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Thursday, April 1, 1999 Published at 05:25 GMT 06:25 UK


A history of fools

Spaghetti: Freshly picked from the tree

Millions across the world will be on their guard on Thursday as hoaxers make the most of April Fool's Day.

The red faces can come from any quarter, with television, radio and newspapers all boasting distinguished track records with nation-duping practical jokes.

One of the most famous is the BBC's 1957 Panorama programme on the "spaghetti orchards" of Italy.

The documentary series took viewers on a tour of farms where workers pruned lengths of pasta "growing" from trees.

[ image: Ben Gwinn, I presume]
Ben Gwinn, I presume
More recently, London DJ Chris Tarrant used a Saturday morning show to dupe hundreds of people into believing it was Friday. Hundreds mistakenly began their journey to work.

Last year a Portuguese radio presenter cruelly raised the hopes of an entire country by telling listeners that Portugal had secured a last minute entry to the football World Cup on a technicality.

He said Iran had been forced to withdraw and Portugal was the country chosen for a substitute place at France 98.

Stonehenge going cheap

BBC Radio 4 has also excelled itself in the field of false expectations with a feature on a Devonshire water diviner with the mysterious ability to help people predict lottery numbers.

Telephone lines into the diviner's supposed home village were reportedly jammed for most of the day.

[ image: The M25 on a clockwise day]
The M25 on a clockwise day
Newspaper pranks are traditionally lower key and, perhaps for this reason, have been known to rumble on for several days before being spotted.

Some of the best include a deal with Japanese businessmen to relocate Stonehenge at the base of Mount Fuji, the "original" Channel tunnel built during the Napoleonic Wars and genetic scientists' plans to cross a chicken with a chimpanzee to produce a "chickpanzee".

There was also a reported plan to make the whole M25 run clockwise and anti-clockwise on alternate days.


But papers can also be on the receiving end, with the Financial Times printing an April Fool's story in 1998 from a spoof press release which claimed that Greenwich Mean Time was going to be renamed Guinness Mean Time in a new deal with the drinks giant.

April Fool's Day is a truly international institution. In Australia, where the Olympic Games will be held in 2000, Sports Minister Andrew Thomson once predicted a gold medal for his country - in the new sport of tuna-tossing.

[ image: Going for gold]
Going for gold
And a Japanese paper printed a story claiming that scientists had invented a machine that could decipher the truth in what politicians were saying.

But members of the public are also prone to gags of their own - some of which are wearing thin with those on the receiving end.

London Zoo has finally installed a screening service for April Fool's Day after decades of calls for Sue Keeper, Ali Gaiter, Ben Gwinn and Jim Panzie.

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