"In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move."
Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Fair warning. In just a few days (September 21), a new series of six "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" episodes will be broadcast over BBC's Radio 4. When the first series was broadcast, way back in the last millennium, those of us living in North America had to wait for the programs to become available on vinyl before listening to the adventures of Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent.
This time, through the magic of streaming audio, fans of Douglas Adams' genius will be able to simultaneously share the premier broadcasts of the new shows from anywhere on this "Mostly Harmless" planet.
Three cheers for the Internet.
Of course, as those who know something about Adams will remember, the writer died some three years ago now, so the release of new "H2G2" episodes may come as a bit of a surprise. But, as those who know more about the writer will remember, the original productions only covered the first two books in his "trilogy in five parts." Now, the last three books have been adapted to radio for two series (the first beginning on the 21st, the second scheduled for 2005) which will be made available in RealAudio streams from the Radio 4 website.
And there's more to the Hitchhiker's homepage than a simple link to the RealAudio feed - though the material here does constitute a bit of a hodgepodge. Owing to the use of site-wide page templates, necessary for keeping the Beeb's staggering collection of content manageable, the H2G2 pages lack any identity of their own, and may well have visitors surfing in circles as they follow links from one BBC page to others (of near-identical appearance), which may then include the point of origin in their own collections of links. But there is information here of interest to established fans and of use to first timers, so if you do plan on listening to the new installments, it's worth making at least one visit before the shows begin.
In the center column of content, Hitchhiker's offers a few words about the new series, including the reassuring news that most of the characters will be portrayed by the original cast. (I have mixed feelings about the BBC's decision to include cast photos and videos. We tend to put faces of our own choice on print and radio characters, and seeing the real sources of the voices -especially 25 years on from the original recordings- does have a way of diminishing the illusion. On the other hand, there is an entertainment value in seeing the voice of a two-headed, three-armed, ex-President of the Galaxy coming out of a quite normal-looking British actor's face.)
The center column also holds a "Behind the scenes" essay by the series' director ("I believe -radio- is the most visual of all media"), which briefly sheds a bit of light on both the ten-year saga to get the new shows produced, and on the impact of changes in recording technology since the original programs. At the bottom of the section are pages for celebrity and fan memories about the original series.
On the right, in addition to the RealAudio link, the site offers a Photo Gallery, a four-minute audio trailer, and a six-minute 'making of' video - with interviews, and clips from the recording sessions. If you have a high-speed connection, these features are available for download (the video file is about 80 MB), while dial-up users can access streaming versions of the same material. On the left of the page, Radio 4 links to a 2001 Adams series about slightly more contemporary technologies, the (previously reviewed) online incarnation of the Hitchhikers Guide itself, and the BBC's "Cult" pages for the original series.
This last link will be of most use for listeners who never heard, or need a refresher on, the original series. In addition to tributes to Adams, surfers can find background on, and excerpts from, the original radio (and television) series, as well as comments by those involved in the productions. Much of the Cult pages' content is in the form of RealAudio and RealVideo clips, and include such timeless wisdom from the Guide as...
"...one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them. To summarize: it is a well known fact, that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem."
Unfortunately, the original radio broadcasts aren't available in their entirety here, but the novel, audio, and radio script versions are all available commercially, and Wikipedia has a thorough summary for the entirely uninitiated.
As noted, this site isn't a pretty site, but who needs Flash animations and high-end graphics when you've got Douglas Adams. And, if you can't synchronize your schedule to the live broadcasts, fear not. BBC's "Listen Again" feature allows web visitors to hear its programming 'on demand' for 7 days after original broadcast.
Radio 4's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy page can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/hitchhikers/.