Towel Day 2021 – Douglas Adams and Monty Python

Towel Day occurs on May 25th annually and is the internet-wide celebration of the life and work of Douglas Noel Adams (1952-2001).


“He was a brilliant writer….maybe that’s why he hated it. He put so much effort into it” Terry Jones quoted in an article on what would have been Douglas Adams’ 60th birthday. 

Graham Chapman discovered Douglas Adams in 1974 as the result of a live show the latter had written. They started a short lived writing collaboration when Chapman’s former collaborator, John Cleese, left Monty Python in December of 1974. Adams would go on to receive a writing credit for the sketch Patient Abuse which appeared on the final episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Adams is one of only two non-Python members to receive a writing credit in the series. Adams also collaborated on a sketch for Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  

I had the pleasure of watching Patient Abuse on Netflix. It’s an interesting sketch. Graham Chapman plays a doctor while Terry Jones is the patient that rushes into his office – blood pouring from a wound in his stomach which he says was inflicted by the doctor’s nurse. Chapman tells Jones that before he treats him, he must fill out paperwork. Jones fills out the paperwork which he hands to Chapman who then quizzes him on the veracity of his answers. Carol Cleveland, the nurse, runs in wielding a sabre and the doctor and nurse decide to go to lunch. 

It doesn’t take a keen eye to see Adams’ trademark lampooning of the bureaucracy in the skit. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy opens with a planet’s demolition and the wrecking crew’s sardonic comment that the plans have been on display for some time. An extreme but relatable frustration. 

In 1975, Chapman and Adams co-wrote a pilot for BBC2 called Out of the Trees which shared a similar acid trip steam of consciousness with Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In the cast was Simon Jones who would later play Arthur Dent on radio and in the 1981 series based on Adam’s radio play (later book series). Sadly that work has been lost in time but the sketch titled Severance of a Peony survived and was included in the DVD for the 1981 version of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (which I own and watch yearly). 

The humour of Adams and the Python’s parallel and one can easily see how one could influence and enhance the other. That not more survives of their collaboration is sad.

An interesting look at Adams’ life and legacy is Simon Jones’ Douglas Adams at the BBC: A Celebration of the Author’s Life and Work presented in audio book format.



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