In the series it is told that, far back in prehistory, when the first primeval Vogons crawled out of the sea, the forces of evolution were so disgusted with them that they never allowed them to evolve again. Through sheer obstinacy, though, the Vogons survived (partly by adapting a misplaced, badly malformed, and dyspeptic liver into a brain). They then emigrated en masse to the Brantisvogon star cluster (although the film has them staying on Vogsphere), where they form most of the Galactic bureaucracy, most notably in the Vogon Constructor Fleets (which, despite their name, patrol the galaxy demolishing planets). The only named Vogons in the stories are Jeltz (see below), Kwaltz (who appears in the film) and Zarniwoop, revealed to be a Vogon in the Quintessential Phase.
Vogons are roughly human-sized, although much bulkier, with green or grey skin. their noses are above their eyebrows, which are either ginger (in the television series) or white (in the film). The film's commentary states that the idea behind the high flat noses was that they evolved both the noses and the severe bureaucracy from being repeatedly smacked in the face by the paddle creatures under the sand on Vogsphere whenever they had an independent thought (in the film, the Vogon bureaucracy is centred on Vogsphere).
Garth Jennings deliberately based his conception of the Vogons on the work of cartoonist James Gillray (1757-1815). "His creations were so grotesque...when we looked at them, we realised they were the Vogons
On Vogsphere, the Vogons would sit upon very elegant and beautiful gazelle-like creatures, whose backs would snap instantly if the Vogons tried to ride them. The Vogons were perfectly happy with just sitting on them. Another favorite Vogon pastime is to import millions of beautiful jewel-backed scuttling crabs from their native planet, cut down giant trees of breathtaking beauty, and spend a happy drunken night smashing the crabs to bits with iron mallets and cooking the crab meat by burning the trees. In the movie, the Vogons seem to smash the crabs for no apparent reason besides pure pleasure at killing something.
The Vogons' battle-cry, and counter-argument to dissent, is "resistance is useless!"
Vogon Poetry is described as "the third worst poetry in the Universe" in the story. The main example used in the story is a short piece composed by Jeltz, which roughly emulates nonsense verse in style. The story relates that listening to it is an experience similar to torture as demonstrated when Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect are forced to listen to the poem poetry (and say how much they liked it) prior to being thrown out of an airlock.
An unused extended version of the poem is also excerpted in Neil Gaiman's book Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion, in Appendix III.
A third example appears in The Quintessential Phase of the radio series, again written by Jeltz.
The Vogon Captain in charge of overseeing the destruction of the Earth, Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz is sadistic, even by Vogon standards. He enjoys shouting at or executing members of his own crew for insubordination, and takes professional pride in his job of demolishing planets.
Physically, Jeltz is described as being unpleasant to look at, even for other Vogons.
It is revealed in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe that Jeltz had been hired by Gag Halfrunt to destroy the Earth. Halfrunt had been acting on behalf of a consortium of psychiatrists and the Imperial Galactic Government in order to prevent the discovery of the Ultimate Question. When Halfrunt learns that Arthur Dent escaped the planet's destruction, Jeltz is dispatched to track him down and destroy him. Jeltz is unable to complete this task, due to the intervention of Zaphod Beeblebrox the Fourth, Zaphod's great-grandfather.
In Mostly Harmless, Jeltz is once again responsible for the destruction of the Earth, after the Vogons infiltrate the 'Hitch-hikers' Guide company offices to turn the guide into a device capable of destroying all Earths in every dimension. This time presumably killing Arthur, Ford, Trillian, and Arthur's daughter, Random - a fate dodged by the characters in the Quintessential Phase.
"Prostetnic Vogon" may be a title, rather than part of his name, since during the second episode of the third radio series (Fit the Fourteenth), two other Prostetnic Vogons are heard from. Also, in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Gag Halfrunt refers to Jeltz as "Captain of Vogons Prostetnic" (although this may have been a play on Halfrunt's accent).
Jeltz appears in:
In the first radio series, he was played by Bill Wallis. On television, it was Martin Benson. In the third, fourth and fifth radio series, he was played by Toby Longworth, although Longworth did not receive a credit for the role during the third series. In the film, he is voiced by Richard Griffiths.
In the television version of the story, the craft are shaped like battleships, albeit with a flat bottom through which the demolition beams are fired. In the film version, the craft are grey and cubic, a continuation of the emphasis on bureaucracy the Vogons' conception: "Douglas [Adams]'s description of the Vogon ships hanging in the air in much the same way that brick's don't [led to] these Vogon ships which are these massive concrete tower blocks, with hardly any windows. they just have a few doors around the base," says Joel Collins.