SIMON Jones is back in the dressing gown!
35 years since he played the part of everyman Arthur Dent in Radio 4’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he’s once again returning to the role for a live tour of the sci-fi comedy.
“I still have the original dressing gown,” he reveals. “But I’d probably pass out if I wore it.
“I was thinking the other day that the choice of costume was just an accident when we came to do the TV series, because no-one had ever thought about it on radio. Now of course it’s become an institution.”
Simon (pictured right) first met the show’s creator, the late Douglas Adams, when they were in the Cambridge Footlights together.
“He phoned me up a few years later and said that he’d written a part and would I be interested. I checked my calendar and of course I’d got nothing on and said ‘yes’.”
But although the original radio series would go on to spawn several sequels, the TV adaptation and a Hollywood film, the BBC were not quite convinced at the time.
“They said they weren’t sure you could do science fiction on radio which is about one of the silliest things I’ve ever heard.
“But of course Star Wars had just come out and become this unstoppable force and in the end they said, I think in despair, ‘well if you think it’s funny, just go ahead and do it.’
“Even then it wasn’t easy, they put it out late on a Tuesday - which is how they say you create a cult, but it’s also a great way to cover up any mistakes!”
Simon says that he’s still overwhelmed by the fans’ reaction.
“You realise how you have affected people’s lives. You get someone come up to you and say ‘I listened to you when I was exploring in darkest Africa, under very dangerous conditions and you were the voice of England.’
“You don’t realise what a profound effect the show can have.”
The actor, who now divides his time between America and England, says part of the appeal is just how prophetic the technologically-driven tale had proven.
“I mean when you look at the Hitchhiker’s Guide, it’s just an iPhone! Or Wikipedia. Douglas was very ahead of his time.
“He wasn’t always right though, I remember he told me in about 1995 that in ten years using a computer would be as easy as turning on a light. I’ll let him off about that though.”
The stage show, which played Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre this week, is the latest incarnation of the story.
“It’s very much a nod back to the original radio play. We have scripts in our hands, not because we can’t remember the lines, but to conjure up the atmosphere.”