Douglas Adams loved ideas, but hated writing, says Terry Jones

  • Published
Terry Jones and Douglas Adams

Monty Python star Terry Jones remembers his friend Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, who would have been 60 this weekend.

"He was such a brilliant writer," says Terry Jones of his old friend and fellow real ale aficionado Douglas Adams.

"Maybe that's why he hated it - he put so much effort into it."

It's an ironic observation, given that Adams became a household name when his radio series, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, evolved first into a cult science fiction novel and then a hit BBC TV series.

Adams died in 2001 aged 49 following a heart attack. The movie version of Hitchhiker's Guide came out in 2005.

On Sunday, the late writer's 60th birthday is being marked with a special show at London's Hammersmith Apollo.

Comedians, writers and scientists are coming together for the event.

Contributors include Stephen Fry, Robin Ince, Jon Culshaw , Stephen Mangan and Sanjeev Bhaskar.

Image caption,
Douglas Adams began writing Monty Python sketches around 1974

Terry Jones will be in conversation with Clive Anderson about Douglas's comic genius.

"I'm going to be reminiscing about how Douglas nearly killed all the Pythons when we all piled into his minivan and he drove up the wrong ramp of a motorway," laughs Jones.

Jones first met Adams around 1974 when Adams began co-writing Monty Python sketches with Graham Chapman after the departure of John Cleese.

Adams even made some appearances in the fourth series of the cult comedy show.

"You can see him loading a missile onto the back of a cart," recalls Jones. "He also appears as a surgeon looking intently into the camera."

Their friendship developed over a shared interest in real ale, which led to Jones being one of the first people to hear the radio version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in 1978.

Hitchhiker's success

"Mike Palin and I were supposed to be writing Ripping Yarns, but we got a phone call from Douglas asking to come to the BBC to listen to a tape of the show.

"We got a bit anxious, as we realised the producer Geoffrey Perkins and Douglas were looking at us the whole time for any sign of amusement.

"Then they put on the second episode and the third, at which point we said we had to leave. As we walked away from the BBC, I said: 'Well, that was quite funny, wasn't it?'"

Why did Adams' writing strike a chord with people?

"It wasn't the narrative or the characters," says Jones. "It was the ideas. He was brilliant at reversing our perceptions of things - at turning them upside down.

"There's a bit in Hitchhiker's Guide where Arthur Dent asks: 'What's so wrong about being drunk?', and Ford Prefect says: 'You ask a glass of water'."

Image caption,
Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency has been made into a BBC Four series

Adams was born in Cambridge in 1952, and studied at St John's College, Cambridge before embarking on a career as a radio and TV writer and producer.

His life was changed by the success of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

More than 15 million copies of the book and its sequels have been sold throughout the world.

The story begins with bemused Earthling Arthur Dent, who wakes one morning to find his house is about to be demolished to make way for a bypass.

Before the end of the first episode he has hitched a lift on an alien spaceship as it destroys his home planet to make way for an interstellar bypass.

A UK tour of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - featuring members of the original radio and TV cast - is set to take place later in 2012.

Adams went on to write other books, including Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul and the Meaning of Liff - an alternative dictionary of nonsense words and place names.


Adams, however, was never a punctual writer. He was was once quoted as saying: "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by."

In the 1990s, Adams and Jones collaborated on a project called Starship Titanic.

Says Jones: "He'd been paid an advance seven years before to write the book, and he never had - so he fobbed them off with a computer game.

"He rang me up and asked if I would like to write the book to get him out of a hole. I asked 'how long have I got?' and he answered: 'Five weeks!'

"So there I was bashing away at a typewriter like when you see writers in Hollywood films."

Asked what Douglas was like as a person, Jones offers an anecdote about being offered two tickets to a screening of Abel Gance's five-hour epic 1927 silent film Napoleon.

"My wife said she had a a hangover and couldn't possibly see a five-hour silent film, so I rang Mike Palin up and he said he had a hangover and couldn't possibly face a five-hour silent film.

"And then I rang Douglas and he said he couldn't possibly face it either - so I thought I'd just go on my own.

"And just as I was opening the front door, Douglas rang back and said: 'Well it's such an awful idea, I think I have to try it.' And that's the kind of person he was - he loved ideas, he had to test everything out."

Douglas Adams The Party takes place on Sunday 11 March at the Hammersmith Apollo, London. The event is being held in association with the Save the Rhino charity, which Adams supported.

Around the BBC

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.