Story that went round world on a fool's errand

National media newsdesks spent the early hours of yesterday fielding phone calls from those who had fallen hook, line and sinker for their customary April Fool's Day stories. It was only later that they realised the joke was on them.

Unsuspecting news agencies who enquired about The Independent's front- page exclusive - "Thatcher lined up to be Blair's ambassador in Washington" - were referred to the baroness herself. Unfortunately Associated Press (AP) did not make its own checks and disseminated it as far afield as Australia.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) picked up the AP report and put out a radio news bulletin. A warning from ABC's London correspondent came too late. Mark Tamhane, no stranger to Fleet Street spoofs, immediately warned his colleagues: "The British papers are renowned for pulling their readers legs on April Fool's Day."

And so they did. Pets take pictures which win prizes, if you believe everything you read in yesterday's Daily Mail. The paper printed an award- winning photograph of a gaping lion's jaw - "The most amazing picture you will ever see" - apparently taken by a chimpanzee, moments before death.

BBC Radio 4's Today programme ran two spoofs: an animal psychologist's ability to interpret 300 canine words and a story about the "substantially reduced" jumps on the Grand National course.

The Guardian began a series on constituencies with a look at one of Scotland's "least-known and least-predictable seats". Glenclyde North's Labour man, Hamish McHenry, woos voters with his guitar in a style known as Highland Bluegrass. The lyrics gave the game away: "We'll kill the bosses with our troops, If that goes down well with the focus groups."

Other stories designed to trip up the gullible yesterday included the launch of "dilutable water" and the introduction of driving tests for under-fives. A total meltdown at Madame Tussaud's following a new EU ruling and the development of an energy-packed miracle apple were also reported.

While the media were congratulating themselves on their ingenuity, a hand-written fax landed on newsdesks yesterday afternoon. "I hope you see the funny side," scribbled an apologetic Swampy. He had, he explained, no intention of stand- ing as a parliamentary candidate at the general election, as some newspapers, including The Independent, had reported. The eco-warrier's newsworthiness really knows no bounds.

Letters, page 17

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