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Douglas Adams
11 March 1952 – 11 May 2001
 


Douglas Nol Adams was an English author, comic radio dramatist, and musician. He is best known as the author of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. Hitchhiker's began on radio, and developed into a "trilogy" of five books (which sold more than fifteen million copies during his lifetime) as well as a television series, a comic book series, a computer game and a feature film that was completed after Adams' death. The series has also been adapted for live theatre using various scripts; the earliest such productions used material newly written by Adams. He was known to some fans as Bop Ad (after his illegible signature), or by his initials "DNA".

In addition to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams wrote or co-wrote three stories of the science fiction television series Doctor Who and served as Script Editor during the seventeenth season. His other written works include the Dirk Gently novels, and co-wrote two Liff books and Last Chance to See, itself based on a radio series. Adams also originated the idea for the computer game Starship Titanic, which was realized by a company that Adams co-founded, and adapted into a novel by Terry Jones. A posthumous collection of essays and other material, including an incomplete novel, was published as The Salmon of Doubt in 2002.

His fans and friends also knew Adams as an environmental activist, a self-described "radical atheist", and a lover of fast cars, cameras, the Macintosh computer, and other "techno gizmos." Acclaimed biologist Richard Dawkins dedicated his book The God Delusion to Douglas Adams and in it describes how Adams came to understand evolution, consequently "converting" to atheism. Douglas was a keen technologist, writing about such inventions as e-mail and Usenet before they became widely popular, or even widely known.

Toward the end of his life, he was a sought-after lecturer on topics including technology and the environment. Since his death at the age of 49, he is still widely revered in science fiction and fantasy fandom circles.


Early life

Douglas Adams was born to Janet Adams (ne Donovan, and now known as Janet Thrift) and Christopher Douglas Adams in Cambridge, England. His parents had one other child together, Susan, who was born in March 1955. His parents separated and divorced in 1957, and Douglas, Susan, and Janet moved in with Janet's parents, the Donovans, in Brentwood, Essex. Douglas's grandmother kept her house as an official RSPCA refuge for hurt animals, which "exacerbated young Douglas's hayfever and asthma."

Christopher Adams remarried in July 1960, to Mary Judith Stewart (born Judith Robertson). From this marriage, Douglas Adams had a half-sister, Heather. Janet remarried in 1964, to a veterinarian, Ron Thrift, providing two more half-siblings to Douglas; Jane and James Thrift.


Education and early works

Adams first attended Primrose Hill Primary School in Brentwood. He took the exams and interviewed for Brentwood School at age six, and attended the preparatory school from 1959 to 1964, then the main school until 1970. He was in the top stream, and specialised in the arts in the sixth form, after which he stayed an extra term in a special seventh form class, customary in the school for those preparing for Oxbridge entrance exams.

While at the prep school, his English teacher, Frank Halford, reportedly awarded Adams the only ten out of ten of his entire teaching career for a creative writing exercise. Adams remembered this for the rest of his life, especially when facing writer's block. Some of Adams' earliest writing was published at the school, such as a report on the school's Photography Club in The Brentwoodian (in 1962) or spoof reviews in the school magazine Broadsheet (edited by Paul Neil Milne Johnstone). Adams also had a letter and short story published nationally in the UK in the boys' magazine The Eagle in 1965. He met Griff Rhys Jones, who was in the year below, at the school, and was in the same class as "Stuckist" artist Charles Thomson; all three appeared together in a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in 1968. He was six feet tall (1.83 m) by the time he was 12, and he stopped growing only at 6'5" (1.96 m). Later, he would often make self-ironic jokes about his own towering stature, "...the form-master wouldn't say 'Meet under the clock tower,' or 'Meet under the War Memorial,' but 'Meet under Adams.'"

On the strength of a bravura essay on religious poetry that discussed the Beatles along with William Blake, he was awarded a place at St John's College, Cambridge to read English, entering in 1971. Adams attempted early on to get into the Footlights Dramatic Club, with which several other names in British comedy had been affiliated. He was, however, turned down, and started to write and perform in revues with Will Adams (no relation) and Martin Smith, forming a group called "Adams-Smith-Adams." Later, on another attempt to join Footlights, Adams was encouraged by Simon Jones and found himself working with Rhys Jones, among others. In 1974, Adams graduated with a B.A. in English literature.

Some of his early work appeared on BBC2 (television) in 1974, in an edited version of the Footlights Revue from Cambridge, that year. A version of the same revue performed live in London's West End led to Adams being "discovered" by Monty Python's Graham Chapman. The two formed a brief writing partnership, and Adams earned a writing credit in one episode (episode 45: "Party Political Broadcast on Behalf of the Liberal Party") of Monty Python's Flying Circus for a sketch called "Patient Abuse." In the sketch, a man who had been stabbed by a nurse arrives at his doctor's office bleeding profusely from the stomach. The doctor asks him to fill out numerous senseless forms before he will administer treatment (a joke he later incorporated into the Vogons' obsession with paperwork). Adams also contributed to a sketch on the album for Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Douglas also had two brief appearances in the fourth series of Monty Python's Flying Circus. At the beginning of Episode 42, "The Light Entertainment War," Adams is in a surgeon's mask (as Dr. Emile Koning, according to the on-screen captions), pulling on gloves, while Michael Palin narrates a sketch that introduces one person after another, and never actually gets started. At the beginning of Episode 44, "Mr Neutron," Adams is dressed in a "pepperpot" outfit and loads a missile onto a cart, driven by Terry Jones, who is calling out for scrap metal ("Any old iron..."). The two episodes were first broadcast in November 1974. Adams and Chapman also attempted a few non-Python projects, including Out of the Trees.

Some of Adams' early radio work included sketches for The Burkiss Way in 1977 and The News Huddlines. He also co-wrote, again with Graham Chapman, the 20 February 1977 episode of Doctor on the Go, a sequel to the Doctor in the House television comedy series.

As Adams had difficulty selling his jokes and stories, he took a series of "odd jobs" in order to have some income. A biography from an early edition of one of the HHGG novels provides the following description of his early career:

After graduation he spent several years contributing material to radio and television shows as well as writing, performing, and sometimes directing stage revues in London, Cambridge and at the Edinburgh Fringe. He has also worked at various times as a hospital porter, barn builder, chicken shed cleaner, bodyguard, radio producer and script editor of Doctor Who.

Adams held the job as a bodyguard in the mid-1970s. He was employed by an Qatar Arab family who had made its fortune in oil. He had a couple of favourite anecdotes about the job: one story related that the family once ordered one of everything from a hotel's menu, tried all of the dishes, and sent out for hamburgers. Another story had to do with a prostitute, sent to the floor Adams was guarding one evening. They acknowledged each other as she entered, and an hour later, when she left, she is said to have remarked, "At least you can read while you're on the job."

In 1979, Adams and John Lloyd wrote the scripts for two half-hour episodes of Doctor Snuggles: "The Remarkable Fidgety River" and "The Great Disappearing Mystery" (episodes seven and twelve). John Lloyd was also co-author of two episodes from the original "Hitchhiker" radio series (Fit the Fifth and Fit the Sixth (also known as Episodes Five and Six, see explanation below)), as well as The Meaning of Liff and The Deeper Meaning of Liff. Lloyd and Adams also collaborated on an SF movie comedy project based on The Guinness Book of World Records, which would have starred John Cleese as the UN Secretary General, and had a race of aliens beating humans in athletic competitions, but the humans winning in all of the "absurd" record categories. This latter project never proceeded past a treatment.

After the first radio series of The Hitchhiker's Guide became successful, Adams was made a BBC radio producer, working on Week Ending and a pantomime called Black Cinderella Two Goes East. He left the position after six months to become the script editor for Doctor Who.


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was a concept for a science-fiction comedy radio series pitched by Adams and radio producer Simon Brett to BBC Radio 4 in 1977. Adams came up with an outline for a pilot episode, as well as a few other stories (reprinted in Neil Gaiman's book Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion) that could potentially be used in the series.

According to Adams, the idea for the title The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy occurred to him while he lay drunk in a field in Innsbruck, Austria (though he joked that the BBC would instead claim it was Spain "probably because it's easier to spell"), gazing at the stars. He had been wandering the countryside while carrying a book called the Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe when he ran into a town where, as he humorously describes, everyone was either "deaf" and "dumb" or only spoke languages he could not. After wandering around and drinking for a while, he went to sleep in the middle of a field and was inspired by his inability to communicate with the townspeople. He later said that due to his constantly retelling this story of inspiration, he no longer had any memory of the moment of inspiration itself, and only remembered his retellings of that moment. A postscript to M. J. Simpson's biography of Adams, Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams, provides evidence that the story was in fact a fabrication and that Adams had conceived the idea some time after his trip around Europe.

Despite the original outline, Adams was said to make up the stories as he wrote. He turned to John Lloyd for help with the final two episodes of the first series. Lloyd contributed bits from an unpublished science fiction book of his own, called GiGax.] However, very little of Lloyd's material survived in later adaptations of Hitchhiker's, such as the novels and the TV series. The TV series itself was based on the first six radio episodes, but sections contributed by Lloyd were largely re-written.

BBC Radio 4 broadcast the first radio series weekly in the UK in March and April 1978. Following the success of the first series, another episode was recorded and broadcast, which was commonly known as the Christmas Episode. A second series of five episodes was broadcast one per night, during the week of 21 January - 25 January 1980.

While working on the radio series (and with simultaneous projects such as The Pirate Planet) Adams developed problems keeping to writing deadlines that only got worse as he published novels. Adams was never a prolific writer and usually had to be forced by others to do any writing. This included being locked in a hotel suite with his editor for three weeks to ensure that So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish was completed. He was quoted as saying, "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by." Despite the difficulty with deadlines, Adams eventually authored five novels in the series, published in 1979, 1980, 1982, 1984 and 1992.

The books formed the basis for other adaptations, such as three-part comic book adaptations for each of the first three books, an interactive text-adventure computer game, and a photo-illustrated edition, published in 1994. This latter edition featured a 42 Puzzle designed by Adams, which was later incorporated into paperback covers of the first four "Hitchhiker's" novels (the paperback for the fifth re-used the artwork from the hardcover edition).

In 1980, Adams also began attempts to turn the first Hitchhiker's novel into a movie, making several trips to Los Angeles, California, and working with a number of Hollywood studios and potential producers. The next year, 1981, the radio series became the basis for a BBC television mini-series "The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy" broadcast in six parts. When he died in 2001 in California, he had been trying again to get the movie project started with Disney, which had bought the rights in 1998. The screenplay finally got a posthumous re-write by Karey Kirkpatrick, was green-lit in September 2003, and the resulting movie was released in 2005.

Radio producer Dirk Maggs had consulted with Adams, first in 1993, and later in 1997 and 2000 about creating a third radio series, based on the third novel in the Hitchhiker's series. They also vaguely discussed the possibilities of radio adaptations of the final two novels in the five-book "trilogy." As with the movie, this project was only realized after Adams' death. The third series, The Tertiary Phase, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in September 2004 and was subsequently released on audio CD. With the aid of a recording of his reading of Life, the Universe and Everything and editing, Douglas Adams himself can be heard playing the part of Agrajag posthumously. So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish and Mostly Harmless made up the fourth and fifth radio series, respectively (on radio they were titled The Quandary Phase and The Quintessential Phase) and these were broadcast in May and June of 2005, and also subsequently released on Audio CD. The last episode in the last series (with a new, "more upbeat" ending) concluded with, "The very final episode of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams is affectionately dedicated to its author."

More recently, the film makers at Smoov Filmz adapted the anecdote that Arthur Dent relates about biscuits in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish into a short film called "Cookies." Adams also discussed the real-life episode that inspired the anecdote in a 2001 speech, reprinted in his posthumous collection The Salmon of Doubt. He also told the story on the radio programme It Makes Me Laugh on 19 July 1981.

 

 

 

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This web page was last updated on: 08 December, 2008