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Nicky Campbell replays the hoax call
'I toyed with him like a cat with a mouse'
 real 28k

Nicky Campbell speaks to the real Robert Weale
'I can see the funny side'
 real 28k

Tuesday, 25 January, 2000, 13:55 GMT
Hoaxing: A national pastime

Edmonds: Prolific hoaxer, but has also been a victim


The BBC's Nicky Campbell has become the latest in a long line of presenters, politicians and royalty to fall victim to a hoax call on TV or radio.

Nicky Campbell Well and truly kippered - Nicky Campbell
The Radio 5 Live presenter admitted he had been "well and truly had" after a prankster pretending to be Wales's new world indoor bowls champion Robert Weale made bizarre and even racist comments live on air.

But the presenter can take comfort from the fact that prank calls have had even the great and the good squirming.

Reason to be cheerful

In August 1998, Xfm presenter Bob Geldof shocked listeners when he mistakenly told them rock star Ian Dury was dead.

Blair took it in good part
He said the indie-music station had learned through a "private caller" of Dury's demise - and then played Dury's hit with the Blockheads, Reasons To Be Cheerful.

A few minutes later, a contrite Geldof confessed the station had received false information in an apparent hoax call.

Don't call me Tony

In January that year, a hoax caller pretending to be opposition leader William Hague managed to penetrate the strict Downing Street switchboard security system to speak to Tony Blair.

Capital Radio DJ Steve Penk chatted with the prime minister for a while, and then offered him a copy of a Cher exercise video.

Mr Blair had immediately rumbled the prank - because the real Mr Hague always calls him "prime minister", not "Tony" - but played along in good humour. He later mentioned it in the House of Commons.

Bleeped

Making 1998 a vintage year for hoaxers, dance radio station Kiss FM got into trouble with the Radio Authority for a prank call.

Lewis-Smith: That Top Shop DJ
A presenter with the station had posed as a member of the public to try to get the authority to give examples of bad language which could not be used on air.

The call was later broadcast without permission, with the conversation punctuated with bleeped-out supposed expletives.

Hoaxer hoaxed

In the 1970s Noel Edmonds became one of the nation's most prolific hoaxers, starting with his Radio 1 breakfast show slot Noel's Funny Phone Calls.

He transferred the format to TV with shows such as Noel's House Party, in which he embarrassed celebs with his Gotchas.

But Edmonds himself fell victim to Chris Morris who, in Channel 4's Brass Eye programme, persuaded him to warn television viewers about the dangers of the drug Cake - which did not exist.

Brass necks

A few years previously, Morris had convinced Tory minister John Gummer that, because of planned industrial action, the BBC was recording the news 24 hours in advance.

Queen: Not amused
Gummer agreed to attack Labour policy over Europe. He was later furious.

Chris Morris is possibly matched for savagery only by Victor Lewis-Smith.

Early in the 90s Lewis-Smith famously tried to coax Vatican Radio into giving him a job, saying he had experience as a Top Shop DJ who could pull in an audience "as far as boxer shorts".

'Irritating and regrettable'

In 1995, Canadian DJ Pierre Brassard got through to Buckingham Palace pretending to be Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

He chatted to the Queen for 15 minutes on air - eliciting a promise that she would try to influence Quebec's referendum on proposals to break away from Canada - and she never realised it was a hoax.

Buckingham Palace later described the incident as "irritating and regrettable".

A similar call by Brassard to the Pope was rumbled when he asked the pontiff if he had ever thought of fixing a toy propeller to his cap.

'You're a bunch...'

One of the most fondly-remembered came in BBC One's Saturday morning children's show Saturday Superstore.

Steve Penk: One of many hoaxers
During a viewers' phone-in with pop band Matt Bianco, one anonymous caller did not ask the usual question about what the singers would have done had they not been famous.

"Matt Bianco?" he said. "You're a bunch of w......". He was quickly cut off.

War of the Worlds

So who's to blame for it all? Perhaps we should look to legendary film director Orson Welles, or rather his almost-namesake, sci-fi novelist HG Wells.

In 1938, Welles broadcast a drama entitled War Of The Worlds, loosely based on Wells' novel, in the form of a series of realistic-sounding news announcements interrupting an apparent pop music programme.

He managed to convince most of New Jersey and surrounding states that there had been an alien invasion, producing traffic jams, mini-riots and widespread hysteria.

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See also:
25 Jan 00 |  Wales
Hoaxer bowls out chat show host
21 Jan 98 |  UK
Surprise call for PM
02 Oct 98 |  Labour Conference
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