This audio book is a collection of (mostly radio) highlights from Douglas Adams’ career, narrated by Simon Jones, as himself. It’s structured rather cleverly by the alphabet with A for aye-aye, Z for zoology, and everything in between. If you are a Douglas Adams fan, this audio collection is an absolute must, as it contains many very early radio sketches in Adams’ career–things he produced, wrote, was interviewed about–as well as larger projects like H2G2 and Doctor Who. There are rare clips that were luckily illegally recorded because they are no longer archived by the BBC.
A is for Aye-Aye
Many of the clips in this compendium are from Last Chance to See, Douglas Adams’ adventures around the world with Mark Carwardine as they tracked down hyper-endangered animals. Some of it is recorded live on location, some re-enacted later in the studio, and some narrated by Peter Jones. It also includes interviews with Douglas and Mark about their adventures. This project was Adams’ way of going on the record to the public saying something needed to be done about these dying creatures, for which humans were responsible for killing off. A is for aye-aye, the creepy little nocturnal lemur. K is for kakapo, the flightless green chicken-like bird. If this is of interest to you, do check out the recent TV series based on this research and the Save the Rhino Foundation.
B is for The Burkiss Way
Some of the funniest sketches you’ll hear come from this BBC Radio 4 sketch show, which Douglas Adams wrote for for a while. After he was shown the door, he became the target of satire and H2G2 spoofs, which includes a Peter Jones guest spot as the Book, ripping on the characteristic long introductions of H2G2 episodes and its obnoxious music. Definitely worth a listen!
G is for Graham Chapman
After discussion of Dirk Gently and Footlights, we learn that Graham Chapman was so impressed with Adams’ Hole in the Wall Club sketch about a society of paranoid people, he invited Adams to help write the Out of the Trees sketch with Terry Jones. For someone who only went to Cambridge so that he could be John Cleese, working with the Pythons was a dream gig. This collection includes Adams’ tribute to Chapman after his death, as it does Adams’ tribute to Peter Jones in 2000.
H is for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Future
Douglas Adams is often credited for having great foresight into the future of technology and society, usually because his invention of a make-believe electronic book that you can carry around in your pocket that tells you everything you want to know about everything pre-dates things like smart phones (even palm-pilots) and Wikipedia. His documentary Hyperland features Tom Baker and predicts that we will have totally customizable devices that we carry around that will search out information for us almost instantly. But it doesn’t stop at the Internet (I for Internet). He also predicted the revolution of e-books prior to Stephen King’s first e-book release (P for Publishing) and micro-payments and MP3 downloads revolutionizing the music industry (M for Music). We’re still waiting on the full realization of virtual reality (V for Virtual Reality), but judging by Adams’ success in being right about everything else, it isn’t far behind.
L is for Light Entertainment
Whether writing for radio or penning novels, Adams had a reputation for missing his deadlines. He got a taste of his own medicine when he produced a show called Black Cinderella II Goes East, which included the likes of John Cleese and others. His writers failed to turn in the script on time, infuriating Adams. Did he learn his lesson and start turning his own work in on time? No. A real treat on this tape is the lost Hitchhiker’s sketch, which…wasn’t written by Douglas Adams because he missed his deadline. His friends theorize that it is because he is by nature a radio writer, a very social job, so being locked away to write a script or a book on his own was detrimental to his creative output.
S is for Science
“I think because I had disappointing results in chemistry, I chose arts,” Adams says about his degree. He confesses that if he were to do life all over again, he would want to be a zoologist instead of a writer, but he also acknowledges that his entire career has been trying to marry science and the arts and not peg them against each other. Both disciplines help you to understand the human condition.
W is for Doctor Who
As many people know, Douglas Adams wrote several scripts for Doctor Who. He admits that his favorite Doctors are William Hartnell and Tom Baker. His episodes were often criticized for being too overtly humorous.
Douglas Adams at the BBC: A Celebration of the Author’s Life and Work is available from Audible. It is also available on CD. It runs 3 hours and 45 minutes.