April Fools' hoaxes: From the spaghetti trees to alarming bras

The old jokes are still the best

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The Independent Online

Today’s newsrooms are busy trying to filter the fools from the genuine stories as reports of trampolining aisles for short people in Tesco’s compete with the revelation that Ant and Dec are set to welcome a third member into their presenting team.

There’s the Tom Daley to join One Direction shocker; the "pygmy hippo cafe" set to open in  Regent’s Park; and the online-savvy way Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is reaching out to voters – via dating app Grindr.

The 1st April hoaxes are coming thick and fast but none of them can boast the gravitas of Richard Dimbleby who presented Panorama’s spoof documentary about the Swiss spaghetti harvest in 1957.

And today’s offerings are unlikely to make thousands of radio listeners jump in unison at 9.47am exactly in a bid to “achieve weightlessness” as Sir Patrick Moore urged on Radio 2 in 1967.

Moore fool you

Well-known television astronomer and national treasure Patrick Moore announced on BBC Radio 2 on April fool's in 1976 that due to an unusual alignment of planets, known as the Jovian-Plutonian gravitational effect, Earth would have a temporary reduction in the gravitational pull. He urged listeners to jump at exactly 9.47am to experience weightlessness. Thousands called in to say they'd felt the decrease in gravity and one woman even claimed that she and eleven friends "wafted from their chairs and orbited gently around the room."

Stringy theory

The BBC's 1957 Panorama programme about harvesting spaghetti from trees in Switzerland showed women carefully plucking the strands from trees and laying them in the sun to dry. It has gone down in history as one of the most believable April hoaxes. It was presented by the very believable Richard Dimbleby, after all.

 

What a whopper

Burger King launched a marketing campaign for its 'Left-handed whopper' on April 1 1998. A press release sent out at the time estimated that nearly 11 million left-handed customers visited the fast food outlet in the UK each year. A spokesperson from the Left Handed Club is quoted as saying: "We are delighted that Burger King has recognised the difficulties of holding a hamburger in your left hand that has a natural right bias to it. We urge all left handed hamburger lovers to visit their nearest Burger King and taste the difference for themselves."

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Alarming underwiring

In 1982 the Daily Mail reported a series of signal interferences in fire and burglar alarms, television and radio broadcasts due, it claimed, to the manufacture and sale of bras containing extremely conductive copper underwire. The report claimed that the combination of body heat and nylon caused the copper to produce static electricity which interfered with signals.

Licking it

The Sun made newspaper history with the world's first flavoured page. On page 17 a white square carries the words "Lick here" and an arrow advises viewers where to place their tongues to experience the flavour. It carries the warning "May contain nuts." The report reads: "Our ink-redible printing breakthrough comes after we teamed up with Brit boffins. It means that readers can lick this page to reveal a hidden taste. The revolution follows TV chef Heston Blumenthal, 43, unveiling lickable wallpaper." Sadly it doesn't work online.

What denier was it?

In 1962 colour TV seemed like a magical thing in Sweden. So when its one television channel broadcast an advisory by the station's technical expert Kjell Stensson telling viewers that they could manually convert their black and white sets into colour by covering the screen in a nylon stocking, thousands of people gave it a try. His technical explanation for the peculiar activity was that the fine mesh of the material would cause a reconfiguration of the light particles emanating from the screen. Viewers were advised to tilt their heads from side to side to help with the readjustment process.

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Gordon Brown

Sighing over Gordon

"He thrilled them with his constitutional reform statement in 2007, he made them sigh at the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Conference, he made them clap at the St Paul's Institute," reported The Times in 2011, revealing the much anticipated news that a collection of PM Gordon Brown's speeches is soon to be available in all good bookshops. "The Change We Choose; Speeches 2007-2009 contains the Prime Minister's most exciting speeches from the past three years. Those who seek inspiration in the oratory of Gladstone, Disraeli and Churchill will now be able to turn to Mr Brown's discussion of the Millennium Development Goals, his appeal for global solutions to global problems and his promise of a points based immigration system."

Wife not?

Wikipedia is widely regarded as the font of all knowledge for journalists, students and, well, pretty much anyone who's ever used the internet. Shocking then for the feminists among us to discover that the comprehensive encyclopaedia condones wife selling. A recent entry states: "The English custom of wife selling was a way of ending an unsatisfactory marriage by mutual agreement that began in the late 17th century, when divorce was a practical impossibility for all but the very wealthiest. After parading his wife with a halter around her neck, arm, or waist, a husband would publicly auction her to the highest bidder. Wife selling provides the backdrop for Thomas Hardy's novel The Mayor of Casterbridge, in which the central character sells his wife at the beginning of the story, an act that haunts him for the rest of his life and ultimately destroys him."

Just my type

On April 1 1977 The Guardian published a seven-page supplement on the semi colon-shaped islands of San Serriffe, situated somewhere in the Indian Ocean. The two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse and the editorial was littered with other puns and plays on words relating to typography. The islands were used for subsequent hoaxes in 1978, 1980 and 1999 and they often turn up in the paper's cryptic crossword.

WHOdunnit?

Stuffy global agencies aren't known for their jokes. Which made it all the more believable in April 2002 when the World Health Organization released a report claiming that natural blondes were likely to be extinct within 200 years. It said that due to the proliferation of dyed blondes and a genetic weakness, the last natural blonde would probably be born in 2202. The study was revealed to be a hoax and the WHO denied conducting the research.

Pinana colada?

One April 1st Waitrose supermarket announced it was stocking an exotic new fruit: the Pinana, a hybrid combination of a pineapple and a banana. The advert read: "Fresh in today and exclusive to Waitrose. If you find that all Waitrose pinanas have sold out, don't worry, there's 50% off our essential Waitrose strawberries."

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