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Cambridge holds Towel Day in honour of Douglas Adams




From left, Martin Smith, David Haddock and Will Adams. Picture: Keith Heppell
From left, Martin Smith, David Haddock and Will Adams. Picture: Keith Heppell

Fans congregated to remember The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author in his home town, two weeks after the 18th anniversary of his death.

To the uninitiated, draping towels over your shoulder may seem like an odd way of celebrating the life of Douglas Adams, but there is method in this apparent madness.

Towel Day has been held annually on May 25 – two weeks after the anniversary of Adams’ death at the age of 49 in 2001.

Adams was born in Cambridge, studied at St John’s and was a member of Footlights, the famed University of Cambridge theatrical group.

The significance of the towel – more of that later – was introduced in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy original radio series in 1978.

Saturday’s festivities began with a free Douglas Adams walk led by co-host of Cambridge Towel Day, David Haddock.

The walk started at Cambridge railway station before moving on to Ditchburn Place in Mill Road, previously the maternity hospital where Adams was born.

“From there we went round the back of the police station,” said David, “where a guy called Harry Porter, a senior treasurer of Footlights, used to live.”

Towel Day - celebrating the life and work of Douglas Adams. Picture: Keith Heppell
Towel Day - celebrating the life and work of Douglas Adams. Picture: Keith Heppell

About 50 people took part, with towels.

“Towels are mentioned in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in terms of the fact that if you’re hitchhiking around the galaxy and you’ve got a towel, then you can probably just borrow everything else you need off other people," explained David.

"So someone who’s really organised is someone who knows where their towel is.”

David, who describes himself as “a very active fan”, recalled: “Ten years ago, I was president of ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, which is the official Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Appreciation Society.

"I had read the books and heard the radio series when I was about 10, 11, 12, so it hit me at an impressionable age.”

Moving to Bar Hill in 2001, David explored Adams’ Cambridge connections.

“I would read biographies and see all these places in Cambridge mentioned, and then go and see them,” he said. “I put the tour together for some friends.

“The first one I did was maybe 10 years ago and not on Towel Day, and I kept on reading and doing my own research and adding various locations. Then I started doing it on Towel Day.

"The first Towel Day was two weeks after he died; someone just put something out on the internet saying, ‘Get yourselves organised, we’ll carry a towel in tribute to Douglas Adams’. It’s grown over the years.”

The walk this year also took in the ADC Theatre, where Adams did some of his Footlights work, his parents’ former house on Jesus Lane, and the Baron of Beef and The Mitre pubs.

“They both have various stories associated with Douglas,” revealed David. “In the Doctor Who story that he wrote [Shada], the TARDIS lands in a little alleyway between the Baron of Beef and The Mitre.

“We go past 69 Bridge Street – he lived there in his second year at university – St John’s and the Arts Theatre, where he performed, and round to Emmanuel College, where various people who he worked with – Graham Chapman, Rory McGrath, Griff Rhys Jones – were students.”

Towel Day - some of the people joining the walk from Cambridge railway station. Picture: Keith Heppell
Towel Day - some of the people joining the walk from Cambridge railway station. Picture: Keith Heppell

Some fans came from as far away as Liverpool, Manchester, Dudley and even Washington DC.

David said: “We put on some talks on the afternoon in the Blue Moon pub and then had an evening of comedy inspired by Douglas Adams.”

David managed to get the two remaining members of Adams’ sketch troupe, Adams-Smith-Adams: Martin Smith and Will Adams (no relation) to come along.

“Douglas wrote a lot of Footlights material with them back in ’72, ’73, ’74,” said David who interviewed the pair, adding: “We also had David Learner, who played Marvin the Paranoid Android.

"He’d been in some stage productions of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy playing Marvin that’s how he got the role in the TV series. He lives in Ely.”

David Learner, who played Marvin in the show. Picture: Keith Heppell
David Learner, who played Marvin in the show. Picture: Keith Heppell

Stand Up for Towel Day, also at the Blue Moon, was an evening of comedy.

“Will and Martin performed some of the sketches that they wrote with Douglas in the early ’70s,” said David, “as well as some other Douglas Adams-inspired comedy by some current comedians.

"If we made any money, it will go to Save the Rhino, which is a charity that Douglas Adams was a patron of.”

Central Library also put on a display.



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