Interview with Dirk Maggs
Date : 3rd October 2007
Nicolas Botti : More than two years after the broadcast of Hitchhiker’s final episode, how do you feel about the whole Hitchhiker’s adventure?
Dirk Maggs : I’m very proud that we were able to bring closure to Hitchhikers and at the same time I keep hearing bits I’d like to try again!
NB : How this new radio series project was born?
DM : The production company felt that the last three Hitchhiker Phases were so successful that they wanted to make Dirk Gently. I was not so sure it was a good idea at first because it was not conceived for radio and is not written in an easily-adaptable form. But once they had secured the rights I realised I really wanted to do it.
NB : You co-wrote the Dirk Gently first series with John Langdon. Can you tell us about John and why did you decide to write DG with someone else?
DM : Well it’s a complicated story but for a long time I was not going to write it at all, because I was not asked to. Then suddenly with four weeks to go before the series was due to be recorded, it turned out there were no finished scripts and no cast had been booked. So suddenly the whole job dropped onto my desk. I had to work very fast and John was the only person I know who was capable of handling Douglas’s material sensitively and intuitively. John Langdon was the script editor on Hitchhikers Tertiary, Quandary and Quintessential. He knew Douglas when they both worked at BBC Light Entertainment.
NB : Did you find some difficult bits to adapt to radio? We all know the story of the first book is a bit complicated. Did you introduce some new stuff ?
DM : The first book was/is the hardest of the three to adapt. It’s a book of ideas with not too much dialogue and a very complicated plot. I had to find a way to tell the story over 6 half hours and make it so that new listeners could understand if they joined at, say, Episode 4. There is a lot of material that had to be dramatised; for example scenes involving the Electric Monk, who has no dialogue in the book but was crying out to be given lines to say with an actor playing him. One or two small plot points have been changed, to avoid confusing the listener more than necessary. After all a lot of people hearing it will not have read the book.
NB : did you find some Douglas Adams indications about how to make DG radio series?
DM : No, none at all, we never spoke about it and none of his notes refer to a radio series – though there were a few pages of a movie script which I made sure to incorporate in the Episode 1 script.
NB : Douglas wrote a few pages of DG movie adaptation??? can you tell us more?? when did he write it??
DM : There are 5 pages of a script he wrote in the mid-1990s, the scene where Dirk watches Richard Macduff brerak into Susan Way’s flat. It’s just a tiny scrap, it looks as if Douglas was distracted by the need for a bath and never returned to it.
NB : If Hitchhikers was such a success it was also thanks to its cast. Was it difficult to chose the actors who will play in Dirk radio series or was there some obvious choices? Did you already work with some of them?
DM : Casting was difficult because we had very little time to find the right people and I wanted to get some new voices in. The result has been much better than I could possibly have hoped and Harry is a brilliant Dirk Gently.
NB : Which are the main differences between working on DG and working on Hitchhikers? Do you think you had more freedom than for Hitchhikers where you had to deal with quite an impressive heritage?
DM : Well Hitchhikers came with a sort of template which was a safety net but also a bit constricting. DG was a clean slate and so I consciously tried to make it more in my style, which I hope is lively and entertaining – but preserving Douglas’s genius. After all he approached me because he liked the style of my work. I hope he did not regret that!
NB : In DG, had you the temptation to create a narrator as in Hitchhikers?
DM : It was discussed but I was more and more convinced that it would be too much like Hitchhikers, also that it would hold up the action – and, very importantly – would the narrator know what was happening or not? If he/she does then the danger is of creating an annoying character who might as well tell you what has happened and save you three hours’ listening!
NB : If my memory is right, the production/technical staff for DG is quite similar to the one who worked on Hitchhikers. Helen Chattwell is here again, as Paul Deeley (recordings) and Alison Mackenzie (live sound effects). Phil Pope who wrote the Krikkit song is also back and wrote the music. The recordings took also place at the Soundhouse in London.
DM : It’s because of the great coffee at The Soundhouse, what other reason could there be? Actually Alison is ‘new’ to the Douglas Adams Gang (although she is an old friend from my BBC days), as our dear pal Ken Humphrey was teaching and couldn’t get time off to come and make the noises for us.
NB : I imagine the mood during the recordings of DG was quite different from the Hitchhiker’s recording sessions, because there is not the weight of the past. Which are your main memories of DG recordings?
DG : Too much material to record in too little time!!! And going to find where all the actors were and finding them showing each other their houses on Google Earth!
NB : The fans were very surprised to discover that you will also adapt Dirk Gently’s third and unfinished novel. Was it a difficult decision?
DM : Well the production company pitched three series to the BBC, who bought the idea, so it’s a gamble. But I have Douglas’s files and notes and I’m very certain that Series Three will work as well as Series 1 and 2.
NB : Will Salmon of Doubt be a six part radio series too. How much of new stuff had you to write? How did you solve the main narrative problems?
DM : Yes it will be 6 parts and I’m hoping not to write more than I have to to join the dots of the picture Douglas was planning.
NB : what kind of indications you found? Did douglas wrote a resumé of where he wanted to go with the storyline?
DM : There are at least 5 different storylines that Douglas plays with for ‘Salmon’, all unifinshed. But there are many notes which could be used to plug the gaps and suggest an ending. The rest is up to me.
NB : What is the schedule (recordings, transmission dates,…) for the second and third series? And when the audiobooks will be published?
DM : Series 2 – Autumn 2008, Series 3 Autumn 2009, CD versions – Series 1 – November 2007, etc. etc.
NB : Only the third series of Hitchhikers as been published as a DVD audio. Why?
DM : I think it was released too late to get enough sales to give the publishers confidence they could break even. Economics affected by poor timing. I’m very frustrated about it, but all we can do is move on. There’s lots more fun to come.