Today is Towel Day - one of the most important dates in the ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha calendar. To celebrate, here's a piece that ran in SFX magazine in 2009, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of publication of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. We allowed SFX magazine's features editor Nick Setchfield a delve into Tor's Hitchhiker archives and this is what he found...
It’s an impossible 30 years since a wholly remarkable book by the name of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy first tickled ape-descended life forms everywhere. In celebration, Pan Macmillan are re-releasing Douglas Adams’ entire saga in new commemorative editions – and they invited SFX for a rare rummage in their Hitchhiker archives.
We found a treasurehouse. Fat manila files bursting with original letters, documents, memos and manuscripts, unseen publicity shots and artwork, scribbled dinner arrangements and the occasional cautionary word from the company’s legal team. Pick up a type-written synopsis of Life, The Universe And Everything and you can sense Adams’ racing wit and fabled, deadline-dodging frustration in the imprint of every ribbon-hammered word and smear of Tipp-ex; the kind of tactile connection to the past our Word document age will deny to future generations.
“You don’t really think of posterity at the time,” says Jacqui Graham, Pan publicist, keeper of this makeshift repository and, we learn, Adams’ girlfriend at the time the Hitchhiker phenomenon first detonated. “I do remember knowing that the book was going to be massive. I could just tell – it was something you feel. And indeed it was. It was number one on publication, which was just amazing. But even so you don’t know it’s going to survive 30 years or more…”
What were your first impressions of Douglas?
The first impression that anyone had of him was his size. He was enormous, like a great big dog, and terribly, terribly friendly and enthusiastic. And very in your face. He was quite funny, Douglas. He would say something, and you would laugh around an hour later. It was quite funny at the time, but then you’d suddenly realise how funny it was, once you’d thought about it for a while…
Was he confident in his talent?
Yes and no. In some ways he was very confident. In other ways he was incredibly lacking in confidence. He was also like a small child, terribly childlike, which is probably where his talent or indeed genius came from. He was terribly pleased to know people, and be friends with them. Quite starstruck. He was huge friends with the Pythons, and that was proper and genuine and real, but he was also a bit thrilled about it!
Did he need reassurance that what he was creating was good stuff?
Oh, completely. He was almost on the verge of nervous breakdowns when he had to write something. All this stuff you hear about locking him up in hotel rooms – well, the hotel rooms thing didn’t happen. I was there when he wrote Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, very much so, and he said he couldn’t write it in the flat that he shared at that time with Jon Canter. And I had to persuade our managing director that we would pay for a flat for him to rent temporarily, while he wrote it. He was terribly, terribly late, but as the first book was such a massive success it was worth doing. And I had to go there every day, after work, and read what he’d written. And that was partly to make him write it, because he knew that someone was going to come and read it, and partly because he’d sit and watch you as you read it, waiting for you to laugh. It was quite unnerving, actually.
Was that part of his psychology – getting it in so late that there wasn’t time to change it?
Probably. I think his psychology was simply that he was in a permanent state of denial! And maybe that’s what inspired his creativity – maybe he relied on the adrenalin and the terror. Maybe if he’d been a little more relaxed and laid back it wouldn’t have worked.
How did he take to success when it came?
He loved it. Completely loved it. One of the things he did quite early on was go out and buy a Porsche. He said “You put your foot down and you’re in a different postal district!” And then he drove it down Park Lane and crashed it. I think he got rid of it quite soon after that.
Did that first phenomenal burst of success ever feel like a burden to him, something that his later work would always be judged against?
He had that memorable quote when it went straight to number one: “It’s like having an orgasm with no foreplay.” Which he actually genuinely said. And then repeated a lot! I don’t know if it was a burden. In some ways it was a huge help. It was probably a personal burden, thinking you had to live up to that. It’s very, very difficult for anyone when they have a huge success very early on, but on the other hand it’s quite a nice position to be in.
What do you think satisfied him the most, creatively?
He was desperately, desperately keen to get Hitchiker’s made into a movie. And it never was in his lifetime. I don’t know whether he would have been entirely satisfied with the result. Had he lived into his 80s, as he should have, it probably would have been those first two books.