And that’s the way it was: April 1, 1957

The BBC broadcasts its now-famous spaghetti tree hoax

Called “undoubtedly the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled,” the spaghetti tree hoax refers to a three-minute documentary produced by the BBC current affairs show Panorama as an April Fools’ Day prank in 1957.

In the “report,” the voice of a respected British broadcaster narrates the story of a family in Ticino, Switzerland, busy at their annual spaghetti harvest. In one scene, women carefully pick strands of spaghetti from a tree and lay them in the sun to dry. At the time, pasta was still an exotic food in Britain, and hundreds of viewers phoned into the network, either skeptical of the veracity of the story, or asking how to grow their own spaghetti trees.

April Fools’ Day has long been an occasion for editors and journalists to peel open their inner Onion. Usually—like when The Guardian announced that it was converting to a Twitter-only newspaper—the results are harmless and nearly amusing. But tread carefully, you wild and crazy scribes, because sometimes hilarity does not ensue.

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review. Tags: , ,