1. One of Douglas Adams’s early jobs was as a bodyguard to a Qatari family of oil tycoons. He also had a job cleaning a chicken-shed at one point. The ‘eureka moment’ for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came when he lay drunk in a field in Innsbruck, Austria in the early 1970s. At the time he was carrying a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe with him, and it occurred to him – as he looked up at the stars – that ‘somebody ought to write a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. It took a few years for the idea to take shape, but in 1978 the radio programme made its debut. A trilogy – comprising, as trilogies don’t tend to, five books – followed. If you want to see an interview with a young Douglas Adams talking about the series, there is a great Youtube clip of Adams being interviewed on the television programme Nationwide in December 1980, when Adams was just 28.
2. He made two appearances in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He also briefly wrote for the comedy show. In his first appearance, in November 1974 (the final series of the TV programme), he played a doctor; in his second appearance, he played a Pepperpot (a number of middle-aged matronly characters played by men). Adams went on to write for the TV series Doctor Who, becoming script editor in 1979.
3. He came up with the title of Pink Floyd’s 1994 album The Division Bell. In this archived page from Adams’s website from the late 1990s, he mentioned that he once played guitar with the band on stage.
4. He claimed he was the first person in the United Kingdom to buy an Apple Macintosh computer. His friend Stephen Fry claims to be the second person (though some sources say Fry bought the first, and Adams the second). In 1990, Adams wrote and presented a documentary, Hyperland, about the potential of hypertext. Later that year, Tim Berners-Lee, working at CERN in Switzerland, developed HTML (i.e. ‘HyperText Markup Language’) and the world-wide web was born. Adams was an early adopter of email, and had his own email address in the early 1980s when he was working on the video game version of Hitchhiker’s.
5. His ashes are in Highgate Cemetery, where numerous other writers and famous figures are buried and memorialised. Also in Highgate Cemetery, you’ll find George Eliot, Karl Marx, Herbert Spencer, Beryl Bainbridge, Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal, and Charles Dickens‘s wife and parents. Adams is also commemorated every year on 25 May, which is named Towel Day in his honour (a reference to Hitchhiker’s). On that day, fans of Adams’s work ‘around the universe’ proudly carry a towel with them.
If you haven’t yet discovered the wonderful and hilarious world of Douglas Adams, we recommend picking up the entire ‘trilogy’, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Five Parts, without more ado. Oh, and a towel, while you’re at it.
Discover more literary interestingness with our curious facts about classic science fiction.
If you enjoy these Steinbeck facts, check out our bumper collection of famous author facts.
1. An early draft of John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men was eaten by his dog. It was Max, one of several dogs Steinbeck owned during his life, who devoured the novel’s draft and so became, in effect, the book’s first critic. This is probably Steinbeck’s most famous novel, and draws on his own experiences as a ‘bindlestiff’ (or migratory worker) in the US in the 1920s. The novel’s title famously comes from the Robert Burns poem ‘To a Mouse’: ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley’ (or ‘go often awry’). The original title of the novella was ‘Something That Happened’. (We have more interesting facts about Of Mice and Men here.)
2. In the 1980s, a rumour arose that Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath had been translated into Japanese as ‘The Angry Raisins’. This rumour was, however, false. It is a good example of how people love a good ‘lost in translation’ story, and it has been debunked numerous times.
3. Steinbeck used 300 pencils to write East of Eden. He was known to use up to 60 pencils in a day, preferring the pencil to a typewriter or pen. Hemingway was also a fan of graphite rather than ink, though ‘Papa’ apparently also enjoyed sharpening pencils while he was working on a novel, to help him think! (We have more great facts about Hemingway here.)
4. Steinbeck wrote a book about King Arthur. It’s an unlikely topic for the author of Depression-era novels, but Steinbeck’s sortie into Arthurian fantasy was penned late in his career. Like T. H. White (who wrote the sequence The Once and Future King, beginning with The Sword in the Stone) and Tennyson (who wrote a long verse-novel, Idylls of the King, in the nineteenth century), Steinbeck drew on Sir Thomas Malory’s vast fifteenth-century prose epic, Le Morte d’Arthur, for his source material. Steinbeck’s Arthurian fantasy was The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights. Begun in 1956, the book was left unfinished upon Steinbeck’s death in 1968, and was not published until 1976.
5. He wrote one of the finest love letters in all of literature – a letter about falling in love. In this letter of 1958, Steinbeck responds to a letter his son Thom had written to him. Thom had told his father that he had fallen desperately in love with a girl named Susan (at this time, Thom was away at boarding school). Steinbeck’s tone is supportive and honest throughout, taking his son’s feelings into account but also offering advice on ‘what to do about it’ – surely what every teenager in the first pangs of a love affair wants to know. ‘The object of love is the best and most beautiful,’ he tells Thom. ‘Try to live up to it.’ He ends the letter by assuring his son, ‘And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens – The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.’ You can read the letter in full here.