Tuesday, May 10, 2005

As far as I know, Leonard Nimoy was the first to make the connection between feeling alienated as a child, and playing a space alien effectively in a TV drama. Douglas Adams wrote about a lot of space aliens effectively, and though "alienated" may not conjure up the exactly right images, as a child he certainly must have felt like an alien. He was tall. Really tall. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly tall he was.

He towered. He lived in a different universe from his classmates scurrying like little mice below him. He was Gulliver at the Lilliputian Preparatory, which the wee ordinary people called the Brentwood School.

Also his large human selfness took an unusually long time to develop. Born in 1952, he didn't speak until the age of four (or so he said as an adult, when it became difficult for people to stop him from speaking, or to correct his stories which may or may not correspond more or less exactly to the facts, or at all) and in Prep school he was still uncoordinated. (Another comparatively tall and large person who was physically unstable as a youth was Gene Roddenberry.)

Though he was living on a higher plane, young Douglas was affable and cheerful, and if he had been a bit more working class, he would have been called "a clever lad." He was reproached for inserting jokes in his history essays. But his English teacher once gave him a ten out of ten for an adventure story he wrote, the only time in that teacher's thirty year tenure he gave a student full marks. It was recognition at a crucial time, and remained enormously important to Adams for the rest of his life.

Young Douglas Adams was also involved in photography and in acting. He performed in several school plays, including an historical drama. No word on whether he inserted jokes. He was also learning to play piano and left-handed guitar. The Beatles were his major enthusiasm in 1964. He later would say his chief influences had been the Beatles and Monty Python: "Both were messages out of the void saying there are people out there who know what it's like to be you." And if you've read the previous Hitchhiker post here (or continue down the page when you finish this one) you'll see that Adams-among others-- performed that exact function for me. And I suspect, for many others.

By 1964 '>Doctor Who was on the air in England, and the first Douglas Adams script for that long-running series was that Christmas, when it was dramatized to entertain his fellow boarders at school. He was eleven at the time.

He later did write episodes of Doctor Who and edited a season's worth of others, at the prime of that series' life. This was one way in which he lived out a baby boomer's dream: he became part of a TV world as an adult that he wanted to be part of as a child.

He was born at the end of the first third of the baby boom generation, and TV as a storytelling medium had existed for only a few years. But boomer children also got their stories from movies, books, comic books and magazines, and especially in England, from radio (in the U.S. most commercial radio serials faded away in the early 1950s.) With the Hitchhiker saga alone, Adams became a storyteller in all of those media---another boomer dream fulfilled. His storytelling also extended to video games and the Internet, which weren't even science fiction in his childhood.

In 1966 a weekly TV program of satirical news called '>The Frost Report began, starring David Frost and featuring a young writer-performer named John Cleese. Adams would later say that seeing Cleese on this show gave him the ambition to be a comedy writer and performer, confirmed in 1969 when '>Monty Python's Flying Circus began broadcasting weekly.

Adams left Brentwood School in 1970, having been accepted into Cambridge University for 1971. So in the interim, Douglas took off for Europe, and stuck out his thumb. He used a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe, and one starry night he thought how interesting it would be to travel up there, and that somebody ought to write '>The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. (But Adams told this story so many times that he eventually confessed he no longer remembered the actual events, just the story.)

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