The 42 Things You Should Know About 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'

A scene from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie.  See more Hitchhiker's Guide pictures.
Photo courtesy © 2005 Touchstone Pictures, All rights reserved

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is one weird, sprawling, nerdy epic. In its more than 30-year history, The Hitchhiker's Guide has taken the form of radio show, six book "trilogy," TV series, stage play and video game. Along the way, it's rubbed shoulders with Darth Vader, locked horns with the Ghostbusters, jammed with Pink Floyd and Radiohead, and put its stamp on an asteroid, among many other things.

As the new movie sets out to reinvent the series yet again, we present our hot list of 42 Hitchhiker's facts that will amaze your friends, astound your trivia-night adversaries and put you one step closer to Dungeon Master.

The Radio Series

Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent
Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent
Photo courtesy © 2005 Touchstone Pictures, All rights reserved

On February 4, 1977, the series creator Douglas Adams met with BBC Producer Simon Brett, who at the time was doing BBC Radio 4's The Burkiss Way. After the meeting, Brett agreed to help Adams pitch a science fiction comedy radio show to the BBC. This was the birth of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

1.) The initial idea for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy came to Douglas Adams while lying drunk in a field holding a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe, staring up at the night sky.

2.) Adams' original concept was called The Ends of the Earth. The idea was that at the end of each show, the Earth would be destroyed in a new and interesting way.

3.) As the story developed, Adams created the alien character Ford Prefect. Prefect, a writer for a galactic travel guide, was to provide context for the audience and a detached non-Earthling perspective. Adams eventually reworked the concept to center on this guide.

Mos Def as Ford Prefect
Photo courtesy © 2005 Touchstone Pictures, All rights reserved

4.) The main character's name was changed from Aleric B to Arthur Dent during a taxi ride to the BBC pitch meeting.

5.) The first episode aired on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday, March 8, 1978, at 10:30 pm. The first series contained six episodes that the show's production team referred to as "fits."

6.) An audio version of The Hitchhiker's Guide was released on vinyl in 1979. It was a condensed version of the first four radio episodes. For legal reasons, it was a completely different recording than what the BBC broadcast on the radio. The music used on the radio broadcasts could not be distributed commercially without paying licensing fees.

7.) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series was often praised for its grounbreaking sound effects. Adams was passionate about giving the show's sound the same production value as a modern rock album. The Hitchhiker's series was the first comedy radio show on the BBC to be broadcast in stereo.

8.) The radio series earned Adams critical acclaim. In 1978 Adams won the Imperial Tobacco Award. He received the Sony Award in 1979 and the Society of Authors/Pye Awards "Best Programme for Young People" in 1980. The Hitchhiker's radio series was also the only radio show to ever to be nominated for the Science Fiction Achievement Award ™, also known as the Hugo Award®.

9.) Marvin the Paranoid Android was originally written as a one-time joke for the radio series. But after his debut, Marvin became an instant fan favorite. The show's producer at the time, Geoffrey Perkins, urged Adams to develop Marvin into one of the series' main characters.

Warwick Davis and Alan Rickman (voice) as Marvin the Paranoid Android
Photo courtesy © 2005 Touchstone Pictures, All rights reserved

10.) In September, 2004, the BBC aired the new Tertiary Phase episodes of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on BBC Radio 4. Prior to his death, Adams had started working with Dirk Maggs to adapt books three through five of the "trilogy" for radio broadcast. After Adams' death, Maggs used Adams' notes to finish writing and directing the last two segments of the series, titled the Quandary Phase and the Quintessential Phase. The two new phases are slated to be broadcast on the BBC in late 2005 and will wrap up the story arc.

11.) In the BBC broadcast of the Tertiary Phase, Douglas Adams posthumously portrays the angry, Arthur-Dent-hating character Agrajag. Maggs did this by editing together recordings of Adams reading from his books.

The Book

The first of five books in the "trilogy"
The first of five books in the "trilogy"

With the success of the radio series, Adams was persuaded to put his story in book form. From 1979 to 1992, Adams published the inaccurately titled, five-book Hitchhiker's Trilogy.

12.) The book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was published in England in September of 1979. It was an expanded version of the first four radio episodes. It spent several weeks as a Sunday Times Mass Market Best Seller. Because Adams had blown so many deadlines while writing the first book, the publishers eventually called him asking that he simply finish the page he was writing. And they immediately sent a bicycle courier to pick up the manuscript. That is why the first book ends so abruptly.

13.) In the fall of 1980, the second book, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, hit store shelves. This was the same time the first book was released in the United States. The book was a condensed and out-of-order version of episodes seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, five and six of the radio show.

14.) The third book, Life, the Universe and Everything, came out in 1982. The story begins to take a darker turn in this book and begins to push the plot beyond what was covered in the radio series.

15.) The fourth book in the trilogy, So Long and Thanks for all the Fish, came out in 1984. It dealt with a new theme for the series -- love.

Zooey Deschanel as Trillian
Photo courtesy © 2005 Touchstone Pictures, All rights reserved

16.) The final book, Mostly Harmless, came out in 1992. It ended the series story arc with the destruction of the Earth (again).

17.) In 1984, Douglas Adams became the youngest author ever to be awarded a Golden Pan Award from Pan Books, the UK publisher of the book series. He was also later nominated for the first Best of Young British Novelists awards.

The TV Show

Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox
Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox
Photo courtesy © 2005 Touchstone Pictures, All rights reserved

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy TV series first aired on the BBC in 1981. Directed and produced by Alan Bell, it was, for the time, a lavish effects-drenched production.

18.) In a later episode of the TV series, the very tall bodyguard who keeps Ford away from galactic rock star Hotblack Desiato is none other than Dave Prowse - the body of Darth Vader in the original Star Wars films. The Hitchhiker's producers initially wanted the actor who portrayed the flaccid, annoying and vaguely girlie aspects of Darth Vader's personality, but Hayden Christensen wasn't available.

19.) The TV show's computer graphics were created by Rod Lord at Pearce Studios. These visuals were groundbreaking for the time and drew quite a bit of attention to the show. The funny thing is that they aren't actually computer-generated at all. Lord created these effects by animating reversed-out line drawings on acetate. He used lighting gels (the type used in production lighting) to create the colors for the sequences.

The Movie

A Vogon
A Vogon
Photo courtesy © 2005 Touchstone Pictures, All rights reserved

The road to Touchstone's new movie version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has been a long one. The film -- or at least the idea of the film -- has been in the works for more than 20 years. At one point, the series creator Douglas Adams was quoted as saying that the movie would be made "sometime before the last Trump."

20.) The movie was first optioned in 1982, by producers Ivan Reitman, Joe Medjuck and Michael C. Gross. Douglas Adams wrote three different versions of the script for the production team. Reitman and company intended the sci-fi comedy to be a vehicle for either Bill Murray or Dan Aykroyd. At the time, both actors were considered for the role of Ford Prefect.

In the end, Adams' script was trumped by another sci-fi comedy idea that Dan Aykroyd presented to the production team. Yes, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was indefinitely postponed so that Reitman and company could make Ghostbusters.

21.) In 1997, after years of on-again-off-again interest in the project, Adams finally signed a deal with Disney to make the film. Adams started working on a new version of the script, and Disney put Jay Roach (Austin Powers) in the director's chair.

22.) To add star power to the film, Disney originally courted Hugh Laurie (Stuart Little) to play Arthur, Jim Carrey (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) to play Zaphod Beeblbrox and the late Nigel Hawthorn (Amistad) for the role Slartibartfast.

23.) Jay Roach eventually backed out of the project. Wanting the film to be in good hands, he brought the project to Spike Jonze. Jonze also passed on the movie, but suggested the directing team of Hammer and Tongs -- AKA Nick Goldsmith and Garth Jennings. The duo, known mainly for music videos, accepted and the project was under way.

Our heroes
Photo courtesy © 2005 Touchstone Pictures, All rights reserved

24.) Adams wrote the latest version of the screenplay himself, but Garth Jennings and Karey Kirkpatrick revised the script after Adams' death.

25.) Adams created John Malkovich's character, a religious leader named Humma Kavula, especially for the movie.

John Malkovich as Humma Kavula
Photo courtesy © 2005 Touchstone Pictures, All rights reserved

26.) Simon Jones, who played Arthur Dent in both the radio and television versions of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, has a cameo in the film. Jones was a life-long friend of Douglas Adams.

27.) The original Marvin the Paranoid Android from the TV miniseries appears in the movie as a different robot.

Beyond The Guide

Ford and Arthur consult The Guide.
Ford and Arthur consult The Guide.
Photo courtesy © 2005 Touchstone Pictures, All rights reserved

Whether or not you've ever even heard of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, chances are you are familiar with some aspect of the tale. References and homages to this epic tale have permeated almost every aspect of pop culture, arts, science and technology.

28.) The Hitchhiker's Guide computer game came out in 1984, to wide acclaim. It was a text-based adventure that Douglas himself co-designed with Steve Meretzky. It came with JooJanta peril-sensitive sunglasses, and a miniature battle fleet. It was very advanced for its day and nearly impossible to complete. You can still play it online here.

29.) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was brought to the stage by Ken Cambell. The first production took place at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in May 1979. The first run was very successful and had the audience seated on an enormous hovercraft.

Ken Campbell eventually staged an even more lavish version of his original production featuring lasers, revolving stages, and a theater remodeled to look like a spaceport. The team promoted the production by throwing a huge inflatable whale off of London's Tower Bridge. Despite the unique marketing, the production failed miserably.

30.) In the universe of The Hitchhiker's Guide, the Babel fish is a tiny parasitic fish that travelers put in their ear. Once in place, the fish will automatically translate any language in the galaxy to the native tongue of the host. Altavista's on-line translator is named Babel Fish after the tiny Douglas-created creature. Check it out.

31.) The instant messenging program Trillian was named after The Hitchhiker's heroine of the same name.

Ford, Arthur and Zaphod
Photo courtesy © 2005 Touchstone Pictures, All rights reserved

32.) If you type in, "what is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?" (all lower case) into the Google calculator, you'll get the answer, "42" (the same answer to this question as found in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). Try it. (You have to scroll down the page to get to the calculator.)

33.) The Radiohead song, Paranoid Android is a refrerence to Marvin the Paranoid Android.

34.) One of the most popular message boards on the Internet is GameFAQs' Life, the Universe, and Everything. It's named after the third book in The Hitchhiker's series.

35.) Christopher Cerf, the man behind the PBS Kids' series Between the Lions, admits that the "42" on the character Lionel's rugby jersey is a deliberate homage to Douglas Adams and his creation.

36.) South Park's Towlie often says, "Don't forget to bring a towel," an obvious nod to the sound advice of The Guide.

37.) FPS game granddaddy GoldenEye: 007 for Nintendo 64 featured the "Mostly Harmless" multiplayer award for player who earned the least kills in a match. In the Guide, "Mostly harmless" is the revised entry used to describe Earth.

Magrathea
Photo courtesy © 2005 Touchstone Pictures, All rights reserved

38.) The online children's game Neopets features an item called the Pan Galactic Gargle Slushie. This is the kiddie version of the The Hitchhiker's Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. According to the guide, the Gargle Blaster is one the best (and most dangerous) adult beverages in this or any other galaxy.

39.) Dippy video game villain and reoccurring Easter egg, the Dopefish, is known widely in the world of video games as "the second dumbest creature in the universe." When Tom Hall originally created the Dopefish for the fourth installment of the Commander Keen series, he referred to it as the "second dumbest" because as all good Guide readers know, the dumbest creature in the universe is the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal.

40.) For his 42nd birthday, Adams got to play guitar for Pink Floyd at a concert. The public jam session was a birthday gift from his old friend Dave Gilmour. Around the same time, Pink Floyd's David Gilmour asked Douglas Adams to help him name a Pink Floyd album they were working on at the time. He did, and in 1994 Pink Floyd released The Division Bell. To thank Adams, Gilmour contributed £5000 to Adams' favorite charity.

41.) The day before Adams death, The Minor Planet Centre of the International Astronomical Union named asteroid 18610, "Arthurdent" after the main character in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, Arthur Dent.

42.) There are exactly 41 interesting facts about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. No more, no less.

More Info on The Guide

The BBC Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Cult Site

Megadodo Publications

ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha

Douglas Adams Portal

Planet Magrethea