Douglas Noel Adams: the man who found the answer to life, the universe, and everything. Oh, and also known for a little five-book trilogy named The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
Adams would probably have claimed 15 million copies sold worldwide (to say nothing of hours of radio show, one videogame and a 'Towel Day' in his honour) isn't much in the galactic scheme of things, but quite unlike Zaphod Beeblebrox, Adams was always too modest.
Whether you're a lifelong Hitchhiker’s devotee or you're yet to have experienced the entire oeuvre, here are a few lesser-known details that shine a little extra light on the man, his 'trilogy', and the legacy it left.
1. It wasn’t just dolphins and mice he respected
Adams' parents divorced in 1957; he, his sister Susan, and their mother then moved to an RSPCA animal shelter in Essex, run by his maternal grandparents. Perhaps it was a formative period, given the strong themes of animal intelligence (often kept secret, and being far greater than that of humans) that run throughout the series.
Also, in 1994, Adams was involved in a trip to Mount Kilimanjaro, for which he dressed as a rhino in support of the British charity organisation Save the Rhino International, helping raise approx. £100,000. He was also an active supporter of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
2. He struggled as a writer
Having studied at Cambridge, Adams struggled after graduating to make a dent in the universe. He had initial success working briefly with Monty Python, before falling into a rut and moving back in with his mother. In this pre-pre-eminent period, he worked variously as a hospital porter, barn builder, and chicken shed cleaner, and was even employed as a bodyguard by a Qatari family.
And of course, he gave us one of the best quotes about procrastination yet: “I love deadlines” Adams said, possibly while locked in a hotel room for days with his editor trying to finish the final draft of So Long and Thanks For All The Fish. “I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
3. Fear and loathing in Innsbruck
The popular story Adams tells of the story's genesis is that he lay drunk and depressed in a field in Innsbruck, while himself hitchhiking around Europe, with a stolen copy of, you guessed it, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Europe. Although Adams admits constant repetition of the anecdote has obliterated any actual memory of that night (somewhat akin to the effects of a Pangalactic Gargleblaster), no better explanation exists. "Somebody ought to write a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy” he remembered thinking. Why? "Because it looked a lot more attractive out there than it did around me."
4. The towel
Every good hitchhiker knows that the one item you absolutely cannot do without is a good towel. Turns out, Douglas learned this the hard way.
When vacationing with friends in Greece, Adams recounts, 'every morning they'd have to sit around and wait for me because I couldn't find my blessed towel . . . I came to feel that someone really together, one who was well organised, would always know where his towel is.'
The towel is legion; on 25th May 2001, the first annual Towel Day was held in Adam’s honour, and has even been celebrated aboard the International Space Station by astronaut Tim Peake.
5. Douglas MacAdams
Adams was a sci-fi author of course, but he also loved technology a little closer to home. He was a hardcore Apple aficionado, quite literally before they were cool – being the very first person in Europe to buy one (the second being Stephen Fry).
He went on to become a celebrity evangelist or ‘Apple Master’ (along with the likes of John Cleese) and claimed ‘I adore my family of however many Macintoshes it is that I've recklessly accumulated over the years.’ Combined with his 24 left-handed guitars, he can’t have had much inner-space to explore.
6. He has three objects in space
We lost Adams tragically young, to a heart attack aged 49. He lived to see his legacy extend to the real part of his science fiction: days before he died, the Minor Planet Center announced the naming of asteroid 18610 as Arthurdent. In 2005, the asteroid 25924 Douglasadams was named in his memory. More recently, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk revealed himself as a fan when he launched his Tesla Roadster into an elliptical heliocentric orbit, sending an important message (emblazoned on the car’s dashboard) to the galaxy: ‘Don't Panic!’.
On reflection, perhaps a reminder to anyone/thing out there of our ‘mostly harmless’ status might not have gone amiss either.