AUDIO BOOK
Douglas Adams at the BBC

Presenter: Simon Jones
BBC Audiobooks
RRP 15.99
ISBN 0 563 49404 2
Available 06 September 2004


Simon Jones, who played Arthur Dent in
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, presents a look back at the life and work of a writer who has captivated the imagination of millions...

When Douglas Adams created The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for BBC Radio 4, it was the genesis of a science fiction comedy legend. Yet his career at the BBC had begun in Light Entertainment, with contributions to The Burkiss Way, Week Ending and other sketch shows of the time. He went on to script edit a series of Doctor Who, and to write a series of Hitchhiker's and Dirk Gently books.

In this triple-CD programme, Simon Jones takes an A-Z look at Adams's career, taking in extracts from the many radio and TV programmes he contributed to. These include personal appearances on Wogan, Tomorrow's World and Desert Island Discs, his own radio programmes such as Last Chance to See (about the search for endangered species) and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Future (a look at impending technology), and even a lost segment of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy which Adams wrote specially for Radio 4's Steafel Plus in 1982. Also included are some of the many tributes paid to Adams following his untimely death in May 2001. This is a fascinating and in-depth audio biography of a man whose brilliant work has inspired, enraptured and entertained millions of people worldwide.

Produced by Dirk Maggs and presented by Jones (who played Arthur Dent in the Hitchhiker's radio series) Douglas Adams at the BBC includes plenty of material to keep even his most knowledgeable fans entertained.

The first thing I noticed about this collection was that Jones's introduction sounded insincere. "He was a great friend and I miss him greatly" seemed to have been said without any feeling - like he was simply reading from a script. I was also not really keen on the A-Z route that the producers decided to take. Surely a better idea would have been to follow Adams's career from start to finish... or am I just being conventional now?

The A-Z idea just doesn't seem to work (with bizarre choices which stretch the format to the limit). We start with "A" which is for "Animals", which looks at Adams's endangered species show, which followed him as he went in search of rare animals. But then, later on, we have "E" is for "Endangered Species" and really just follows on from "A". It would have made much more sense to have followed his life in a linear fashion. You could argue that the biographies that have already been published provide a historical account of Adams's career from start to finish, but it is the additions of his early radio comedy sketches, the lost Hitchhiker's episode, and the constant stream of interviews that are included here, which make this an essential purchase for all Adams's fans who already own his biographies.

I was fortunate enough to hear Adams give one of his last public speeches at a conference in Cannes in 2001. I have to admit to not really being a huge fan before seeing him speak. Sure I'd heard the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series and thought it was pretty good, but I always thought it was rather over rated. He seemed to have done nothing much of interest before or after Hitchhiker's (apart from some work on Doctor Who and the short lived Dirk Gently series) and he seemed to be a one trick pony, spinning out the same material again and again - which is also why I have never really been a huge fan of Terry Pratchett.

However, I found Adams to be an extremely funny speaker and realised that maybe, just maybe, I had misjudged him. So impressed was I with the man's ability to spin a good yarn that I went out and re-bought the Hitchhiker's books and even picked up an earlier edition of this biography.

Douglas Adams at the BBC is an essential purchase for true Adams fans. And if, like me, you thought Adams was famous for just one thing, this will open up his varied and very impressive career to you.

Darren Rea

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