The “Tertiary Phase” (H2G2 radio series) Wrap Party Report by Kevin Davies
Published the 18th September 2004
The multi-windowed offices of the independent radio production company, Above The Title Limited, are reached by climbing an open iron fire escape at the far end of a cobbled mews in London’s trendy Primrose Hill. As I reached their doorway on the second floor level, the dulcet tones of William Franklyn, new voice of ‘The Guide’, floated out on the warm evening breeze. It was 5pm on Thursday 2nd September 2004, and I was unfashionably bang on time for a modest little informal soiree to celebrate the completion and forthcoming broadcast of ‘The Tertiary Phase’ series of ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’. Back to its original medium for the first time in nearly 25 years.
I was welcomed into the airy office by production assistants Jo and Ruth, who were still preparing the drinks and finger buffet for the handful of early birds. I shook hands with Ken Humphrey, the skilful sound effects man who spent much of last November’s recording sessions rattling crockery, rustling Arthur’s dressing gown or marching a speaker on a stick around in circles, simulating the audio dynamics of Marvin’s depressing life in the Squornshellous swamp. Ken is an enthusiastic supply teacher in between bouts of radio work, and we exchanged stories about the precarious nature of the life of a freelance. He asked how my video documentary about the making of the show was progressing, and I told him I was hoping to find out that evening!
William Franklyn’s calm narration and other far more alarming soundbites from the new radio show continued to burst forth from speakers dotted around the office, as the series director, Dirk Maggs, struggled to set up the brand new sound system the producer, Bruce Hyman, had just purchased. It seems the equipment Bruce had bought was really intended for Dolby Pro-Logic, whereas the playout we’d all come to hear was to be delivered in Dolby 5.1 surround sound. Dirk was doing his best to alter the configuration, and was relieved when his regular sound mixer and all-round techno-wiz, Paul Deeley, arrived to help. Deeley had brought with him the actual discs we were about to listen to, freshly burned that afternoon on his Mac at his own company, The Soundhouse, in Shepherd’s Bush.
Co-Producer Helen Chattwell seemed far more relaxed than I remembered her from the recording sessions, and was supervising the opening of wine bottles. I asked after her boyfriend, the talented actor Dominic Hawksley, who plays a variety of roles in the series, including Trillian’s would-be suitor, Thor, the Thunder God, at the Flying Party in the terrific fourth episode. It’s been a long-distance affair, with Helen visiting Dominic regularly in New York, and she was now looking forward to his permanent move to Britain in the near future.
Bruce Hyman, head honcho of Above The Title, suddenly emerged from his glass-walled inner sanctum, welcomed us warmly and revealed some good news regarding the long-mooted Audio DVD of the series and the proposed video extras I’ve been waiting eagerly to begin assembling. It appears he has been negotiating with both the BBC and Disney (who control the forthcoming movie rights) and plans are now progressing nicely. Dirk also confirmed I’d be hearing from them shortly, as all the complex legal hassles had finally been dealt with. Dirk was at long last about to start work on adapting the final two books in the series and casting the many new roles.
Bruce had recently passed his bar exam as a mature student, and proudly showed us his graduation photo on the Mac in his office. It was he and his barrister friend, Jane Belson (the author Douglas Adams’ widow), who had taken on the Disney lawyers and, against all odds, won the rights to make the new radio series and distribute it on both CD and next year in Audio DVD.
Gradually the office began to fill with familiar faces and voices from the world of ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide’. Bruce whisked senior cast members William Franklyn and Leslie Phillips into his office to temporarily rescue their elderly eardrums from the raucous distractions of Dirk and Deeley’s on-going fine-tuning of the sound system.
The star of the show, Simon Jones, materialised in the doorway with his American wife Nancy (who used to be the New York agent for Monty Python) and their sturdy 14-year-old son, Tim. We exchanged some banter about the proximity of the Centre for Cranio-Sacral Therapy which dominated the end of the mews at the foot of the staircase we’d all just climbed. What would the Centre have made of Zaphod Beeblebrox’s double cranium, we wondered? Sadly we weren’t destined to find out, since Mark Wing-Davey (‘Zaphod’) was one cast member who was unable to attend. Stephen (‘Marvin’) Moore and Richard (‘Slarti’) Griffiths had also sent their apologies.
Eventually the prim and delightful Susan Sheridan (Trillian), the wildly bohemian Geoffrey McGivern (Ford Prefect) and the tall, smart Jane Belson, all joined the party. The series composer ‘Wix’ Wickens had arrived with Jane, and seemed highly amused by the technical problems Dirk Maggs and Paul Deeley had been experiencing. Nicky Hursell, an editor at Pan Macmillan, the publishers of ‘the Hitchhiker’s Guide’ books, was another familiar face. We had met previously, so we drew our chairs together and chatted as everyone gathered round for the main event.
After short speeches of welcome by Bruce and Dirk, and an explanation of what we were about to hear, the first Tertiarty Phase episode was premiered. The faces in the crowd spent the next half-hour laughing, smiling, sipping wine and nodding to each other as each familiar character was revealed. Many of us couldn’t resist turning to follow the sounds, which swirled from the five speakers placed all around the room. A joyous experience for all, and quite bizarre, as the CDs were spun forwards to hear clips from episode four, featuring the late author Douglas Adams himself, as Agrajag.
Jane Belson was positioned side-on to me just a few feet away, and I couldn’t help studying her reaction as her husband’s voice raged from the speakers, prophetically delivering lines about his having “a weak heart”. She showed no trace of being upset, but maybe just the hint of a sad smile that the big fellow wasn’t there to hear the finished programme himself. Perhaps that was really just me projecting my own thoughts, but I know I wasn’t the only one in the room watching her discreetly.
For the benefit of the octogenarian movie legend, Leslie Phillips, we then skipped on to the end of the series for the crucial scene in the sixth episode, where Leslie makes his presence felt as Hactar, the ghostly remains of a gigantic supercomputer. Leslie was sitting just to my left, and I got the feeling he wasn’t really following the story completely. After Slartibartfast’s line, “There is a very powerful intelligence at work”, he raised a quizzical eyebrow at me. I pointed and mouthed back at him, “that’s you!” He looked surprised and pointed to his own chest, “me?” I nodded. He seemed pleased, and grinned. I thought it better not to alert him to the other description of Hactar: “a cloud of black dust”…
The party continued, with more wine and buffet food for another hour or so. Simon Jones revealed very little about his recently shot cameo for the forthcoming ‘Hitchhiker’ movie, except to say that he had been filmed with a very special process which will apparently be well worth waiting for. Geoffrey McGivern had cut off most of his flowing locks and slimmed down his waistline considerably since we last saw him. He and William Franklyn are both self-confessed luddites, who unlike some of the cast, eschew the internet, email, and computers in general. Susan Sheridan however, has her own website.
William Franklyn’s wife Susanna, now a writer, thanked me for the VHS clips I’d sent them of her appearance in DOCTOR WHO back in 1965. She had played a Drahvin, a race of warrior women, in the William Hartnell story “Galaxy Four”. Sadly it was one of many black and white stories destroyed and therefore only a few clips now exist in the BBC library. Talking of archive, Dirk Maggs was delighted with the ‘Supercar’ documentary DVD I delivered to him that evening; a present from a friend of mine who directed it.
Nicky Hursell revealed she was handling the publication of Dirk’s scripts from both the Tertiary Phase and the final series to be recorded next January. We discussed some other publication ideas, and the inevitable impact the movie would have on the ‘Hitchhiker’ range after next summer. I then chatted with Jane Belson for a while, asking after young Polly, her daughter who is now ten. It seems Polly’s going to rival her parents in height; she’s growing fast!
As we eventually departed, looking forward to meeting again in studio next January, both cast members and crew were handed padded envelopes containing complimentary copies of the CDs. Apparently the sleeves were early versions which Above The Title had already rejected, and the BBC will be redesigning them before the October release. Much amusement followed when Dirk pointed out how valuable this made these “wrong” versions – they could already be considered as collector’s items!
The party staggered out into the warm but darkening evening and we clattered down the staircase into the cobbled mews. I found myself walking to the tube station with Susan and Geoff. Susan had left something behind and went back, but the office was locked; she was too late. I told her that in the next series she would learn never to go back for her handbag. I think, maybe, the sounds of the galaxy were still swirling in my head. Perhaps I was really travelling with Trillian and Ford? Surround sound has that effect… Or was it just the wine?
Kevin Jon Davies