April 1st is traditionally a day for tricks and pranks, but some people like to take it that little step further…
- The BBC’s Spaghetti Tree Hoax
It’s hard to believe now that it was ever allowed, but way back in 1957, a BBC producer sanctioned the making of a special news report, to be broadcast as part of the flagship (and deadly serious) Panorama programme. During the three minute ‘Swiss Spaghetti Harvest’ bulletin, Richard Dimbleby – the voice of authority in British TV at the time – informed viewers that there had been a bumper spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland that year due to a mild winter and “the virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil”. The film was cut with beautifully-filmed footage of spaghetti dangling in abundant strings from tree branches and Swiss women plucking it and placing it in baskets.
The programme attracted huge attention, but far from immediately being called out as a hoax, the BBC’s telephone lines jammed with people wanting to know how they could plant their own spaghetti tree. The BBC responded by putting out a statement that to encourage their own bumper spaghetti harvest, viewers should, “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best”.
It is perhaps the greatest – and certainly one of the most well-known – April Fools’ hoaxes of all time, and probably one which ultimately got a fair few people in trouble as is it later transpired the Panorama producers had told none of their bosses higher up the BBC chain what they were planning to do.
- Burger King’s Left-Handed Whopper Hoax
On April 1st 1998, Burger King published an advertisement for its new ‘Left-Handed Whopper’, which they explained was identical to its standard ‘Right-Handed Whopper’, except for the fact it was rotated 180˚ for the convenience of its left-handed customers.
They were pretty confident it would be spotted immediately as an April Fools’ joke, however within hours, thousands of customers were requesting ‘Left-Handed’ and ‘Right-Handed’ burgers at their restaurants.
Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
- The Patrick Moore Anti-Gravity Hoax
The BBC – having apparently not learnt any lessons from the 1957 Panorama Spaghetti Tree incident – had half the nation thinking they had experienced zero-gravity on the morning of April 1st 1976, when the famous astronomer Sir Patrick Moore announced that due to an unusual planetary alignment that day, at exactly 9:47am, the Earth would experience decreased gravity. This, he told listeners to the BBC Radio 2 show he was a guest on, would mean that if they jumped in the air at exactly at the right moment, they would find themselves floating, rather than falling back to the ground.
Not even Moore could have predicted the results of this experiment however as not only did thousands of people in kitchens, offices and living rooms across the country simultaneously jump on command, but dozens phoned the BBC to report that they had indeed experienced the decreased gravity that Moore was talking about.
One woman even phoned from Holland to say that she and her husband had floated around the room together. Another caller reported that she, her ten friends and the table they were seated around had all floated into the air, and another man phoned demanding compensation after he had apparently hit his head on the ceiling during his ascent.
As TIME magazine wrote in 2011 when they named this their number 1 April Fools’ prank of all time, “The British media have a unique affinity for pulling April Fools’ pranks, matched only by the British public’s unique ability to fall for them.”
- Richard Branson’s UFO Hoax
Richard Branson inadvertently sparked a major ‘War of the Worlds’ style panic in 1989 when the hot air balloon he had designed to look just like a flying saucer was forced to make an emergency landing in a field just outside London. The craft, which was meant to land in Hyde Park as part of a publicity stunt to highlight Branson’s love of ballooning (and pranks) had unfortunately been blown off course.
It might have been meant as a light-hearted jape, but for the local residents and the poor, plucky police officer who was called to confront the silver-suited ‘alien’ that emerged from it, it probably didn’t seem all that funny.
Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
- The Flying Penguins Hoax
You really would have thought the BBC would have learnt its lesson by now (the lesson being that the British public doesn’t always see the joke) but no, undeterred by previous incidents, on 1st April 2008, the producers of the Miracles of Evolution series released footage they said had been captured by their very own cameramen in the Antarctic, of a previously unknown breed of ‘flying penguin’. The penguins were shown flying in and out of the water, apparently on their way to the rainforests of South America where presenter Terry Jones explained they liked to spend the winter “basking in the tropical sun”. Nice one, Beeb.
Image courtesy of xura at FreeDigitalPhotos.net