Douglas Adams - a science fiction writer?

2. Who is This Adams Person Anyway?

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Douglas Adams is one of the most popular contemporary English authors. His greatest success were the various appearances of "The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" which went virtually through any stage a science fiction epic might. Due to his wide-spread interests he has not yet written many books, but nevertheless nearly each of them almost immediately darted to place one on the bestseller lists. This may be explained with the fact, that Douglas Adams has won quite a good reputation as comedy writer in the course of his career.

Douglas Noel Adams (DNA) was born on 11th March 1952 in a former Victorian workhouse in Cambridge, England. His mother, Janet Adams, née Donovan, was a nurse at Addenbrooke's and his father, Christopher Douglas Adams, was a postgraduate theology student at Ridley Hall. Later his father gave up his training for holy orders and worked as a teacher of theology, but this was obviously not his final goal and he became a probation officer and later even a lecturer on probationary theory and practice.

His parents got divorced when he was a boy of only five years and he moved to Brentwood with his mother and sister who was born in 1955 to live with the parents of his mother. "That may not sound unusual", he says, "but in those days it was extremely rare. Since almost everyone gets divorced these days, it is quite hard to appreciate the extent to which it made one feel different." Alien? "Very possibly. I was certainly a very disturbed child, twitchy and strange. I didn't learn to speak until very late. Apparently the parents at one of my primary schools asked for me to be taken away as I was so odd, and slightly violent. It was thought I was ESN." (The Times, 17.Oct.92)

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In 1962 his father married again and had another child in 1965, a half-sister to DNA, who now teaches English in the Canaries. His mother married Ron Thrift in 1964 and from this marriage DNA got a half-sister in 1966, who later became a zoologist and a half-brother in 1968, who now works as a land agent. His full sister runs the accounts of a company in the Midlands and his mother is now a housewife. His stepfather died of cancer in 1991.

From September 1959 until December 1970 he attended Brentwood School in Essex, at which time he was still more interested in the field of science than in the arts. The moment he thought seriously about writing for the first time is still most clearly in his mind: It was at the age of ten, when he got "ten out of ten" for a composition - reportedly the first and only time Mr. Frank Halford has ever given "ten out of ten".

But apart from that he was considered a bit awkward and "diabolically bad at rugby - the first time I ever played it, I broke my own nose on my knee. It's quite a trick, especially standing up."

About the school he says, "We tended to produce a lot of media trendies. Me, Griff Rhys Jones, Noel Edmunds, Simon Bell (who wrote the novelisation for Griff and Mel Smith's famous non-award winning movie, Morons from Outer Space; he's not a megastar yet, but he gives great parties). A lot of people who designed the Amstrad Computer were at Brentwood, as well. But we had a major lack of archbishops, prime ministers and generals."

In 1964 his school report describes him as "too inclined to blame others for his own minor misfortunes," and he finds himself changed very little since then, that "it's astonishing the degree to which it is actually the same person. I do tend to get terribly worked up about (...) ridiculously small, stupid things."

By his essay on the revival of religious poetry he won himself an exhibition to study English at Cambridge. DNA was eager to go to Cambridge as he wanted to join Footlights, a comedy revue group there. But in his first term he found them "aloof and rather pleased with themselves" and he joined CULES (Cambridge University Light Entertainment Society) instead.

Before and while he studied at Cambridge he decided to hitch-hike to Istanbul and all over Europe and in order to make the money for his travels he worked as a chicken-shed cleaner, barn builder and hospital porter (in the X-ray department of Yeovil General Hospital; he was not unfamiliar with this kind of job as he had worked in a mental hospital while he was still at school). These many unorthodox jobs are now a happily stated fact on any of his book jackets.

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In his second term he joined Footlights on the strength of Simon Jones, who was "friendly and helpful, all the things the others weren't, a completely nice guy". But as his ideas were not accepted by the rest, he ended up forming the 'guerilla' revue group Adams-Smith-Adams together with Adams and Smith. They hired a theatre for a week and with them he had his first considerable hit. In summer 1974 DNA left Cambridge and had finally decided to become a writer and was confident he would.

None of his several first attempts as a comedy writer brought him the great success. He eventually worked together with Graham Chapman (a member of Monty Python) and John Lloyd, but most of the projects never saw the light of day and the few that did were not worth mentioning.

After another job as a body-guard to an Arab Royal Family (who earned about £20,000,000 every day) he wound up with an enormous overdraft moving back to his mother's house in Dorset, where he did not have to pay any rent. "1976 was my worst year. I'd decided I was hopeless at writing and I'd never earn any money at it. I felt hopeless and helpless and beached. I was overdrawn and in a bad way." (Don't panic, p.23)

But finally, on February 4th 1977, DNA met Simon Brett who was the producer of a Radio 4 comedy programme, The Burkiss Way. This meeting was the decisive moment for DNA as they agreed on doing a science fiction comedy, since DNA had an idea lying around for a while, something of a man whose house gets destroyed and shortly after that the earth gets destroyed for the same reason, which should be called "The Ends of the Earth". What Simon Brett succeeded in doing was persuading the BBC that they really did want comedy science fiction: as DNA says, "He guided the notion through all the reefs of the various BBC committees that need to approve things before they go on."

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy was called into existence on particulary that day; DNA became an extremely famous writer and revolutionized the world of English comedy and still does up to today.

On 22nd June 1994 Jane Adams, his wife, whom he met at a dinner party some day, gave birth to DNA's first child. "Her name is Polly Jane Adams, but while she was in the womb she acquired the nickname Rocket. She's long and slim and dark haired and is incomprehensibly beautiful." (alt.fan.douglas-adams, 28.6.94)

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Douglas Adams - a science ficion writer? (c)1995 Oliver Creighton