A Brief History
In a startling April Fools prank, the BBC program Panorama aired on April 1, 1957 and showed an astonished British audience farmers growing spaghetti on trees in Switzerland!
We all know people that just wait each year for April 1st to play their pranks on us, but a reputable and serious television show?
Spaghetti was not in wide use in Britain in the 1950’s, so many British people were unaware of how spaghetti noodles are made, which of course is like all other noodles, with wheat flour, water and other ingredients.
Seeing Swiss farmers seemingly “harvesting” spaghetti from trees created an instant demand in Britain for spaghetti trees! After watching the “documentary” on BBC showing the Swiss spaghetti harvest festival and being told this year’s crop was huge due to the elimination of the “spaghetti weevil” the British public clamored for more information.
Since most of the British experience with spaghetti was of the canned type, the people were told to place a spaghetti noodle in a tin can with tomato sauce and wait for it to start growing! How many people tried that technique is unknown, but televisions were present in almost half of British households by 1957 and the BBC was the the broadcaster at a time when only three or four channels were available.
This joke was hatched when a BBC employee remembered how as a child in Austria his teachers would exasperatedly tell the students that the students were so stupid they would believe spaghetti grew on trees. Of course, using a respected narrator on a respected channel and a respected program certainly helped sell the hoax!
Another possible source of inspiration for the growing spaghetti joke is the 1939 novel, The Adventures of Captain Vrungel (by Andrey Nekrasov, a Russian), where a group of prisoners talks their Italian captors into believing they could grow spaghetti, but that alcohol is needed to grow it! Apparently, this action was a ruse to get alcohol! In 1981, a cartoon series based on that book was made in the Soviet Union! Not surprisingly, the name Vrungel became Soviet slang for liar.
Question for students (and subscribers): What is your favorite April Fools Day prank? Share your memories with us in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Farquhar, Michael. A Treasury of Deception: Liars, Misleaders, Hoodwinkers, and the Extraordinary True Stories of History’s Greatest Hoaxes, Fakes and Frauds. Penguin Books, 2005.
Nekrasov, Andrey. Adventures of Captain Vrungel / Priklyucheniya kapitana Vrungelya. Strekoza-Press, 2008.