READERS of the novel, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy will know with absolute certainty that the secret of life, the universe and everything is 42.

So Theme 42 seemed an obvious success-targeted title for Paul Duce's new company which he set up on the Hessay trading estate west of York.

And so it proved for master carpenter Paul - with a little added intervention from the Vikings.

Explanation: Theme 42 is the fledgling theming company which won a major contract to put the gawps, ghosts and gasps into the £5 million revamp of the Jorvik Viking Centre in York.

And such was the critical acclaim he and his team received that other huge contracts have been lined up in its wake.

All this makes Theme 42 an obvious candidate for the Evening Press Business of the Year competition - in both the Business of the Year and Personality of the Year categories.

Already Theme 42 has been invited to work for Cadbury's World in Birmingham, creating everything from a Victorian cinema to models of Mr Cadbury himself.

And it is being asked to cast an expert eye on other projects. The company is looking at models for a luxury hotel in the north east and is drafting new ideas, including a smuggling theme, for Marsden Grotto, a pub/restaurant hewn out of rock in South Shields.

"We've just not had time to be surprised at our success," says Paul. "All I do know is that the pressure was massive. When we started we had all the expertise to do the job but we knew nothing about running a company.

"So that even as I was recruiting for one contract I was having to learn how to look for new contracts, but somehow we succeeded."

It may have surprised him but will come as no shock to visitors to the Jorvik Centre who marvel at the results of Theme 42's knowledge of animatronics - which made figures move authentically - prop-making, design and planning, lighting and special effects.

They also thrill at the detail so carefully researched by the company's historic expert, Rose Jones - such as the making of authentic Viking cloth for the Viking figures to wear.

It was dyed with special lichens, a protected species in Britain, so the material had to be sent to Nova Scotia.

Audiences are also amazed by Theme 42's use of mirrors and lights to make ghostly figures vanish and re-appear - an illusion known in the trade as 'Pepper's Ghost'.

It is a direct reflection of Paul's theatrical background.

When he left school in Sheffield he became an engineering apprentice making drill-bits. Then he turned to welding and when asked to weld scenery at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre, he became hooked on the smell of the greasepaint - and stayed there for nine years, making props and steel constructions for special effects.

At the same time he trained as a master carpenter and became more intensely involved with scene construction, extending his talents into cinema.

He worked on two Film Four productions and even appeared in one called Crime Strike in which he was a prisoner released as a result of a police strike.

After voluntary redundancy at the theatre he joined Scenic Route, the York-based theme company.

Finally he broke out on his own with a core staff of five expanding to 20 depending on the size of project.

And for the future? Well, he hopes to diversify into scene construction and special effects for the film industry, getting away from time to time what he describes as "the incestuous world of the themers".

His other ambition which will be realised next May, will be his birthday - when he turns 42.

"Life, the universe and everything should all become totally clear by then," he quips.