Adams was a cult British comic radio dramatist, amateur musician
and author, most notably of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
series (HHGG or H2G2). 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 towel, a computer game and a feature film that was completed after
Adams's death. He was known to some fans as Bop Ad (after his illegible
signature), or by his initials "DNA".
addition to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
wrote or co-wrote three stories of science fiction staple Doctor
Who, and served the series as Script Editor during the seventeenth
season. His other written works include the Dirk Gently novels,
and co-author credits on 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 Apple Macintosh, and other "techno gizmos."
He was a keen technologist, using such inventions as e-mail and
Usenet before they became widely popular, or even widely known.
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
Adams was born to Janet (Donovan) Adams (now 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."
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.
and early works
first attended Primrose Hill Primary School in Brentwood, Essex.
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 till 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.
at the prep school, he had an English class, taught by Frank Halford,
where Halford 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's 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"
the strength of a bravura essay on religious poetry that mixed
the Beatles 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.
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. 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). Adams also contributed
to a sketch on the album for Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Douglas also had two "blink and you miss them" 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.
of Adams's 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.
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:
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 Arab family, which had made its fortune in oil (and were
from Qatar, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica). 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 (a.k.a. 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.
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
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 Hitchhikers Guide
to the Galaxy Companion) that could potentially be used in the
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 "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 couldn't. 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, 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 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.
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.
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
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).
Adams also began attempts to turn the first Hitchhiker's novel
into a movie in 1980, making several trips to Los Angeles, California,
and working with a number of Hollywood studios and potential producers.
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.
Producer Dirk Maggs had consulted with Adams in 1993 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's
death. The third series, The Tertiary Phase, was broadcast on
BBC Radio 4 in September 2004 and was subsequently released 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
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."
Adams 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). Adams then went on to serve as script editor on
the show for its seventeenth season in 1979. Altogether, he wrote
three Doctor Who serials starring Tom Baker as the Doctor.
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. 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 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, with the reactions of the match's commentators.
of Shada and City of Death were reused in Adams's later novel
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, in particular the character
of Professor Chronotis. 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.
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.
he was at school, he wrote and performed a play called Doctor
In between Adams's first trip to Madagascar with Mark Carwardine
in 1985, and their series of travels that formed the basis for
the radio series and non-fiction book Last Chance to See, Adams
wrote two other novels with a new cast of characters. Dirk Gently's
Holistic Detective Agency was first published in 1987, and was
described by its author as "a kind of ghost-horror-detective-time-travel-romantic-comedy-epic,
mainly concerned with mud, music and quantum mechanics."
It received many rave reviews from American newspapers upon its
publication in the USA. Adams borrowed a few ideas from two Doctor
Who stories he had worked on: City of Death and Shada.
sequel novel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul was published
a year later. This was an entirely original work, Adams's 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.
was a self-declared "radical atheist", though he used
the term for emphasis, so that he would not be asked if he in
fact meant agnostic. He stated in an interview with American Atheists
that this was easier and conveyed the fact that he really meant
it, had thought about it a great deal, and that it was an opinion
he held seriously. He was convinced that there is no God, having
never seen one shred of evidence to convince him otherwise, and
devoted himself instead to secular causes like environmentalism.
and Animal Rights
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. His environmental activism is also recounted in the
book The Salmon of Doubt in a short account of a hike he once
made across the plains of Africa while wearing a rhino suit.
2003, the British charity organization Save the Rhino (one of
several similar charities supported by Adams) have held an annual
Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture around the time of his birthday
to raise money for environmental campaigns. The lectures in the
Richard Dawkins — Queerer than we can suppose: the strangeness
2004 Robert Swan — on walking across Antarctica and his
environmental work there
2005 Mark Carwardine — Last Chance to See… Just a
2006 Robert Winston — Is the Human an Endangered Species?
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.
was a serious fan of technology. Though he did not buy his first
word processor until 1982, he had considered one as early as 1979.
He was quoted as saying that until 1982, he had difficulties with
"the impenetrable barrier of jargon. Words were flying backwards
and forwards without concepts riding on their backs." In
1982, his first purchase was a 'Nexus'. In 1983, when he and Jane
Belson went out to Los Angeles, he bought a DEC Rainbow. Upon
their return to England, Adams bought an Apricot, then a BBC Micro
and a Tandy 100. In Last Chance to See Adams mentions his Cambridge
Z88, which he had taken to Zaire on a quest to find the Northern
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).
was a Macintosh user from the time they first came out in 1984
until his death in 2001. 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's 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's .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 (version 10.0.x)
on his PowerBook G3.
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. Many of his posts are now archived
through Google. Challenges to the authenticity of his identity
later led Adams to set up a message forum on his own website to
avoid the issue.
the early 1980s, Adams had an affair with married novelist Sally
Emerson, to whom he dedicated his book Life, the Universe, and
Everything. Emerson returned to her husband after splitting with
Adams in 1981, and Adams was soon afterward introduced by friends
to Jane Belson, with whom he later became romantically involved.
Belson was the "lady barrister" mentioned in the jacket-flap
biography printed in his books during the mid-1980s ("He
[Adams] lives in Islington with a lady barrister and an Apple
Macintosh"). The two lived in Los Angeles together during
1983 while Adams worked on an early screenplay adaptation to make
Hitchhiker into a Hollywood movie. When the deal fell through,
they moved to London, and after several separations and an aborted
engagement, they were married on 25 November 1991. Adams and Belson
had one daughter together, Polly Jane Rocket Adams, born on 22
June 1994, in the year that Adams turned 42. In 1999, the family
moved from London to Santa Barbara, California, where they lived
until Adams's death. Following his funeral, Jane Belson and Polly
Adams returned to London, where they currently reside.
Adams died of a heart attack at the age of 49 on Friday 11th May
2001, while working out at a private gym in Montecito, California.
He is survived by his wife Jane and daughter Polly. He was cremated,
and his ashes were buried in Highgate Cemetery in north London.
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 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 to be a new Dirk Gently
and/or HHGG novel, or neither.
events after Adams's death included the completion of Shada, radio
dramatizations 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.