Ford Prefect (character)

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Ford Prefect
David Dixon as Ford Prefect in Episode One of the TV adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
David Dixon as Ford Prefect in Episode One of the BBC TV series
First appearance Fit the First (radio)
Created by Douglas Adams
Portrayed by Geoffrey McGivern (radio and LP versions)
David Dixon (television)
Mos Def (film)
Information
Nickname(s) Ix
Species Betelgeusian
Gender Male
Occupation Researcher for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Relatives Zaphod Beeblebrox (semi-half cousin)

Ford Prefect (also called Ix) is a fictional character in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by the British author Douglas Adams. He is the only character other than the protagonist, Arthur Dent, to appear throughout the entire Hitchhiker's saga. His role as Arthur's friend – and rescuer, when the Earth is unexpectedly demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass at the start of the story – is often expository, as Ford is an experienced galactic hitch-hiker and explains that he is actually an alien journalist, a field researcher for the titular Guide itself, and not an out-of-work actor from Guildford as he had hitherto claimed.

Name[edit]

Although Ford had taken great care to blend into Earth society, he had "skimped a bit on his preparatory research," and thought that the name "Ford Prefect" would be "nicely inconspicuous." The graphics in the TV series provide a similar explanation by listing a sequence of names including 'Ford', beginning with director John Ford, Arthur Ford, news reader Anna Ford, carmaker Henry Ford, the Ford Anglia, the Ford Consul with the final name Ford Prefect being selected. Adams later clarified in an interview that Ford "had simply mistaken the dominant life form" of earth -- the Ford Prefect was, in fact, a popular British car manufactured from 1938 to 1961. This was expanded on somewhat in the film version, where Ford is almost run over while attempting to greet a blue Ford Prefect. He is saved by Arthur and, in the film version of events at least, this is how the pair meet.

Adams later observed that this joke was lost on U.S. audiences who assumed it was a typing error for "perfect." In some versions, such as the French (Le Guide Galactique)[1] and the Greek, Ford's name was changed to "Ford Escort." Nowadays, the joke is largely lost on younger audiences in Britain as well, since the Ford Prefect is now a rare sight on British roads. In the film adaptation, his last name was never actually stated on-screen, but it is given in the film's credits as "Prefect."

Prior art for Adams's satirical point – that humans attach such importance to their automobiles that a visiting extraterrestrial might reasonably mistake them for the planet's dominant life form – can be found in a widely reprinted article from The Rockefeller Institute Review titled Life on Earth (by a Martian) by Paul Weiss. The idea was also expounded by Carl Sagan, though this may have postdated Adams's creation of the character of Ford. The 1967 Oscar-nominated animated film What on Earth! from the National Film Board of Canada is also based on this premise.[2]

First birth name[edit]

In the novel, we are told that Ford's original name is "only pronounceable in an obscure Betelgeusian dialect" which was almost wiped out by the "Great Collapsing Hrung Disaster of Gal./Sid./Year 03758," a mysterious catastrophe which took place on the planet of Betelgeuse Seven and which Ford's father was the only man to survive. Ford never learned to pronounce his original name, which was a matter that caused his father to die of shame (which is still a terminal disease in some parts of the Universe). At school, he was nicknamed "Ix," which translates as "boy who is not able satisfactorily to explain what a Hrung is, nor why it should choose to collapse on Betelgeuse Seven".

Despite all this, his semi-cousin (in the film and radio show they are said to share three of the same mothers) Zaphod Beeblebrox calls him "Ford" the first time they are reunited in all versions of the story except for the film, where Zaphod addresses him as "Praxibetel Ix," then introduces him by saying "This is my semi-half brother, Ix...Excuse me, Ford." While not explained in the book, a footnote of the original radio scripts explains that "just before arriving (on Earth) he registered his new name officially at the Galactic Nomenclaturoid Office, where they had the technology to unpick his old name from the fabric of space/time and thread the new one in its place, so that to all intents and purposes his name had always been and would always be Ford Prefect."[3]

Character and role[edit]

Ford is pragmatic to the point of fatalism, endlessly broad-minded – no doubt due to his vast experience of roughing it around the galaxy – and possessed of an off-key and often very black sense of humour. He is described as being able to smile in a way that would "send hitherto sane men scampering into the trees". In his role as guide to the universe for the often bewildered everyman Arthur Dent, he serves to link the disparate elements of the story together. As well as rescuing Arthur, he introduces him to the other major characters – such as Zaphod, Trillian and Marvin the Paranoid Android – and to numerous mind-boggling concepts, from 'teasers' (an explanation of UFO sightings on Earth) to the extraordinary usefulness of towels. Ford's other chief characteristic is his constant pursuit of alcoholic drinks and a good time (in contrast to Arthur's quest for a cup of tea). Adams said finding motivations for Ford's character in order to keep him engaged in the narrative became increasingly difficult as the series of novels progressed, because although his heart is in the right place and he is shown to be highly intelligent, resourceful and even brave, Ford is essentially a dilettante when it comes to causes such as the search for the question to the ultimate answer of life, the universe and everything.

Ford is approximately two hundred years old, as supported by the books. When, in the first novel, Zaphod steals the spaceship Heart of Gold, it is on Zaphod's two-hundredth birthday. It is later mentioned that Ford and Zaphod attended school together, even having some of the same classes, which would indicate that they are roughly the same age.[4]

Portrayals[edit]

In the original radio series and subsequent LP adaptation, Ford was played by Geoffrey McGivern. On television he was played by David Dixon,[5] and in the film he was played by Mos Def. In The Illustrated Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy he is portrayed by Tom Finnis.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Le Guide Galactique, Denoël, ISBN 978-2-207-24914-7
  2. ^ "What on Earth!". Online film. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 13 March 2010. 
  3. ^ "The alt.fan.douglas-adams FAQ". Zootle.net. Retrieved 2013-08-29. 
  4. ^ The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy omnibus edition, printed by Ballantine Books
  5. ^ "DAVID DIXON - The Dixionary - Unofficial fan page". Rabid.oneuk.com. 1947-10-28. Retrieved 2013-08-29.