Inspirations: Douglas Adam / by Richard Hough

Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable, let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.
— (from Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, 1987)


Douglas Adams was a genius, one of the most gifted writers of his generation. When he died in 2001 aged only 49, he was at the peak of his powers, with so much still to say. But he left such a legacy behind him that his voice continues to influence writers and dramatists and, I would suggest, lyricists, across the world. Ben and I owe him as profound a debt as any of them. Douglas understood people. He knew their flaws as keenly as any psychologist, and their virtues as well as any philosopher. And he condensed his observations on life, the universe and everything into his writing.

Douglas wrote comedy and drama, initially for the BBC. What made him so special was that he wrote dialogue as if it was poetry, with a rhythm and a texture all his own. Every one of his lines is beautifully constructed, created with no regard for naturalism, but with an undeniable truth all the same. His characters are concisely sketched and instantly recognisable, no matter how outlandish or grotesque. And his stories are told with such a pace, and they include so many impossibly original ideas, that to experience the work of Douglas Adams is to be left breathless, and just a bit bemused, but at the same time feeling that the world outside makes a little more sense. And that’s a wonderful feeling to have. But don’t take my word for it. If his name is unfamiliar, I urge you, dear reader, to seek him out; pick up one of his books or TV or radio series today, and then thank me afterwards in the comments section. 

His earliest success (and the show for which he is still best remembered), was a radio comedy entitled The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, later adapted into a television serial for BBC 2. Here’s a piece from the second instalment, a treatise on language, miscommunication and the miraculous “Babel Fish.” (The narration comes from an inter-galactic talking book, the eponymous Hitchhiker’s Guide, brought to life in the adjacent clip by the voice of Peter Jones.)

At the same time Douglas was working on Hitchhiker’s Guide, he was employed by BBC Drama as Script Editor on the 1979 series of Doctor Who. Before the days of Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat, Douglas Adams was show-running an altogether more outlandish series, in his own inimitable style. This clip is taken from a story called “City of Death” (which is a terrible title, but a terrific yarn, available on DVD). It is quite simply the wittiest thing every to happen in 1970s family adventure fiction. 


Richard Hough

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