Dirk Maggs is no stranger to radio, possessing a prolific
background of quality audio dramatisations - or audio movies,
as he prefers to call them. He has experience of writing and
script adaptations, producing and directing. The high-tech
mixing of radio full-cast dramas was pioneered by Dirk. Previous
projects created for radio include two Superman, two Batman
and two Judge Dredd serials, The Amazing Spider-Man, An American
Werewolf in London, Independence Day: UK, Stephen Baxter's
Voyage, Agatha Christie, The Gemini Apes (see my Apes piece
for a more detailed description of Dirk's earlier work), and
even Peter Pan. Ty Power spoke with him as The Hitchhiker's
Guide to the Galaxy Box Set: The Complete Radio Series was
released by BBC Audio...
Power: How did you first come to work for the BBC, before
you went freelance, and what was your first job there?
Maggs: I joined the BBC as a Trainee Studio Manager, operating
the old tape machines, rattling teacups in plays, editing
recording tape with a razor blade and sticky tape. It was
really fun, but at first I was keen to get into television,
which I managed to do about a year after qualifying. I very
quickly found that I didn't enjoy television, it was too limited
as a storytelling medium, so I went back to radio.
Did you do a Producers course with them?
I did a BBC Production 'A' course in the mid 80s, with a bunch
of great people who have since become very senior bosses.
How did you first get involved in the scriptwriting side of
things? And was Superman on Trial your first writing
job for them?
I've always written for my own amusement but wanted to work
in BBC Light Entertainment. The only way I could prove I was
up to the standard required was to offer some of my scripts
as programme ideas, and one of them became Superman
on Trial, because
thankfully I was offered a job.
Personally, I think that Batman: Knightfall was your
pinnacle achievement of the comic book adaptations. Do you
have your own favourite?
I don't really have favourites because I can always hear stuff
I could have done better, including Hitchhiker's. It's
a never ending quest for perfection. Batman was fun but there's
a lot of aspects of it that I wish I could redo.
Batman: Knightfall and Superman: Doomsday and Beyond
are due for retail re-release in 2006. Is this because they
are two of your most popular broadcasts, or simply to tie-in
with Batman Begins and the impending Superman
live-action feature? Do you think there's much chance of Batman:
The Lazarus Syndrome getting a first release in the shops?
My main Batman and Superman titles were re-released
in the USA earlier this year  to coincide with these
new films, and BBC Audiobooks are finally re-releasing them
here. I'm really pleased and so are a lot of people who have
been trying to get their hands on copies. Of course the great
thing is that they're on CD for the first time, which means
at last you can get the full quality we built in so long ago.
And hear some of the dodgier edits more clearly.
an ideal world the other series like Adventures of Superman
and Batman: The Lazarus Syndrome would get a release,
but sadly I don't think the powers-that-be are adventurous
enough to negotiate the necessary deals. We can but hope.
Each of the roughly two-hour dramatisations must be a veritable
masterclass in self-motivation. Strict deadlines mean a lot
of hard work in a very short period. Do you enjoy the pressure,
or only appreciate the end product when you get time to breathe
again at the end?
Paul Deeley and I used to stay up till dawn on these projects
getting them just right. I still remember his head slowly
dropping onto the keyboard at 4am one night as we attempted
to get Superman Lives/Doomsday and Beyond just
the way we wanted it.
the years go by I have to say it doesn't get any easier, in
fact every production raises the stakes and I get more nervous
about matching past efforts. However as certain broadcasters
commission less of my kind of material, there's less to worry
about, I have a nice little plumbing business lined up, in
What signs do you look for that someone is a good radio actor?
For instance, is someone who moves around the studio necessarily
better than another who might stand at the microphone and
constantly change the inflection of their voice according
to the situation?
Actors who have an 'ear' for what the microphone does to voices
are the ones to treasure. It's more than a range of voices.
Bob Sessions, our Batman, had just the one voice but it was
perfect for what I wanted and he knew just how to pitch it
at the mic to get every nuance of every line.
Then there are others like Lorelei King, who is a bloody genius
because she thinks in sound when she's working in a
radio studio. I'm such a fan of the actors I'm lucky enough
to work with. Alison Steadman is brilliant too. Simon Jones
and Geoff McGivern bouncing off each other as Ford and Arthur,
Michael Roberts, Toby Longworth, Rupert Degas... the list
goes on and on.
and crew of Batman: Knightfall: (From Top left)
Dirk Maggs, Eric Myers (Sargeant Harvey Bullock), Michael
Roberts (Ventriloquist/Scarface), James Goode (Scarecrow/
Nightwing), Bob Sessions (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Michael
Gough (Alfred), Daniel Marinker (Robin), Vincent Marzello
(Mayor Krol) Front Row: Lorelei King (Montoya), Alibe
Parsons (Dr Shondra Kinsolving), Kerry Shale (Jean-Paul
In the early nineties a lot of the Manga dubbing that was
traditionally done in the UK (for American soundtracks) was
moved overseas. Has this affected, at all, the quality of
American vocal artists available in the UK? Have many of them
moved back to the US?
Not to my knowledge, though Bill Dufris, our Spider-Man,
went back to the USA and was Bob The Builder for quite
a while over there. I miss Bill. A lot of the other usual
suspects are still here, thank goodness.
The Dolby Surround sound was pioneered by you during your
time at the BBC. Was your partnership with Paul Deeley the
result of lucky happenstance, or did you actively seek out
a sound man who could help you make your dramatisations sound
like the movies?
By sheer chance, having spoken to Douglas Adams about how
our (doomed) attempt to record The Tertiary Phase in
1993 should be mixed into Dolby Surround, a flyer from an
independent studio arrived in my office at the BBC, saying:
"We have mixed in Dolby Surround". I went and discovered the
Soundhouse, met Paul Deeley, we clicked and have worked telepathically
ever since, like a sort of two-headed person... oh, no, that
was Zaphod, wasn't it...
Your Audio Movies company was relatively short-lived. Can
you tell us a little about the situation surrounding the decision
to shut it down? Was it a case of responsibility lying heavy
on you to constantly find work for your fellow directors?
Deeley (sound engineer) & Dirk Maggs
Being perfectly honest Audio Movies died because the BBC stopped
commissioning the stuff we specialised in, and at that time
the BBC was the only game in town for audio theatre/radio
drama. I got very weary of beating my head against the brick
wall, it was horribly dispiriting - and still is.
with the advent of Internet distribution of audio product
and download to mobile phones and personal entertainment pods
I am starting a new production company to make the next generation
of audio drama.
a lot of people who enjoyed what we were doing, who aren't
being catered for by mainstream broadcasters, so I'm hoping
we can supply a need there, and to get the usual suspects
involved... it's very exciting.
I understand you've got plans for podcasting. Can you tell
us a bit about that?
Yes, I'm currently setting up a podcasting-type production
company. Robbie Stamp, Douglas Adams's business partner (and
Executive Producer of the HHGG movie) introduced me
to two terrific blokes, Paul Weir (highly experienced in musical
composition, sound design and software development) and Richard
Adams (an expert consultant on interactive media).
on our combined skills, in 2006 we intend to launch a website
dedicated to excellence in audio entertainment. This we propose
to call Perfectly Normal Productions. The name - apart from
being a gentle tribute to Douglas, who inadvertently brought
us together - is a sort of ironic hallmark, a calm, quiet
reassurance that "perfectly normal" in our book
means "superbly excellent" compared to anyone else.
site would offer serialised material for download to the new
generations of phones and media players. The plan is to produce
and distribute a clutch of insanely great audio productions,
direct to the many people who demand something more exciting
from their earbuds than much of what is currently available.
When you approach something, like the directing of Agatha
Christie tales for radio, I would assume they are targeted
at an older audience who maybe wouldn't appreciate the modern
"whizzes and bangs". How do you revert to an older style of
radio while keeping it fresh and contemporary?
Dufris, who played Spider-Man (Amazing Adventures
of Spider-Man) and Judge Caligula (Judge Dredd:
The Day The Law Died).
For older listeners' plays and series I still try to keep
a strong visual element and a high sound effects quotient
(which for me equates with big visual set pieces or necessary
action sequences). But, generally speaking, the mix is more
conservative with speech - a good 3db higher relative to FX
than on the whizzy stuff.
Why do you think the UK still has a good range of radio plays
compared with other areas of the world. When William Dufris
(Spider-Man, Judge Caligula, etc.) was interviewed for Sci-fi-online
he said that the US doesn't have that many audio plays.
Bill is right but there's a growing market in the US thanks
to iPods etc., especially with people travelling long distances
as a matter of course.
theatre / radio drama exists in a medium that works in ways
that television and film can only dream about. It allows the
audience to participate in the thoughts and emotions of the
characters while providing special effects generated by the
most sophisticated computer on the planet - the human brain.
For listeners in surround it also constitutes the first genuinely
3-D form of recorded entertainment.
I'm just hoping that the new generation of phones and iPods
proves the limit to which the visual medium can convey real
drama - that people would rather have widescreen entertainment
beamed directly onto the Imax screen of their imagination,
than squint at a piddly 2.3 inch screen... and you can get
the ironing done...
By all accounts, Ben-Hur was quite a large production
for American radio (with a cast of thousands, it seems). What's
the origin of that one, and what was your involvement?
My friend Philip Glassborow was, and is, involved with a US
organisation called Focus On The Family Radio Theater. It
basically makes classic entertainment with a moral core for
Christian radio stations and general distribution, and Ben-Hur
was on their list of proposed recordings. I have always wanted
to tell that tale in audio terms and they were kind enough
to give me the chance.
did have a large and illustrious cast, including Russell Boulter,
Martin Jarvis, Timothy Bateson, Peter Goodwright, David Simeon,
and Colin MacFarlane as Messala... it was the best fun to
Does it worry you that you're known purely for radio, when
you've also made forays into TV and film?
I don't enjoy being 'known' very much at all, especially as
people assume that getting a directing credit on something
like Hitchhiker's means you're immune from unemployment
and impervious to life's knocks. But it comes with the territory.
biggest concern is to make sure I'm able to work across all
media. I do love audio work and beat the drum for it to the
point of deafness, but it's nice to put it aside sometimes
and work on other projects. In fact it's nice to work, period...
Many of our readers will not be aware of your involvement
in large and small screen ventures. Can you enlighten us?
Well I have voice directed for animation and video games,
including The Animated Mr Bean with Rowan Atkinson,
The Magic Roundabout Movie with Robbie Williams and
Kylie Minogue, and Broken Sword III with Rolf Saxon
and Sarah Crook. I have directed picture stuff in the past
and would like to do more in the future, but it's a much more
frustrating and cumbersome business creatively than pure sound.
Now that all three of your Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
dramatisations for radio are out on CD (and indeed have
been included with the original two in a box set) how do you
feel they went over all? And what has been the initial reaction
from media and industry?
Maggs (Director) and Paul Deeley (Sound Engineer) listen
to the recordings for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the
There have been some astonishingly nice verdicts from critics
and listeners, but also there have been some astonishingly
vitriolic ones too. One I particularly treasure on a certain
book selling Internet site slags off a whole series in a hissy
fit and adds: "Dirk Maggs is not Douglas Adams and never will
be," which was the one objective and sensible thought in the
movie has had the same range of responses. In the end, there
will always be folks who feel you've taken liberties with
their personal property. But, as Douglas used to say, they'll
get over it.
Did your long-time involvement with BBC Radio comedy help
you with the tone when adapting the books for radio, or do
you think Hitchhiker has a distinctive humour all of
I think you had to have been there, as it were, to make it
possible to finish the saga at all. BBC Radio Light Ent, as
it was in the 70s when Douglas and Geoffrey Perkins were there
(under Department Head, David Hatch), and the 80s, when I
was among the next generation of occupants (under Martin Fisher
and later the much-loved Jonathan James Moore), is very much
an analogue for the offices of The Hitchhikers Guide To
The Galaxy as Douglas describes them in the books.
a daily basis the first floor at 16 Langham Street was mostly
deserted from twelve noon until three pm, as everybody was
out at the pub. Therefore it is quite likely that much of
the comedy output of the BBC radio networks at that time was
actually accomplished by casual visitors, who found the offices
empty and thus could easily have sat down at the typewriters
to bang out the odd sketch for Week Ending or News
Huddlines, or indeed the entire formats of all of the
quiz shows that were running at the time.
of the Hitchhiker's cast and crew at a Forbidden
The Hitchhiker productions probably had the largest
cast you've had in this country. Was there a feeling of the
BBC treating this with more respect than normal, because the
best-selling first book is so much loved?
Respect... hmmm.... Put it this way - the Production Company,
Cast, Producers, Director, Composer and Studio personnel worked
themselves into the ground making these three final series
as good as they could be, and the BBC website editorial team
should be singled out for doing a great job backing us up.
Can you imagine these kick-starting modern radio serials again?
With your successful track record in radio, I would have thought
the BBC would be constantly at your door demanding more adaptations
and new material. Why do you think they are so short-sighted
in this respect?
You'd have to ask them, I'd love to find out...
If you could only be a writer, producer or director, which
one would it be?
I think being all three in audio theatre is the most fun you
can have with the lights on.
If you were to direct an audio play of your life, who would
play you and why?
Lorelei King [pictured right]. She can play any part
and she's lovely to work with.
If you were a car, what model would it be and why? (think
about what's attractive and practical to different groups
of people - this will hopefully tell people who your target
A 1958 Studebaker Hawk. Because I'd like to look that classy.
What that says about my target audience I have no idea. My
target audience is people like me, I guess.
What next for Dirk Maggs? What follows Hitchhiker's,
and what plans for the future?
Well with things being on the quiet side I'm attempting to
write a novel for kids based on my 1998 Radio 4 Christmas
Gemini Apes. It's nice to work on some of my
own material for a change, and I'm really enjoying writing
for it's own sake.
Dirk Maggs, thanks very much for talking to us.
Maggs: "Here's a very recent picture of John Sargeant presenting
me with the Audio Producers Association Award for Hitchhiker's
(in the 'Best TV & Film' category ... go figure!)"
more information on Dirk Magg's past projects check out Ty
to buy the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Complete
Radio Series for £48.00 (RRP: £80.00)