made amateur DOCTOR WHO films on 8mm with another fan called Gavin French. At his house one evening, he asked if I’d mind listening to a programme on BBC Radio 4 with him. Not being a big radio fan, I agreed, reluctantly, until he explained that it was some sort of comedy sci-fi by the same guy who’d written the hilarious DOCTOR WHO adventure THE PIRATE PLANET which had just aired, and which we’d both enjoyed.
So it was that I came to encounter HITCHHIKER for the first time. It was the second repeat of the initial episode, Fit The First, in November 1978, and I was immediately hooked. From the following week I was taping the show and insisting on playing it to everyone at my art college.
NB : When did you meet Douglas for the first time? What did you think of him? And did he change a lot from the first days you knew him till his death?
KD : Literally a week or so later, I was with Gavin and another fan called Paul Mark Tams, meeting Douglas in his office at the BBC. Douglas had just been appointed script editor of DOCTOR WHO, and we scooped the first interview with him for the Doctor Who Appreciation Society fanzine, TARDIS.
To be honest I think I was invited purely on the strength of owning a new cassette recorder (my 17th birthday present, that summer). I was simply excited to be entering the DOCTOR WHO office, and of course Douglas was not yet the legend we eventually knew him to be. However, he was charming and warm and funny, and obviously very intelligent. He chain-smoked cigarettes and took phonecalls from at least three women during the interview, which made quite an impression on me. Sadly he stopped our tape each time, so I don’t know who he was setting up the dates with! The producer Graham Williams kept coming in to hurry us along, as they had work to do, but Douglas kept involving him in the conversation. I now realise that prolonging the interview was another of Douglas’ displacement activities – to avoid the script editing work in hand!
Listening to the tape nowadays I’ve noticed how quiet, reserved, almost diffident he sounds compared to later years. He became much more expressive, more expansive, with big arm gestures when he spoke. Perhaps success imbued him with greater confidence. That old tape from 1978 is full of ums and ahs, and pauses, as he searches for the right words. I think that later on Douglas was so practiced at being interviewed he would deliver anecdotes and sound-bites with consummate ease, and usually a winning smile.
The funniest thing on the tape in retrospect, is when he speaks so dismissively of the first Hitchhiker’s novel: “I’m doing a book version for Pan Books, which is going to be out, sort of…late next year…assuming I manage to finish the bloody thing…!”
NB : When did you see Douglas for the last time? How did you learn about his death?
KD : I saw Douglas on and off over the next 20 years, almost to the day. In late November 1998 he was a guest speaker at the annual Public AWareness of Science (PAWS) Drama Awards ceremony, where I too had been a guest speaker the year before. He gave a version of his “sentient puddle” speech, off the cuff, sans microphone, wandering up and down the stage and really communicating with us, his audience. When he came off the stage he was mobbed by attendees, so I thought I’d leave him to it and meet him upstairs later at the evening soiree. However, he skipped the party and went home, and that was the last time I ever saw him. He emigrated to California the following year.
I had a spell of bad luck over the next period; not a lot of work, and got quite depressed, frankly. Then one Saturday morning a friend phoned and asked if I heard the awful news. The shock of hearing that Douglas had died, in May 2001, kind of brought me to my senses. I thought about his wife Jane and his little girl Polly, and compared it to my own situation. My wife Elaine and some close friends urged me to do something to mark his passing.
So, on the Monday morning I got in touch with the Sci-Fi Channel London office, where I had worked a few years earlier, and offered to make them an obituary piece for their GLIMPSE strand. I used clips from all the interviews I had shot with Douglas over the years, including the one in the Sci-Fi Channel archive. Adding the end caption: “Douglas Adams 1952-2001,” brought tears to my eyes, yet it was also cathartic. That little 2-minute tribute brought me back into the programme-making game after quite a gap.
Bizarrely, the BBC DVD of the Hitchhiker’s TV series was green-lit at that point too, and so I found myself preparing extra items for that. The DON’T PANIC – COLOUR SUPPLEMENT item included the cast talking about Douglas and his restaurant trips on location, by way of another tribute.
Most of my favourite work memories over the years involve Douglas in some way, directly or indirectly through Hitchhiker’s. With the Tertiary Phase documentary, it still goes on – so I have a lot to thank him for.
> THE RAINBOW THEATRE PRODUCTION
NB : You first got in touch professionally with Hitchhiker’s when you worked for the Rainbow Theatre’s doomed production . What did you do exactly, and which are your memories of that luxury gigantic production?
KD : Actually, I first worked professionally on HITCHHIKER’S on the TV pilot episode, which we’ll come to in a moment. I took a two-week sabbatical from the animation company after that to work on the Rainbow stage show.
The TV pilot was in the can when BBC bosses decided they wanted to hear it with an audience laughter track. It was recorded during the pilot screening at the National Film Theatre in July 1980. Two days earlier I had been handing out the screening invitations to sci-fi fans at the infamous One Tun pub in Farringdon, when I met a man who was also handing out flyers – for the Rainbow stage show. It was the first we’d all heard of the play, yet it was due to open in less than two weeks! He said he had come there hoping to find people who could make monster masks – they needed Vogons – and quickly!
I was hired on the spot, along with my college pal Jonathan Saville, who made the electronic thumb and other props. Our friend Susan Moore, who later made monsters for DOCTOR WHO, joined us later that week, when I realised I’d bitten off more than I could chew. She painted the Vogon masks I’d sculpted, and made some alien-looking fruit for Milliways. Jonathan made a pair of big green Vogon buttocks, which we operated together during the first week of performances. It used to poke through a hatch in the scenery, and shit all over the Dentrassi’s clothes on the washing line. Disgusting and hilarious!
I sculpted the first ever “Dish of the Day” mask at the Rainbow. The scene was of brand new material provided by Douglas, two days before the play opened, but it made us all laugh. In retrospect I think he may have already used the script in the recording for the vinyl LP of RESTAURANT, but that had yet to be released, so its first actual public use was at The Rainbow.
The description in the script said, “A large dairy animal approaches the table”. I asked the director Ken Campbell if it could be a pig, since I didn’t have enough clay to make a cow mask! Later that year it was a pig again in the TV version, but I don’t know why. It’s referred to by name as an Amiglion Major Cow in the dialogue, of course.
With only a day or two to go, it was a bit of a panic. I worked overnight sculpting and moulding the mask for Mike Cule to wear. Around 3am I took a break and sat in the enormous empty 3,000-seat auditorium while the guys from Los Angeles were setting up the laser effects. My enduring memory is falling asleep under a flickering silent laser light show, for which I was the only audience. Very hippy trippy. There were a lot of drugs consumed backstage.
The show went on, and the first night lasted over three hours! They cut it back, but the audiences dwindled over the two weeks. I gather by the end they were playing to almost empty houses, but I’d returned to my usual job by then, so I never saw the more tragic aspects. At least I managed to persuade Alan Bell, the TV series producer/director, to come and see it. He left at the interval apparently, but not before noting the great performances of David Learner as Marvin and Mike Cule as, well, 12 parts in all, including the Vogon Captain, Deep Thought, B-Ark Captain in the bath, voice of the whale, and one of the mice! Alan hired the pair of them later.
I still have a VHS recording I made of the first Saturday night performance. It still makes me laugh when the Golgafrinchams talk about burning down all the forests, and the palm tress quake with fear before shuffling off into the wings. They then return for the curtain call! Very silly.
> THE BBC TV SERIES
NB : At the beginning of 1980, when the tv series was seriously considered by the BBC, you worked for Pearce Studios. You met the then upcoming director Alan JW Bell and you played a part in getting the deal of the TV series graphics for Pearce. How did this first meeting with Alan and Douglas happen?
KD : I started my first full-time job, aged 18, on Monday 19 November 1979, at Pearce Studios, a small animation company in Hanwell, West London. There were only six staff including the secretary and myself. I was taken on to do Letraset transfer title captions – no computers in those days! My boss Rod Lord and his colleagues liked to work with back-lit “liths” – high contrast contact-negatives made from black ink drawings or lettering. I was processing something in the darkroom on Friday, 11th January 1980, when I heard the sound of R2D2 bleeping up the corridor…
Pearce Studios shared the building with some BBC film cutting rooms, and that’s where the noise was coming from. As a sci-fi fan I was very curious – what was the Star Wars robot doing in a BBC programme? I nervously peeped into the room and met the gaze of the director of a sequence for JIM’LL FIX IT – a lucky youngster had won the chance to visit the set of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. The director turned out to be Alan J.W. Bell, who had just been given the job of producing and directing the TV version of HITCHHIKER.
I introduced Alan to Rod Lord, and he returned eleven days later with scripts and a firm offer. After we’d been checked out by the BBC Graphics Department, we were commissioned to shoot the first half of the Babel Fish sequence as a test. A few weeks later Alan brought Douglas to the studio to see the results. I wasn’t in that morning, but by all accounts they were both very happy with what they saw, and left us alone for much of the series. Rod Lord and Douglas Adams only ever met two or three times, but Douglas forever remained a staunch advocate of his contribution to the series.
NB : Douglas was very angry with Alan JW Bell. Do you think Alan JW Bell was a “casting error”?
KD : Oh, this is a difficult one for me. Rod and I liked both of them very much, but they were like chalk and cheese; different backgrounds, education, and ages. Alan placed enormous trust in Rod and allowed us a lot of freedom in the animation content. Also, we were an outside company, so didn’t have to deal with internal BBC politics. Alan was quite unpopular with some of his team, and of course famously with Douglas. The principal cast adored Douglas, which also drove a wedge between them. Alan is still resentful that he was rarely invited to their little restaurant jaunts on location.
Some of Douglas’s ideas were pretty bizarre, and I think he resented Alan putting the brake on occasionally. For instance, Alan wasn’t going to have people dressed in pantomime mouse costumes, as Douglas had suggested. The good thing about Alan was his dogged determination to achieve certain special effects, rejecting shots that weren’t quite right. He overspent massively on the pilot, trying to get the best from Jim Francis and his visual effects team, who also liked Alan. Geoffrey Perkins has said that Douglas needed a strong producer. I think Alan’s strength was in seeing the thing through to completion, despite everything the BBC and a certain production team members threw at him. I found the costume designer particularly confrontational.
I wonder what would the TV series would have been like if John Lloyd or Geoffrey Perkins had been allowed to run the show? It may have been less staid; more rough and ready, more daring, like THE YOUNG ONES, perhaps? John Lloyd may have wrought more laughs from the dialogue – which was one criticism levelled at Alan – that he cared more about the effects than the comedy. Perkins and Lloyd would have been more hands-on, so we probably wouldn’t have had quite as much artistic freedom with the animation. I think perhaps I’m too close to the show to judge clearly. The TV series meant a lot to me at the time, still does, and 1980 is still my favourite year in the business, ever!
NB : Do you think that the TV series had finally a rather positive or negative effect on h2g2 myth?
KD : Neither. Hitchhiker’s is big enough to outlive any one flawed version.
I’m sad when people dismiss it out of hand. I noticed in Karey Kirkpatrick’s online interview that he didn’t watch the TV version during his research. He might have enjoyed some of it – our animation, for instance, might have given him a different take on how to handle the narrator or Guide-entry parts. I hope he catches up with it eventually, and would love to know what he makes of it.
The radio series is the original and best version of Hitchhiker’s, and long may that continue. The TV series was one passing phase, the albums and stage shows another. The movie will be a whole new beginning for this century. But on a galactic scale, one day in the far future, I expect there will be versions of Hitchhiker in mediums we can barely dream of. By then, even the forthcoming movie will be considered archaic by comparison. With no visuals weighing them down, I think the various radio series and the novels will live on forever.
NB : One of the good things that people still like about the TV series are the actors and the guide graphics. Are you proud of the work Pearce Studios made? How was it made? NOT by computer I know!
KD : The actors were terrific – and such nice people off camera, too. I’m very proud of my part in the TV graphics, of course. It’s gratifying that people still remember them and like them, even if they didn’t rate the rest of the TV series. Can’t blame them if they found Zaphod’s other head off-putting.
As for how the graphics were achieved – “by hand” – is the short answer. There were no computer graphics employed at all, since no computer was available at that time to achieve what was required, either in the timescale or for the money! Ink drawings and letraset transfers were made on animation cels, then turned into large high-contrast contact-negatives or “liths”. These were back-lit with coloured gels under a film rostrum camera, giving that glowing effect, as if seen on some kind of monitor screen. The typography running-in was achieved by uncovering the letters with bits of black card, letter by letter. It took many hours to create even a few seconds of screen time.
For a full description, may I refer you to my documentary, THE MAKING OF THE HITCH HIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY on the BBC DVD…
> THE TV SERIES MAKING OF
NB : In 1992, you persuaded the BBC to publish a making of about ten years after the tv series? Why so late and how did you manage to persuade the BBC to finally make something? And why was it then only available in video?
KD : Alan Bell had allowed me amazing access to the rehearsals, studio, dubbing and visual effects departments with a very heavy “portable” VHS kit I’d borrowed from a friend. The problem was, I had no money or technology to edit the thing properly, so the tapes lingered on the shelf for the next 12 years…
The composer Mark Ayres is a friend and colleague from the DOCTOR WHO side of my life. In early 1992 he heard through the grapevine that BBC Video were finally about to release the TV series on VHS. He suggested I tell them about all my behind the scenes footage I’d shot on VHS during the 1980 production period. BBC Video were interested enough to ask for a sample tape, even though it was probably too late to include a documentary on the VHS release. When they heard I had hours of the stuff, they eventually commissioned an hour-long special to be released on VHS in 1993. This marked my professional debut as a director.
Douglas Adams allowed me free rein to write for his characters. The script interwove new scenes of Arthur Dent arriving home after 12 years to find his house still standing, and a humorous documentary detailing the creation of the series. The shoot at the original house location was a day to remember. Simon Jones got a cheer when he emerged as Arthur in his toupee and original dressing gown. Alan Bell made us all laugh when he declared on camera that Zaphod’s other head was rubbish. Mike Cule, dressed as a Vogon, managed to sit on and break a sofa, like the back of a Vogsphere gazelle.
I had worked on WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT in 1987/88 and was still working with much the same colleagues in TV commercials by 1992, blending animation with live action via digital compositing. Many of these people contributed to making my directorial debut something special. Top animators produced a toon Babel Fish, which pops out of Arthur’s ear to explain how low-tech the original series’ graphics were. Sean Broughton and his colleagues at Rushes, a top London post production facility, did all the digital work, with motion-controlled spaceships, graphic photo biogs, the erasure of the Earth, and even a morph effect, which was all the rage in those days.
NB : The Making Of… did well on video on its own, but it has been included in the tv series DVD plus some unseen footage. How did this DVD thing happen for you?
KD : The DVD was commissioned after much campaigning by myself and the team who make the DOCTOR WHO DVDs for the BBC. When Douglas died in 2001 it had been on the cards for some time, but it was suddenly green-lit. Paul Vanezis, a DOCTOR WHO fan who works as an editor and director at BBC Pebble Mill in Birmingham, was in charge of the project. I went to stay with him while we put together all the juicy titbits we could find. It was great to see the MAKING OF get a proper airing after a duplication error caused problems for the original VHS release. To this day it’s never been broadcast though, much to my disappointment.
One element of the DVD that turned out to be more work than I expected, were the optional on-screen production notes. If you select them, they give you a running account, scene by scene, of how the six episodes were made, who the actors were, where you’d seen them before, and what to watch for at any given moment. I enjoyed researching those, but they took ages to write, timing the wording to fit the flow of the video. I’m thinking of turning those notes into a book. Talking of books…
> THE ILLUSTRATED HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY
NB : The illustrated guide was first an idea from Douglas, fascinated by the possibiies of graphics made with computer, and he told you about it. You finally got the work of art director. How did it happen, how was it made?
KD : I got a call out of the blue in summer 1993 from the editor Emma Way, saying that Douglas had suggested me as illustrator of the novel. I was hugely flattered, but a bit scared. I’m no illustrator. I got into animation to keep my drawings on the go – on the principal nobody can hit a moving target! I had been to art college for two years, instead of staying at school for sixth form. I went straight into animation work at 18, after a Pre-Foundation and a Foundation course. I never took a degree, and my life drawing skills are pretty poor.
So, I went to the first meeting hoping to sell them on the idea of doing the illustrations as photos, using some of the digital compositing techniques I’d learned during my time in commercials. Fortunately, this was exactly what Douglas and Emma had in mind, anyway. With the exception of Douglas’ own “42” puzzle, each and every image in that book was closely based on a pencil layout sketch by me, which Douglas and Emma had approved.
We began with Ford and Arthur thumbing a lift from the Vogons from the remains of Arthur’s house; an iconic image to sell the concept at the Frankfurt book fair that autumn. The two guys were David Dixon as Ford and a friend of mine, the sound designer and composer Alistair Lock, standing in for a rear view of Simon Jones as Arthur. The original intention was to keep some of the TV series cast, but that changed later, and the guys were replaced with unknowns.
“The movie that doesn’t move” Douglas called it. “If Hollywood made books, this is the book they’d make,” was another line he created. It was just like making a TV show or a film. We cast the roles with actors, had model spaceships and interiors built, had monsters and props sculpted or moulded. I hired lots of friends from the special effects business, including Jonathan Saville and Susan Moore from the Rainbow production.
The photographer was Michael Joseph, who found fame with his Rolling Stones “Beggars Banquet” album cover. His big thing were “orgies” as he called them – lots of people posed carefully in a single shot. He owned an enormous 7-story Victorian townhouse on Clapham Common, which is where we shot almost everything for the book. We spent days and days up to our armpits in sand and dust for alien planetscapes, and glutinous arrowroot mixtures for Vogon drool and gloop. Enormous fun.
We also shot on location occasionally. We took Ford (Tom Finnis) and Arthur (Jonathan Lermit) to the real Southend Pier one freezing day in February 1994. In the spring we shot Douglas and his agent Ed Victor as the two cops in the bar, one morning at the notorious Stringfellows nightclub. Lots of friends and colleagues posed as the aliens, and that was the closest we got to a Michael Joseph “orgy” shoot!
All the digital compositing was done by a chap called Colin Hards, who had twenty years experience as a traditional photo re-toucher, before teaching himself how to use the Dicomed computer system. Nowadays everyone can use photoshop and probably do it better; it’s amazing how technology has advanced. Colin appears in the book as the floating astronaut drinking a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. You can also spot me hamming it up as the bulldozer driver.
NB : While it’s a beautiful huge book, perfectly fit for big coffee tables, and while the pictures are great, quite original and funny, it has not been a great success. Was it too expensive, or did the fans have not the right kind of taste?
KD : The problem with the book, apart from its cover price of £25, was the silvery defraction-grating holographic cover. I hated it almost as much as the bookshops did, when they discovered how easily it was damaged in transit. They had a lot of books returned. Emma Way thought it was a great cash-in on the recent success of Madonna’s book SEX, which came sealed in silver foil.
Some fans like it. Some fans hate it. Some were shocked that we had cast a black guy as Zaphod Beeblebrox, which I thought was a way to make him more cool. Douglas thought that was his idea – but he’d forgotten I’d first suggested a black Zaphod (Lenny Henry) to him the previous year, when he’d been talking about making the movie (yet again). He’d been quite surprised initially, but agreed the seventies-style “surfer dude” blonde Zaphod seemed so old hat by that time. I understand they’ve revived the original idea somewhat for the movie though – how times change! Mind you, they’ve got a black guy, Mos Def, as Ford, and that’s okay by me.
> THE THIRD RADIO SERIES
NB : You’ve been also looking closely the third radio show directed by Dirk Maggs. You took a lot of photographs and videotaped it. Will there be a making of?
KD : Douglas’ unofficial biographer M.J. Simpson first told me there were plans to make a new radio series. He said my name had been mentioned to Dirk Maggs as someone to shoot a behind the scenes video. Dirk and I were aware of each other’s work, and hit it off straight away. After some delays and lots of discussions, I was eventually given the go-ahead by the producers Helen Chattwell and Bruce Hyman.
I think there was some understandable caution on their part about letting a “fan” loose in the studio. I reassured them I’d been doing this kind of documentary a long time and wasn’t going to interfere with the production or bother people for autographs. Amusingly, Simon Jones himself was the first to produce a pen and ask fellow cast members to sign all his scripts. The others soon followed, and even guest stars like Joanna Lumley joined in.
I’m short, but not exactly tiny, so a fly-on-the-wall I’m not. I tried to squeeze myself into every nook and cranny while they recorded the show. At times I was standing on tip-toe, holding the digi-camera at arms’ length, to cover a group of actors tightly clustered around the microphone, all pressed up against a wall. Dirk Maggs is very organic in his approach to radio (or “audio theatre” as he calls it). This makes for quite a visual spectacle with live sound effects and actors moving dynamically to and from the mic. The main problem was not to laugh out loud at some of the very funny lines and antics in the script.
I have never been part of such a warm and funny project as the week I spent in that studio last November. Everyone was pulling together, no ego problems or upstaging. Everyone expressed a love for Douglas and his text, and I think the episodes will reflect that. We were all aware that we were involved in something very special. I hope to demonstrate this in the eventual documentary.
The 6-minute behind-the-scenes trailer I edited went online in June. It’s almost a trailer for the eventual documentary too…
NB : After so many years of waiting, and regarding the sad fact that Douglas and Peter Jones are no longer with us, there must have been a strange mood in the studio, a mixture of pleasure and sadness?
KD : No real sadness – there wasn’t time to get maudlin! The regular cast had rarely met Peter Jones in the old days, as he often recorded his stuff separately, but they were well aware of his importance in the finished production. William Franklyn came to almost every read-through, even when he wasn’t needed later that day. Everyone warmed to him, and he’d been a great mate of Peter’s, so there was a strong link to the old days.
The first real pang I felt was in the control room, when Dirk unexpectedly played a bit of Douglas’ voice from the talking book version of LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING to check the pronunciation of the planet Allosimanius Syneca (Douglas actually read it wrongly, but they went with his version). The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as I heard his voice mixed with the others from the studio. For a moment it was as if Douglas were there in the studio with them… Perhaps he was, in spirit – a bittersweet moment.
Later, Dirk used the same recording for Douglas to play Agrajag opposite Simon as Arthur, which worked amazingly well. Simon, having know Douglas since college days, found that particularly odd, but he soldiered on, unfazed.
NB : Have you heard a lot of extracts of this third series? Can we all remain very enthusiastic about it after months of waiting?
KD : Yes, yes and thrice YES. We are all in for a real treat. Bruce and Helen have produced a show they can be proud of, with an amazing cast who are tight, funny and they all sparkle. The music by Wix Wickens is epic in its grandeur. Dirk and his mixing colleague Paul Deeley have surpassed themselves with their attention to detail. It sounds superb. Oh, and they’ve added something to Douglas’ voice as Agarajag, making it sound even funnier. Please believe me, you’re gonna love it.
I shot some more footage during July at the final mixing sessions for the Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound version. Each episode is, on average, 3 minutes longer than the Radio 4 version. They tell me they have yet to secure a deal for the projected AUDIO DVD release. The plan is to allow audiences to hear the show on their Surround-Sound systems, then be able to watch the video extras which I’ll be making from the hours of footage I shot.
> AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT… THE MOVIE !
NB : Have you been on the set? What do you think about these guys Hammer & Tongs? Are they worth it? You can be honest, I wont tell them!
KD : I visited Elstree with Dirk back in February when they were in pre-production. It blew our minds – this film is going to be HUGE! The art department had been in full swing for months. We saw designs and animatics, models and artwork, and we met with Nick and Garth, or “Hammer & Tongs” as they’re known. They gave us copies of their showreel DVD, which on first viewing quickly demonstrated to me why Garth has been chosen as director. Even his little student films (like one where a Parisian café table and chair act out a love story) show touches of genius.
In July, I visited the studio again, and Douglas’ former business partner and friend, Robbie Stamp, gave me the guided tour. He so loves his job, does Robbie. His description of the story was fulsome and entertaining. I can’t wait to see some of the sequences realised on film. There’s so much that’s brand new or been given a new spin, that I urge all die-hard fans to leave their preconceptions at the cinema front door. They won’t be disappointed unless they’re expecting a slavish remake of everything we’ve seen before. But what would be the point in that?
I bumped into Jonathan Saville again, for the first time in years, in the Vogon ship interior set. He was among those technicians placing Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz on his gruesome throne. 24 years earlier we’d been messing with Vogons at the Rainbow Theatre, and ten years ago for the Illustrated novel. Kind of brought everything full circle.
Then I met Martin Freeman and Mos Def in their costumes. They looked perfect together, and I finally realised that when the film is released, the torch will have been truly passed…a new era for Hitchhiker. I’m glad the new radio adaptations with the original cast will have all aired by then.
NB : Have you seen the work made by Shynola who are going to make the graphics for the Guide entries in the movie? What would be your advice to them?
KD : I’ve seen their website. I understand that their Guide graphics will be less text-based, more like international road signs; understandable in any language. That makes perfect sense. I wouldn’t dream of giving them advice, other than to enjoy themselves. I did, all those years ago, and now it’s their turn! Another baton passed.
NB : Do you think the movie will be a success? If yes or no, why?
KD : I do hope so. It’s got to be funny. It needs to appeal on all levels – to the kids in a family audience and to all the adults and die-hard fans too. The story is now quite complex, with all its new elements. The more sophisticated concepts will probably go straight over the heads of the vast majority, but that shouldn’t matter. It’s a delicate balancing act, superbly done in the two SHREK movies. It’s also going to have stiff competition next year.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Douglas’ memory’s sake. And because I’d like to direct one of the many sequels, somewhere in the far distant future…!