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Douglas Adams: Don't panic, unless you're facing a right hook

March 11, 2013|By Amy Hubbard
  • Douglas Adams, shown in 1989, is the subject of a Google Doodle.
Douglas Adams, shown in 1989, is the subject of a Google Doodle. (Associated Press )

Douglas Adams, the subject Monday of an interactive Google Doodle, is the man behind "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," a five-part "trilogy" that snagged the imagination of generations of fans who appreciated its blend of science fiction and comedy. 

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" began life as a late-night radio series on BBC and attained a cult following.  It led to a series of novels that quickly gained popularity -- the first book in the series sold 250,000 copies in the first three months. By the time of Adams' death, at age 49 in 2001, the novels had sold more than 15 million copies. In addition, there was a BBC "Hitchhiker's" TV series, a stage play, two records and a video game.

As the Los Angeles Times reported in Adams' obituary, the title for the radio show came to him during college while he was on vacation in Europe. "Lying somewhat inebriated in an Austrian field with 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe' in hand, he gazed at the stars and thought: 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.' "

Adams' novels are centered around Arthur Dent, a hapless Englishman, and his alien friend Ford Prefect, who posed as an out-of-work actor.

Some years ago, Adams told the L.A. Times that many of the "Hitchhiker" characters, including Dent, were based on people he knew. "Arthur Dent is to a certain extent autobiographical," he said. "He moves from one astonishing event to another without fully comprehending what's going on. He's the everyman character -- an ordinary person caught up in some extraordinary events."

On the BBC website are some fun reminiscences from years past by those involved in the "Hitchhiker" realm.

Geoffrey McGivern played Ford Prefect in the original radio series from 1978 to 1980. Prefect, as fans may recall, was a researcher for the hitchhiker's guide responsible for the entry on Earth. His work, from 15 years of research, was edited down to "Mostly Harmless" -- also the title of the fifth book in Adams' series.

On BBC, McGivern recalled a close encounter with Adams.  At a birthday party for the author, he said he had "imbibed not wisely but too well and Douglas, to my mind, was being a little bit pompous in conversation to someone standing next to me."  McGivern then "swung a right hook," he said, and "Douglas shied like a nervous horse ... and went down like a California redwood."  McGivern said he later apologized to Adams and was very thankful that he "didn't connect."

Terry Jones, of Monty Python fame, recalled being "one of the first members of the public ever to hear 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.' "Adams had invited Jones and Michael Palin to his office at BBC.  It was "harrowing," Jones said, "with both Douglas and his producer minutely examining our faces for the slightest reactions."  Palin and Jones left after three shows, and Jones remembered saying to Palin: "That wasn't all that bad." He admitted that it was one of the "classic understatements of showbiz."

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