It’s pretty easy to hoax people. We all want to be deceived, but only up to a point. Some hoaxes are fun and pleasant, others malicious and unpleasant. We’d like a way to tell the difference (Robert Carroll).

Jan 16, 2012

Spaghetti Tree Hoax

Multiple rating lists for the most prominent April 1 hoaxes in the World History, can be found on the Web. And the Spaghetti Tree Hoax is usually placed among the best. It can also probably be considered as the first attempt (and quite successful one) for television to stage the April Fool’s Day hoax.

As per featured Wikipedia article, the spaghetti tree hoax is a famous 3-minute hoax report broadcast on April Fools' Day 1957 by the BBC current affairs program Panorama. It told a tale of a family in southern Switzerland (Ticino) harvesting spaghetti from the fictitious spaghetti tree. Just putting this report in the historical time scale, you should take in consideration that this broadcast can at a time when this Italian dish, currently known all around the World, was not widely eaten than in the UK, and some Britons were unaware that spaghetti is pasta made from wheat flour and water. And the “documentary”, showing women carefully plucking strands of spaghetti from a tree and laying them in the sun to dry, was quite convincing.

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While the television was not so widely spread in the general population, the broadcast has huge resonance. Keep in mind that at this time, there were only two channels were available to UK viewers - the BBC and ITV. It is estimated that about 8 million viewed the broadcast. Hundreds of viewers phoned into the BBC, either to say the story was not true, or wondering about more details. Some callers even asked where they could get hold of a spaghetti bush so they could grow their own crop. To which the BBC rather diplomatically replied: "Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best." 

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Let’s take a look on the famous BBC broadcast.

You can also review the clip directly at BBC website.

Hoax Heroes

The hoax has been elaborated and filmed by Charles Theophile de Jaeger, a cameraman for the BBC. The idea for the joke came to Jaeger from his childhood. Once at school, one disappointed teacher exclaimed: "Boys, you are so stupid, you'd believe me if I told you that spaghetti grew on trees." 

Jaeger developed the idea in close collaboration with producer David Wheeler, and a commentary written by Wheeler was added by respected broadcaster Richard Dimbleby.

In de Jaeger's 2000 obituary Ian Jacob, the then-Director-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 Encyclopædia Britannica. Do you know, Miall, Encyclopædia Britannica doesn't even mention spaghetti."

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