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The Greatest April Fools' Prank Ever
The BBC, back in 1957, broadcast the best April Fools' joke of all time -- the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest hoax.
As a general principle, I don't like practical jokes. They are neither practical, nor are they funny. However, there is one prank that I admit is hilarious, and has not been topped in more than 60 years.
On April 1, 1957, the BBC program “Panorama” (like “Meet the Press”) broadcast a segment on the Swiss spaghetti tree harvest. For two and a half minutes, Richard Dimbleby played it to perfection, convincing many that the Swiss family-style growing of spaghetti was preferable to that grown on the “vast spaghetti plantations of the Po Valley.”
Now, the British media in general used to play up April Fool's Day. I recall a fairly good one in the Guardian newspaper back in the 1970s. It was a travel guide to the Indian Ocean territory of San Serriffe, complete with references to a large number of typesetting references. And the Capitol Radio once announced a need to cancel April 5 and 12 because daylight time changes had put Britain 48 hours ahead of everyone else -- Operation Parallax.
But back to the spaghetti harvest. Some people did get the joke. Some not only got the joke, but they were also annoyed that a serious program like Panorama would stoop to such behavior. These are the same people who were upset when they discovered the radio newsreaders no longer wore black tie to present the news.
But some were taken in. After the program aired, hundreds of people phoned in to find out more, including how to plant and grow their own spaghetti tree. The BBC suggested, “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”
Now, you may ask in your globalist, 21st century wired way, “how could people be so stupid?” It wasn't that they were stupid, but rather that their world was a tinier one than we have. Britain wasn't a food mecca, although it's much better today than it was even in the 1980s. Chicken Tikka Masala has replaced fish and chips as the national dish (see, immigration is good for a country).
But pasta (or macaroni if you are from Middle Village in Queens) was largely unknown in the UK in the 1950s. People didn't go abroad for their vacations; they took their holiday in Blackpool or Margate. And the Italians didn't spend their August break in Scunthorpe or Maidenhead (yes, it's a real town west of London). Their exposure to the relatively exotic cuisine of Italy was minimal.
The Second World War ended in 1945, but bread rationing in Britain (which was on the winning side) didn't end until 1948. For a few years, the country didn't have the First World Problem “What's for dinner?” It had the Third World Problem “Is there dinner?” So, it's not surprising that a plummy accent like Dimbley's and a little mock B-roll would be taken at face value when subject was the Swiss spaghetti harvest.