Douglas Adams

Douglas Noel Adams (March 11, 1952May 11, 2001) — also known as Bop Ad or Bob after his illegible signature, or by his initials DNA — was a British comic radio dramatist and author, most notably of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (HHGG or H2G2); at the time of his death, this series had sold more than fifteen million copies.


Education & early works

Adams was born in Cambridge and educated at Brentwood School, Essex where he became friends with Griff Rhys Jones. Adams attended St John's College, Cambridge, and worked with Rhys Jones in the Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club. In 1974, Adams received a BA (and later, an MA) in English literature.

An autobiography from an early edition of one of the HHGG novels provided 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.

Some of his early work appeared on BBC2 (TV) in 1974, in an edited version of the Footlights Revue from Cambridge, that year. A version of the same review performed live in London's West End led to Adams being "discovered" by 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; in the sketch a man who had been stabbed by a nurse arrives at his doctor's office bleeding profusely from the stomach, when the doctor makes him fill out numerous senseless forms before he can administer treatment (a joke he later incorporated into the Vogons' obsession with paperwork). Douglas also (supposedly) has two "blink and you miss them" appearances in the fourth series (episodes 42 and 43) of Monty Python. Adams and Chapman also attempted a few non-Python projects, including Out of the Trees.

Some of his early radio work includes sketches for The Burkiss Way in 1977 and the News Huddlines.

In 1979 Douglas Adams and John Lloyd together wrote the script for two half hour episodes of Doctor Snuggles, one of them called "The remarkable fidgety river". John Lloyd was also co-author of two episodes from the original "Hitchhiker" radio series (Fit the Fifth and Fit the Sixth (aka Episodes Five and Six - see explanation below)), as well as The Meaning of Liff and The Deeper Meaning of Liff.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

According to Adams, the idea for 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 because "It was easier to spell"), gazing at the stars. He had been wandering the countryside while carrying a book called The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe when he ran into a town where, as he humorously describes, everyone was "deaf", "dumb", and could only speak languages that he couldn't speak. 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 MJ Simpson's biography of Adams, Hitchhiker, provides evidence that the story was in fact a fabrication and that Adams had conceived the idea some time after his trip around Europe.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was originally a six-part (each part titled a "Fit" after Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark) radio series broadcast in the UK by BBC Radio 4 in 1978. Following the success of the show, another episode was recorded and broadcast, which was commonly known as the Christmas Episode. This had nothing to do with Christmas except in an early draft [which would have had Marvin the Paranoid Android revealed as the "star" followed by the Three Wise Men], but was called the Christmas episode because it was first broadcast on December 24, 1978 which is not Christmas Day. A second series was broadcast one per night, during the week of the 21 January 1980. The radio programme served as the basis for the first two novels of what eventually became a "trilogy in five parts". It was also the basis for a six-part BBC television series in 1981.

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.[1] ( He has been quoted as saying, "I love deadlines, especially the whooshing sound they make as they go by."

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 all five "Hitchhiker's" novels.

Plans to make HHGG into a major motion picture were in the works for more than twenty years, and were finally freed from development hell in late September 2003. Although Austin Powers director Jay Roach was at one time signed on to the project, the Hammer and Tongs duo, Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith, got the responsibility. Key to the go-ahead was a rewrite of the screenplay by Karey Kirkpatrick, who had earlier worked on Chicken Run. Shooting began in spring 2004, with Robbie Stamp, Douglas' friend and business partner, as an Executive Producer, and Walt Disney Pictures as distributors. Adams once described the Hollywood process as "trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people come into the room and breathe on it."

The BBC has dramatised the final three books in the Hitchhikers series for radio with the surviving members of the original radio cast. The first of these ('The Tertiary Phase') was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in September 2004 and is now available on audio CD. Douglas Adams himself can be heard playing the part of Agrajag. 'So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish' and 'Mostly Harmless' will make up the fourth and fifth radio series, respectively (on radio they will be titled The Quandary and Quintessential Phases) and these are due to be broadcast in May and June of 2005.

The filming of the movie finished in August 2004. The film was released on 28 April in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia, and on 29 April, 2005 in the USA. It will be released in other locations in Europe from May through July 2005. The cast includes Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox, Zooey Deschanel as Trillian, Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent, Mos Def as Ford Prefect, Alan Rickman as the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android, and Stephen Fry as The Book (i.e. the voice of the Guide).

See: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (movie)

Doctor Who

Douglas sent the script for the HHGG pilot radio programme to the Doctor Who production office in 1978, and was commissioned to write The Pirate Planet (see below). He had also previously attempted to submit a potential movie script, called "Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen," which later became his novel "Life, the Universe, and Everything" (which in turn became the third Hitchhiker's Guide radio series, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and on the Internet in September and October 2004, and subsequently released in a 3 CD set). Adams then went on to serve as script editor on the show for its seventeenth season in 1979. Altogether, he wrote three serials starring Tom Baker as the Doctor:

Elements of Shada and City of Death were reused in Adams' later novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, in particular the character of Professor Chronotis. Shada was eventually remade by Big Finish Productions as an audio play starring Paul McGann as the Doctor. Accompanied by partially-animated illustrations, it was webcast on the BBCi website in 2003.

Adams is credited with introducing a fan of his, the zoologist Richard Dawkins, to Dawkins' future wife, Lalla Ward, who had played the part of Romana in Doctor Who.

Coincidentally, years before he wrote for Doctor Who, when he was at school he wrote and performed a play called Doctor Which.

Pink Floyd

His official biography shares its name with the song "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd. Adams was friendly with their guitarist David Gilmour and, as his 42nd birthday gift, was allowed to make a guest appearance at one of their 1994 concerts in London, playing rhythm guitar on the songs "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse". Adams had named their 1994 album, The Division Bell by picking the words from the lyrics to one of its tracks.

Pink Floyd and their reputation for lavish stage shows were also the inspiration for the Adams-created fictional rock band "Disaster Area", renowned as the loudest band (and, in fact, the loudest noise) in the universe. One element of Disaster Area's stage show was to send a space ship hurtling into a sun, and Pink Floyd made a song called "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" in 1968 about a driver of a space ship who is going to hit the sun.

Other musical links

Adams made a number of links to music of the time in his books. For example, a mouse proposes that the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything is "How many roads must a man walk down?", a line from Bob Dylan's song Blowing in the Wind.

In So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish, Arthur listens to a Dire Straits LP and Adams goes on to pay tribute to their lead guitarist, Mark Knopfler.

Elvis is later discovered playing in a diner attended by Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent, where he is simply known as "The King".

As well as modern rock music, Douglas Adams was a great admirer of the work of JS Bach, which provides a minor plot element in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

Adams was also a major fan of the Beatles. He makes a reference to Paul McCartney in Life, The Universe, and Everything and quotes lyrics and titles from songs by the Beatles in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

He does this at least once in The Salmon of Doubt. In Chapter 3 there is a conversation between Kate and Dirk which includes the following exchange :

"So?" "I looked around and I noticed there wasn't a chair."

taken together these two lines form a quotation from Norwegian Wood on the Rubber Soul album.

Computer games and projects

Douglas Adams created an interactive fiction version of HHGG together with Steve Meretzky from Infocom in 1984. Later he was also involved in creating Bureaucracy (also by Infocom, but not based on any book). Adams was also responsible for the computer game Starship Titanic, which was published in 1999 by Simon and Schuster. The accompanying book, entitled Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic, was written by Terry Jones, since Adams was too busy with the computer game to do both. In April 1999, Adams initiated the h2g2 collaborative writing project, a forerunner of the Wiki medium.

In 1990, Adams wrote and presented a television documentary programme Hyperland also featuring Tom Baker as a "software agent" (similar to the "Assistants" used in several versions of Microsoft Office, derived from their failed "Bob" program), and interviews with Ted Nelson, which was essentially about the use of Hypertext. Although Adams didn't invent hypertext, he was an early adopter and advocate of it, and his influence shouldn't be underestimated. This was before Tim Berners-Lee used the idea of Hypertext in his HTML. (Internet Movie Database's Hyperland Page) (


Adams was also an environmental activist who campaigned on behalf of a number of endangered species. This activism included the production of the non-fiction radio series Last Chance to See, in which he and naturalist Mark Carwardine visited rare species such as the kakapo, and the publication of a tie-in book of the same name. In 1992, this was made into a CD-ROM combination of audio book, eBook and picture slide show a decade before such things became fashionable.

Premature death

Adams died of a heart attack at the age of 49, while working out at his gym in Santa Barbara, California. He had moved to Santa Barbara in 1999. He was survived by his wife, Jane, and daughter, Polly. In May 2002, The Salmon of Doubt was published, containing many short stories, essays, and letters, and eulogies from Richard Dawkins, Stephen Fry (in the UK edition), Christopher Cerf (in the US edition), and Terry Gilliam. It also includes eleven chapters of his long-awaited but unfinished novel, The Salmon of Doubt, which was to be a new Dirk Gently and/or HHGG novel, or neither.

The Salmon of Doubt

In a 1998 interview with Matt Newsome (, Adams went on record as to whether "The Salmon of Doubt" was going to be a "Dirk Gently" book or a continuation of the "Hitchhiker's Guide" series. Unfortunately, the interview did not clear much up.

Adams: The thing with Dirk was that I felt I had lost contact with that character, I couldn't make that book viable, which is why I said, "Okay, let's go off and do something else." Then looking back at all the ideas that were there in "Salmon of Doubt", I looked at it again about a year later and suddenly realised what it was that I'd been getting wrong, which was that these are essentially much more like Hitch-Hiker ideas and not like Dirk Gently ideas.
So, there will come a point I suspect at some point in the future where I will write a sixth Hitch-Hiker book. But I kind of want to do that in an odd kind of way because people have said, quite rightly, that "Mostly Harmless" is a very bleak book. And it was a bleak book. The reason for that is very simple - I was having a lousy year, for all sorts of personal reasons that I don't want to go into, I just had a thoroughly miserable year, and I was trying to write a book against that background. And, guess what, it was a rather bleak book!
I would love to finish Hitch-Hiker on a slightly more upbeat note, so five seems to be a wrong kind of number, six is a better kind of number. I think that a lot of the stuff which was originally in "Salmon of Doubt", was planned into "Salmon Doubt" and really wasn't working, I think could be yanked out and put together some new thoughts.
Newsome: Yes, because certainly some people have heard that, "Salmon of Doubt", was now going to be a new Hitch-Hiker book.
Adams: Well, In a sense, because I shall be salvaging some of the ideas I couldn't make work within a Dirk Gently framework and putting them in a Hitch-Hiker framework, undergoing necessary changes on the way. And, for old time's sake, I may call it, "Salmon of Doubt", I may call it -- well who knows! All I have to say is, bathe the whales!


His official biography, Wish You Were Here, by Nick Webb, was published on October 6, 2003 (ISBN 0755311558) - [2] (

Another recent biography is Hitchhiker: a Biography of Douglas Adams (2003) by M. J. Simpson, with a foreword by John Lloyd (ISBN 0340824883).

Upon the mutual discovery that Webb and Simpson were both working on new posthumous biographies, the two authors agreed that the former would focus on Adams' life and personality, and the latter on his work.

Earlier biographies include:

Douglas Adams pleased his coterie of fans in the USENET newsgroup ( by following the group and occasionally posting himself.

In response to a fan's complaint

My apologies if this has been dragged out and beaten mercilessly already, but did everyone else get entirely bored with Mostly Harmless? I knew a couple chapters in that Adams was going to kill everyone off, and from there, it felt like that was the WHOLE purpose of the book.

Adams replied [3] (

Well, you were ahead of me then. I didn't know till a couple of chapters before the end.

He disappointed a Canadian fan who asked

Who is your maiden aunt who lives in Winnipeg. the reason I absolutely must know is... yes, you guessed it... I LIVE IN WINNIPEG!!! and that line from the first of the gently books has been driving me insane ever since I read it!! I'd be REALLY, REALLY thrilled if Douglas responded to this himself!

by confessing: [4] (

I don't have [a] maiden aunt who lies [sic] in Winnipeg. I was making it up.

In response to a query about a rumour about an upcoming film, he said:

Second. Jim Carrey is not going to play Arthur Dent. Here's a clue as to why not. Arthur Dent is English.

Douglas Adams' works

Audio and Video: The original 12 radio episodes (from 1978 and 1980) are available in CD sets from BBC Audio (Primary & Secondary Phase), as well as on an MP3-CD. The three additional phases (Tertiary, Quandary & Quintessential) are (or soon will be) available from BBC Audio. Tertiary phase was broadcast on BBC Radio 21 September to 26 October 2004, whilst the Quandary phase is being broadcast May 3rd to 24 May 2005, and the Quintessential Phase follows immediately afterward, from 31 May through 21 June 2005. All eight episodes are being transmitted on Tuesdays, repeated on Thursdays, and made available as streaming audio after the Thursday repeat until the following Thursday. A script book for the original 12 episodes has been published, and a new script book for the final 14 episodes will be available in July 2005. An Audio DVD in 5.1 surround sound is also planned, per Dirk Maggs. The six episode TV adaptation is also available from the BBC (or its distributors, e.g. Warner Home Video in the USA and Canada) on VHS and DVD.

Novels in the HHGG series

All of the above are also available as audio books, read by Adams.

The Dirk Gently series

Other works

In 2004, BBC Audio published a 3 CD set entitled Douglas Adams at the BBC which covers the author's work from 1974 through the end of 2001, including posthumous projects. The CD is again narrated by Simon Jones.

Tributes and honorifics

See also

External links


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