I started writing this post just two days after or last meeting and then... work and life happened and I never had the chance to finish. I truly apologize for that. Posting it just a few days before our next meeting (and such a great one with Jordi Fibla, Philip Roth's Spanish translator as a guest!) is way too late. I hope you can forgive me for that... Back to subject. Douglas Adams.
There are so many stories to tell about Douglas Noel Adams, or as he often referred to himself, DNA. For example DNA: where did it come from, apart from, quite obviously, his initials?
He was born on March, 11th, 1952 in Cambridge and, as DNA was discovered also in Cambridge one year later, he used to present himself as DNA from Cambridge. HE found it funny, for sure, but it was mostly catchy. How to forget a man who says he's DNA? People also called him "Bop Ad" for his illegible signature.
He attended Brentwood School, a boarding school famous for some of its pupils: Robin Day, Jack Straw, Noel Edmonds, and David Irving, Griff Rhys Jones, a Stuckist artist Charles Thomson. He attended the prep school from 1959 to 1964, then the main school until December 1970. One of his former teachers, Frank Halford, said of him: "Hundreds of boys have passed through the school but Douglas Adams really stood out from the crowd—literally. He was unnaturally tall and in his short trousers he looked a trifle self-conscious. Yet it was his ability to write first-class stories that really made him shine." The truth is, it was difficult to miss him in a crowd: Adams was 1.83 m by age 12 and stopped growing only when he reached 1.96 m. Adams became the only student ever to be awarded a ten out of ten by Halford for creative writing, something he remembered for the rest of his life, particularly when facing writer's block.
Some of his writings were published at the school (for example a report on its photography club in The Brentwoodian in 1962, or reviews in the school magazine Broadsheet, edited by Paul Neil Milne Johnstone, who later became a character in The Hitchhiker's Guide).However, his first published work was a short story in Eagle comic, at the age of 12, in 1965. He applied to Cambridge, mostly to join the Footlights, an invitation-only student comedy club that acted as a hothouse for some of the most notable comic talent in England. He was not chosen immediately and started to write and perform forming a group called "Adams-Smith-Adams". He managed to become a member of the Footlights by 1973. He graduated in 1974 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 that year. Over the next few years Douglas worked with many comedy stars. He got Griff Rhys Jones into comedy and directed A Kick In The Stalls, which got the attention of Graham Chapman. That led to a collaboration on a TV comedy show called Out Of The Trees. He also worked on several other projects, and among other things he submitted sketches for The Burkiss Way, Weekending and Monty Python´s Flying Circus, where Adams earned a writing credit in one episode (episode 45: "Party Political Broadcast on Behalf of the Liberal Party in 1982") for a sketch called "Patient Abuse"; he was one of only two people, outside the original Python members to get a writing credit (the other being Neil Innes). He also contributed to a sketch on the album for Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
But not only he wrote for Monty Python, he also appeared in it. His first Monty Python appearance, in full surgeon's garb, was in episode 42 and the second, at the beginning of episode 44, "Mr. Neutron", where 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.
But mostly, at that time he was writing for radio. 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.
His uncompromising character led to some difficulty selling jokes and stories, and he had to take a series of odd jobs, including that of a hospital porter, barn builder, and chicken shed cleaner. He was employed as a bodyguard by a Qatar family, who had made their fortune in oil.
Finally he moved from writing for radio to become script editor of Doctor Who. During this time he co-wrote City of Death, widely considered to be the best Doctor Who story ever, as well as The Pirate Planet and the ultimately unfinished Shada. In 1990 he worked on the documentary Hyperland.
It was while Douglas was writing for Doctor Who that the radio series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, was commissioned. It appeared on BBC Radio 4 in March 1978 and was repeated in 2004. After the first radio series of The Hitchhiker's Guide became successful, Adams was made a BBC radio producer, worked on Week Ending and a pantomime called Black Cinderella Two Goes East. He left the position after only six months. But the truth is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was his true inspiration and work for the rest of his life. It has first been transformed into a series of best-selling novels, then a television series, records, cassettes and CDs, a computer game, several stage adaptations and a major film.
The last part of this post, comes way to fast: Douglas Adams died at the age of 49. I have read a really touching description of what happened on h2g2.com, a site he had created. H2G2 was originally launched in 1999 but found a new home at bbc.co.uk in 2001 with Douglas himself a member. With the launch of PDA and mobile phone versions in April 2005, the site has achieved Douglas's aim of a handheld, ever-expanding guide to Life, the Universe and Everything, written by its users. And I believe the best will be to quote this description here:
On the morning of 11 May, 2001, Douglas went to the local gym to work out. He had been walking the treadmill and went on for some aerobics. After aerobics it was time for some gym workout. First up was stomach crunches, and Douglas lay down on the bench. The trainer turned to get Douglas's towel, and when he turned back to hand it over, Douglas rolled off the bench, suffering a massive heart attack. All attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.
Douglas left his six-year-old daughter Polly, his wife Jane, his mother Jan Thrift and countless other family members and friends, not to mention thousands and thousands of fans all over the world, in shock and mourning. It was later learned that he had a narrowing of the arteries in the heart, a condition which is hard to detect, as well as an arrhythmic heartbeat, which is usually benign. These two factors contributed to Douglas's untimely death at the tender age of 49.
He was cremated, along with his towel, at 7.30pm British time, on 16 May, 2001 in Santa Barbara, CA, USA and hundreds of fans worldwide saluted him with a drink around that time, either with a cup of tea or the nearest they could get to a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster. Wife Jane and daughter Polly moved back to Islington, London, together with their cats. In May 2002 Douglas' ashes were interred in a private ceremony at Highgate Cemetery (East), Highgate, London, England, plot: Square 74, Plot 52377, where a memorial stands.
There are million other things to add here, but the words are not enough to express all. He was an atheist, not afraid to prove his reasoning and to talk about it publicly. He was an enthusiastic ecological activist. He loved nature and animals and believed we are destroying the planet that we are not worth of. He had many talents we know of, but without any doubt, many that he never had an opportunity to discover.