Revealed: The swathes of material cut from Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy | 'Any fool can write but only a writer can cut’

Revealed: The swathes of material cut from Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy

'Any fool can write but only a writer can cut’

Douglas Adams wrote an ‘elaborate and elegant’ opening for his third Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy book – which he subsequently ditched.

The discarded passage is among the writer’s papers which are now in the care of his old college, St John’s, Cambridge, and revealed in a new Radio 4 show about the origins of the cult radio show.

Speaking about the lost segment from Life, The Universe And Everything, radio producer Dirk Maggs reveals: ‘There’s an alternative opening which covers something like eight or nine pages of A4 with is  very elaborate and rather elegant philosophical treatise on the universe and the the nature  of our place in it, which at the very end takes this huge tapestry and weaves it down to one thread –  which is  Arthur Dent waking up screaming when he wakes up in this cave in prehistoric Finchley, or wherever it is.

‘But he, [Adams], just guts it. the first thing in the book is ‘Arthur Dent woke up with a scream’. He cuts the whole opening, It’s not good enough to go in. Yet reading it, you’re completely drawn in.’

The first sentence of the book is simply: ‘The regular early morning yell of horror was the sound of Arthur Dent waking up and suddenly remembering where he was.’

John Lloyd, Adams’s former collaborator and flatmate, says it sums up the attitude that ‘any fool can write but only a writer can cut.’

He described the St John’s’ archive as ‘a remarkable collection of scrappy old notebooks and pieces of paper that included priceless unrecorded Hitchhikers scenes, musings, and bits of unfinished books’.

And the collection shows how much perfectionist Adams grappled with he process of writing.

In one note to himself, he described the demands of fulfilling a BBC commission, imagining one executive saying: ‘We employ you as a sausage factory, where are our sausages?’

Demonstrating frustration at his creations, he wrote in another note: ‘Arthur Dent is a berk, he doesn’t interest me; Ford Prefect is a berk, he doesn’t interest me; Zaphod Beeblebrox is a berk, he doesn’t interest me;The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy  is a berk, it doesn’t interest me.’

But elsewhere he gives himself something of a pep talk, suggesting: ‘Writing isn’t so bad really when you get through the worry.Forget about the worry and press on. Don’t be embarrassed by the bad bits. Don’t strain.’

Lloyd talks about how Adams, a former member of Cambridge Footlights, was ready to quit comedy and move to Hong Kong to become a ship broker when the BBC commissioned Hitchhikers’ Guide.

But the corporation struggled with the concept of the show, which fell between the comedy and drama departments.

One reason it was officially categorised as drama for a while was because it was to be made in stereo – a way in which no comedy show had perviously been recorded. 

Simon Jones, who played Arthur Dent, said the corporation had always ruled out making a   comedy in stereo because ‘the audience wouldn’t know which speaker the punchline was going to come out of.’

BBC Books also turned down the chance to publish the novelisation of the radio series, believing there was no market for it. In the end, the first novel went on to sell 14 million copies for rivals Pan.

Lloyd – who went on to have a hugely successful career as producer Not  The Nine O’Clock News, Blackadder, QI and more –  also revealed his ‘anger’ and being booted off the Hitchhikers’ project by Adams, who had been such a close friend.

But he conceded that with hindsight the brutal decision was  ‘probably a good thing in the end’.

‘Douglas’s voice is wholly original,’ he said. ‘And his originality and freshness needed the loneliness and the pain that brought it to birth.’ 

Despite the professional spilt, Lloyd was devastated when Adams died in California in May 2001, aged just 49, after suffering a heart attack at the gym.

The revelations come in Don’t Panic, a Radio 4 documentary about Adams’s life that comes ahead of a new Hitchhikers series combining unused material from the archive with Eoin Colfer’s official Hitchhikers sequel, 

It all coincides with the 40th anniversary of the first broadcast of Hitchhikers, and the return of the series to the airways with a Hexagonal Phase starting in April.

• Don’t Panic! It’s The Douglas Adams Papers is on Radio 4 at 8pm on Saturday

Published: 1 Mar 2018

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