Square dartboards? It must be April the first

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The Independent Online

It was 50 years ago yesterday that Panorama duped the nation with the now infamous spaghetti tree April Fool trick.

Up to eight million viewers were convinced that strings of pasta, an exotic delicacy in Britain in 1957, were grown on trees in Switzerland. Many phoned in to inquire how to grow the trees, only to be told to place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and "hope for the best".

Half a century on, our appetite for April Fool wheezes - delivered with differing levels of sophistication by yesterday's Sunday newspapers - appears to be undiminished.

Mail on Sunday readers were given an easy ride with the rather obvious spoof story headlined: "Council inspectors to demand £5 'carbon offset' for barbecues".

The article, written by an April Baddely-Burns, detailed how homeowners faced the prospect of being visited by a "council barbecue inspector" to check if they have been illegally flambéing sausages.

A spokesman for climate change pressure group Greenwood, the aptly named Luke Fairweather, is quoted as saying: "Thinking before you barbecue is part of being a responsible human being."

Sunday Telegraph readers faced the alarming headline: "Revealed: cash-strapped London ready to share Olympics with France".

It claimed the Government was drawing up plans to "farm-out" events in 2012, including the opening ceremony, to Paris. The article speculated that the event's name could be changed to "the Londres Olympics".

The Observer reported Tony Blair's plans to star in an autumn production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. A senior Cabinet minister was quoted as saying: "An ambassador arrived at No 10 the other day to find Tony dressed like a Puritan, waving a crucifix in the air and shouting about chasing out the devil. Fortunately, the ambassador had studied The Crucible at UCL."

Readers of The Sunday Times searching for an April Fool story may have alighted on two possible contenders, both of which appear to have been genuine.

First up was news that Plasticine dog Gromit is to replace Nipper the terrier on the HMV logo. Its creator, Nick Park, was quoted as saying: "It's a great honour to be stepping in the same paw-prints of an icon as big as Nipper." All true, according to HMV's press office. Another contender was an announcement that the moat around the Tower of London could soon be re-submerged, 177 years after it was drained. Again, true, says the Royal Palaces' press office.

Sunday Mirror readers were confronted with the tale of a sports guru guiding England manager Steve McClaren. The 61-year-old psychologist and former basketball coach was said to have read out quotations from The Jungle Book to bemused squad members, and urged players to imagine "positive and negative parrots" sat on their shoulders.

Readers of The Independent on Sunday were given an incentive to spot the paper's April Fool offering. It offered readers who could correctly identify the spoof story the chance to win a case of vintage port.

The News of the World hid its April Fool deep in the sports pages with a story about the introduction of a square board at this year's darts World Championships. The board's Indian designer, Professor Ali Dosaly, commented: "Darts needed a new look."

The BBC website rehashed one of the corporation's early April Fools with a report on "scratch-and-sniff" computers. Web journalists invited gullible surfers to road-test the new technology by clicking on various coloured squares, pressing their noses and thumbs against their screens and "inhaling" to identify the smells.

In 1965 the BBC played a similar trick when they claimed to have invented "Smellovision" and showed a man chopping onions. Many viewers actually called in to confirm they had smelled the aromas.

Some classic April Fool gags have included plans to make the whole M25 run clockwise and anti-clockwise on alternate days, the internet being shut down for cleaning for 24 hours and left-handed hamburgers.

History of fools

* The origins of April Fool's Day are much disputed although many believe that the tradition first began in France in the late 1500s

* Traditionally ancient cultures, including the Romans and Hindus, have celebrated New Years Day on 1 April

* But in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII ordered a new calendar, which called for New Years Day to be celebrated on 1 January

* France was the first country to adopt the new calendar, although some people refused to accept 1 January as the new date and continued celebrating the start of the year on 1 April

* They were pilloried by modernisers who called them old-fashioned and revelled in sending them on pointless errands

* The practice slowly spread across Europe and the rest the world.