Richard Adams (1920-2016)

Sandwiched in between the ‘celebrity’ deaths of musician George Michael and actress Carrie Fisher in the post-Christmas news bulletins, you may have missed news of the death of the writer Richard Adams on Christmas Eve 2016, aged 96 (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/27/richard-adams-obituary).

Adams was best known for Watership Down, his 1972 novel about a colony of rabbits seeking a new home after their burrow is destroyed. The book became an instant bestseller and has now sold more than 50 million copies worldwide, its popularity confirmed when the story was adapted for an animated cartoon film in 1978. The book has also been adapted for the stage. Although Adams’ other books never achieved the same popularity as Watership Down, many carried a strong animal rights message, particularly his third novel The Plague Dogs, which was also made into an animated film.

the_plague_dogs_cover

The Plague Dogs tells the story of two dogs who escape an animal research facility in Cumbria. Although Animal Research (Scientific and Experimental) (you can work out the acronym for yourself!) was fictional, Adams wrote in the preface that “every ‘experiment’ described is one which has actually been carried out on animals somewhere”. As a lifelong campaigner for animal welfare, Adams spent a short time as President of the RSPCA in the early 1980s, and later contributed a short story to Gentle Footprints: A Collection of Animal Stories, published to raise funds for the Born Free Foundation in 2010.

I met Richard Adams at a book signing in London’s Covent Garden in 1984, where I bought a copy of The Plague Dogs. On the inside title page the author signed the book “To Paul, with comradeship in the cause of Animal Rights”. Through his words and deeds, Richard Adams did much to promote the cause of animal rights. Farewell comrade.

Paul Appleby

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