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

Share
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.

www.michaelbywater.com

React Now

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

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker