7 FASCINATING FACTS TOWEL DAY SPECIAL: DOUGLAS ADAMS
1. Douglas Adams is celebrated annually with towels…
Celebrated every year on 25th May, Towel Day is a tribute to the late, great Douglas Adams and his pioneering world of sci-fi. It comes from a line in his enduringly popular 1979 novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which was originally an enormously popular comedy radio series, then subsequently adapted for TV in 1981, and a movie in 2005. On Towel Day, Douglas Adams fans carry a towel with them at all times, because of the crucial importance of space travellers knowing where their towel. As the Guide states:
A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)
— Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
2. Two asteroids are name after him and his work
In 1998, Germany’s Starkenburg Observatory discovered a new asteroid 3.5km in size which they named 18610 Arthurdent. Arthur Dent is of course the protagonist from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Dent is saved from certain death by experienced galactic hitch-hiker and field researcher for the Guide, Ford Prefect, when the Earth is destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass. 25924 Douglasadams was discovered and named in 2001 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research project which is a collaborative project between the USAF, NASA and MIT – based at the latter’s Lincoln Laboratory. It orbits the sun every three years at a distance of approximately 420 million km.
3. He was an unofficial Python
Pictured here as extra Dr. Emile Koning in a Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch, Douglas Adams was one of only two people (the other being Neil Innes – of Beatles parody the Rutles and comedy prog weirdos the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band fame) who contributed to Monty Python scripts but weren’t part of the team. He co-wrote the sketches Patient Abuse and Marilyn Monroe with his friend Graham Chapman. Both sketches are noted for their black humour.
4. He played with Pink Floyd
A keen musician, Douglas Adams played both piano and the guitar. A southpaw, he played left hand and owned 24 different guitars. He was a huge fan of prog rock bands Procol Harum and Pink Floyd and became good friends with Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour. On his 42nd birthday in 1994, Adams played guitar with Pink Floyd at a London Earl’s Court gig on the songs Brain Damage and Eclipse.
5. He wrote some classic Doctor Who episodes
During Doctor Who’s classic 1970s heyday, with Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor, Adams worked as writer and script editor on four stories (comprising 13 episodes altogether) for the legendary British sci-fi TV programme: The Pirate Planet (1978), Destiny of the Daleks (1979), City of Death (1979), and Shada (1980).
6. He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in a rhino suit
A dedicated environmentalist activist who campaigned for endangered species, Adams was a supporter of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and he was closely associated with Save The Rhino. In 1994 he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in the rhino suit made famous by its appearance at the London Marathon. Save the Rhino holds an annual Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture to raise funds for the charity.
A separate annual Towel Day event is also organised by comedian and presenter Rachel Wheeley called Stand Up For Towel Day which is a night of comedy and poetry in homage to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Because of lockdown, this year it has been temporarily re-named as Stay In For Towel Day! But grab your towel to watch and and join in: stand-up, poetry, and all kinds of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy entertainment, including a quiz! You can register here with a suggested donation of £5, which of course goes towards the entirely worthy Save The Rhino.
7. Towel Day has reached space!
While aboard the International Space Station, over the years, various astronauts have paid tribute to Douglas Adams during Towel Day. Including Tim Peake seen here in 2016 with a special Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy themed towel provided by The Royal Institution. See our Twitter thread here on the Space Rocks Twitter page for more info!
Douglas Adams by Michael Hughes