8 dancing rhinos! This could only be Douglas Adams' virtual 60th birthday party. Where it took Tolkien 4 words to describe his seminal work, Adams needs just one: Hitchhiker's! But there is more to the man than Vogons, paranoid androids and the number 42.
Sunday 11th March 2012 would have been Douglas' 60th birthday and a packed Hammersmith Apollo joins his family and friends to celebrate. The evening is in aid of Save The Rhino, a charity championed by Douglas, it's cause featured in the book Last Chance To See written with Mark Carwardine. Inspirationally introduced by a virtual Stephen Fry, who was filming in New Zealand, a short film brought Last Chance To See to life and left us with the sight of Carwardine being, “shagged by a rare parrot” with Fry and the audience in stitches.
Why are we all gathered here, celebrating the life of an writer who had a small body of work, who struggled to get words on the page and wrote unashamedly selfishly? He publicly shared the pain and torture that many writers feel, that the ideas come easy, but the writing is hard, really hard. People had respect for that honesty and the work that came was quite brilliant. It was unstructured, funny and carelessly demolished creative barriers. Douglas Adams wrote without rules. It's obvious I'm a huge fan isn't it? I write because of Douglas Adams, he inspires me to be better. So as the show unfolds I start to well up.
Rather like Douglas' creative style the show is a collection of brilliant, crazy ideas hanging under his genius. The show is crisply compared by Clive Anderson and interspersed with sketches from Douglas' career performed by a ensemble including Rory McGrath, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Angus Deayton, Michael Fenton Stevens and Philip Pope. Highlights include the Kamikaze pilot and the fantastic Hee Bee Gee Bees performing Meaning Song (In High Voices). We are treated to several performances by Jon Culshaw who gives us Tom Baker, Patrick Moore and Professor Brian Cox, who was called away to Australia to film at the last minute to, “point at things.” This leads superbly to Robin Ince, Simon Singh and Helen Keen giving us their best Infinite Monkey Cage on, aptly, the size of the universe and the big bang. Anderson then interviews Python Terry Jones and Sanjeev Baskar. Adams had written for Monty Python and been good friends with the comedy legends and Jones' anecdotes are witty and touching about a lost friend. Producer, writer and presenter John Lloyd shares his memories of Douglas who he co-authored The Meaning of Liff with; the dictionary of things that there aren't any words for yet where all the words listed are toponyms. This brings the house down, the audience cry with laughter. Liff competition entries highlight how inspiration serves; the majority of which are too rude to print.
It wouldn't be a Douglas Adams celebration without a little Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. Ahead of the imminent national tour two members of the original cast: Geoffrey McGivern as Ford Prefect and Susan Sheridan as Trillian perform a short sketch with a Dalek. Remember there are no rules anymore. It is wonderful to see them performing in character, reading from a radio script but with the same amount of spontaneity that has ensured Hitchhiker's is a timeless classic. It bodes well for the tour.
The culmination of the 4 hour show is a performance by Douglas' dream band, introduced by writer Richard Curtis. The band headlined by Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and Procol Harum's Gary Brooker includes guitarist Robbie McIntosh, percussionist Jodi Linscott, synth player Paul 'Wix' Wickens, singer Margo Buchanan, bassist Dave Bronze and Paul Beavis on drums.
It feels strangely harmonious that we are able to sit and listen to the same wonderful musicians that Douglas would host in his home. The blues melodies sweep over us and it would be hard not to feel the interconnectness of everything, thanks Dirk. Douglas' family in the audience having a great time, their infectious mood take us all. A simply stunning performance of Etta James’s I Just Wanna Make Love To You leads us to Gilmour and the band performing Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here.
“Suddenly in the middle of the song there was this huge orchestral climax that came out of nowhere and did not seem to be about anything. I kept wondering what was this huge thing happening in the background? And I eventually thought … it sounds as if there ought to be some sort of floorshow going on. Something huge and extraordinary, like, well, like the end of the universe. And so that was where the idea for The Restaurant at the End of the Universe came from” — Douglas Adams, Procol Harum at The Barbican
And so it is fitting we end with A Whiter Shade a Pale. Brooker's voice spellbinding and a guitar solo from Gilmour that will soar amongst the heavens for eternity. We watch as a video shows Adams walking into the sea...naked. His bum shining down on his devotees who had come out to honour his brilliance. We brought towels, some wore dressing gowns and some of us shed a tear at the sight of Douglas' magnificent rear. But this wasn't a sense of morbid mawkishness, party directors Dirk Maggs and James Thrift put a stunning, uplifting show together with very little rehearsal time. The willingness from everyone involved for this to be a brilliant night was evident and only the most curmudgeonly reviewer or audience member could leave the Apollo without a huge smile on their face.
Tonight there were dancing rhinos, Pythons, Hitchhiker's, Apple Macs and Daleks. But in the beginning there was Douglas Adams. Amen to that.
See www.hitchhikerslive.com for tickets and information for the upcoming tour.
To donate to Save the Rhino, visit www.savetherhino.org.
Douglas Adams 60th Birthday Party virtual appearance by virtual Stephen Fry
Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour playing Wish You Were Here