Friday, March 9, 2012

He hoped and prayed that there wasn't an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contradiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn't an afterlife.

Douglas Adams Would Have Been 60 on Sunday
Douglas Adams
Cover of Douglas Adams

"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.

"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 whisky'."

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. {Read on}