Douglas Adams - Writer and Fantasist

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This article is in massively early stages.

And Lo, There Was Born Unto Mankind...

Okay, obviously that's not going to be the actual header.

Right. So. Right. Yes. Obviously born March 11, 1952, Cambridge, always pleased with the proximity of his birth to the 'discovery' of DNA* in the same town given that his full name was Douglas Noel Adams.

Adams showed promise as a writer from an early age; his former English teacher used to remark to his students that Adams was the only person he had ever given 10/10 to for writing. While at school* he sold stories to the Eagle comic; short tales which were a bit more carefree in tone than his work would later be.

The Making of the Man

Adams successfully applied to Cambridge University; the choice of institution largely down to wanting to emulate John Cleese (who was, after all, similarly lofty), his writer/performer idol. Despite stories from his university contemporaries who praise his output at the time, he seems to have left Footlights, the University's student comedy club, relatively unimpressed* and Adams eventually formed a trio called 'Adams-Smith*-Adams, performing with some success - so much so that the Footlights bought sketches from them; but still wouldn't let Douglas Adams perform.

Adams did return to the club after graduation, directing A Kick In The Stalls, a show not without its difficulties and retweaked by the incumbent vice-president of the club, Griff Rhys Jones, whom Adams had got into comedy at Cambridge*. A rare television taping of the show impressed former Footlight and present Python Graham Chapman, and prompted the latter to ask Adams to work with him on a number of projects including one for Ringo Starr. Contrary to some opinions, Adams had only a minimal involvement with Monty Python*, despite his deep love for the troupe's output and approach to comedy.


Working with Chapman did not last very long, and when it ended, Douglas Adams struggled. Being a writer who adapted the world to suit his comedy rather than the other way around, he found it close to impossible to write short comedy sketches for radio, and embarked upon a series of bizarre jobs including bodyguard to the ruling family of Qatar and chicken shed cleaner. Before long, he was living with his mother for a year, despite the desperate attempts from friends such as John Lloyd to get him jobs.

In 1978 Adams achieved some success in scripting Pirate Planet for season sixteen of Doctor Who (around two-thirds through Tom Baker's tenure). The following season, he took over as script editor, a job which he discovered actually meant the 'writers' would send in a half-finished script - or even just a premise - and expect him to finish it off. Stories created by Adams himself were City of Death, often considered the finest ever Doctor Who story, and the quasi-mythical Shada*. His time writing for the show was cut short by a project he was working on at the same time: Hitchhiker.


At some point in his late teens (the moment is obscured by the passage of time and Douglas Adams' disregard for accuracy when it came to stories about himself), the title "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" made itself known to him. A few years later he began to turn this and other ideas into what began as a radio series, but later became a television series, books, computer games, play, film, and a towel.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in its initial, radio, form, was the story of the demolition of planet Earth and the subsequent adventures of the very, very few survivors and those they meet along the way. Famous for such ideas as a perpetually depressed android, a race of people who construct planets, and the answer to the great question of Life, the Universe and Everything being, in fact, 42; it is probably fair to call it, along with The Goon Show, the best-known and most acclaimed British radio comedy series.

Adams said he wanted the project to sound like a Pink Floyd* album; an example of his keen enthusiasm (like many comedians before him and since) for the band and others from the 1960s and rock music in general*. He was a more than competent guitarist himself, and got to know three quarters of his idols The Beatles through Pythons - George Harrison thanks to Eric Idle, Ringo Starr by writing for him with Graham Chapman, and even Paul McCartney* after being summoned to the latter's presence with Terry Jones and John Lloyd when McCartney was seeking writers for his Frog Chorus project*.

The change made to his life by the success of the show (Adams first realised this when seeing queues for book signings for the first book) was immense, and not always welcome. Adams described it as:
"like being helicoptered to the top of Mount Everest or having an orgasm without the foreplay."

As time went on, he became ever less keen on talking about parts of the stories, particularly discussing 42* with fans who seemed incapable of understanding there was no reason behind the choice of the number.

The books are generally regarded as the finest incarnation of the stories (which vary a great deal from radio to television to book to film), and indeed a new radio series in the early 2000s, carrying on from where the previous series had left off, simply made adaptations of the books Adams had written since then*; though by this point Douglas Adams was no longer around to write a new version himself*.

Dirk Gently

Adams' second-best-known works are the books featuring Dirk Gently*, a detective or con-man depending upon your interpretation, whose belief in the 'fundamental interconnectedness of things' conveniently enables him to run up huge expenses bills. Gently featured in two novels ('featured' being the operative word - Dirk doesn't appear in the first until after the half-way point), Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency* and The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. The blend of crime, horror, science-fiction and romance didn't sit as easily with many fans who were expecting the out-and-out absurdity of Hitchhiker, though the style is perhaps close to Doctor Who.

Much happier working on Dirk Gently than Hitchhiker, Adams began a third novel, The Salmon of Doubt, but came to believe the content better suited the Hitchhiker universe; the book was never completed although it is fairly likely the title would have changed given the tradition of naming Hitchhiker books using a phrase featuring in the first book.

The rest, as they say (as they also say), is history

With long-time friend John Lloyd he composed two quasi-reference books, The Meaning of Liff and The Deeper Meaning of Liff, wherein town names were used to fill in the gaps in the English language, for example using the name Ely to denote the first, tiniest inkling you get that something, somewhere, has gone horribly wrong.

Last Chance to See (4 months, one page). Mark Carwardine.

Digital Village, originally on Maiden Lane in London's Covent Garden. Starship Titanic. H2G2 with Richard Creasey and Robbie Stamp.

Bureaucracy computer game

Paul Wickens, Robbie McIntosh via website, the McCartney connection. Rock Set in parties round his house.

Film, Orig. Jay Loach, now Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith. Hollywood process:
"trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it"


Hyperland avec Tom Baker. Web fanatic. Babel Fish Altavista. His work has even contributed an album title, in OK Computer, and song title, in Paranoid Android, to Radiohead. Egad.

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