Source: Various, including Forbidden Planet shops
Production dates: 1985 to early 1990s
Current availability: Occasionally crops up on eBay
The prototype towel
Two prototypes were produced by Marks and Spencer and then Eugen Beer gave them to Douglas Adams in 1984/5 - (Sorry can't remember exact date - EB).
(Updated 6 Feb 2011) One was red text on a white background which Douglas kept. The photo below was found on myspace.com/douglasadam.
The other one was blue text on a white background and at some point this was given back to Eugen and he used it as a towel for a while before framing it and putting it up on his wall in his office. When he ran out of wall space he sold it on eBay to Sally Kentfield, who still has it and looks after this website.
The only differences between the prototype towel and the production towel are the addition of the page numbers in the bottom right corner, and the company that made the towels.
The story goes that a Marketer in M&S was a big HHGTTG fan and thought that a towel would be a great idea. So he had two made up and then failed to sell the idea internally. Douglas had been contacted by the M&S guy at the time and then had completely forgotten about it until the subject came up in conversation with Eugen Beer who was doing PR work for him. For whatever reason the idea of the towel stuck and Eugen persuaded his partners (Gareth Davies & Eddie Blower) in Beer Davies Publicity that they should produce more of the towels. A deal was done with Ed Victor (Douglas's agent) and the first official HHGTTG Towels were made in 1984/5. A flyer was sent out with each towel explaining its provenance and in the vain hope of getting more sales.
1000 towels - 1000 may not seem a lot but you should try storing them in a house!
The original run of Blue and Red was manufactured in the UK by a company in the North of England in 1985 - it was not Marks and Spencer. Half were blue text on white, the other half were red text on white (the photo above on right looks like a brown one from a later run - EB). There were further production runs of red and blue as well as later brown and silver/grey.
They were sold through adverts in Private Eye, Forbidden Planet and other comic stores in Birmingham, Oxford and Manchester amongst others.
The Mail Order price was £14.95 + P&P.
Eugen Beer: "We probably just about broke even - they were expensive to produce and in reality sold very slowly. The shops (Forbidden Planet, etc) would only take 10 at a time and they took a while to sell those. But it was great fun and everybody loved them. I am now in Sydney Australia and still using my HHGTTG towels."
Additional - "Forbidden Planet (at their original address in Denmark Street) definitely sold Red ones as well as Brown ones and another colour that was probably Blue. They were £18 each and they sold out of the Red first." (Thanks Robert)
Additional - John Buell discovered re-watching his copy of the bonus material in the US release of the H2G2 TV series on DVD that there's a VERY brief clip, when Douglas is being interviewed about the trips that eventually became Last Chance to See, of him WEARING an official H2G2 towel over his left shoulder!
Additional - According to Cliff, his white/brown towel came with a certificate (possibly yellow paper with red writing). Correct.
Subsequent runs were done in Germany by Vossen.
The colours were
Later two other colurs were added to the "range":