Courtesy of the BBC
After a bit of research I determined that they celebrate April Fool’s Day in Switzerland. Although it isn’t a holiday like Swiss National Day, St. Bartholomew’s Day, Escalande, Fasnacht or Tschaggatta, so government offices and schools are open (or would be if it fell on a weekday), they do play practical jokes. I hope you forgive me for my last post on the southern Switzerland’s spaghetti harvest, it was a bit of an April Fool’s Day joke. Sorry.
One of the most famous April Fool’s Day Jokes involves Switzerland…in a way. The British news show, Panorama, broadcast a three-minute news segment about a bumper spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland on April 1, 1957. The previous post was the story verbatim. People swallowed it hook, line and sinker. It generated an enormous response and became one of the most popular April Fool’s Day hoaxes of all time.
In honor of April Fool’s Day, I thought I would explain how they came up with the idea and managed to pull it off so successfully. The spaghetti harvest prank was the brainchild of Charles de Jaeger, a cameraman for the BBC and jokester. Growing up, one of his teachers told the class, “boys, you’re so stupid, you’d believe me if I told you that spaghetti grows on trees.” How could he not turn that into a joke on film? He pitched the idea to several bosses over the years with no success.
In the 1950’s, Panorama was the BBC’s leading news program with ten million viewers. It aired every Monday night. When de Jaeger realized that April Fool’s Day fell on Monday night, he shared his idea with the writer David Wheeler who loved it. They convinced Panorama’s editor, Michael Peacock, to produce the segment (with a budget of only £100). Peacock agreed, but insisted it be kept a secret, fearing the BBC would veto the project.
When they went to Switzerland to film the segment, it was cold, misty and trees hadn’t blossomed. They traveled to temperate Lake Lugano in Italian Switzerland where there were evergreen Laurel trees. They hired some local girls in their national costume string 20 pounds of uncooked spaghetti from trees at a hotel in Castiglione. He filmed climbing ladders carrying wicker baskets, filling them with spaghetti, and laying it out dry in the sun. He also filmed his actors eating a spaghetti feast. The footage was then edited into a three-minute segment with background music.
At the end of Panaroma’s April 1st broadcast, the show’s highly respected, eminently dignified and solemn anchor, Richard Dimbleby, introduced the segment, adding the necessary gravitas. He made a great straight man, without cracking a smile started the report with “And now from wine to food. We end Panorama tonight with a special report from the Swiss Alps.” They then showed the prepared footage. At the end, Dimbleby closed the program with, “Now we say goodnight, on this first day of April,” emphasizing “this first day of April.”
The BBC immediately began receiving calls about the segment. Some were complaints about such frivolity on a news program, some were to settle arguments about the origins of spaghetti, and still others were inquires about where viewers could purchase their own spaghetti bush.
The hoax worked for several reasons:
- Richard Dimbleby was so distinguished, authoritative, and revered that people took everything he said as true.
- At the time, spaghetti was not a widely eaten in Britain. When it was, it was it often came from tins. It was a foreign dish, an exotic delicacy.
- It was pre-internet, encyclopedia Britannica didn’t even mention spaghetti and so it was hard to research and/or verify the origins of spaghetti.
Even the head of the BBC Ian Jacob, fell victim to the scheme. Nevertheless, like much of the British public, he was a big fan of the hoax. It became legendary and Johnny Carson even rebroadcast it. You can see it for yourself by clicking this link to YouTube.
In case you were wondering, to start your own spaghetti tree, place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.