The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. (1957)
The respected BBC news show Panorama ran a segment revealing that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees.
Huge numbers of viewers were taken in. Many called the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this the BBC diplomatically replied that they should "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."
Lirpa Loof Concert. (1961)
The BBC promised radio listeners that they wouldn't want to miss the concert of the "distinguished continental pianist" Lirpa Loof. But when the scheduled time arrived, there was no concert. "Actually, of course, Lirpa Loof is April Fool spelled backward," an announcer explained.
BBC TV interviewed a London University professor who had perfected a technology he called "smellovision," allowing viewers to smell aromas produced in the television studio in their homes. The professor explained that his machine broke scents down into their component molecules which were then transmitted through the screen.
The professor demonstrated by placing some coffee beans and onions into the smellovision machine. He asked viewers to report by noon whether they had smelled anything. Numerous viewers called in from across the country to confirm that they had distinctly experienced these scents. Some claimed the onions made their eyes water.
Gerald Burley Honored. (1971)
BBC radio honored Gerald Burley, winner of the "Ettore Savini Memorial Prize." The program included taped tributes to the anthropologist and philanthropist from well-known persons, including violinist Yehudi Menuhin and the Bishop of Southwark. However, Gerald Burley was entirely nonexistent. A BBC spokesman reported that they later received a call from a woman claiming to be Gerald Burley's mistress demanding to know, "Why wasn't I asked to appear?"
La Fornication Comme Une Acte Culturelle. (1972)
BBC Radio 3's In Parenthesis program were treated to a roundtable discussion of a few cutting-edge new works of social anthropology and musicology. First up was a discussion of La Fornication Comme Une Acte Culturelle by Henri Mensonge (translated as Henry Lie). This book argued that "we live in an age of metaphorical rape" in which "confrontation, assault, intrusion, and exposure are becoming validated transactions, the rites of democracy, of mass society." This sparked a blisteringly incomprehensible debate, which eventually segued into an exploration of the question "Is 'Is' Is?" Finally, the audience heard a rousing deconstruction of the 'arch form' of the sonata's first motif. Listeners seemed to accept the program's discussion as a legitimate exploration of new trends in the arts. However, it was a parody.
Dutch Elm Disease Infects Redheads. (1973)
BBC Radio interviewed a "Dr. Clothier" about the government's efforts to stop the spread of Dutch Elm Disease. Dr. Clothier described some recent discoveries, such as the research of Dr. Emily Lang who had found that exposure to Dutch Elm Disease immunized people to the common cold.
Unfortunately, there was a side effect. Exposure to the disease also caused red hair to turn yellow. This was attributed to a similarity between the blood count of redheads and the soil conditions in which affected trees grew. Therefore, redheads were advised to stay away from forests for the foreseeable future. Dr. Clothier was actually the comedian Spike Milligan disguising his voice.
Foley Island to be Towed. (1975)
BBC Radio 4’s Today Show also reported about a controversy involving the Island of Foley, located between Sheppey and the Kent Coast. Apparently the island was the cause of numerous shipwrecks. Therefore, authorities had decided to destroy it. However, because this decision had been protested by conservationists, authorities had decided to tow it somewhere safer instead. Towing islands has been a source of jokes as far back as 1824, when a hoaxer supposedly had the residents of Manhattan believing that their island was going to be towed out to sea.
The Musendrophilus. (1975)
The naturalist David Attenborough gave a report on BBC Radio 3 about a group of islands in the Pacific known as the Sheba Islands. He played sound recordings of the island’s fauna, including a recording of a night-singing, yodelling tree mouse called the Musendrophilus. He also described a web-footed species whose webs were prized by inhabitants of the island as reeds for musical instruments.
Snell’s African Journey. (1975)
BBC Radio 4’s Today Show announced that as part of the centenary celebrations for Edgar Wallace’s Sanders of the River, Major John Blashford Snell had just completed a secret journey into the African interior in search of a rare tribe mentioned in that book. The heads of the members of this tribe supposedly grew beneath their shoulders, giving them a stooped appearance. It was also reported that the chief of this tribe had once been a lift attendant.
Planetary Alignment Decreases Gravity. (1976)
During an interview on BBC Radio 2, astronomer Patrick Moore revealed that at exactly 9:47 a.m. Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, and that this alignment would result in a stronger gravitational pull from Jupiter, counteracting the Earth's own gravity and making people momentarily weigh less. He told listeners that if they jumped up and down while this was happening, they would experience a strange floating sensation.
When 9:47 a.m. arrived, BBC2 began to receive hundreds of calls from listeners who claimed to have felt the sensation. One woman insisted that she and her friends had floated around the room. Another caller complained that he ascended so rapidly that he hit his head on the ceiling.
Hair-Restoring Well. (1977)
BBC TV's Nationwide news program ran a segment about a well located on the farm of James Coatsworth in Rothbury, Northumberland. This well supposedly had the power to make hair grow on bald men’s heads.
Big Ben Goes Digital. (1980)
The BBC's overseas service reported that Big Ben was going to be given a digital readout. The news elicited a huge response from listeners shocked and angry about the change. "Surprisingly, few people thought it was funny," admitted Tony Lightley of the overseas service.
The same news report also claimed that the clock hands would be given away to the first four listeners to contact the station. One Japanese seaman in the mid-Atlantic immediately radioed in, hoping to be among the lucky callers.
The Lirpa Loof. (1984)
The BBC Show That's Life aired a segment about an animal called the Lirpa Loof, a hairy biped from the eastern Himalayas, that had just arrived at the London Zoo.
Naturalist David Bellamy talked about how excited he was to finally see this animal, which he had read about as a child. The creature was also a natural mimic, imitating whatever it saw a person doing. This delighted crowds at the zoo. Unfortunately, the total number of Lirpa Loofs in the world was "small and diminishing."
The scientific name of the Lirpa Loof was Eccevita mimicus. "Eccevita" is Latin for "That's Life."
Grandstand’s Newsroom Brawl. (1989)
On the BBC Sports show Grandstand, as presenter Desmond Lynam talked about upcoming events to be covered a fight broke out behind him in the newsroom. As the fight escalated, Lynam continued to calmly discuss the news, assuring the audience that, "We'll continue to do our best to cover sport in the way that you like, backed up by our highly professional team." Later in the show, Lyman noted that viewers may have seen "a bit of an altercation" behind him and apologized for this. But then he proceeded to show an instant replay of the fight.
After the replay the newsroom brawlers were shown standing together, holding a sign that read "April Fool."
Euro Anthem. (1999)
The Today program on BBC Radio 4 announced that the British National anthem ("God Save the Queen") was to be replaced by a Euro Anthem sung in German. The new anthem, which Today played for their listeners, used extracts from Beethoven's music and was sung by pupils of a German school in London. Reportedly, Prince Charles's office telephoned Radio 4 to ask them for a copy of the new anthem. St. James Palace later insisted that it had been playing along with the prank and had not been taken in by it.
Chips Banned From UK Schools. (2003)
The BBC reported that school-lunch authorities in the UK had banned chips (french fries) from school canteens: "They reckon the fave food is unhealthy, so have decided kids won't be able to eat it any more - you'll all have to eat lumpy mash instead! Government food expert Professor Steve P.U. Denton said that although they knew the decision would be unpopular, they were making it so kids would be healthier. He added: 'We're very sorry that we have to do this, but kids spend so much time playing computer games now we have to help them keep fit another way.' The head of the UK Chip Authority, Fry Smith has slammed the move, saying he couldn't understand why chips have come in for special treatment."
Planets Renamed. (2004)
CBBC (Children's BBC) announced that astronomers had decided to rename the planets in the Solar System after characters from the Lord of the Rings. The Earth would henceforth be known as Gandalf. Mars would become Frodo. Pluto would be known as Sauron, and even the Moon would receive a new name: Gollum.
Sniff-Screen Technology. (2007)
The BBC reprised its 1965 "smellovision" April Fool hoax by inviting visitors to its website to test new "sniff-screen technology" by clicking on various colored squares, pressing their noses and thumbs against their screen, and inhaling to identify the smell.
Flying Penguins. (2008)
The BBC announced that camera crews filming near the Antarctic for its natural history series Miracles of Evolution had captured footage of Adélie penguins taking to the air. It offered a video clip of these flying penguins, which became one of the most viewed videos on the internet.
Presenter Terry Jones explained that, instead of huddling together to endure the Antarctic winter, these penguins took to the air and flew thousands of miles to the rainforests of South America where they "spend the winter basking in the tropical sun." A follow-up video explained how the BBC created the special effects of the flying penguins.
Was Shakespeare French?. (2010)
The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 ran a segment reporting that an excavation at Shakespeare's last home had unearthed evidence (a locket with a French inscription) suggesting that the playwright's mother was French — and that, by extension, so was the Bard himself.
The segment included an interview with a former French Culture Minister who said, "We are delighted to learn that Shakespeare was French... Of course we have Racine and Molière, but we will make some room for him in our national pantheon of literature."
France had reportedly asked to borrow the locket to display it in France.