Michael Bywater: Meet the real Dirk Gently. It's me...

Related Topics

I was on the telly. BBC4, last Thursday, 9pm. Didn't watch it, of course, and it wasn't really me anyway. But I read the book. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. Actually I'm in the book. Didn't you know? I'm him. Dirk. Douglas told me. Told everyone else, too, whether they asked or not. Lots of people have been put in books but not quite so blatantly. Who was it who said an author is someone who sells out his friends? But at least they usually deny it absolutely.

Not Douglas.

Examine the character of Dirk Gently. The bits of him that aren't full of bullshit are occupied by hot air. He alternates between arch and the gnomic. He depends on outrageous coincidence propped up by a pantheon of dei ex machina. He's a fraud, a welsher, an exploiter of old women and financially he's as dodgy as a banker. He wears a loud, houndstooth Cheviot tweed and a burgundy fedora. Into his life harpsichords come and harpsichords go. He's a quantum fantasist. He's actually Hungarian. He smokes. He has many more failings, but that is the top-dressing.

You wouldn't model yourself on him. Imagine if he were modelled on you. (Imagine, too, playing him – which I did in The South Bank Show – while knowing he was modelled on you. Spooky. Me and John, we know. Malkovich.) The fact that much of it's true only makes things worse. Harder to shrug off. Impossible to deny entirely. It's like that awful bit where you take your girlfriend home to meet your mother and she gets out the photograph album. Except it goes on forever.

I have no idea when I first become aware of it. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency – the book – involved, oddly, rather less fuss than Adams's other stuff. It seems now that he just sat at his desk and wrote it, which can't be true because he never sat at his desk and wrote anything; but I can't pin down a moment of sudden realisation that I was being traduced, mocked and insulted with that particular savage but affectionate contempt with which only the English treat their close friends.

But an evening comes to mind, at a now-gone restaurant called Monsieur Frog in Islington (of course). I was going out with a woman at the time who wasn't really going out with me. By looking up Ambition by this newspaper's very own Julie Burchill, I can tell you exactly when it was, too: October 1989, because this woman who I was going out with but she wasn't going out with me was also the alleged model for Ambition's extravagantly calculating sexpot heroine. "Well," she said as we squinted at each other across the third bottle, "there you are, starring in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. And here I am, starring in Ambition. What I want to know is: where's our money? Other actors get paid. Why don't book actors?"

A fine question, and I suppose the answer is that if they did, there'd be no books. Authors wouldn't cough up. There are probably people who'd pay to be in books, but they'd be so dull you couldn't write about them. So here we are: you parody and savage your friends, manipulate composites of people you've bumped into, and if you're challenged, deny it. Except Adams didn't. "Yes, it's him," he said gleefully. Or indeed, "You know it's based on Bywater, don't you? Read it again. Read the bit where the bailiffs come to repossess the harpsichord." (They didn't. It wasn't my harspichord. I'm not sure where mine is. Somewhere, I suppose.)

It's not just the money. Actors get a say. They can say, "I don't think this is consistent with the character." They can say, "I don't do full nudity." They can say "No." Novel actors don't get the chance. But we do, I suppose, get a sort of twisted immortality: not necessarily the nicest sides of our characters, but this is Parnassus we're talking about, not the local Rotary Club. And while any fool can put himself into his own book, it takes real peculiarities to force your way into someone else's. From which I take a strange sort of comfort.


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn