The ultimate answer: 42. Now, if we only knew the ultimate question….
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy turns 42 years old on March 8!
In March of 1978, BBC Radio 4 debuted it’s latest radio drama: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Born from the mind of the great Douglas Adams, the first episode was broadcast at 10:30 pm on Wednesday, 8 March 1978. Despite the late time of the broadcast, it received generally good reviews and a tremendous audience reaction for radio.
The first radio series comes from a proposal called The Ends of the Earth: six self-contained episodes, all ending with Earth being destroyed in a different way. While writing the first episode, Adams realized that he needed someone on the planet who was an alien to provide some context, and that this alien needed a reason to be there. Adams finally settled on making the alien a roving researcher for a “wholly remarkable book” named The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. As the first radio episode’s writing progressed, the Guide became the centre of his story, and he decided to focus the series on it, with the destruction of Earth being the only hold-over.
The story was a runaway success, and later in the year, a one off Christmas special was broadcast, and served as a bridge for the second series.
Adams’s fictional Guide is an electronic guidebook to the entire universe, originally published by Megadodo Publications, one of the great publishing houses of Ursa Minor Beta. The narrative of the various versions of the story is frequently punctuated with excerpts from the Guide. The voice of the Guide (Peter Jones in the first two radio series and TV versions, later William Franklyn in the third, fourth and fifth radio series, and Stephen Fry in the movie version), also provides general narration.
The success of the radio show was so big, it led to it being repeated twice in 1978 alone! Douglas Adams then reworked the scripts for first four episodes into a book, published in 1979, and followed up with The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (published in 1980), Life, the Universe and Everything (published in 1982), So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (published in 1984) and Mostly Harmless (published in 1992).
Unfortunately, Douglas Adams passed away in 2001, but with the help of his widow, Jane Belson, writer Eoin Colfer was commissioned to write a sixth installment: And another Thing… published in 2009, on the thirtieth anniversary of the first book.
With it’s weird humor, colorful characters and wit, the Guide is one of the most beloved works of humorous science fiction, and it’s legacy is felt across the world of media, with many references to 42 in different works such as Doctor Who, Lost, Star Trek and The X-Files. Elon Musk is a fan himself, and had the words Don’t Panic, from the cover of the eponymous Guide written on the dashboard of his Tesla Roadster, launched into space as part of the initial test launch of the Falcon Heavy
As part of the celebration, Radio 4 Extra will be broadcasting a special program on March 8th, 2020.
So don’t forget your towel, and most important: DON’T PANIC!