Exclusive interview with Dirk Maggs – Part 2

Published : 26th January 2005

As you all know for sure, Dirk Maggs is one of the most successful radio drama director and producer since 1988. He made a lot of acclaimed shows.

Dirk was Douglas first choice to direct a new Hitchhikers radio series. Thanks to Radio 4 and producer Above the Tittle, Dirk wrote the new scripts and directed the 6 new episodes based on Life, the Universe & Everything (broadcasted in september 04), and the eight other ones (based on So Long and Mostly Harmless) which will be broadcasted from the 3rd May 2005 on Radio 4.

Nicolas Botti – One million Internauts have listened on line to the third radio series. Did you expect such a success?

Dirk Maggs – No, it was a real surprise. Douglas would be thrilled that the new technology has been used by so many to enjoy Hitchhikers.

NB – Are you happy with public and media reactions and reviews of the Tertiary Phase?

DM – On the whole people seem to have enjoyed it, and to understand that with a 25 year gap there had to be some changes in the casting or, where the casting was the same, in the sound of the actors. There was a hard core of people who were not going to be happy with anything we did, I felt sorry for them, not for us, as this was the third series as Douglas wanted it, for better or worse.

NB – Which phase needed the most work of adaptation? Which one has been the more difficult to make for you?

DM – Well I thought Quandary and Quintessential would be the hardest work but now I know Tertiary was the toughest, because I was trying very hard not to change the book and it was tough going. These new series have needed more adaptation because they are less ‘radio friendly’, and in a strange way that has helped. So I have enjoyed them very much and I think they are more like classic Hitchhikers series as a result. But the verdict will come when people hear them so I must not predict.

NB – For the last two series, did you have just the books to deal with, or did you have some indications or bits of scripts left from Douglas?

DM – I had no written material from Douglas, except my memories of a few short conversations with him. So I have been pretty much ‘off the map’ this time.

NB – “So Long…” is very different from the other books. It is located on earth and it is some kind of love story. I think it might have been something special for you and the actors.

DM – Well you were there when we recorded some very special scenes! ‘So Long’ is very emotional and it was wonderful to hear Simon and Jane Horrocks play the Arthur and Fenchurch scenes with great tenderness. I think it is a poignant, moving story and that has translated very well.

NB – Mostly Harmless is very dark. How did you manage with that?

DM – I added jokes! No, seriously, there is a lot of very funny stuff in MOSTLY HARMLESS. Ford and Colin The Security Robot make a great double act. And Arthur on the planet Lamuella with Old Thrashbarg is very funny too. Also the scenes between The Grebulons and Tricia MacMillan worked very well, there was a lot of extra ‘business’ in those scenes.

NB – Why did you decide to make a eight part series with the last two books?

DM – That was Douglas’s idea. “They don’t need more than four episodes each”, he said. Now, of course, having written the scripts, I realise I could have done with one more episode each, but it’s too late to go back and beg him!

NB – Can you introduce us to some of the new members of the cast? I know there will be a lot of incredible guest stars in the last two series.

DM – Well there are quite a few names still under wraps but Rula Lenska makes a return visit, she isn’t exactly Lintilla but sort of an extension of Lintilla along the Probability Curve. Also Miriam Margolyes is very very funny as The Smelly Old Photocopier Woman, she and Simon had us in stitches in the studio last week! And Jane Horrocks IS Fenchurch. Kevin Davies (who has again video’d the sessions) said that he was wondering how she would work in the role and after one scene knew she was perfect for the part, and I was happy to agree with him!

NB – Are you afraid of the fact that the broadcasting of the last radio series is going to begin just three days before h2g2 movie release?

DM – I welcome the film and the last two radio series coinciding, because we are creating different, complementary realities for Hitchhikers and Douglas wanted both these projects to happen. It’s dreadful that he isn’t here but wherever he is on the Probability Curve, he will be happy about the coincidence. In fact it’s a very Douglassy sort of coincidence.
The film crew and cast are very nice and very talented people and it’ll be a smashing movie. The radio cast and crew are also smashing, dedicated, and creative (and don’t forget audio is THE visual medium), and the great thing is that after the film has told the first two hours of the Hitchhikers story, these two new radio series will tell the final four hours, complete with the original cast (relatively ageless in sound), and thus we will be completing a twenty-six part saga on a tenth of the average movie’s publicity budget. And, after the film is a month old and all the fans have seen it many times, they will still be able to come and get new episodes of the story from us. People whole love Douglas’s work will be the winners on both counts, and that seems to me the best result of all.

NB – When I came to see you at the Soundhouse Studios, I was quite impressed to see that everyone seem very happy to be here. Is it always like this or was I very lucky?

DM – There is a lot of tension when you have to record 30 minutes of top quality material every day. Not just record the actors saying the lines but make sure that every nuance of ever phrase tells the story and explains their characters’ motives. All this and adding in ‘live’ ambitious effects like Flying Robots or indeed, in the case of Marvin, dying robots! It can be very stressful but although there were a couple of occasions where tempers got a little frayed, 99 per cent of the time we have had a ball. And look at the privilege of working on Hitchhikers. We know how lucky we are, we do not take it for granted. I think Simon Jones has a lot to do with the actors being cheerful. He is so warm and approachable and such a professional it is an honour and a pleasure to work with him. Also I must mention The Soundhouse. Paul Deeley and Phil Horne run the friendliest studio in London – with the best coffee! And the ‘front of house’ staff there had to put up with a lot, with so many actors and so on, and they did it with good grace and a smile – thank you Julie, Freddie, Ros and Hayley, you kept us smiling too!

NB – Which are your best memories of the new series recordings? And the worse ones?

DM – Best memory … the ‘extra special ending’ had a moment that made everyone get out their kleenex … Worst memory … the knowledge that this was our only chance to get it right, and having the clock ticking on every minute of a packed day …

NB – Now that the recordings are over, you have a lot of work with Paul Deeley. What do your typical day look like now? When will you have finished the post production of the new series?

DM – My typical day is 10 hours in front of a Macintosh voice editing then track laying, then doing the stereo mixes. In April I go back in the studio with Deeley to do the Dolby mixes and he will tell me off for all the technical short cuts I have taken in the edit!

NB – Will you make again some specially extended episodes for the CDs like you did with the tertiary phase?

DM – Absolutely. There is A LOT of extra material on these new phases!

NB –
Can we still expect and audio DVD for this summer?

DM – It will definitely happen, dates I am not so sure about …

NB – So no more Hitchhiker’s radio series now? You wrote some new stuff for the new series. Do you think someone could write a new Hitchhikers radio series?

DM – Well it won’t be me. Not without Douglas here. For me, the saga is complete, the circle is closed.

NB – And Dirk Gently? It could be a great radio series…

DM – Well that’s a thought isn’t it …

NB – Do you know which will be your next project after Hitchhikers?

DM – I hope to be directing something in the theatre this summer. It will make a nice change! No post-production! Human Beings to talk to, not computers!

NB – Do you think there is still a future for radio drama or do you plan soon to direct movies and become the next Spielberg ?

DM – Everybody wants to direct movies and I thought I wanted to as well. Then I realised that I was getting to make movies in people’s heads, with top name actors and where the special effects are only limited by imagination, not by technology. That is what is so great about radio drama and audio theater. I have no idea if it can survive but I guess that for as long as people have to drive long distances or do the ironing they will want to lose themselves in a story where the pictures are projected on the screen inside their heads. I get depressed sometimes that we do this on relatively tiny budgets and are always swamped by the publicity of the big movies (don’t forget I have worked parallel to movies before, not just Hitchhikers but Batman, Spider-Man, Judge Dredd and Independence Day UK). But in the end the experience has been worthwhile because great audio touches people inside, and leaves an impression that’s hard to erase. So I consider myself very lucky. At the same time, I never forget that we’re put on this planet to learn, and I never turn down a job if it’s a learning opportunity. So – despite the previous sentence – Never say Never!

> For more informations about Dirk Maggs :

A great website about Dirk Maggs by Dave Williams – www.dirkmaggs.dswilliams.co.uk

Geggs’ fine entry about Dirk Maggs on H2G2 website – www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/alabaster/A2055223