Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Douglas Adams eventually got into Footlights, made an impression, met the Monty Python group, wrote for them in their final Cleese-less season (even appeared in backgrounds), and did his first professional writing as Graham Chapman's partner. After working on several failed or aborted projects (one for Ringo Starr, another for Paul McCartney), Adams was contributing comedy bits to ongoing BBC programs when producer Simon Brett asked him if he had any program ideas.

Adams had just spent considerable time on several comedy science fiction scripts that never got made, including a film version of the Guinness Book of World Records involving some very competitive space aliens. That one was dropped because the producers felt there was no market for comedy science fiction. So Adams offered a number of conventional ideas, none of which seemed to interest Brett. Finally Brett said, "Do you know what I'd like to do? Comedy science fiction."

The rest is history. But it wasn't then.

It was a shot in the dark, and some feel it might have been Adams' last. He was fed up with being an unsuccessful writer. Like almost everything that does become successful, the Hitchhiker radio project benefited from the good fortune of the right people, and some very good timing. The timing included Star Wars, which had just come out, and revived interest in space fiction. The good people included not only the cast but Simon Brett, who guided Hitchhiker through the shoals of BBC bureaucracy. He blocked the idea of a studio audience (standard for comedy) and supervised production in the same studio where the legendary Goon Show with Peter Sellers was recorded. When BBC executives listened to the completed programs in complete silence, one of them asked Brett, "Simon, is it funny?" "It is," he replied. And so it was approved.

In the midst of all this, Adams was offered a job. Not knowing the fate of Hitchhiker, he took it. It wasn't a bad job. He was writing for Doctor Who, and became the script supervisor for one of its best seasons.

Though that season was abruptly ended by a strike that stopped production on Douglas' own script ("'>Shada"), he transformed it into his first '>Dirk Gently book. He also became good friends with the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, and his costar and then-wife, Lalla Ward, and managed to remain friends with both after their acrimonious split, and even after he introduced Ward to the man she married next, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, also a close Adams friend.

'>The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on BBC radio became a cult hit, based at first on word of mouth. Few people knew about the first episode before it aired but the talk about it was so strong, the BBC had to rebroadcast it along with the second episode. Eventually the Hitchhiker books happened the same way---some initial excitement for the first book, then craziness for the second. In a few years time, Douglas Adams was famous and well on the way to being rich.

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