Don’t panic: Google honours Douglas Adams with interactive H2G2 Doodle

11 Mar 2013

The Google Doodle celebrating Douglas Adams and his The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Writer Douglas Adams’ most famous work – already adapted in many forms – now takes shape as an interactive Google Doodle to mark what would have been his 61st birthday.

Cult multimedia phenomenon The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (H2G2) started off as a sci-fi comedy radio series for BBC Radio 4 in 1978. It later became a series of books selling more than 15m copies, as well as a TV series, stage plays, comics, a computer game and a feature film starring Martin Freeman, Zooey Deschanel and Sam Rockwell.

In 1971, so the story goes, Adams was hitchhiking his way around Europe with a copy of Hitch-hiker’s Guide to Europe only to find himself lying drunk in a field in Austria thinking there should be a hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy.

And so he went on to create the story of hapless human Arthur Dent, fellow human survivor of the Earth’s destruction Tricia McMillan (aka, Trillian), alien researcher Ford Prefect, galactic president Zaphod Beeblebrox and a melancholy robot named Marvin.

The eponymous guide is actually an electronic device that aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the Milky Way, and it is this what features prominently in today’s interactive Doodle on the Google homepage.

Visitors can click various elements of the Doodle to produce sound effects and animations (and be sure that you don’t leave out the door on the top left). But the real story lies within the electronic guidebook bearing the H2G2 catchphrase, ‘Don’t panic’, and clicking here will result in animated advice from the device.

Cult hero, environmentalist and Apple fanboi

Born 11 March 1952, Adams would have celebrated his 61st birthday today. Sadly, the writer died from a heart attack on 11 May 2001, aged just 49. An unfinished novel (and addition to the H2G2 series), The Salmon of Doubt, was left in his wake and later published posthumously in 2002 along with some essays and other material.

As well as being the creator of one of the world’s biggest cult sensations – the popularity of which persists to this day – Adams was also an advocate of conservation and environmentalism, and a defender of species on the brink of extinction.

In 1989 he wrote and presented Last Chance to See, a BBC radio documentary series that followed his trip around the world with zoologist Mark Carwardine tracking rare species such as the kakapo, which Adams said made sounds akin to Pink Floyd studio out-takes. In 2009, a follow-up series was produced for television, with Stephen Fry accompanying Carwardine on this trip, checking up on how these endangered species were doing 20 years on.

Adams was also a technophile and an Apple fanboi of his time. He had a particular fondness for the Apple Macintosh computer, accumulating many versions from its first release in 1984 to his death in 2001. In fact, it is said Adams was the first person to buy a Mac in Europe (Stephen Fry being the second) and he was also named an Apple Master – that is, a celebrity spokesperson for Apple’s products.

Best of all to a journalist, though, Adams is also the man that brought us the quote: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.