Douglas Adams

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The writer Douglas Adams speaking in San Francisco, California in 2000. As well as being a talented dramatist, Adams often spoke out on issues relating to the public understanding of science.

Douglas Adams (11th March 1952 - 11th May 2001) was an English author, comic radio dramatist, and musician, 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, a towel and a feature film that was completed after his death. The series has also been adapted for theatre using various scripts; the earliest productions used material newly written by Adams.[1] He was known to some fans as Bop Ad (after his illegible signature), or by his initials 'DNA'.[2]

As well as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams wrote or co-wrote three stories of the science fiction television series Doctor Who and was a script editor in its seventeenth season. His other books include the Dirk Gently novels, and he co-wrote two Liff books and Last Chance to See on extinction, itself based on a radio series. Adams also conceived 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 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 prominent biologist Richard Dawkins dedicated his book The God Delusion to Douglas Adams, describing 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 Noël Adams was born to Janet Adams (née Donovan, 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 RSPCA refuge for hurt animals, which "exacerbated young Douglas's hayfever and asthma".[3]

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 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, and 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.[4] Adams remembered this for the rest of his life, especially when facing writer's block.[5] 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 joke 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'".[6]

On the strength of an 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.[7] Adams attempted early on to get into the Footlights Dramatic Club, with which several other British comedians 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". At a later attempt to join Footlights, Adams was encouraged by Simon Jones and worked 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 in London's West End led to his "discovery" by Monty Python's Graham Chapman. The two formed a brief writing partnership, and Adams had 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 start 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'. 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 revues in London, Cambridge and at the Edinburgh Fringe. He has also worked 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, employed by a Qatar Arab family who had made its fortune in oil.[8] 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".[9]

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 below)), as well as The Meaning of Liff and The Deeper Meaning of Liff. Lloyd and Adams also collaborated on an science-fiction 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.

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 after six months to become the script editor for Doctor Who.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

For more information, see: 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.

The sixth installment of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" was written by Eoin Colfer and was published on October 12, 2009, the thirteenth anniversary of the original book.

According to Adams, the title The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy occurred to him while lying 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"[10]), gazing at the stars. He had been wandering the countryside while carrying a book called the Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe when he came to a town where, as he describes it, 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 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.[11] 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. After the success of the first series, another episode was recorded and broadcast, commonly known as the Christmas Episode. A second series of five episodes was broadcast each night of 21 January - 25 January 1980.

While working on the radio series (and other 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 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.[12] He was quoted as saying, "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by."[13] 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).[14]

In 1980, Adams also began trying 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" 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 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.[15] 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 were broadcast in May and June of 2005, and 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."[16]

More recently, 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.[17] Adams also discussed what inspired the anecdote in a 2001 speech, reprinted in The Salmon of Doubt, and told the story on the radio programme It Makes Me Laugh on 19 July 1981.

Doctor Who

For more information, see: Doctor Who.

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. He had also previously attempted to submit a film 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. He wrote three Doctor Who serials starring Tom Baker as the Doctor:

  • The Pirate Planet (the second serial in the 'Key To Time' story arc, in season sixteen);
  • City of Death (with producer Graham Williams, from an original storyline by David Fisher.
  • Shada (only partly filmed and not broadcast due to industrial disputes)

The episodes authored by Adams are some of the few that have not been novelized as Adams would not allow anyone else to novelise them, and asked for a higher price than the publishers were willing to pay.[18]

Adams allowed 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, and 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 10th 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.[19]

When he was at school, he wrote and performed a play called Doctor Which.[20]

City of Death

As director Michael Hayes recalled on a documentary about the making of City of Death,[21] this serial was rewritten by Adams and producer Graham Williams over a single weekend; on the Friday, the original Fisher script ('A Gamble with Time') had been declared in need of extensive rewriting, so the pair rewrote it by the Monday, with very little sleep. Hayes helped out by serving copious amounts of coffee to keep them awake. At the time, it was unacceptable for the script editor or producer of a programme to accept credit for the story itself, so City of Death was broadcast as having come from the pen of 'David Agnew', a pseudonym for Adams and Williams.

Later, Adams recalled that despite having co-written much of the script, he was one of the few members of the production team not to be required for location filming of the story in Paris, City of Death being the first Doctor Who serial to be filmed abroad. Adams recalled that the director of the next story, Ken Grieve, arrived at the BBC offices wanting to discuss his involvement in Destiny of the Daleks, only to find a skeleton crew of one - Adams - missing out on a trip to the French capital. Grieve convinced Adams to fly with him to Paris where they met up with the production team at the end of a hard day's shooting; as a result, Adams and Grieve found less than a warm welcome for them, so repaired to several bars in the city where they got royally drunk, before jumping back on a flight to London. Adams arrived back at the BBC the very next morning, as though nothing had happened.[22]


Adams played the guitar left-handed and had a collection of twenty-four left-handed guitars when he died in 2001 (having received his first guitar in 1964). He also studied piano in the 1960s with the same teacher as Paul Wickens, the pianist who later played in Paul McCartney's band (and composed the music for the 2004–2005 editions of the Hitchhiker's Guide radio series).[23] The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Procol Harum all had great influence on Adams' work.

Pink Floyd

Adams included a reference to Pink Floyd in the original radio version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; as the main characters survey the landscape of an alien planet, Marvin, their android companion, hums Pink Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond". This was cut from the CD version.

Adams compared the various noises that the kakapo makes to "Pink Floyd studio out-takes" in his nonfiction book on endangered species, Last Chance to See.

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 Adams' 42nd birthday (the number 42 being The Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything and also Adams' age when his daughter Polly was born), he made 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". Adams chose the name for Pink Floyd's 1994 album, The Division Bell, from the lyrics to one of its tracks ("High Hopes"). Gilmour also performed at Adams' memorial service in 2001.

Pink Floyd and their lavish stage shows inspired Adams' 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.

Procol Harum

Douglas Adams was a friend of Gary Brooker, the lead singer, pianist and songwriter of the progressive rock band Procol Harum. Adams is known to have invited Brooker to one of the many parties at his house, and at one party, Gary Brooker performed the full version of his hit song "A Whiter Shade of Pale". Brooker also performed at Adams' memorial service. 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 other occasions he introduced Procol Harum at their gigs.

While writing, Adams would listen to music. On one occasion the title track from the Procol Harum album Grand Hotel was playing, when

"...there was this huge orchestral climax that came out of nowhere and didn't seem to be about anything. I kept wondering what was this huge thing happening in the background? And I eventually thought ... it sounds as if there ought to be some sort of floorshow going on. Something huge and extraordinary, like, well, like the end of the universe. And so that was where the idea for The Restaurant at the End of the Universe came from.[24]

Other musical links

Adams made a number of references to music and musicians who had influenced his work through his books. In the Hitchhiker's Guide series, examples include one of the two mice, in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, suggesting that as they have not found the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything, they should instead make it up, proposing to use the question "How many roads must a man walk down?" This is a line from Bob Dylan's song, "Blowin' in the Wind". Prior to this scene, in the same novel, the ship's computer onboard the Heart of Gold, unable to assist or prevent the ship's impending destruction with two nuclear missiles closing in on it, sings "You'll Never Walk Alone" in the background, a Rodgers and Hammerstein hit from the musical Carousel which had been an early 1960s rock hit in the UK and then was adopted as a crowd chant by many football fans, in particular Liverpool supporters.

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:

"Let it be. It won't be long."
Richard stared in disbelief. "You say there's a horse in your bathroom, and all you can do is stand there naming Beatles songs?"

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:

"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. In 1986 he participated in a week-long brainstorming session with the Lucasfilm Games team for the game Labyrinth. 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. Terry Jones wrote the accompanying book, entitled Douglas Adams’s Starship Titanic, since Adams was too busy with the computer game to do both. In April 1999, Adams initiated the h2g2 collaborative writing project, an experimental attempt at making The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy a reality.

In 1990, Adams wrote and presented a television documentary Hyperland[25] 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.

The Dirk Gently series

In between Adams' 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."[26] 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.

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.

Interest in the Dirk Gently novel continues: in 2006, the book was adapted for the theatre by Arvind Ethan David and James Goss, with a proportion of ticket sales going to rhino and gorilla projects.[27][28]

Personal beliefs


Adams 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[29] that this made things easier, but most importantly that it 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 such as environmentalism. Despite this, he did state in the same interview that he was "fascinated by religion." [...] "I love to keep poking and prodding at it. I’ve thought about it so much over the years that that fascination is bound to spill over into my writing." His fascination he ascribed to the fact that so many "otherwise rational... intelligent people... nevertheless take it [the existence of God] seriously".

The evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion jokingly states that Adams is "possibly [my] only convert" to atheism. In the same paragraph Dawkins affectionately expresses the missing of his close friend,[30] and the book is dedicated to Adams' memory.

'Sentient puddle'

One analogy Adams put forward about religion was that of the 'sentient puddle'. This analogy is intended to refute the suggestion that the existence of God and his love for mankind would be proven because the world is perfectly designed for our needs. He compared such thinkers to an intelligent puddle of water. He said the puddle is certain that the hole in the ground it occupies must have been designed specifically for it because it fits him so well. The puddle exists under the sun until it has entirely evaporated.[31][32]

Environmental activism

Adams also campaigned on behalf of endangered species. This included producing 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, e-book and picture slide show years before such things became fashionable.

Adams and Mark Carwardine contributed the 'Meeting a Gorilla' passage from Last Chance to See to the book The Great Ape Project]].[33] 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 organization Save the Rhino. Many others in the same climb took turns wearing the suit; Adams wore it while travelling to the mountain before the climb began. About £100,000 was raised, 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.[34] The lectures in the series are:

  • 2003 Richard Dawkins — Queerer than we can suppose: the strangeness of science
  • 2004 Robert Swan — on walking across Antarctica and his environmental work there
  • 2005 Mark CarwardineLast Chance to See… Just a bit more
  • 2006 Robert WinstonIs the Human an Endangered Species?
  • 2007 Richard LeakeyWildlife Management in East Africa – Is there a future?
  • 2008 Steven PinkerThe Stuff of Thought, Language as a Window into Human Nature


Adams 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 1000.[35] In Last Chance to See Adams mentions his Cambridge Z88, which he had taken to Zaire on a quest to find the Northern White Rhinoceros.[36]

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).[37]

Adams was a Macintosh user from the time they first came out in 1984 until his death in 2001. He was the second person to buy a Mac in the UK (the first being Stephen Fry - though some accounts differ on this, saying Adams bought the first two, and Fry bought the third). 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.[38] 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 (computer game)|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,, and occasionally, when his computer was acting up, to the comp.sys.mac hierarchy.[39] 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.

Personal life

In the early 1980s, Adams had an affair with married novelist Sally Emerson, to whom he dedicated his book Life, the Universe and Everything. In 1981 Emerson returned to her husband, Peter Stothard, a contemporary of Adams at Brentwood School. 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 of Hitchhiker's. When the deal fell through, they moved to London, and after several separations ("He is currently not certain where he lives, or with whom") 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' death. After his funeral, Jane Belson and Polly Adams returned to London, where they currently reside.[40]

Memorials, tributes and posthumous work

Adams died of a heart attack at the age of 49 on 11th May, 2001, while working out at a private gym in Montecito, California (U.S. state). Adams was due to give the commencement address at Harvey Mudd College on 13 May.[41] His funeral was held on 16 May, 2001 in Santa Barbara, California (U.S. state). His ashes were placed in Highgate Cemetery in north London that June.[42]

A memorial service was held on 17th 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.[43] Video clips of the service are still available on the BBC's website for download.[44]

Posthumous work

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 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 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. An eighteen part radio series based on the Dirk Gently novels was announced in 2007, with transmission scheduled for October of that year.[45]

Tributes and honorifics

Various tributes have been paid to Douglas Adams. There is an official appreciation society (fan club) named ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha after the sector of the galaxy in which The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy says the planet Earth is located.


On 25th January 2005, it was announced that the asteroid with preliminary designation 2001 DA42 had been named 25924 Douglasadams in his honour, referencing the year of Adams' death, his initials and the number "42".[46] Another small asteroid, 18610 Arthurdent is named after Arthur Dent, the bewildered hero of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The name was officially published and announced by the Minor Planet Center of the International Astronomical Union on either 9th May or 10th May 2001 (accounts differ) - a day or two before Adams' death.


Every 25th May, 'Towel Day' is celebrated in recognition of Adams' genius.[47] In various British Universities, notably Cambridge, Oxford, York and Exeter, student societies, known as a 'Douglas Adams Society', or 'DougSoc' for short, were formed to honour the spirit engendered in Adams' works. At Cambridge, the appreciation group was called the 'Cambridge University Life, the Universe and Everything Society' (CULUES)[48][49] On 17th May, 2001 MIT students hung a banner reading "So long and thanks for all the wit" and a towel. This hack was not taken down for an entire day.[50] St John's College, Cambridge awards an annual 'Douglas Adams Prize' for a humorous piece of writing.[51] Not to be confused with the Adams Prize in mathematics, also from St John's.

Popular culture

Because of the popularity of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, references to it have appeared in a number of media in popular culture. For example, the British pop-funk group Level 42 took the numeric part of their name from Deep Thought's answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything from Adams' books, adding the 'Level' part "to pad it out."

The DVD release of the Doctor Who serial City of Death includes the documentary 'Paris in the Springtime'. This documentary, written by Jonathan Morris and produced by Ed Stradling, pays tribute to Adams' contributions to the hit BBC series, and includes excerpts from two interviews with Adams.


  1. Simpson, M. J. (2005). The Pocket Essential Hitchhiker's Guide, Second edition. Pocket Essentials, Page 52. ISBN 1-904048-46-3. 
  2. FAQ posted to
  3. Webb, Nick (2005). Wish You Were Here: The Official Biography of Douglas Adams, First U.S. hardcover edition. Ballantine Books, Page 32. ISBN 0-345-47650-6. 
  4. BBC h2g2, Douglas Adams
  5. Adams, Douglas (2005). The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time, US mass market paperback edition. Ballantine, Page xix. ISBN 0-345-45529-0. 
  6. Adams, Douglas (2002). The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time, First UK hardcover edition. Macmillan, Page 7. ISBN 0-333-76657-1. 
  7. Webb, Nick, ‘Adams, Douglas Noël (1952–2001)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, January 2005 accessed 25 October 2005
  8. "Adams, Douglas Noël." Britannica Book of the Year, 2002 from Encyclopædia Britannica Online School Edition. accessed November 13 2005.
  9. Webb, page 93.
  10. Adams, Douglas (2003). Geoffrey Perkins (ed.), Additional Material by M. J. Simpson: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: The Original Radio Scripts, 25th Anniversary Edition. Pan Books, Page 10. ISBN 0-330-41957-9.  One of the webpages about Hitchhiker's on states "The BBC used to say this happened in Spain, but we know how to spell Innsbruck now."
  11. Webb, page 120.
  12. May 2004 review of Don't Panic by Neil Gaiman.
  13. Simpson, M. J. (2003). Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams, First U.S. hardcover edition. Justin, Charles and Co., Page 236. ISBN 1-932112-17-0. 
  14. Internet Book List page, with links to all five novels, and reproductions of the 1990s paperback covers that included the 42 Puzzle.
  15. Adams, Douglas (2005). Dirk Maggs, dramatizations and editor.: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Radio Scripts: The Tertiary, Quandary and Quintessential Phases. Pan Books, Page xiv. ISBN 0-330-43510-8. 
  16. Ibid. Page 356
  17. Smoov Filmz homepage. "Cookies" is featured under "Filmz and Projects."
  18. A 1990s Doctor Who FAQ
  19. [1]
  20. Adams, Douglas (2002). The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time, First UK hardcover edition. Macmillan, Page xviii. ISBN 0-333-76657-1. 
  21. Paris in the Springtime documentary on the DVD release of City of Death.
  22. This anecdote appears as a secret featurette ('Easter egg') on the City of Death DVD.
  23. Webb, page 49.
  24. Adams, Douglas (8 February 1996). Text of one of Douglas Adams' introductions of Procol Harum in concert. Retrieved on August 21, 2006.
  25. Internet Movie Database's page for Hyperland.
  26. Gaiman, Neil (2003). Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Second U.S. edition. Titan Books, Page 169. ISBN 1-84023-742-2. 
  27. News. 29th September 2006.
  28. See (official site for the play).
  29. David Silverman's interview with Douglas Adams which first appeared in the American Atheists' Winter 1998–1999 newsletter.
  30. Observer, The God Delusion, 5 November 2006
  31. Adams, Douglas (2002). The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time, Edited by Peter Guzzardi, First UK hardcover edition. Macmillan, Pages 131-2. ISBN 0-333-76657-1.  The full text is reproduced in the essay "Is there an Artificial God?"
  32. "Lament for Douglas Adams" by Richard Dawkins, which refers to the same allegory. First published on 14th May 2001, accessed on 13th July 2006.
  33. Cavalieri, Paola and Peter Singer, editors (1994). The Great Ape Project: Equality Beyond Humanity, U.S. Paperback. St. Martin's Griffin, pages 19–23. ISBN 0-312-11818-X. 
  34. Details of Fifth Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture.
  35. Simpson, Hitchhiker, pages 184–5.
  36. Adams, Douglas and Mark Carwardine (1991). Last Chance to See, First U.S. Hardcover. Harmony Books, Page 59. ISBN 0-517-58215-5. 
  37. Adams, Douglas (2002). The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time, First UK hardcover edition. Macmillan, Pages 90-1. ISBN 0-333-76657-1. 
  38. Adams' final post on his forums at
  39. access through Google's newsgroup reader.
  40. Webb, Chapter 10.
  41. List of collegiate commencement speakers in the Chronicle of Higher Education
  42. Simpson, Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams |Hitchhiker pp. 337–8
  43. Gaiman, 204
  44. Douglas Adams' Service of Celebration clips on the BBC website
  45. Dirk Maggs News and New Projects page
  46. MSNBC article about the announcement of an Asteroid named after Adams, dated 25 January 2005.
  47. h2g2: A557093,
  48. Archived pages of the now-disbanded Oxford University Douglas Adams Society at the Internet Archive.
  49. York University DougSoc homepage.
  50. IHTFP Hack Gallery. So Long and Thanks for All the Wit
  51. St John's College, Cambridge: 'Douglas Adams Prize'.