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Blu-Ray: Last Chance to See

Whenever I watch one of those awards nights – where people who already have far more than they need get up and accept awards for things that they were already exasperatingly over-paid to do – I always end up asking myself who I’d thank should I ever win anything of greater accolade than a parking fine. Invariably, in amongst the “yeah, had better give them a mention” entries in my acceptance speech for this fictitious award (which I imagine to be adorned with a little golden man holding a broken fishing rod), one name appears: Richard Johnson. Better known as Mr J to his 5th grade class.

Apart from being an eccentric, lanky specimen, with a crazed mop of red hair – the majority of which had fled the top of his head for the refuge of his upper lip – he was the only teacher I ever had who managed to figure out that I was a pain in the ass because I was bored out of my mind. In truth, we were probably far too young for it, but Mr J saw fit to introduce the class to the works of J.R.R Tolkien and Douglas Adams. The result was a class full of young minds that would never be the same.

For me it was the beginning of a life long love of Douglas Adams’ writing and his wonderfully abstract way of viewing the universe. As wonderful and mind-warping as his fiction works are, nothing greater exemplifies Adams’ ability to see the world from a perspective askew of others like the accounts he kept of his journeys around the globe with zoologist, Mark Carwardine.

The original Last Chance To See is a BBC radio documentary (and book) which is in equal parts hilarious and thought provoking. The series was recorded in 1989 with the goal of allowing Carwardine to increase awareness of the plights of some of those most endangered of animals, while Adams added context by playing the bumbling Englishman who found himself constantly, vastly, out side of his comfort zone. But even in the most trying of conditions Adams’ intellect and wit allowed him to write some of his most engaging words.

I wept when I heard that Douglas Adams had died. I wept for him like I’d known him personally, the man had touched my heart and changed the way I think. I wept for Douglas almost as much as I wept when I heard that Mr J was no longer with us. In my mind these men are forever joined, together they broke my brain in the best way possible. No award speech will ever allow me to convey the profound impact that they had on my life… and certainly neither will some ill constructed blog post, on a website, hosted far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the internet.

As with anything good someone somewhere is looking to make another buck off it. And being cynical of such things I was more than a little disgusted by the idea that one of those someones was planning to make another series of Last Chance to See, this time for television. Cynical I was, until I discovered that once again, Mark Carwardine would be taking a rotund English gentleman, with a mastery of words, out into the wildernesses to let all manner of insect life feed off of. While no-one can ever replace Douglas Adams, if there is any person on the planet with the credentials to hold Adams’ spot in line, it is Stephen Fry.

Stephen Fry’s mastery of language aside, it’s reasonably well known that he and Douglas Adams were friends. In an early episode of this new series of Last Chance to See Fry reveals that while Adams and Carwardine were traipsing about the planet twenty years ago, he was actually living in Adams’ home, growing increasingly jealous as he fielded requests for guidebooks and supplies to be shipped off to ever increasingly distant locations. So, in a way Fry somewhat vicariously participated in the original series anyway.

What I didn’t expect from this new series, was to find myself almost glad that Adams’ role had been handed off to a stand in. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t rather know that Adams was still with us, concocting another magnificent novel, or writing brilliant new scripts for Doctor Who. Or better still, if this had been a series where Carwardine and Adams had dragged Fry off on an adventure with them, as the obligatory wide-eyed, new guy. But, by the time of his death Adams had become quite dedicated to the cause that he and Carwardine had sought to promote. His role this time around would have been quite removed from the part he played in the original series; the part that Fry is now filling with similar passion, wit and bemusement to that which Adams did twenty years ago.

Rarely in life do we get the opportunity to see outside of our own comfort zone, to have our brains bent a little. In the movie Dead Poets Society, John Keating made his students stand on their desks to show them that things look different from an unusual perspective. In his classroom, Mr J did it by reading the words of Douglas Adams. In Last Chance to See Douglas Adams, Mark Carwardine and (now) Stephen Fry do it by literally leaving their comfort zones.

I can’t pay this new series any higher praise than to say that it is just as magnificent as the original. It is as moving, thought provoking, heart-breaking and amusing as the original. Maybe more so for those who have heard or read Adams’ accounts, because in this we learn the fate of the creatures that he introduced us to two decades ago. No, you don’t have to have experienced the original adventures or have spent a lifetime loving Douglas Adams’ work to appreciate this new series, but you really should allow them both to bend your perspective a little. If you’re really, really lucky something may break. [source]

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    I disagree quite passionately with you…this is an exquisitely crafted and deeply moving post.

    Unfashionable end of the internet? Perhaps.

    It was my Grade 5 teacher, Mr Smith, who had the most lasting impact on me for all sorts of colourful reasons. Maybe that is a good age for eye opening.

  • Perhaps so.


  • Mate! what an enjoyable read. I was only thinking of Mr.J the other day when I walked past a yellow 240Z. I have always wondered if there was a little bit of Mr.J in your Zsled purchase.

  • Well, there you go. I didn’t even know he drove a Z. Stands to reason though.