H2G2 Anniversary

Tomorrow is the thirtieth anniversary of the first broadcast of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This makes me feel more than a little old. I didn’t listen to the first episode but, having heard about it from friends at school, I started listening from episode two.

The BBC web site has decided to commemorate this anniversary with a spectacularly bad piece of journalism entitled
What on earth is 42? The premise of the piece is that 42[1] has some deeper meaning which H2G2 fans spend their waking hours trying to work out. A task which has apparently become far harder since the death of Douglas Adams in 2001. The article looks for explanations in mathematics, philosophy and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The author even asks Douglas Adams’ friend Stephen Fry if he knows the answer. Fry tells him that he knows the answer but that he is sworn to secrecy and must take it to his grave.

Unfortunately, all of this digging ignores one crucial point. In 1993, Douglas Adams wrote a message to the alt.fan.douglas-adams newsgroup which attempted to end this kind of speculation for once and for all. He said:

The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought ’42 will do’ I typed it out. End of story.

Which looks pretty definitive to me.

I suspect that Stephan Fry was well aware of this and was winding the reporter up.

I’m disappointed that the BBC has chosen to mark this anniversary by publishing such nonsense.

[1] On the off-chance that anyone reading this doesn’t already know, 42 is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything which the computer Deep Thought calculates after ruminating for 7.5 million years. If you needed this explanation then please do yourself a favour and track down the original radio series or the books.


  1. I too missed the beginning of the radio series, but even worse, missed it all. Radio One was my station in those days. My first introduction to Hitchhiker’s was the book, and it was actually a teacher at my school who prompted me to get it. Belated thanks to Mr Parks.The first time I heard the series was on the records, and I used to have two of them, but lent them to a friend who never returned them :(I will celebrate the day with some repeat listens to my MP3s of the original radio series.

  2. But why did ’42’ happen to pop into his head? Surely it isn’t mere coincidence but rather the result of some cosmic confluence. Like Arthur pulling Scrabble tiles out of the bag.Ok, so it is all pure nonsense but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun!

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