It’s always a pleasure to interview Dirk Maggs, the genius who brought to audio the three last Hitchhiker books written by Douglas, the two Dirk Gently books, some comic books heroes like Superman and Batman, great Neil Gaiman novels and the Alien franchise… just to name a few of his adaptations! And Dirk is so cool that he would have probably been shot by Zaphod a long time ago*! Gladly for us, Mark Wing-Davey, who plays Zaphod in the radio series, is not violent, and so we will soon have the opportunity to listen to a new Hitchhiker radio series in 2018, The Hexagonal Phase based on “And Another Thing”!
*”If there’s anything around here more important than my ego, I want it caught and shot now”
Nicolas Botti: Since 2005, you’ve been working regularly on Douglas Adams related material. We owe you already three H2G2 radio series, two Dirk Gently radio series, several versions of Hitchhiker Live (including two worldwide tours). So how and when did you decide to make the radio series adaptation of the sixth Hitchhiker novel written by Eoin Colfer?
Dirk Maggs: Back in 2009 when the novel was published it crossed my mind to offer it as a series to BBC Radio but they had already commissioned it as a reading in their ‘Book At Bedtime’ slot. A couple of years later when we were planning the tour of stage shows I offered it again (thinking it would serve to promote the tour) but the BBC turned it down. At that point I decided to concentrate on making the stage show as good as it could be.
NB: How did you work on this new adaptation? Did you talk with Colfer about the adaptation? Contrary to the previous Hitchhiker adaptations, this time the author is well alive. Did it change something for your in the way you adapted the story?
DM: I asked Eoin’s permission to incorporate material by Douglas if it fitted, and he very generously agreed. Apart from that he has trusted me with the material and he has seen the scripts and approved them.
NB: « And Another Thing… » is obviously very different from the other Hitchhiker books. How did you approach it?
DM: My adaptation really only followed one rule – to make the new series fit with the previous radio series in terms of style and content. This meant finding a little more for Arthur and Ford to do, as the book is more about Zaphod. I also tried to simplify the story a little, as AAT is a very long book and we only had six half hours to tell a story in
NB: And why did it take « And Another Thing… » seven years to Radio 4? Don’t say you were too busy, I don’t believe you.
DM: Well it has been busy with all the Neil Gaiman and Audible Alien and X-Files productions to make, and when the second tour collapsed and put me in hospital I swore I would never touch Hitchhiker’s again,… Then some years passed and the fortieth anniversary loomed. It seemed right to reconsider the idea, but this time I was determined only to do it if I could include any unpublished material by Douglas that really deserved to be out in the public eye.
NB: According to the BBC press release, you also added some unpublished Hitchhiker material. Can you tell us a little more on the subject?
DM: I asked our researcher, Kevin Jon Davies to look through the archive of Douglas’s writings at St. John’s College Cambridge to see if there was any material I could add to the story to make the series more authentic and also to bring back Marvin if possible. Kevin came back with a lot of amazing material which proved that Douglas would often leave out very funny ideas, and they fitted our scripts really well. Some of the material will only be on the Cd/downloadable version of the series, though, as there was too much to cram into the broadcast versions.
NB: This is the first radio series that will be recorded without the original Trillian, the beloved Susan Sheridan. What is your best memory of Susan?
DM: Sue would visit our house in Winchester when she was seeing a local doctor about her cancer. She was always so sweet and wise and funny and completely lacking in self-pity. My wife Lesley and I loved her very much and miss seeing her.
NB: It’s a nice touch that Sandra Dickinson, who was Trillian in TV series, takes the part in the hexagonal phase after playing Tricia McMillian in the quandary and quintessential phases
DM: I love working wth Sandra. Her comic timing is amazing, and she does a range of voices that you wouldn’t believe. I think she has never been better than in this series.
NB: Also one of the great ones missing in this Hexagonal phase is Stephen Moore, the original Marvin. But it is also a surprise to see that Marvin is back – this time played by Jim Broadbent (who played Vroomfondel in episode 4 of the original series). It’s surprising because Marvin is not part of « And another thing… » at all, is it?
DM: Well as you know I was looking for anything by Douglas we could use in this series, but I did not think we would be able to bring Marvin back. Then out of the blue Kevin found two perfect little bits of unpublished Marvin that fitted so neatly into the story that I could not leave them out.
NB: You had to change the narrator once again due to natural but nevertheless sad circumstances. John Lloyd, of course, seems a perfect choice. Was it difficult to persuade him to do the voice for the narrator (blackmail, torture threats, the whole Radio 4 budget, etc,… ?)
DM: I was thrilled that John was very keen to be Voice Of The Book – he had already done the job on both tours and the live show we performed on BBC Radio in 2014. John is very honest about how his relationship with Douglas went through good and bad times and also about how much he contributed to Hitchhiker’s, which was quite a lot in the early days. He owns his past and has done an amazing job.
NB: How was the mood in the studio? Between the new material (this time not based on something originally written by Douglas) and the dear missing ones, did the nostalgy prevail?
DM: We had to work very fast because Mark Wing-Davey (ZB) had only a couple of days in which to record his part which is very big in this new series. The mood was celebratory and there are an awful lot of out-takes as people were enjoying themselves so much in the studio. It was over all too fast.
NB: On a more personal level, are you not fed up with Douglas Adams (it’s okay, you can tell me the truth, no one will know)?
DM: I have mixed feelings about Hitchhiker’s – I love it as a piece of work, I am proud of what I have brought to it, I am grateful that Douglas asked me to become a part of it and the cast are some of the best friends I have in the business. At the same time, it has brought me into contact with people at the other end of the spectrum whose actions (or inactions) have cost me my savings, my health and my sanity. I am thrilled at the pleasure our work has brought so many people but it has not been an easy journey.
NB: There is also « The Salmon of Doubt ». At a time, you were thinking of writing an adaptation of this unfinished Dirk Gently story for the radio (before the Kim Fuller episode almost everyone has probably forgotten about). Any chance that it will appear one day on radio or there is not enough material anyway?
NB: Will there be another Hitchhiker Live one day or it is definitely behind us?
DM: It’s in the hands of Disney Theatrical, who are very hard to persuade, mainly I think because they never came to see how good it was.
NB: Do you think that someone should write a seventh Hitchhiker book one day? And anyway, would it be a good idea?
DM: I really don’t know. I doubt it.
NB: There’s been recently two Dirk Gently TV series and a comics series (very loosely adapted on Doulas Adams books, to say the least), but of course nothing on Hitchhiker since the publication of « Another Thing.. » in 2009. Now there is your radio adaptation. Some fans think that it will be great to make a new TV series. Do you think it would be a good idea?
DM: I’m sure it will happen at some point, but if it does I hope it finds a way to cleverly use Douglas’s material as well as making up a load of other stuff.
NB: Gladly for us, you’re still very young and you still produce a lot of audio shows, recently also the two Alien stories for Audible or the Neil Gaiman adaptations for Radio 4. And I don’t even speak about your successful music career as a drummer. How do you do to remain so fashionable (and to answer a previous question yes you can send me the money by PayPal as usual)?
DM: The cheque’s in the post!