IF an uninvited alien had stumbled into the Hammersmith Apollo in west London on Sunday evening, the warnings to users of flash photography and mobile phones during the performances would have given a clue to what was going on.

Violators were threatened with the punishment of hours of Vogon poetry. If that didn't help, the proliferation of folk with towels draped on their shoulders was another hint, and the dancing rhinoceros would surely have given the game away. Still at a loss? The advice would have to be: "Don't panic."

Douglas Adams would have been 60 this month, and this evening celebrating his life and work was torn from the pages of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Ostensibly a fundraiser for Save the Rhino, a charity dear to Adams' heart, the evening was a sketch-ridden, banter-full and music-strewn patchwork featuring some of British film, television and music's best-loved acts, which also served to launch the national live radio tour of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Clive Anderson was host, compere and act-wrangler to a succession of celebrities, all with some attachment to the much-loved author and environmental campaigner.

The acts covered subjects that were dear to the author's heart, and were divided by interludes which included those choreographed rhinos and sketches from Adams's days with Cambridge Footlights. The flavour of the sketches was suitably bizarre with Sanjeev Bhaskar and Rory McGrath exploring logical positivism and Angus Deayton and Michael Fenton Stevens opening the show with a skit about a pilot getting a dressing-down for failing in his kamikaze obligations. Robin Ince, a comedian with egg-head leanings, hosted a scientific section, which included comedy lectures on cosmology and space-themed stamp collections by journalist Simon Singh and Radio 4 host Helen Keen. While Adams's famous friend and fellow Apple computer enthusiast Stephen Fry was in New Zealand filming The Hobbit, he appeared – as was only appropriate – in virtual form to pay tender tribute.

In keeping with the mostly harmless Adamsian tone, all of these mini-lessons were filled with the kind of pedagogical whimsy which makes jokes about the infinity of space not only chuckle-worthy but well within the audience's understanding.

In pursuit of the spirit of Adams, the whole evening was a touching tribute to a man whose work is not only loved, but still being adapted anew for television and radio nearly 11 years after his untimely death. Though his most famous work remains The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in radio play, novel and screenplay form, it is Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency that is now charming many new fans on TV, and Adams also wrote for Dr Who and, as Terry Jones revealed, was the only non-Python to get a writing credit in a Monty Python project.

There were a few uneven moments on Sunday evening, but that only added to the charm. At one point Dirk Maggs, the adaptor and director of the original radio version of Hitchhiker's Guide – the new stage version of which will premiere in Glasgow – was summarily swept off the stage by a rhino with a broom after his awkward reminiscences with two of Adams' sketch-writing partners over-ran. Some of these same sketches were clearly from a pupating comedic mind, rather than a fully-fledged comic behemoth, but these imperfections only added to the feeling that this was an evening stitched together in a common cause.

Indeed, the off-the-cuff remarks by a harried Clive Anderson and Sanjeev Bhaskar's assessment of the film version of Hitchhiker's Guide (for which he had been rejected for a job as an extra), provided some of the warmest moments of communality all night.

IT was telling that the show seldom veered into mawkishness. Instead there was a stunned incredulity at the combination of people Adams knew and inspired. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd and Gary Brooker of Procol Harum seemingly jammed in Adams' living room with Brit-com filmmaker Richard Curtis. Incongruous? Unmistakably. Incomparably Douglas Adams? The same again.

The evening was a fond and fitting, if not flawless, tribute to a writer, humourist, technophile and endangered species enthusiast whose influence and legacy extends beyond his contributions to comedy, radio, television and friendly science fiction. Roll on the stage version of the wireless show of The Book. And Don't Panic.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show Live, starring the original cast, tours this summer, opening in Glasgow on June 8 and 9.

See www.hitchhikerslive.com for tickets and information.

To donate to Save the Rhino, visit savetherhino.org.