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HITCH a lift with genius; Douglas Adams's death in May at the age of 49 heralded the end of a creative genius. Now BBC2 is to screen a re-run of his cult hit The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy and is to pay tribute to Adams in Omnibus. Olivia Convey looks at famous TV series and the man who had an answer to the meaning of life.

Byline: Olivia Convey

He had the initials DNA and joked that, because he was born in Cambridge in 1952, he had pipped Watson and Crick to the post by being born a year before they discovered the building blocks of life.

But writer Douglas Adams offered more than an insight into life - his vision also encompassed the question of the universe and everything. (The answer to the meaning of all three, by the way, is 42).

His most extraordinary creation was the comic science fiction epic, The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy, which began life modestly enough as a series on radio, where it became a cult hit.

That led the author to give it a new lease of life in book form and then a BBC television series.

Sadly, Adams, who was 6ft 5in tall, died in May this year, aged only 49, leaving behind millions of fans still awaiting a film version of Hitch Hiker.

To pay tribute to his life and work, the BBC is re-showing the original television version as well as an Omnibus special about its creator.

'It is very hard to describe Douglas Adams as a man,' says his friend, comic and author Stephen Fry. 'He was really more a force of nature. Obviously the first thing about him was his size. Not just his physical size - though he did make houses shake when he ran up and down stairs - but the size of his enthusiasm.

'You were aware of somebody who really didn't have enough time to get out of his mouth all the things he wanted to communicate.'

Following the success of Hitch Hiker, Adams wrote a number of books in a similar vein - The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe and Life, The Universe And Everything to name but two, but increasingly found the pressures of working to a deadline difficult to cope with.

After failing to capitalise on his success, Adams moved to California to work on a Hollywood movie of Hitch Hikers, the film rights of which were in the hands of the Disney corporation.

It was there that he died of a heart attack, after being warned by medics that he had high blood pressure just days before.

Australian author Kathy Lette, creator of the novel Mad Cows, was also a friend of Adams, typified the response to the literary world's gentle giant.

'I am devastated,' she said of his death. 'He had the biggest heart in the world and it has let him down.'

Later this year it is hoped that a book of Adams's remaining unpublished work - including that elusive movie script - will be published, although there are fears that the novel he was working on at the time of his death encompasses only a few pages. Likewise, the prospect of bringing Hitch Hikers to the big screen in the near future looks doubtful.

'The film is still in development hell at the moment,' says his literary agent, Ed Victor.

'But we are also looking at his PC to see how much he had completed of the novel he was working on when he died.

'A very careful decision will have to be taken about that, because Douglas was always very particular about what he submitted, not just because of his problems with deadlines, but also because he was a perfectionist.

'Whatever has survived is likely to go into the volume, but we are expecting it to be only fragments, rather than a semi-finished book, and there would be no question of anyone else completing it on his behalf.'

Despite suffering from long bouts of writer's block, Adams's books sold more than 15 million copies worldwide and he had awards heaped upon him. Yet it was Hitch Hiker that remained the best-loved of his creations.

It is loosely based on the writer's own hitch-hiking experiences around Europe, but set in space.

'The story goes that I first had the idea for The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy while lying drunk in a field in Innsbruck - or Spain as the BBC publicity department authoritatively has it, probably because it's easier to spell,' he once wrote.

The story begins on earth with mild-mannered suburbanite Arthur Dent trying to stop the council demolishing his house to build a bypass.

It moves into space when his friend Ford Prefect reveals himself as the representative of the planet Betelgeuse and informs Arthur that the Earth is about to be demolished to make way for a hyperspace express route. They hitch a ride in a Vogon spaceship and their voyage begins.

On the way they meet up with part-time Galactic President, Zaphod Beeblebrox and his pilot Trillian, actually a girl from Islington called Trisha, and the wonderfully woeful Marvin The Paranoid Android who has been given a 'genuine people personality' which, sadly has made him a manic depressive.

Although it is for mock sci-fi work that he is best known. Adams had planned to become the next John Cleese.

He attended St John's College, Cambridge where he gained a BA and later an MA in English Literature.

He decided not to join the famous Footlights dramatic society and instead teamed up with a rival company to satisfy his already burgeoning desire to write and perform.

'I wanted to be like the Pythons,' he said later. 'In fact I wanted to be John Cleese and it took me some time to realise that the job was, in fact, taken.'

He did actually work with one Python - the late Graham Chapman - on a television pilot. But he had to pay his way by working on a series of odd-jobs, included a chicken shed cleaner and a hotel bodyguard.

All the time he was working on the Guide and it finally made it to the radio - for the princely sum of pounds 1,000. Even though later books saw him secure advances of up to $2 million, he was never a rich man and admitted he was 'terrible with money.'

He once summed up his attitude to money and his work when he said: 'I have to make a fair bit of money because I'm not very good at handling it.

'I need a certain market value on what I am doing as I am incapable of writing for fun.'

The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy is on BBC2 starting this Monday. Omnibus Special: Douglas Adams is on BBC2 next Saturday, August 4.

CAPTION(S):

Main, Simon Jones as Arthur Dent. Above, Mark Wing Davet as Zaphod Beelebrox and Sandra Dickinson as Trillian from the classic sci-fi The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy which returns to the small screen on Monday
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 28, 2001
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