Saddam leads way as April fool jokes backfire around world

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The Independent Online
OH, HE is a wag that Saddam Hussein. Or at least his son is. Uday owns Iraq's most influential newspaper whose front page yesterday proclaimed that United States President Bill Clinton had called for an end to United Nations sanctions against Iraq.

Boom, boom. As the continuation of the news item on its second page made clear, the story was an April fool's joke. "It is the beginning of spring. Many happy returns."

Yet the side-splitting black humour of Hussein junior was nothing compared with other April fools which backfired around the world.

One Portuguese radio station upset football fans when it tricked them into believing the country had won late entry into the World Cup in France this summer. A Lisbon broadcaster announced that Iran had decided not to compete "for security reasons" and that Fifa, football's governing body, had designated Portugal as their replacement.

In Scotland, a government housing agency had to issue a formal apology after it was accused of being "crass and insensitive" for its effort to make people smile. Scottish Homes had issued a press release saying rural housing problems could be tackled by moving complete empty urban homes into the countryside.

A spokesman went on to claim that not only the houses, but the lamp posts and pavements could be moved too. But the housing charity Shelter Scotland failed to see the funny side and Jim Wallace, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, echoed its objections.

Tricia Marwick, spokeswoman for Shelter Scotland, said: "We have a real housing crisis in Scotland and if Scottish Homes think that is a fit subject for a joke then I don't think much of their sense of humour." And Shelter's policy officer, Michael Thain, said: "It is a bit like the NHS making a joke about chucking old people out of hospitals to free up waiting lists."

Meanwhile, the Financial Times was slightly pinker than usual yesterday after it fell for an April fool joke by the drinks company Guinness - even breaking the embargo to publish a day early.

"Greenwich Mean Time will be renamed 'Guinness Mean Time' until the end of 1999 and the Accurist speaking clock will be amended to feature 'pint drips' instead of 'pips' to count the seconds," the newspaper dutifully reported.

Unfortunately, it was not true, although a spokeswoman for Guinness was charitable to the reporter concerned. "The FT was running a perfectly serious business piece and Guinness faxed over the spoof among other information. It wasn't really his fault."

The newspaper failed to see the funny side. "The release was apparently intended as part of an April 1 spoof," it noted, sniffily, in yesterday's correction.