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Hitchhiker's Guide convention report

There are some sci-fi theme tunes that can bring a lump to the throat with the sheer force of nostalgia. The Star Wars theme tune does it for me every time. I swear I saw many grown men surreptitiously wiping tears from eyes during the opening credits of Superman Returns thanks to the classic John Williams opening score. I was quite unprepared for the impact of one particular theme tune though - when it belted out of the speakers at the Royal Festival Hall, "Journey Of The Sorcerer" by Bernie Leadon and The Eagles (better known to fans as the music from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy) whisked us all back to 1979 yesterday.

The crowd take their towels to the top of the South Bank Centre. If you look closely on the far left, that's Eoin Colfer in the foreground in a grey suit.

Hitchcon, the Hitchhiker's convention and 30th anniversary celebration was perhaps more polished than some events generated by fandom, having been instigated by the Penguin and Pan Macmillan book publishers. It began at 11.30am with a gathering on the steps of the South Bank Centre , as everybody who'd travelled there with towel in hand waved it for the camera ( Telegraph photo story here ). SFX trooped up onto the roof along with new Hitchhiker's author Eoin Colfer (the event also served to launch his book And Another Thing..., his authorised contribution to Hitchhiker's canon) who, like us, forgot to don a a dressing gown that morning.

Afterwards, the strains of that haunting theme tune filled the air as episodes from the TV show were played on the big screen in the central hall - beneath it, the space was filled with free Hitchhiker's related activities. There was a display of ephemera relating to Douglas Adams (photos, early copies of the albums and books, props) and if you were in the mood you could get into his bathtub for inspiration. There were Gargleblaster cocktails in the bar, and radio series cast joined Colfer for book signings.

Clive Anderson hosts the Douglas Adams chat show live on stage in the giant main auditorium.

At 12.30, the huge festival hall space became the home of the Douglas Adams Chat Show. Presenter Clive Anderson - an old friend of Adams - hosted, teasing anecdotes out of Simon Brett (author and the producer who commissioned Adams for the first radio play), Simon Jones (Arthur Dent on radio and TV), Dirk Maggs (radio producer), Robbie Stamp (Adams's partner in The Digital Village business and exec producer on the movie version) and Ed Victor (Adams's agent). All of them noted, poignantly, that if Adams had remained alive, the later radio series and the movie probably would not have happened - he was such a perfectionist that nothing was ever finished. Indeed Brett, Adams's very first producer, joked that he was the only one of them who'd ever got anything on time out of him.

When the topic turned to the latest novel in the series by Eoin Colfer, Clive Anderson quipped, "Douglas would have liked this book - or rather, he would have liked that somebody else had written it for him."

The main entrance hall of the South Bank Centre throngs with people. Down in the front there is a bathtub for inspiration.

Speaking of which, afterwards at 3pm TV presenter and author Jason Bradbury took to the stage to introduce Irish rock band The Blizzards who performed a number called And Another Thing - inspired by Colfer's new sequel - and then the man himself came on to read from the story and take questions from the audience. Following that, attendees were treated to a live radio performance of the Hitchhiker's story, condensed and adapted by Dirk Maggs specifically for the occasion. Simon Jones of course reprised his role as Arthur Dent, but the large cast also included originals Stephen Moore (Marvin), Mark Wing-Davey (Zaphod Beeblebrox) and Geoffrey McGivern (Ford Prefect). Special guest stars included Andrew Sachs as the voice of the book, and Eoin Colfer as Milliways' Dish Of The Day. The latter won rapturous applause from the audience as he strolled on to deliver his version of the brief part made famous by Peter Davison on TV in 1981.

A small display of posters, books, photos and ephemera takes over the central space and hints at the extent of Douglas Adams's legacy.

It was an excellent experience even for those of us not dressed for bed. It would be nice to think there'll be a Hitchcon '10, but it's unlikely to attract quite the same mainstream interest as this year's 30th anniversary and book launch. Still, if even just a few more people are now (re)reading the Hitchhiker's books as a result of 2009's publishing push, that's be a splendid thing. You can read an exclusive in-depth interview with Eoin Colfer in SFX 189, on sale from Wednesday 21 October. And if you're thoroughly in a Douglas Adams kind of mood and would like to dodge some work this Monday, why not check out the online version of the original Hitchhiker's text adventure game ?

Also don't forget, tonight Radio 4 will be kicking off a new ten episode series of Book for Bedtime with part one of the abridged And Another Thing... read by Stephen Mangan and Peter Serafinowicz.