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Mon, Jul. 23rd, 2007, 09:30 am
ConTent II: Take Me to Your Lizard (Douglas Adams Mini Convention)

Hello again;
just got back from a weekend in Cornwall where I attended the ConTent II mini convention (the name is derived from the fact that we were camping rather than using the usual type of venue).
The significance of the area to fandom is that many of the outdoor scenes of the 1981 Hitch hikers guide to the Galaxy TV series were filmed at locations in the area. (This convention was a follow up to a similar one held in 2002, which i entirely failed to attend, despite the best laid plans of mice.)
The H2G2 related locations were:

-this is the world's oldest satellite communications station, & still the worlds largest with around 60 dishes. It's mentioned in passing in H2G2 as one of the places which failed to detect the approaching Vogon fleet.
The oldest dish there "Arthur" is still in use, supposedly named after Arthur C. Clarke who invented the geostationary communications satellite, although subsequent dishes have all been named after characters from Arthurian legend (the largest dish is called Merlin for example), so possibly that was the real intention all along since Arthurian legend has a special significance in Cornwall.
(It is fortuitous that we visited this year, as Goonhilly is now being closed down & the facilities being moved elsewhere. Britain has 3 large ground stations, or "teleports" as they are known, which are being rationalised down to 2. Although Goonhilly has the best location from a geographical & geological point of view, it seems that ease of commuting was the priority consideration in this process. However Arthur is a listed building & Goonhilly will be maintained as a museum site after this year... but visiting the place just won't be the same when it's no longer a working ground station.)

-scenes on the planet Magrathea were filmed in Wheal Martyn clay pit near St Austell (this may also have been a location chosen for some other BBC SF programmes). The spoil from clay extraction is heaped into huge conical piles, & one particularly distinctive spoil tip was the mountain on which the Starship Heart of Gold landed, & the area at it's base was the location for the shots with Arthur, Marvin, & Slartibartfast.
It is still a working clay pit, although naturally there was no work going on when we visited. This means that the surrounding landscape has changed over the decades since the filming, however the mountain itself is much the same shape as it was decades ago. Those who were present at the visit in 2002 tell me that when they last saw Magrathea it was still stark & bare just as it looked in the TV series, but since then it has become covered in greenery.
The Clay pit is in fact huge, & there are several other mountainous spoil tips dominating the horizon, still looking much as Magrathea itself must have done, there are huge terraces cut into the hillside, & wierd lakes of green water, & dotted everywhere are the rusting remains of mysterious disused machinery, so the place still looks like an alien world.

Gateway to Hyperspace
-through which Arthur passed in Slartibartfasts air car. It is a road tunnel on the private road leading from the clay pit to the local port.

The Sawles Arms
-doesn't apear in H2G2 but is the pub nearest to the entrance to the clay pit, & it was to here that the cast & crew would retire when they needed a break, as did we. It has barely changed since the early 1980s.

Dr Who exhibition center, Land's End
-of general fan interest but not directly to do with H2G2, although Douglas Adams was script editor for Dr Who during the definitive Tom Baker period, & he also wrote some of the scripts himself. The exhibition concentrates on the modern Dr Who TV series. Why is this at Land's End?

The beach
-here, next to St Austell, Douglas Adams was filmed walking naked into the sea. It was also here that Marvin frolicked with a beach ball & a bikini clad maid as "Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun to Be With".

Monkey Sanctuary
-the "this never happens!" scene was filmed in Looe Monkey Sanctuary. Unfortunately this is closed at the weekends.

We also took the trouble to visit some other non-fan locations: on Sunday was able to indulge my long standing facination with the Matter of Britain by visiting the Arthur stone at Camelford & Tintagel castle itself.

I have to remark on the weather: while we were enjoying, & tanning, ourselves in the Cornwall sun we heard rumours of some sort of biblical catastrophe befalling the rest of Britain. In particular that the M5, the main route in & out of Cornwall, had been flooded & was blocked with abandoned vehicles. Well all i can say is that the emergency services must have done a good job as there was no sign of either heading back to Leeds on Sunday night. In fact we had excellent weather all weekend, apart from one rain shower on Saturday, which coincided with us being in the above mentioned pub.