Richard Adams (Watership Down)

English novelist Richard George Adams was born 9 May 1920 in Wash Common, near Newbury, Berkshire, England, the son of Lilian Rosa (Button) and Evelyn George Beadon Adams, a doctor He attended Horris Hill School from 1926 to 1933, and then Bradfield College from 1933 to 1938. In 1938, he went to Worcester College, Oxford, to read Modern History. In July 1940, Adams was called up to join the British Army. He was posted to the Royal Army Service Corps and was selected for the Airborne Company, where he worked as a brigade liaison. He served in Palestine, Europe and the Far East but saw no direct action against either the Germans or the Japanese.

After being released from the army in 1946, Adams returned to Worcester College to continue his studies for a further two years. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1948, proceeding MA in 1953. After his graduation in 1948, Adams joined the British Civil Service, rising to the rank of Assistant Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, later part of the Department of the Environment. It was during this period that he began writing fiction in his spare time. Adams originally began telling the story that would become Watership Down to his two daughters on a car trip. They eventually insisted that he publish it as a book. He began writing in 1966, taking two years to complete it. In 1972, after four publishers and three writers’ agencies turned down the manuscript, Rex Collings agreed to publish the work. The book gained international acclaim almost immediately for reinvigorating anthropomorphic fiction with naturalists.

Over the next few years Watership Down sold over a million copies worldwide. Adams won both of the most prestigious British children’s book awards, one of six authors to do so: the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. In 1974, following publication of his second novel, Shardik, he left the Civil Service to become a full-time author. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1975. At one point, Adams served as writer-in-residence at the University of Florida and at Hollins University in Virginia. Adams was the recipient of the inaugural Whitchurch Arts Award for inspiration in January 2010, presented at the Watership Down pub in Freefolk, Hampshire.In 2015 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Winchester.

In 1982, Adams served one year as president of the RSPCA.Besides campaigning against furs, Adams wrote The Plague Dogs to satirize animal experimentation (as well as government and tabloid press). He also made a voyage through the Antarctic in the company of the ornithologist Ronald Lockley. Just before his 90th birthday, he wrote a new story for a charity book, Gentle Footprints, to raise funds for the Born Free Foundation.

Adams sadly passed away 24 December 2016 at the age of 96 in Oxford, England from complications of a blood disorder. Until his death, he lived with his wife Elizabeth in Whitchurch, within 10 miles (16 km) of his birthplace. Their daughters, to whom Adams originally related the tales that became Watership Down, are Juliet and Rosamond.

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