Douglas Adams: The First and Lost Tapes

Posted on March 11, 2012


Today would have been Douglas Adams’ 60th birthday. He was creator of one of the most well-known science-fiction stories of all time – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a work that has appeared in almost nearly every medium known to man.

The first Brit since Ian Fleming to have three books in the New York Times bestseller list at the same time, his works continue to sell in their millions across the world. A new generation is currently enjoying adaptations of his other famous creation Dirk Gently on BBC Four at the moment.

Aped and awed by many, his unique style proved endearing and popular – even if he had immense trouble in actually producing anything written most of the time. Adams was, in many ways, both through his writing and his interest in technology and environmental causes, light years ahead of his time.

This is an unusual book, as it is the transcripts, with added commentary, of an interview conducted with Douglas Adams for a porn magazine of all things. At the time of Ian Shircore’s interview in 1979, Adams was struggling, the radio series of Hitchhiker’s had bombed and his day job as Script Editor of Doctor Who was barely covering the bills. Shircore’s The First and Lost Tapes is a unique look into the life of a writing legend in his early days.

This interview at such an early time in Adams’s career shows, that although aware he was onto something, he was always driving and pushing himself, harder and further. Unhappy with the majority of the radio series of Hitchhiker’s and dismayed and his apparent lack of impact on Doctor Who, he looked continually to the next chance to refine his projects. But what he didn’t seem to realise was that his work was so rich, and so dense, that listeners, readers and viewers needed more than one chance to enjoy his work.

Retrospectively, the impact of Hitchhiker’s needs no introduction – the original radio cast will be embarking on a stage tour of the show this year. Adams’ Doctor Who work has also gone down into legend – for a variety of reasons. His season of stories he was script editing at the time of this interview, including his own penned City of Death was watched by over 17 million people, in part thanks to a ITV strike rendering the channel off air, but also fondly remembered by many, especially as Tom Baker was at the height of his powers as the Doctor and in tune with Adams vision of where he was going.

It is clear, especially from this period, that Adams foresaw a multi-channel age. Neatly sidestepping it, he talks about developing each version of Hitchhikers as a separate venture, each medium, be it book, film or audio is a ‘different thing’. Intensely aware of different mediums, and pushing to make the audience think, he packed many idea he wanted to pursue into his work, not caring what others thought. It was an approach that was to pay dividends in the years to come.

For those hoping to come away with more of a sense of who Adams was, or how he wrote might be a little disappointed. For all his explanation, he still remains not an enigma, but rather a wonder. He isn’t entirely sure how he did what he did, and, at this time, remains skeptical as to the impact of what he had done. You can only hope that he had realised his dreams before his untimely death.

Compently written, and currently free at the time of writing on the Kindle, The First and Lost Tapes provide insight and contextual commentary into the mind of one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.

Posted in: (Auto)Biography