It’s something of a surprise to come across what you imagine to be an old, familiar friend and discover that you have misremembered. I had expected to tune in to Radio 4 Extra’s broadcast of the first-ever episode of old friend The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and find myself surrounded by familiar jokes told in a familiar way. Pleasing, rewarding, but not necessarily surprising. As it was, things were rather different. I must have been listening on a Thursday.
I grew up in a house that loved Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. We had all four books of the trilogy. We had the audiobooks of the final two books of that trilogy. We recorded all six episodes off the TV. We also had what I thought were the original radio recordings. You see, I knew, even before wikipedia replaced the Encyclopaedia Britannica as the standard repository of knowledge (well, it is cheaper), that it had all started on the radio and here we had a very obvious audio drama in cassette form. It was that that I assumed I was about to hear on Radio 4 Extra. I was wrong.
What I had, it appears, was a double disc recording of the second iteration of Hitchhikers. One created for the stage and then recorded and sold. Many of the lines and jokes are the same but the pacing, editing, intonation and, in some cases, the meaning are different.
All of which is a very long way of saying: well, this is nice. I get to listen to something that is both comfortingly familiar and satisfyingly different. So there’s just one question left: after 36 years, is it any good?
Well, of course it is. What’s striking, trying to listen to the radio series ‘as new’, is how quickly we’re into a world of Vogons, gargleblasters and babelfish. There’s really not a huge amount of time given to exposition beyond the famous face-off between Arthur Dent and the men who would knock down his house to make way for a bypass. Towels are not mentioned but you can buy six pints and get significant change from a fiver. The ideas and dialogue are startlingly clever and, crucially, remain funny and true. Vocal styles may have dated, even the idea of hitchhiking is a little passée, but we’re dealing with universal fundamentals here and they don’t move much in so little galactic time.
Apparently this hasn’t been heard anywhere for over ten years. Given how often other shows get repeated this seems a little bizarre. Hopefully we’re going to get the full set on this run through and then hopefully we won’t have to wait so long to hear it all again.
Or, like me: hear it again whilst hearing it for the first time.