This is a combination of two interviews that I did with Susan Sheridan – the original Trillian in Hitchhiker’s Guide on Radio 4 - posted today as a tribute to a bright and funny lady who has just left us too soon. In 1998 I did a stack of phone interviews with cast and crew for a big 20th anniversary feature in SFX. These are my notes from talking to Sue Sheridan in January that year:
"I was hooked into doing it by Richard Whiteley and Miriam Margolyes - which is an odd combination. Like most of the cast, I suspect, I read the script and didn't understand a word of it. I was in the second episode, so everybody knew each other except me.”
Did it feel at the time like it might be something more than just another Radio 4 comedy?
“We knew it was so zany that it would either be a brilliant hit or a complete flop. I think the first time I realised how successful it was when my brother, who was a schoolboy at the time, said that all his friends in the sixth form at Gordonstoun were fans and absolutely loved it.”
Why were you not in the cast of the Original Records LP?
"I didn't do the LP because I was doing a voice for Disney at the time, for The Black Cauldron.”
Did the show help you career?
"I think Hitchhiker's was one of the big coups of my acting career. It certainly opened the door to a lot of radio, including being part of the radio rep. I went on to work with John Henderson on a series called Round the Bend - I think that was because of Trillian.
How did you feel about not being cast in the TV series?
"I knew they wouldn't use me on TV. It was an opportunity to have a glamorous blonde - which I am now but I wasn't then! Also an American voice. But I didn't mind. My career has been mostly theatre and voice-work, which is fine.”
"My memory is of being in the Paris Studio, where we recorded most of it, standing on stage with all these strange sound effects and bizarre music all around us. Geoffrey Perkins was in charge, and I think Douglas was there all the time.”
Was there any suggestion that Trillian might return for the second radio series?
"Was I in the second series? No, I don't think I was. I'm probably confusing it with the repeats, because they repeated it almost immediately, and kept on repeating it ad nauseum. Although that meant I kept getting paid for it - which I didn't mind at all!"
Five years later I finally got to meet Sue when Dirk Maggs reunited the original radio cast for 'The Tertiary Phase'. This interview was conducted in November 2003:
When did you first hear about this project?
“Well, we were going to do it in the 1990s and we were all prepared to have our reunion then. I can’t remember the details but I think unfortunately it was to do with there not being a script that was usable then. It was very sad for us but in a way it means that now we’ve got a better script than we would have had then.”
What did you think when Dirk contacted you and said it was back on?
“Well, of course I was delighted. Trillian has been one of the high spots of my career, it goes without saying. We enjoyed it when we first did it, to a certain extent, but we didn’t really understand it. I think I’ve told you that before! This time we understood much more of it, partly because we’d read the book! So it’s a great pleasure in doing it this time. There are certain other factors too. I wasn’t in the television version so I rather thought I’d never see any of them again, so it’s doubly nice for me and Geoff McGivern to be back in the fold once again.”
“I hadn’t at all. Because Simon had been in America. Stephen I’d bumped into once or twice at the BBC but we’d not really worked together. David Tate I knew very well indeed because we were worked a lot together and then of course very sadly he died. I think he might have been the first one to die of the three missing cast members.”
Now you have Bill Franklyn, Richard Griffiths and Roger Gregg in those roles.
“Indeed, and very, very well too. Very good performances. But David was the first one to die and that was terribly sad because he was far too young, not to mention far too talented. He was stunningly talented and a very nice man. As was Richard Vernon, as was Peter Jones, although we didn’t really have much to do with Peter Jones because he did the book separately in the recording whereas Richard and David were with us in the studio. Richard Vernon was terribly funny. He famously said, ‘I don’t understand a word I’m saying’! And yet, 26 years on, it’s part of the language. Computers and mobile telephones - we’re much more technically minded than we were 26 years ago, and I think in a way doing it now is probably much better than if we’d done it in the 1990s. This is the time to do it! I can’t help thinking that it’s rather timely that yesterday was 26 years to the day since we did the first episode of Hitchhiker’s Guide. 23rd November 1977. The first episode of the main series, not the pilot, because I wasn’t involved in the pilot.”
Trillian is a different sort of character in this story.
“Yes, she’s a bit more proactive. She’s got some nice lines. She didn’t have a lot of lines in the first series. She always had a lot of spunk and of course she’s got a great brain, but I think that in this one she sees sense, she sees through Zaphod and his ego.”
Trillian’s not in Book 4 but you’ll be back for Book 5.
“That’s right. We’re doing that in April. Trillian, as you will know, has a baby by Arthur Dent which is terrribly exciting so we worked towards this last week to make sure that there was a clear sign - because there wasn’t anything in the book at all, any sign of them getting together. Then she does something rather miraculous and clones herself and I understand that’s when Sandra Dickinson will be coming in to be the other Trillian. I do love the idea because I know Sandra a bit and admire her work. I think she was miscast as Trillian but I don’t think I would have been right either in the television version. So it’s interesting that now we’ll be getting together and I think it will be absolutely wonderful. She’s a lovely lady.”