Since it is April 1, I can’t fail to mention one of the best all-time April Fool gags, the BBC’s 1957 Panorama broadcast on the spaghetti harvest in the Ticino area of Switzerland, narrated by the very distinguished and golden-voiced Richard Dimbleby, CBE. They reported a bumper crop, owing to the mild winter and the effective control of the pasta weevil. As Dimbleby explained, spaghetti growing in Switzerland was mostly a family affair, not carried out on such a vast scale as in Italy. “Many of you, I’m sure, will have seen pictures of the vast spaghetti plantations in the Po valley.”
It generated a flood of calls and letters to the BBC; a few were from habitually cranky people who couldn’t get it, but the majority were from people who wanted to know where they could get their own spaghetti bushes. (The English have always been avid gardeners.) As the BBC notes in its account, “Spaghetti is not a widely-eaten food in the UK and is considered by many as an exotic delicacy.” (Remember this is in 1957.)
The BBC’s page about the program is here. It has a video link, but it requires either Windows Media Player or RealPlayer. Fortunately, there is a version on YouTube. The whole thing is carried off with amazing panache. I’ve seen it dozens of times, and I still find it very funny. (That probably explains a lot.)
There is something about this kind of gag that touches something in the English sense of humour. I remember a front page story from the Times of London on one April 1, when I was living there, talking about a creative new traffic plan that had been worked out for the perennially congested M25, the motorway “ring road” around London. (Those familiar with the Washington DC area can think of I-495, the Capital Beltway. Boston area readers can think of Route 128.) The article reported that, instead of having 3-4 lanes in both directions, all lanes would be used in a clockwise direction on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and in an anti-clockwise direction Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. (Sunday would revert to two-way operation.) I will admit that the article was written with enough skill that it took me a couple of minutes to be sure it was a joke. (That British politicians are not, on the whole, more sensible than American ones did give me pause.)
The funniest part, though, was that, when I got to the office, one of the staff (I’ll call him Will; he is English) came up to me, obviously very concerned, and saying that this scheme was crazy — it could never work, because with one-way operation, half of the slip roads (what we would call the on- and off-ramps in the US) would be pointed in the wrong direction. I told Will that probably that had been worked out, and recommended that he check the date on his calendar.