Socrates joins April foolers

Nick Cohen
Saturday 01 April 1995 23:02

THE LESSON of April Fool's Day was that governments can fool people far more successfully than newspapers.

Late on Friday Agence France-Presse announced to the world that Greek archaeologists believed they had found the tomb of Socrates near the foot of the Acropolis.

A vase containing traces of poison had been found near the skeleton. Although they could not be definite, the historians were cautiously optimistic that the vase and the results of dating tests on the bones tallied with Plato's account of the philosopher taking hemlock after being condemned in 399 BC. for not respecting the gods and corrupting the young.

Bureau staff were looking out for false stories in the local press. It did not occur to the news agency that the Greek ministry of culture could lie. The story was sent and followed by an embarrassed correction an hour later.

In Namibia, the authority of government was also used to make the prank plausible. Journalists were summoned to view the skeleton of a prehistoric whale which had somehow managed to die in the Namibian capital Windhoek (5,670 feet above sea level).

Palaeontologists from the ministry of environment explained to TV interviewers that high prehistoric sea levels and geological shifts could have brought the bones up the hill. Later they confessed to burying the bones of a modern whale two years earlier.

In Britain, the jokes appealed to national obsessions with cricket, bras and That Dress."

The Guardian offered a hoax column by Liz Hurley, which was not very different from genuine celebrity columns. The Independent announced the discovery of a Van Gogh drawing of cricketer WG Grace, which it said confirmed the artist became a cricket fan.

Wonderbra claimed to have made a bra which simpers seductively: "Hello, boys."

The only palpable hit came from London's Capitol Radio, which broadcast Friday's sport, news and weather on Saturday.

One woman called in to say she had got to her office and done a full hour's work before she realised her colleagues were not turning up as well. Another listener leapt out of bed and ironed his work shirt before realising what had happened.

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