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In wondrous anticipation, in anxious dread
Looking forward to and fearful of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the movie) by Camus

First of all, a short rant in the spirit of our "blue green planet" whose absurdities Douglas Adams regularly and benignly mocked and exposed in his all too few works. He would have had a ball, a cue and a pool table with this one. And some chalk. This afternoon, I saw, with some incredulity, a photo of a person on the cover of a lifestyle magazine, one named unambiguously 'Living'. To posit a Brit equivalent of the woman on the cover, this American home-making giant, think of a DNA hybrid of Trinny and Susannah (if they did carpets and curtains), spliced with Nigella Lawson. This supreme queen of the kitchen is absurdly famous in the US. The mere mention of her christian name in her native land conjures up a world of honed, honeysuckled, pot pouried good taste in the same way that the name 'Delia' (in the UK) has now been accepted into the Oxford Dictionary (a quickie meal for one is now 'doing a Delia'). The less said about Norwich City the b…

Smiling that uniquely blonde, American smile, this 'Domestic Goddess Inc.' beams at you looking every one of her 45 years except that she's a striking and almost too good to be true 63. Inside 'Living' (an unfortunate pair of words given Martha Stewart's current confined circumstances) was her article about eggs. Now there's a good reason for a cover story. But beneath her headlit dental work was the bizarre caption "Welcome home, Martha!" I racked my brains. Where had she been, this doyenne of American cuisine? On holiday? En croute? On tenterhooks? No.

In jail.

Martha Stewart had been imprisoned for five months and was detained at her prison-like home (yeah, how squalid - a millionaire's estate in Bedford, New York state) for another five. She had been found guilty of lying to the authorities concerning the selling of stocks. Money. It's always money, unless it's love. They always come out at night and in this case the day. Only in a world this bizarre can we find magazines devoted to celebrities ('Living' is her own magazine as in she owns 'it' in its entirety as a business not the fact that she buys a copy every month), celebrities who are then casually welcomed back into the superstar fold after a spell in prison as if they'd been on a spice-finding trip to Zanzibar. It's the same bloody culture that allows Jeffrey Archer to make a packet from his prison memoirs. I'm not here to debate the actual legal issues (ah, lost half my readership there, all two of 'em) but simply to point out that we live in a seriously weird world and like Adams' Wonko The Sane, it's time to consider living outside the asylum.

It seemed like I was living outside the bookshop in 1980. All I could see was some absurdly young and absurdly large nosed, tall man sitting where I hoped Douglas Adams would soon be sitting to sign copies of his astonishingly popular novelisation of his radio science-fiction comedy hit. Slarek (of all folks) was there at my introduction to the work of a man whose mind's passions would oddly parallel my own. At college, we booked out one of the LPs (oooh, history lesson; L.P. = long player, a circular piece of vinyl with grooves etched into its surface which a needle translated into sound waves) or 'the album' of the radio show. I sat. I listened. I heard the following:

"…Grunthos The Flatulent, of his poem 'Ode To A Small Lump Of Green Putty I Found In My Arm Pit One Mid-Summer Morning', four of his audience died of internal haemorrhaging."

Well, I was gone, a floor-bound seventeen year old who felt like he'd found the only man in the universe who knew how to elicit smart laughter at the absurdity of existence (quite a tall order actually). But then Douglas was six foot four and wide to (re)boot.

The queues were becoming labyrinthine, snaking as they did through Cardiff's arcades. The doors opened and the twice-absurdly man didn't move. I was 18. My hero was (gulp) 27! He was one of us! I did my usual sneaky trick at book signings, something I'd perfected when I was 14 meeting Major Pat Reid, he of the escaping Colditz fame. I commandeered a chair next to the star attraction and promptly became part of the furniture as all the fans sidled up, went "I love your work," or "Did you really build a glider?" and disappeared with an ink scrawl in a frontispiece. I wanted more. Adams shared a lot of insider stuff about the upcoming TV series of Hitchhiker's and I left Lears Bookshop that day very high on celebrity and glowing from the warmth of fame.

I did flirt with Douglas' output a little later into the '80s away from the yoke and joke of Hitchhiker's. He subsequently became very proud of a book he wrote with zoologist Mark Carwadine called Last Chance To See, a supremely entertaining discourse on the frayed edges of mankind's efforts to save certain rare species. It had been my good fortune to work on two natural history films featuring the people and places that Adams had championed. I sent him tape copies and he was kind and considerate enough to reply in kind. For many years (and this is how sad I am) I had Douglas Adams' e-mail address in my computer with (in the notes column) written "Yes, THE Douglas Adams…" It would take up another seven pages to describe our symmetry of thought when it came to Macintosh computers but I have to say that if I am deeply sad about his early demise, it's as much because of what he was capable of giving back to the world as it was his gaping Adams sized hole in the lives of his loved ones. Of all the famous people I ever met, his death is the one I mourn the most. It seemed like freeze-framing Nadia Commaneci after mere seconds on the parallel bars. Could I scream it any louder? His work was NOT done!

The flawed but fun Hitchhiker's TV show was astounding for many reasons (mostly budgetary) but not least for the extraordinary awe that my parents suddenly had to concede to me. On that magical Episode One night, I impressed them to the point of their demanding to watch Episode Two to see if I knew that one by heart too. Once a geek, always a geek. Adams had unleashed the science fiction nerd in me and it was rampant. But would Zaphod and co. ever make it to the big screen? After all, there had been radio shows, theatrical productions, books, illustrated books and towels (no mere figment of my imagination, I owned and vigorously dried myself off with one).

It's been a wait of about twenty-six years and there is but a single week to go. All I've seen is the trailer. I'm wondering whether to keep it that way. That's not true. I will be there, opening day, popcorn money in hand. But. Frankly my overwhelming ambivalence startles me. In my head, I'm holding two desperately opposing feelings. Firstly there's the fervent desire that Douglas Adam's wonderful creation reaches a wider audience (thereby making lots of people happy and rich, ahem) while simultaneously successfully re-inventing his spectacularly mutative radio show. Sparring with that thought with knuckle dusters on Dust-Con 4, is the idea that the essence of what literally made me fall off my chair in 1979 may be completely and utterly crushed under the soulless sole of the Hollywood bottom line.

It's not as if it's never happened before. It happened last month with Constantine. But to many Brits, Adams' Opus is as sacred as world history and the latter has a tendency to be rewritten by those with the deepest pockets. Thank God for Tom Hanks on the D-Day beaches and Matthew McConaughey in the submarine finding the Enigma machine… You know the drill. In fifty years, it'll seem like every hero is and always has been American, every food will be fast and every other nation will be on its knees in supplication or worse, subjugation. History is not only written by the winners; they make the damn movies too. And movies are so compellingly easy to believe in.

But a glimmer of hope.

It's that word 'mutative'; able to be bent, cut and twisted in and out of all sorts of shapes. The Hitchhiker's Guide has been many things. It's even been an honest to goodness towel. A movie, good or bad, will not diminish the original radio series or the superior novels that really got the Adams ball rolling. Given the very Britishness of the work, it's a shame that no one on our isle could get the movie weened and burped. During development hell, Adams described the process as trying to have a barbecue and all you did to the meat every now and again was stand next to it and breath on it. It's been painful but a process that Adams was intimately involved with. It's not as if he were the disinterested party pocketing skips of cash while sneering at the bastardisation of his original creation. Adams put himself in the trenches creatively with everyone else and I hope to "the man in the shack" that the movie works. It will be the bizarre punch-line in some sort of perverse cosmic joke the universe needed to play on him.

True Adams fans cannot possibly wonder what that remark referred to. The gentle giant biped with a nose you could double park on and a talent that a friend once remarked 'was looking for a niche' went to his local Santa Barbara gym on 11th May 2001. After a hard work out (clutching his towel) he 'stopped' (said his partner Jane Belson), fell and never regained consciousness.

May the movie be a glorious celebration of the man, a triumph of a cultural prophet over a profit-led culture and an event that proves that when it comes to a ruler of the known universe then it's Stephen Fry’s turn to bat. Knock it out of the park. Make Douglas proud.

"I seem to be having this tremendous trouble with my lifestyle…" Shine on.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (TV)

UK 1981
198 mins
Alan J.W. Bell
Alan J.W. Bell
Douglas Adams
Glenn Hyde
Mike Robotham
Bernie Leadon
production design
Andrew Howe-Davies
Tom Yardley-Jones
Peter Jones
Simon Jones
David Dixon
Sandra Dickinson
Mark Wing-Davey
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (feature)

UK 2005
110 mins
Garth Jennings
Gary Barber
Roger Bimbaum
Jonathan Glickman
Nick Goldsmith
Jay Roach
Douglas Adams
Karey Kirkpatrick
Niven Howie
Bernie Leadon
production design
Joel Collins
Martin Freeman
Sam Rockwell
Mos Def
Zooey Deschanel
Bill Nighy
John Malkovich
Stephen Fry
Bill Bailey
article posted
15 March 2005