Friday, April 1, 2011

The 1957 Swiss spaghetti harvest

It has been popular for newspapers to insert an untrue, often far fetched item for April Fool’s Day.

That has not always been the case. Indeed, back in 1957 when TV was quite new and people believed pretty much everything that was broadcast, when TV shows didn’t play jokes on their viewers and when awareness of foreign cuisine was limited to the local Chinese eatery, an April Fool’s joke would have had the perfect surroundings.

So it was that on 1 April 1957, the highly acclaimed program Panorama announced to its viewers that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop.

This announcement was accompanied footage of Swiss swomen pulling strands of spaghetti from trees. It was made even more believable by a voice over by respected broadcaster Richard Dimbleby.

See it at:

It remains one of the most acclaimed April Fool hoaxes of all times and I never fail to raise a chuckle when viewing it.

Young people today, who have grown up with knowledge of foreign foods and foreign cultures, who ask how that could be believed, don’t realise what insular cultures each country had in those days. Spaghetti was not a common food in England in 1957 and, such spaghetti as was sold, was commonly sold in tins.

Huge numbers of viewers were taken in. Many called the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. The BBC diplomatically replied, "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."

CNN has called the item "the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled."

Panorama cameraman Charles de Jaeger dreamed up the story after remembering how teachers at his school in Austria teased his classmates for being so stupid, if they were told spaghetti grew on trees they would believe it.

In de Jaeger's 2000 obituary Ian Jacob, the then-Durector-General of the BBC, was quoted as having said to Leonard Miall, Head of Television Talks 1954-61,
"When I saw that item, I said to my wife, 'I don't think spaghetti grows on trees', so we'd looked it up in Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Do you know, Miall, Encyclopædia Britannica doesn't even mention spaghetti."
The Museum of Hoaxes carries the following additional comment:
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reportedly perpetrated a similar hoax, involving the claim that the Australian spaghetti crop in the "spaghetti-growing heartland" had been devastated by the "spaghetti worm," a creature that ate unripe spaghetti from the inside. The report included footage of distraught spaghetti farmers lamenting that they were facing financial ruin. An appeal was made to the public for donations, and next week thousands of people went to post offices and banks to donate money to the spaghetti farmers.

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