Sound & Vision: THE HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY

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Chris Morley says a big hello to intelligent life forms everywhere.


By way of an introduction to a new series looking at the music of geeky programmes of every hue, how better to kick off a listeners' guide to a galaxy of sorts than by sticking a tape into the player of our rusty old Ford Prefect & going deeper into The Hitchhikers' Guide To The Galaxy?



Created by Douglas Adams & first broadcast to Radio 4 listeners from March 8, 1978, it owes its distinctive theme tune to the Eagles, whose Journey Of The Sorcerer, from the One Of These Nights album ticked all the boxes as it features banjo playing - which Adams loved as he felt it would give off the appropriate hitch hiking vibe.



The appropriation of Journey Of The Sorceror would be but the first in several uses of existing pop, rock & classical works within the Guide To The Galaxy. Series one (referred to as The Primary Phase) included such diverse works as A Modern Mass for the Dead (Requiem) by György Ligeti, Wind on Water by Robert Fripp and Brian Eno, Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band by Terry Riley, Shine On You Crazy Diamond (intro) by Pink Floyd, Rock and Roll Music by The Beatles, Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss, Oxygène by Jean Michel Jarre, and What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong.

However, due to the struggle involved in obtaining the rights to use the chosen pieces as part of commercial releases the idea was dropped for The Secondary Phase, leading to LP releases of the first series being made available as dialogue-only recordings.

The series was also notable for its use of sound, and was the first comedy series to be produced in stereo. Adams said that he wanted the programme's production to be comparable to that of a modern rock album. He wanted the music to...
"...convey the idea that you actually were on a spaceship or an alien planet — that sense of a huge aural landscape"
Much of the budget was spent on sound effects, which were largely the work of Paddy Kingsland at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Dick Mills and Harry Parker. The fact that these three were at the forefront of modern radio production at the time was reflected when Hitchhiker's became one of the first radio shows to be mixed into four-channel Dolby Surround.


When it came to recording the cast themselves, the production had but one eight track tape recorder at their disposal and so many of the effects in the programme were mixed "live" with tape loops of background sound effects strung around the recording studio. Actors whose speech needed to be modified in post-production by Radiophonic technicians, such as Stephen Moore's performance as Marvin the Android, were recorded in isolation from the main "humanoid" characters.Allegedly, Moore recorded most of his performance in a cupboard and met the other actors only after the first session was complete!

In the absence of existing pop, rock & classical work, Paddy Kingsland would step-up to provide all the incidental music for series two. Series three to five of the Hitchhikers' Guide saw responsibility for all things musical handed over to Paul ''Wix'' Wickens, nowadays perhaps better known as keyboard player in the touring band of another Paul, McCartney, since 1989 & Flowers In The Dirt.



By 1981 the show made the step from radio to television, with most of the original cast making the jump to BBC Two after it picked the show up thanks to its success on the wireless. Presumably again due to the rights issues involved, a new arrangement of Journey Of The Sorcerer was required. Step forward Tim Souster to oblige, putting lessons learnt on summer courses in Darmstadt, Germany with avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in the mid-Sixties to good use! Once again, Paddy Kingsland provided the incidental music and sound effects.



Kingsland was pulling double duty as his work could also be heard as part of Tom Baker's latter years in Doctor Who, beginning with 1980's Meglos & culminating in Frontios four years later. Of course, Douglas Adams himself had been involved with Doctor Who around the same time as Hitchhikers original broadcast, script-editing the entirety of Season Eighteen & writing The Pirate Planet & Shada in his own right alongside a co-write with Graham Williams, the frequent "greatest Who story ever" poll winner City Of Death.



Of course, we can hardly omit the later big screen adaptation from 2005 - coincidentally also the year Doctor Who returned to television as spearheaded by Adams enthusiast Russell T Davies! Saving the world in his pyjamas this time was Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent, matters musical handled this time by Joby Talbot.

Amongst the music created for the film is the track Huma's Hymn, it's notable for the fact that it was sung in St. Michael's Church in Highgate, London by members of local church choirs along with a congregation consisting of members of the public. The recording was open to anyone wishing to attend, and was publicised on the internet, including in a post to the Usenet group alt.fan.douglas-adams. Of course, Talbot included his own take on Journey Of The Sorcerer within his score too...



The song itself was originally written by guitarist Bernie Leadon, the last member of the original Eagles line up to join after stints with Dillard & Clark & the Flying Burrito Brothers. It was intended as a shift away from the country rock for which they had become known, though ironically enough it was the move towards what we would now term stadium rock that caused the guitarist to leave - famously pouring a beer over Glenn Frey's head in frustration before doing so, to be swiftly replaced by Joe Walsh! So much for checking out & never leaving, eh?

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