The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has existed in many versions. Radio series, vinyl albums, novels, a television series, a computer game, comic books, a film, and so on. And none of those versions are exactly the same. Some, in fact, are quite different!
Not all changes are good. Even knowing Adams himself wrote it, many people are not fans of the 2005 film’s Humma Kavula subplot. But some changes are more widely embraced. The same film, for instance, gave us the fabulous song that shares a title with the fourth novel in the trilogy, So Long and Thans for All the Fish.
Recently, I’ve had some longer commutes. I’ve been taking the opportunity to re-listen to the radio version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This is what inspired my previous article about actors in the series (of which one of the ones who played a major role in the series then had to go and sadly pass away the next day). And now, having just finished up series two (the last of the classic series, before they finally came back over two decades later in 2004 and finished things off) I find myself reflecting on some of the iconic things in the series that were actually not present in the beginning, and were amongst the things added in later versions.
This scene headed up my previous article, because of the actor involved with the scene. So we’ll start with this one again, here. Perhaps not the most iconic of scenes, but definitely a memorable one! This scene was absent from the radio program, making its first appearance in the novel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
The original radio program had a very different series of events between when they left Milliways and when Ford and Arthur ended up on Ship B of the Golgafrinchan Arc Fleet. In the book and the TV series, Ford meets a late friend of his, Hotblack Desiato (spending a year dead for tax reasons), and the black ship our heroes later steal is revealed to be a stunt ship for Desiato’s band Disaster Area, destined to be intentionally crashed into a sun for the climax of a show. Our heroes attempt to escape, but Arthur and Ford become separated from everyone else in the process.
The equivelent series of events happens in Fits the Fifth and Sixth (episodes 5 and 6) of the original radio program, which are the only episodes of the original two series in which Adams did not have sole writing credit. He shared it with John Lloyd, with whom he also wrote the ficticious dictionary The Meaning of Liff. Many speculate that the Hotblack Desiato / Disasterr Area sequence was created to replace the materal Lloyd ccontributed so that Adams wouldn’t have to share the writing credit on the novel adaptation.
So what did this new material replace? There was still an all black ship that was stolen, but it turned out to belong to an Admiral of a space fleet on its way to wage terrible interstellar war. And the Admiral was not happy to find interlopers on his ship. Belonging to a species called the Hagunemnon who were a fast evolving species, the Admiral suddenly evolved to take the form of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal. Ford and Arthur still escaped, but everyone else — Zaphod, Trillian, and Marvin — were left behind. Not only left behind, but eaten!
One great sequence early on in the story involves Arthur lying in front of a bulldozer to prevent the unexpected demolition of his house. Ford then apears and is quite anxious to have a talk and a drink with Arthur. But Arthur is, understandably, rather reluctant to move. It is only thanks to a briliant display of circular logic that Ford is able to convince Prosser (the foreman of the construction crew) to let Arthur nip off for a quick drink, and not to demolish his house while he’s away, that gets Arthur to go along with him.
This version of events was only first introduced when The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was written as a novel. So what happened in versions prior? The vinyl album omits this bit entirely, just having Ford plead with Arthur, browbeating him until he agreed to go along. As for the original radio version, in this telling of the tale, Prosser did in fact make this agreement. (Spoiler for any version: he doesn’t honour it!) But it was not Ford who spun the absurd circular logic to convince him. It was Arthur!
Frankly, it always felt more in character to me coming from Ford. So this is definitely one change I thought was for the better. (Although I may be biased, as the novels were my first introduction to Hitchhiker’s.)
Arthur Dent spent years traveling all across the galaxy, roughing it, toughing it, and even spending a number of those years trapped on per-historic Earth. And the one constant that remained with him through all of this time was his dressing gown. (Or robe, for my fellow American readers less versed in the British vernacular.) It wasn’t until the beginning of the fourth novel, when he finally found a way back to a modern version of Earth, that the poor man was also able to find a change of clothes.
But this was not always the plan! While there is nothing to contradict this as truth (and, in fact, it was later made so for both these versions of the tale) neither the first few series of the radio program or the first few books go out of their way to establish that Arthur never changes his apparel. In fact, the television adaptation was originally going to have a scene in which Arthur did precisely that.
This excerpt of an excerpt from the script for episode three, which can be found in Neil Gaiman’s Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, details a scene where Arthur would have acquired a new outfit.
CUT TO ANOTHER SLEEPING CUBICLE.
THIS IS ARTHUR’S.
HE IS FAST ASLEEP. HANGING UP ON ONE WALL OF HIS ROOM ARE HIS CLOTHES, I.E. HIS TROUSERS AND DRESSING GOWN. THE PANEL AGAINST WHICH THEY ARE HANGING LIGHTS UP VERY DIMLY. LINES CRISS-CROSS IT. THEY ARE MEASURING HIS CLOTHES. AFTER A FEW MOMENTS, ANOTHER SUIT OF CLOTHES MATERIALISES NEXT TO THEM. THIS IS FAIRLY CONVENTIONAL SCIENCE FICTION GEAR, PROBABLY SILVERY.
When this scene (part of a whole sequence showing the crew of the Heart of Gold at rest at night) was cut prior to filming, Arthur just remained in his dressing gown and the rest was history.
Towels are a massive part of the lore surrounding The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, to the point where 25 May is an annual holiday known as Towel Day, intended for the celebration of Douglas Adams and his works. So remember next 25th of May to keep a towel with you, so everyone can know what a hoopy frood you are!
So, how many times were towels mentioned in the first series of the Hitchhiker’s radio program? About as many times as Arthur wondered if his friend Ford Prefect might be from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse, and not from Guildford as he usually claimed. That is, to say, none at all.
All of the hullabaloo surrounding towels was first introduced into Hitchhiker’s lore with the first novel. A lot of the towel based material was then included in the second series of the Hitchhiker’s radio program.
Overall, I consider the radio program to be the definitive version of the Hitchhiker’s tale, and if I had to pick only one to recommend to someone, that would be it. But it just goes to show that every iteration, even the much maligned 2005 film, had something to add to the rich tapestry that is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and that they can all be enjoyed!