Non-Fiction Reviews


The Frood
The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

(2014) Jem Roberts, Preface, £20, hrdbk, 471pp, ISBN 978-1-848-09437-6

 

This is the latest biography of the author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and, more than that, a detailed history of the series itself. In short this aims to provide the background to the man and his most celebrated work to satiate all but the most die-hard and uber-critical of Hitchhiker fans. Does it succeed? The short answer has to be a resounding 'yes'.

This is not just two biographies of a man and his principal work but one that neatly entwines these two strands. Along the way we get excerpts of scripts, not just of Hitchhiker but also snippets from other shows Adams helped script such as Dr Who. Then there are the photographs (two full colour, gloss art paper interwoven sections), ancillary information (such as publicity material for productions) and a detailed bibliography.

Adams' life is covered from his early family days, through college (where he started to engage with others some of whom themselves would eventually become comedy names) and his early days working for the BBC. And then we get early drafts of pitches for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. An inevitably huge amount on the series, the records, the plays, the TV series, and the US 'movie'. Then we get the implications of all the success, and Adams' subsequent projects. Even at the book's end there are treats including rough drafts of scenes that never actually made it into the series… This is all good stuff.

Roberts has an easy-to-read style that neatly pays homage to the man without being overly reverential. It is clearly very well researched and there is a detailed subject index which will be a delightful service for Adams academics. In short it is an excellent accompaniment to M. J. Simpson's book Hitchhiker (2003).

Quibbles, only a few very minor ones that all stem from Jem Roberts being so young: he never actually lived through the Hitchhiker years; he was not conscious of at the time as he was only born when The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was first broadcast. This does show. And so we are told that when the radio series was first broadcast in 1978 that this was a time before internet BBC listen again, internet torrenting and so forth hence there was a demand for LP vinyl records of the show. Actually this was only partially true. The thing was that the show was quickly repeated a number of times and so fans had plenty of time to record the show on cassette tape and this they did with a vigorous trade in copying ensuing (all non-commercial you understand). We soon learned that the LPs were not up to scratch. Then again we are told of the reaction to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy failing to win the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation for which it had been short-list nominated in 1979 on one of the rare occasions when the annual SF Worldcon was held in Britain (Brighton that year). Now, while it is true that when the winner – Superman – was announced someone cried fix that was not what caused the audience present to cheer. (Unfounded accusations of Hugo nomination and award fixes regularly happen and still do: they did last year (2014) and are not that funny.) What got the crowd was that when Superman star, Christopher Reeve, went to accept the award he said that while Superman may have won, if the people in the hall at the time had been just those voting the The Hitchhiker's Guide would have been the winner. The reason this was appreciated by the fans present is because that the Worldcon attendance is (hence Hugo voters are) dominated by N. Americans. Conversely, The Hitchhiker's Guide at the time was only really known by British SF fans and, of course, the Brit fans dominated the audience at the Brighton Conference Centre. Reeve had appreciated the situation perfectly. However, as said, such are minor quibbles and one can't blame Roberts for the timing accident of his birth into our space-time continuum. But such is the thoroughness with which this work has been researched that such chronological (mis)perceptions do tend to stand out for those who lived through the time and were actually there.

What we have is literally a scholarly work on Adams and the show. It is one that any frood (Hitchhiker for extremely cool and successful person) into The Hitchhiker's Guide (and name a frood that isn't) will relish.

Jonathan Cowie


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