April 1st: So, were you fooled...?

From AA men with jetpacks to ferrets laying cables, Michael McCarthy picks the best April Fool's Day jokes
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The Independent Online

Funny what you can learn by reading all the day's papers, looking at a few blogs and listening to the radio news bulletins: some of it really unusual, well-fancy-that sort of stuff.

Yesterday, for example, you could have learned that Shakespeare's mother was French and so the Froggies are claiming him as one of their own; that tunnelling ferrets are going to deliver broadband internet services to remote areas; that London Underground's Circle line is to be used as a substitute for the Large Hadron Collider giant atom smasher, possibly creating a Black Hole underneath the Houses of Parliament; and that AA staff are going to be equipped with lightweight jet packs to beat gridlocked traffic, turning them from patrolmen into rocketmen.

Remarkable, eh, some of these modern developments? What will they think of next? And if those stories didn't have you raising your eyebrows, you could have glanced over the sports pages and found that football referees are going to be using motorised two-wheeled personal transporters to help them keep up with speedy players on the pitch, that Manchester United's secret plan to deal with the Chelsea striker Didier Drogba in Saturday's key Premiership encounter is to make him laugh, and – a real sensation – that Geoff Hurst, hero of England's historic 1966 World Cup win, has admitted that the ball never crossed the line in his controversial second goal in the 4-2 victory over West Germany.

Wow, you might have thought, getting through that lot, the well-fancy-that count is really high today... until you glanced at the date: 1 April.

Yes, the April Fools were blossoming everywhere yesterday, as thick on the ground as this year's overdue daffodils, and the old tradition seems to be getting stronger than ever. All Fools Day may date back to the Middle Ages and Chaucer's The Nun's Priest's Tale (where a cock is tricked by a fox) but whatever its origins, the tradition of associating the first day of April with hoaxes and practical jokes is now widely established in many countries.

Not only that, but the April Fools themselves seem to be getting better and better, more imaginative and often tiptoeing so close to likelihood as to be readily believed. Certainly, there were cases yesterday where people who might have known better took the jokes at face value. The Conservative blogger Ian Dale's exclusive revelation that electoral returning officers were threatening to strike over their election-night conditions was taken seriously by various officials in Government; while the sublime spoof from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who ran a report – complete with pictures – that an exhausted polar bear had been washed up on the Scottish Island of Mull, had one Fleet Street environment correspondent, whose name and sex shall not be mentioned, running up to the newsdesk in excitement, until the date on the head of the press release was pointed out.

Fleet Street (as it used to be called) led the way, as ever. The Guardian had an entertaining relaunch of Labour's election strategy with Gordon Brown presented as a Scottish hard man ("Step Outside, Posh Boy"), complete with new campaign slogan: "Vote Labour. Or Else." The Sun broke new ground with the first-ever flavoured newspaper page, inviting readers to lick it and discover a hidden taste. (A caution on the "lickable" page warned: "may contain nuts".) The Daily Mail had the AA rocketmen; the Telegraph, the broadband ferrets; while the atom smasher in the Circle line was ours.

Another engaging hoax, this time about newspapers themselves, came from the IT website The Register, which said that The Guardian and the Mail were combining their newsrooms to save money, and producing stories from shared software; it reported that a Guardian trial headline had come out as "Asylum-seeker quango wants patio heaters for all" while a Mail front page had its right-wing columnist Richard Littlejohn confessing: "My passion for big gay archbishop."

But who knows? The way things are going with newspapers, we may see those headlines yet.

Would you believe it? Unlikely but true...

Not every story that looks like an April Fool is an April Fool. A number of news items published yesterday might have given rise to suspicion of a hoax but were actually true. For example, coastguards in Falmouth, Cornwall, picked up a distress signal from the MV Titanic in the Caribbean. Three people were on the vessel, which was taking on water and suffering from electrical failure, and details were passed on to the US Coast Guard. Elsewhere, a British van driver who hit two ducks while driving home through Belgium discovered one of them alive, wedged under the bonnet, when he stopped to inspect the damage at a motorway service station on the M1. He took the duck to a rescue centre, which said it had a broken wing but should make a good recovery. Unlikely it may have been – but it definitely happened.