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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 April, 2005, 07:07 GMT 08:07 UK
Last hitchhike for Galaxy veteran
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

The long-awaited film version of Douglas Adams' hit sci-fi series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is out on Friday. Actor Simon Jones, who starred in the original TV series, talks about his involvement in both the new movie and radio version.

Simon Jones, 2005
Simon Jones sporting Arthur Dent's trademark dressing gown
For more than a quarter of a century, Simon Jones has been the face - and the voice - of Arthur Dent, hapless hero of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

But now the 55-year-old actor has a pretender to his throne in Martin Freeman, star of the new film version of Douglas Adams' sci-fi novel.

If Jones feels bitter, however, he hides it well, those urbane tones so familiar to TV and radio audiences betraying no flicker of resentment.

"Arthur belongs to the ages," he says. "I just happen to be the original and the genuine one."

Besides, Jones had long since given up the hope of playing Arthur on the big screen.

Douglas Adams didn't write any more novels so I can't see how I can continue
Simon Jones
"One always entertained the possibility, but as I got older I realised my participation was going to be less and less," he says.

"So I thought I would concentrate on making myself a star on Broadway instead."

For the record, Jones first played Dent in the original Hitchhiker radio series, broadcast in 1978. He reprised the role on air in 1980 before starring in the TV version the following year.

In the years that followed, plans to continue the saga in either medium foundered - as did Adams' hopes of getting a movie off the ground.

'Gusto'

But that changed following the author's death in 2001. Not only did the film finally get the go-ahead, but Jones found himself back in the studio with his former cast mates recording two new radio series.

The first was broadcast last September, while the second begins on BBC Radio 4 on 3 May.

Simon Jones, 1982
Jones as he appeared in the 1981 Hitchhiker TV series
"Radio's so kind - we all sound the same," says Jones.

"I was told my voice had dropped a semi-tone, which is the sort of thing that can only be heard by bats.

"And it was wonderful to meet old friends again and see the passage of time had not been too hard on us."

Jones' enjoyment was augmented by the presence of numerous high-profile guest stars, from veteran comedian Jackie Mason and actor Jonathan Pryce to Hollywood heart-throb Christian Slater.

"I don't think he had any idea what it was about, but he plunged in with a great deal of gusto."

The new radio series, based on Adams' final two Hitchhiker books, will probably mark Jones' last outing as Arthur.

The purists will no doubt be upset but this is a major motion picture
Simon Jones
"Douglas didn't write any more so I can't see how I can continue," he says. "Unless we find some hitherto unpublished document, and I think they've been through his hard drives pretty thoroughly."

But in a move that will surely appeal to Adams' army of fans, the actor makes a cameo appearance in Garth Jennings' film.

"I play, rather aptly, a Ghostly Image," he explains.

"It's a good idea," he continues. "It's a nod to what we've done before and I'm perfectly happy with it."

'Nervous'

Moreover, Jones says he "got on very well" with his successor Martin Freeman when they met towards the end of filming.

"Martin said he was nervous about meeting me, though he certainly didn't seem it," he says.

"It was very friendly - there was no eye-gouging or hair-pulling."

Martin Freeman in The Office
Martin Freeman of The Office plays Arthur Dent in the new film
So what does Jones make of Freeman's interpretation? We will have to wait for his opinion as - either through accident or design - he managed to miss last week's world premiere.

"I was invited and intended to come but I couldn't get away from New York in time," he explains, adding: "Which gets me off the hook, doesn't it?"

Indeed it does, though the actor has high expectations. "I'm looking forward to the special effects being quite sensational," he says.

"And as far as I know they've fallen over backwards to respect what they imagine would be Douglas's wishes.

"The purists will no doubt be upset for one reason or another, but you have to remember this is a major motion picture that has to reach out to a wider audience, as well as satisfy the fans.

"That's the tightrope they're walking and I wish them the best of luck."


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