Douglas Noël Adams (11 March 1952 – 11 May 2001) 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'; Adams was pleased by the coincidence that he was born in Cambridge the year before the elucidation of the structure of DNA in the same city.
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 he 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 produced 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'. The biologist Richard Dawkins dedicated his book The God Delusion to Douglas Adams and in it described how Adams came to understand evolution. Douglas was a keen technologist, writing about such topics as e-mail and Usenet before they became widely known. Toward the end of his life he was a sought-after lecturer on topics including technology and the environment.
Douglas Adams was born to Janet Adams (née 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' grandmother kept her house as an official RSPCA refuge for hurt animals, which "exacerbated young Douglas' 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.
Adams attended Primrose Hill Primary School in Brentwood. He took the exams and interview for Brentwood School at 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 seventh form class, customary in the school for those preparing for Oxbridge entrance exams.
While at prep school, his English teacher, Frank Halford, reportedly awarded Adams the only ten out of ten of his teaching career for creative writing. 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). He also designed the cover of one issue of the Broadsheet.
Adams also had a letter and short story published nationally in the UK in The Eagle, the boys' comic, in 1965. He met Griff Rhys Jones, who was in the year below, at 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. Adams was six feet tall (1.83 m) by 12 and he stopped growing at 6'5" (1.96 m). Later, he made jokes about his 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 to get into the Footlights Dramatic Club, with which several other names in British comedy had been affiliated. He was 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, in 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 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 from the stomach. The doctor asks him to fill out numerous senseless forms before he will administer treatment (a joke 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 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 on-screen captions), pulling on gloves, while Michael Palin narrates a sketch that introduces one person after another but never actually gets started. At the beginning of episode 44, "Mr Neutron", Adams is dressed in a "pepperpot" outfit and loads a missile on to a cart driven by Terry Jones, who is calling for scrap metal ("Any old iron..."). The two episodes were broadcast in November 1974. Adams and Chapman also attempted 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 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 jokes and stories, he took a series of odd jobs . A biography from an early edition of one of the HHGG novels says:
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 worked as a bodyguard in the mid-1970s. He was employed by a Qatar Arab family which had made its fortune in oil. He had anecdotes about the job: one story related that the family once ordered one of everything from a hotel's menu, tried all 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 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. In a 1996 interview for SFX Magazine, Adams described John Lloyd as a "comedy producer par excellence... one of the people I love spending time with, because he's so damn funny".
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.
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 understand. 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 realised 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.
The episodes authored by Adams are some of the few that have not been novelised as Adams would not allow anyone else to write them, and asked for a higher price than the publishers were willing to pay.
Adams was also known to allow in-jokes from The Hitchhiker's Guide to appear in the Doctor Who stories he wrote and other stories on which he served as Script Editor. Subsequent writers have also inserted Hitchhiker's references, even as recently as 2007. Conversely, at least one reference to Doctor Who was worked into a Hitchhiker's novel. In Life, the Universe and Everything, two characters travel in time and land on the pitch at Lord's Cricket Ground. The reaction of the radio commentators to their sudden appearance is very similar to the reactions of commentators in a scene in the eighth episode of the 1965 – 66 story The Daleks' Master Plan, which has the Doctor's TARDIS materialise on the pitch at Lord's.
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, and Dirk Gently himself clearly fills much the same plot role as the Doctor (though the character is very different). Big Finish Productions eventually remade Shada as an audio play starring Paul McGann as the Doctor. Accompanied by partially animated illustrations, it was webcast on the BBCi website in 2003, and subsequently released as a two-CD set later that year. An omnibus edition of this version was broadcast on the digital radio station BBC7 on 10 December 2005.
Adams is credited with introducing a fan and later friend of his, the zoologist Richard Dawkins, to Dawkins' future wife, Lalla Ward, who had played the part of Romana in Doctor Who. Dawkins confirmed this in his published eulogy of Adams.
When he was at school, he wrote and performed a play called Doctor Which.
Adams' official biography shares its name with the song "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd. Adams was friends with Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and, on the occasion of Adams' 42nd birthday (the number 42 having special significance, being The Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything and also Adams' age when his daughter Polly was born), he was invited to make a guest appearance at Pink Floyd's 28 October 1994 concert at Earls Court in London, playing rhythm guitar on the songs "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse". Video is not available of this event, but a link to audio is present below. Adams chose the name for Pink Floyd's 1994 album, The Division Bell, by picking the words from the lyrics to one of its tracks, namely "High Hopes". Gilmour also performed at Adams' memorial service following his death in 2001.
Pink Floyd and their lavish stage shows were also the inspiration for the Adams-created fictional rock band "Disaster Area", described in the Hitchhiker's Guide as "not only the loudest rock band in the galaxy, but in fact the loudest noise of any kind". One element of Disaster Area's stage show was to send a space ship hurtling into a sun, probably inspired by the plane that would crash into the stage during some of Pink Floyd's live shows, usually at the end of "On the Run". The 1968 Pink Floyd song "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" may also have influenced the ideas behind Disaster Area.
Adams also appeared on stage with Brooker to perform "In Held Twas in I" at Redhill when the band's lyricist Keith Reid was not available. On several other occasions he had been known to introduce Procol Harum at their gigs.
Adams also let it be known that while writing he would listen to music, and this would occasionally influence his work. On one occasion the title track from the Procol Harum album Grand Hotel was playing when...
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the second novel in the series, is dedicated to the 1980 Paul Simon soundtrack album, One-Trick Pony. Adams says he played it "incessantly" while writing the book. In one scene in the fourth novel, So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish, Arthur Dent listens to a Dire Straits LP and Adams goes on to pay tribute to their lead guitarist, Mark Knopfler. Adams later revealed that the particular song to which he refers in the book — although never by name — is "Tunnel of Love", from the Making Movies album. And in the final novel, Mostly Harmless, Elvis is discovered playing in a diner attended by Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent, where he is simply known as "The King".
Besides 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 good friends with The Monkees' Michael Nesmith. In the early 1990s, one of the aborted attempts to have The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy adapted into a movie would have had Nesmith as its producer.
Adams was also a 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 Mostly Harmless and Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. In 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' this exchange takes place:
Adams also does this several times in The Salmon of Doubt. In Chapter 3 there is a conversation between Kate and Dirk, which includes the following exchange:
In 1990, Adams wrote and presented a television documentary programme Hyperland which featured 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 did not invent hypertext, he was an early adopter and advocate of it. This was the same year that Tim Berners-Lee used the idea of hypertext in his HTML.
A sequel novel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul was published a year later. This was an entirely original work, Adams' first since So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. Reviewers, however, were not as generous with praise for the second volume as they had been for the first. After the obligatory book tours, Adams was off on his round-the-world excursion which supplied him with the material for Last Chance to See.
The evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion uses Adams' influence throughout to exemplify arguments for non-belief; Dawkins jokingly states that Adams is "possibly [my] only convert" to atheism. In the same paragraph Dawkins expresses missing his close friend. The book is dedicated to Adams' memory, quoting him, "Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?".
Adams and Mark Carwardine contributed the 'Meeting a Gorilla' passage from Last Chance to See to the book The Great Ape Project. This book, edited by Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer launched a wider-scale project in 1993, which calls for the extension of moral equality to include all great apes, human or nonhuman.
In 1994 he participated in a climb of Mount Kilimanjaro while wearing a rhino suit for the British charity organisation Save the Rhino. Many different people participated in the same climb and took turns wearing the rhino suit; Adams wore the suit while traveling to the mountain before the climb proper began. About £100,000 were raised through that event, benefiting schools in Kenya and a Black Rhinoceros preservation programme in Tanzania. Adams was also an active supporter of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. Since 2003, Save the Rhino has held an annual Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture around the time of his birthday to raise money for environmental campaigns. The lectures in the series are:
Adams' posthumously published work, The Salmon of Doubt, features multiple articles written by Douglas on the subject of technology, including reprints of articles that originally ran in MacUser magazine, and in The Independent on Sunday newspaper. In these, Adams claims that one of the first computers he ever saw was a Commodore PET, and that his love affair with the Apple Macintosh first began after seeing one at Infocom's headquarters in Massachusetts in 1983 (though that was actually very likely an Apple Lisa).
Adams was a Macintosh user from the time they first came out in 1984 until his death in 2001. He was the first person to buy a Mac in the UK (the second being Stephen Fry - though some accounts differ on this, saying Fry bought the first). Adams was also an "Apple Master", one of several celebrities whom Apple made into spokespeople for its products (other Apple Masters included John Cleese and Gregory Hines). Adams' contributions included a rock video that he created using the first version of iMovie with footage featuring his daughter Polly. The video can still be seen on Adams' .Mac homepage. Adams even installed and started using the first release of Mac OS X in the weeks leading up to his death. His very last post to his own forum was in praise of Mac OS X and the possibilities of its Cocoa programming framework. Adams can also be seen in the Omnibus tribute included with the Region One/NTSC DVD release of the TV adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide using Mac OS X on his PowerBook G3.
Adams used e-mail extensively from the technology's infancy, adopting a very early version of e-mail to correspond with Steve Meretzky during the pair's collaboration on Infocom's version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. While living in New Mexico in 1993 he set up another e-mail address and began posting to his own USENET newsgroup, alt.fan.douglas-adams, and occasionally, when his computer was acting up, to the comp.sys.mac hierarchy. Many of his posts are now archived through Google. Challenges to the authenticity of his messages later led Adams to set up a message forum on his own website to avoid the issue.
A memorial service was held on 17 September 2001 at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, Trafalgar Square, London. This became the first church service of any kind broadcast live on the web by the BBC. Video clips of the service are still available on the BBC's website for download.
In May 2002, The Salmon of Doubt was published, containing many short stories, essays, and letters, as well as eulogies from Richard Dawkins, Stephen Fry (in the UK edition), Christopher Cerf (in the U.S. edition), and Terry Jones (in the U.S. paperback edition). It also includes eleven chapters of his long-awaited but unfinished novel, The Salmon of Doubt, which was likely to become a new Dirk Gently novel.
Other events after Adams' death included the completion of Shada, radio dramatisations of the final three books in the Hitchhiker's series, and the completion of the film adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. An 18-part radio series based on the Dirk Gently novels was announced in 2007, with transmission scheduled for October of that year.
Another biography is Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams (2003) by M. J. Simpson, with a foreword in the UK edition by John Lloyd (ISBN 0-340-82488-3), and was revised and updated in paperback in February 2004 (ISBN 0-340-82489-1). The American hardback edition contains a foreword by Neil Gaiman (ISBN 1-932112-17-0), and its April 2005 paperback equivalent (ISBN 1-932112-35-9) has an extra chapter about the movie.
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.
In 1992, ITV's The South Bank Show produced a documentary about Douglas Adams which featured Dirk Gently and characters from Hitchhikers and contributions from Stephen Fry, Richard Dawkins and John Lloyd.
The BBC produced a tribute as part of their TV series Omnibus. It was first broadcast on BBC 2 on 4 August 2001, presented by Kirsty Wark. The programme included interviews with Stephen Fry, Clive Anderson, Terry Jones, Griff Rhys Jones, Richard Dawkins and John Lloyd, among others. A copy is included with the Region One DVD release of the Hitchhiker's Guide TV series.
A movie documentary, Life, The Universe and Douglas Adams, was released in 2002, directed and produced by Rick Mueller and Joel Greengrass. Archive footage of Adams is generously included, as well as interviews with Adams' friends, colleagues and family. This documentary was narrated by Neil Gaiman and is available on VHS tape.
Earlier biographies include:
All of the above are also available as unabridged audio books, read by Adams. These were preceded by abridged audio books of the first four novels, read by Stephen Moore. To tie in with the film release, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is also available as an audiobook read by Stephen Fry. Martin Freeman, who portrayed Arthur Dent in the movie adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide, has recorded audiobook editions of the last four books in the series, released between June and December 2006.
The volumes in the Hitchhiker's series have also been collected into omnibus editions, including The Hitchhiker's Trilogy (released in 1982), The Hitchhiker's Quartet (released in 1986), The More than Complete Hitchhiker's Guide (released in 1987), and The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide (released in 1997). The latter two editions also include the short story Young Zaphod Plays it Safe.
Adams recorded an abridged audiobook adaptation of the first novel in this series in the 1980s. The sequel was performed by Simon Jones, also in an abridged adaptation. Both were released by Simon and Schuster Audioworks in the United States, and are out of print. Adams, a decade later, recorded unabridged adaptations of both novels, which are both available in six CD sets. Following Adams' death an audiobook of the partially completed Salmon of Doubt was recorded by Simon Jones.
In 2004, BBC Audio published a 3-CD set entitled Douglas Adams at the BBC, which covers the author's work from 1974 to 2003, including posthumous projects and tributes. The CD is again narrated by Simon Jones.