Douglas Adams (1952-2001)
q Douglas Adams was a writer of sci-fi, humour, and philosophy, which he often combined.
q He's most famous for his series of five books, a "trilogy in five parts", starting with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (HHGG). It started as a radio series for the BBC, and has been turned into a TV series, feature film, and several plays, comics, and computer games.
q Working in television, Douglas wrote and performed a few skits for Monty Python's Flying Circus.
q He also wrote three episodes for the TV series, Dr. Who, in 1979. Since then, little jokes of his have been included throughout the Dr. Who series, loosely tying the story together with the HHGG universe.
q Adams was also an outspoken activist on a number of political issues. He advocated new technology, environmental protection and conservation, and atheism.
q Douglas Adams has an asteroid named after him, and another named after Arthur Dent, the main character in his HHGG series.
q Fans of HHGG started Towel Day two weeks after his death, as a tribute to him. On this day, fans carry a towel with them everywhere.
Adams was born in Cambridge, and his family soon moved to East London. His childhood was difficult because his parents divorced when he was five, and his mother had little money. He was an excellent student, especially at creative writing, and was much taller than his classmates. At thirteen, he had a short story published in The Eagle, a boy's comic. In college, he joined a comedy troupe called the Footlights.
His early career in comedy and television was hard. He had to do a variety of odd jobs, working in hospitals, construction, and even as a bodyguard for a Qatari family of oil sheiks. Adams often suffered from lack of confidence, admitting, "I have terrible periods of lack of confidence [..] I briefly did therapy, but after a while I realised it was like a farmer complaining about the weather. You can't fix the weather – you just have to get on with it".
Success came around 1977 when his HHGG radio series began on BBC. According to Adams, the idea for the title occurred to him while he lay drunk in a field in Innsbruck, Austria, gazing at the stars. He was carrying a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe, and it occurred to him that "somebody ought to write a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy".
Despite the success, Adams had a hard time writing, and had to be forced to finish his books. He was even locked in a hotel room for three weeks to finish his book So Long and Thanks For All The Fish.
Adams married in 1991 to Jane Belson, a barrister, and they had one daughter, Polly. In 1999, they moved to Santa Barbara, California. He died of a heart attack at 49. Soon after the funeral, his family returned to London. A memorial service was held for Adams in Trafalgar Square London, and it was the first church service broadcast live, online by the BBC.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Spoiler Alert!):
This tells the story of Arthur Dent, an incredibly lucky human being on a very unlucky Earth. In the story, Arthur befriends a man by the name of Ford Prefect, who isn't really a man at all, but an alien, and a writer for... The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a kind of guidebook for space tourism. Ford saves Arthur's life in the first chapter, when the Earth is blown up by Vogons - space beauracrats who need to clear the solar system for some kind of galactic highway. Ford and Arthur survive by hiding in the Vogon's space ship, and then go on to have a number of fantastic adventures, travelling to different dimensions and learning that the Earth was actually made as an experiment to discover the meaning of life. It was destroyed before this experiment could be completed, making Arthur an extremely wanted man, with, unfortunately, no answers to give. I'd say more, but you really should read the books, they're fantastic. The film's well acted too.
The importance of towels is explained thusly:
"A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost." What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in "Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There's a frood who really knows where his towel is." (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)"