A third series of sci-fi comedy The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy begins on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, 26 years after the original show was first broadcast.
By Neil Smith
BBC News Online
All the surviving cast members reprise their roles in the six-part adaptation of Douglas Adams' third Hitchhiker book, entitled Life, the Universe and Everything.
McGivern and Jones return as Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent
So Long and Thanks For All the Fish, the fourth instalment, and the fifth novel Mostly Harmless will be dramatised in a second, eight-part series, to be broadcast in May 2005.
For Adams' legion of fans, however, it is the late author's own contribution that will be most eagerly awaited.
The writer recorded the part of Agrajag in his home studio, 18 months before his death in May 2001.
Ironically, the character is an immortal creature that keeps getting reincarnated in different guises.
"Douglas' immortality is guaranteed by his work; this is merely a fictional reflection of that," says executive producer Bruce Hyman.
Nonetheless, he considers it "quite an achievement" to have Adams' voice sit alongside those of original cast members Simon Jones and Stephen Moore.
Jones, who plays befuddled hero Arthur Dent, and Moore, the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android, are joined by Mark Wing-Davey (Zaphod Beeblebrox), Susan Sheridan (Trillian) and Geoffrey McGivern (Ford Prefect).
"It was extremely hard to get them together again because they all have such busy careers," says Hyman.
"But they all wanted to do it, and they've been fantastically cooperative."
With the death of Peter Jones in 2000, the voice of the book is now supplied by his friend, William Franklyn.
"The day of the first read-through was like a school reunion," Hyman continues. "The actors hadn't worked together for 25 years, so it was rather emotional."
Hyman is also proud he has been able to attract additional cast members of the calibre of Joanna Lumley, Richard Griffiths, Leslie Phillips and Jonathan Pryce.
"Such is the affection people have for the series they wanted to be a part of it," he explains.
The new series picks up where the second left off, with Arthur stranded on prehistoric earth.
Wing-Davey, Sheridan and Moore also reprise their original roles
"He's arrived there by accident on a time-travelling sofa and he's about to go mad," explains Hyman.
"The adventure starts from there."
Adams' background in radio - the first two books were originally written for the medium before being turned into novels - made adapting the later stories a relatively easy task.
"Douglas understood radio," says Hyman. "I think he heard as much as he saw what he was writing."
"Plus we had all of his notes. We've been as faithful as it's possible to be to his copious instructions."
For all that, the executive producer admits feeling some trepidation in attempting to emulate a series that is now regarded as a radio landmark.
"Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!" he replies when asked if he was daunted by the series' enduring legacy.
"I am absolutely in awe of how they managed to do it," he marvels.
"I don't know how they did what they did without the technology we've had at our disposal."
Advances in digital recording have enabled his team to bring even more of Adams' universe to life.
"We've done things in this series which simply weren't technically possible back then," he says.
Wing-Davey also played Zaphod Beeblebrox in the 1981 TV series
And Hyman states categorically that there is no competition between the radio series and the upcoming film version starring Bill Nighy and Martin Freeman.
"The film is of book one, so it doesn't clash with us at all," he reveals.
"I'm just sad Douglas isn't around to see it, because he put so much energy and enthusiasm into the project."
Hyman has had discussions with Disney and the new film's executive producer Robbie Stamp and describes them as "really great".
"Our interests are the same," he says. "We all love the books and want them to reach as wide a public as possible."
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: The Life, the Universe and Everything can be heard each Tuesday at 1830 BST on BBC Radio 4.