Spaghetti in trees, the BBC’s historic April Fool’s Day to its viewers
Making a good part of a nation believe that spaghetti grow on trees like April Fools? Yes, it is possible. Or at least, she was. It succeeded in the UK BBCBritish public television, on April 1, 1957 with a service broadcast in a known broadcast of the broadcaster. The video contribution showed girls intent on harvesting spaghetti in Swisswith the conductor’s voice authoritatively explaining the “traditional agricultural practice”.
After the broadcast, the BBC was bombarded with phone calls from amazed spectators. Some even asked how could they get hold of a spaghetti plant. An incredulity due to the fact that the food was still unknown and considered something exotic. But also, of course, the fact that there were no means of verifying the news. To this day, it is still regarded as one of the best April Fool’s Day pranks ever made.
The April Fool’s idea of spaghetti on trees
The inspiration for an April Fool’s joke that made people believe that spaghetti grew on trees was from charles de jaeger, an Austrian-born BBC cameraman with a wicked sense of humour. The idea came from him a phrase that the teachers used to say to the pupils in the schools of his hometown Vienna: “You guys are so silly that you would believe me if I told you that spaghetti grows on trees”.
Hence De Jaeger’s desire to turn this joke into a visual joke to be proposed as April Fools. For the cameraman it almost became an obsessionso much so that he proposed it to various BBC managers.
How the service was born
The opportunity to turn this bizarre idea into reality came in 1957, while working for Panorama, the BBC channel’s flagship programme, one of two available at the time (the other being ITV). It was a news broadcast hosted by the authoritative anchorman Richard Dimbleby with an audience that sometimes reached i 10 million viewers.
In view of April 1 of that year, he shared the idea with the TV author David Wheeler who was thrilled. The two then proposed the project a Michael Peacockmanaging director of Panorama. De Jaeger managed to get the green light by focusing above all on the low costs of the service. Already having to travel to Swiss for another job, he explained that he could do both in that location. The budget for April Fools was sunny 100 pounds.
Aided by the Swiss tourist office, de Jaeger found the perfecthotel Castiglioneon the banks of the lake of Lugano rich in laurel trees. After finding a way to place spaghetti on the branches in a stable way, he hired some local girls to stage the fake harvest. In the final video, the actresses dressed in the typical local clothes can be seen picking up the pasta by climbing some ladders, place it in wicker baskets and then put it to dry in the sun.
Once back in London, de Jaeger and his accomplices extracted from the footage a service of about three minutes (visible above from YouTube). Very few knew about the project, even the channel management was unaware of it because it was feared a stop to the initiative. The images were supported by an explanation provided by the authoritative voice of the conductorwhich managed to make absurd passages of the text credible.
An example: “The last two weeks of March are an anxious time for spaghetti farmers. There is always the possibility that a late frost will spoil the flavor and make it difficult to sell the product at good prices on world markets, or even ruin the entire crop. But now these dangers have passed and the harvest continues.”.
It was broadcast at the close of the April 1st edition of Panorama. At the end of the program the conductor greeted the audience wishing everyone a good night “on this first day of April”, emphasizing these words a lot to make it clear that the service was not something to be taken seriously.
The reactions to the April Fools’ Day of spaghetti on trees
However, after it aired, the BBC got there hundreds of phone calls from viewers. Most were intrigued, some even asked how to get a spaghetti seedling. Continuing with the joke, the call center workers replied: “put a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best”.
Before the show closes, the BBC broadcast a statement revealing that it was an April Fool’s joke. Nonetheless, people’s calls continued for a long time. However, there was no shortage of criticism either. Some argued that the broadcaster had not complied with the trust agreement with viewers, others that he hadn’t followed one of the April 1st rules that pranks must not be carried on after 12.00. However, spaghetti growing on trees remains one of the most successful April Fools ever.
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