The tradition for an April Fool’s day is a long one and is recognised around the world. The Roman festival of Hilaria, the Holi festival of India, and the Medieval Feast of Fools are all said to be precursors of what we not understand to be April Fool’s Day. In Western culture, notably in the UK, the tradition extends from before 1698 when John Aubrey referred to the holiday as “Fooles holy day”, which is the first written reference to the day in Britain, but which suggests it was already a known tradition. The first recorded April Fool prank is from 1 April 1698, when a number of people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to “see the Lions washed”.
Wholesale Clearance UK’s top 10 best April Fools pranks
1. A Left-Handed Whopper burgerIn the USA in 1998, Burger King took out a full page advert in USA Today announcing they had created a ‘Left-Handed Whopper’. It was the same in every way, they insisted, except “all condiments rotated 180 degrees, thereby redistributing the weight of the sandwich so that the bulk of the condiments will skew to the left, thereby reducing the amount of lettuce and other toppings from spilling out the right side of the burger” which would be of huge benefit to the chain’s left handed customers.
Amazingly, the very next day, thousands of customers turned up to try it. No doubt some said it tasted different to the right handed version.
2. Planetary Alignment Decreases GravityIt’s easy to make fun of the more gullible and downright daft among us (cough, not me obviously), but even intellectuals have been known to be fooled on occasion. One of the best April Fools pranks in the UK can be attributed to the late great astronomer, Sir Patrick Moore. On April 1, 1976, during a breakfast interview on BBC Radio 2, he announced that at 9:47 AM that day, a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event would take place.
He told his fervent audience that Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, forcing a planetary alignment with Earth, which would temporarily counteract and lessen the Earth’s own gravity, meaning people would momentarily weigh less. Moore went on to suggest that if listeners jumped in the air at the exact moment the alignment occurred, they would experience a strange floating sensation.
Immediately after 9:47 AM, the BBC started to receive phone calls from listeners claiming that they had indeed felt the sensation. One woman even stated that she and her friends had risen from their chairs and floated around the room, while it is claimed that one man complained to the BBC when he hit his head on the ceiling.
3. The “Taco Liberty Bell”1st April 1996. Taco Bell placed a full page advert in six or seven major American newspapers claiming that they had purchased the Liberty Bell in order to “reduce the country’s debt”. The Liberty Bell is the iconic symbol of independence to Americans, so understandably many of them were a little peeved. Taco Bell stated that “Taco Bell’s heritage and imagery have revolved around the symbolism of the bell. Now we’ve got the crown jewel of bells.” They intended to rename the bell, Taco Liberty Bell.
The American people were not happy about this news at all, and Taco Bell had to issue another press release at noon admitting to the joke.
What’s most funny about this story is that when the then White House press secretary, Mike McCurry was asked about the Taco Liberty Bell, he played along with the joke and replied that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold and would now be known as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial!
4. Whistling carrotsIn 2002, Tesco paid for an advert in the Sun that announced that the supermarket had grown genetically-modified carrots with tapered air holes in their sides. When the carrots were placed into boiling water, and fully cooked, they would start to whistle. The advert was especially designed to look like a newspaper report, and many people were taken in. Amusingly, the store ‘discounted rumours that they were also working on trolleys that actually steered straight as media speculation’.
5. Instant colour TV
6. Channel Tunnel blunderOn 1st April 1990, the now thankfully defunct ‘news’paper that was the News of the World reported that the two sides of the Channel Tunnel were on course to miss each other by 14ft. True to form, the paper blamed this engineering mistake on the French insistence of using metric measurements in their blueprints. The paper said it would cost £10bn to put right. And people believed them.
7. Big Ben to go digitalImagine the furore in 1980, when the BBC’s overseas service reported that Big Ben was moving with the times and would be getting a digital readout in 1980. Listeners were shocked and angry about the change. After the event, Tony Lightley of the overseas service noted ruefully that, “Surprisingly, few people thought it was funny”.
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. He was sadly deluded of this notion quite quickly.
8. UFO Lands in LondonOn March 31, 1989, thousands of London motorists noticed a glowing flying saucer in the sky, that was starting to descend on the city. Many pulled over to watch it. The police were alerted to an alien invasion, when many local residents called to notify them that a saucer had landed in a field on the outskirts of London. The police arrived on the scene promptly, and one foolhardy officer approached the craft with his truncheon extended before him. A door in the craft popped open, and out came a small, silver-suited figure. The policeman took flight in the opposite direction but the saucer actually turned out to be a hot-air balloon that had been built to look like a UFO by Richard Branson, then 36-years-old. Branson had intended to land the craft in London’s Hyde Park on April 1. Unfortunately, the wind blew him off course, so he had to land a day early in the wrong location.
9. The Sydney IcebergOn April 1, 1978 in Sydney, Australia, Dick Smith, a local adventurer and millionaire businessman pulled off one of the best April Fools pranks ever, and probably the funniest.
For a while he had been promising to tow an iceberg from Antarctica into Sydney Harbour on a barge. He said that he was going to carve the berg into small ice cubes, which he would sell to the public for ten cents each. He extolled the virtues of these well-travelled cubes, which would be fresh and pure would improve the flavour of any drink they cooled.
Smith brought his iceberg into the harbour slowly, with local radio stations providing blow-by-blow coverage of the scene. Unfortunately, at that stage it started to rain. The iceberg was really made of firefighting foam and shaving cream and it was gradually washed away, uncovering the white plastic sheets beneath.
10. The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest
Long, long ago on April 1, 1957, the BBC pulled off their best April Fools prank ever, when well-respected news programme Panorama announced that because of a very mild winter and because the dreaded spaghetti weevil had almost been wiped out, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. The accompanying three-minute footage, narrated by journalistic heavyweight Richard Dimbleby, showed Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees, of the ‘exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop’ in the Swiss town of Ticino.
Thousands and thousands of viewers were completely taken in. Some wanted to know how to grow their own spaghetti tree. The BBC’s diplomatic response? “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”
Even the director-general of the Beeb at the time, later admitted to checking in an encyclopaedia to find out just how spaghetti actually grew (the encyclopaedia had no information on the topic). The broadcast remains, the most popular and widely acclaimed April Fool’s Day hoax ever.
Over to you!
What are the best April Fools pranks you’ve heard of? Have you ever played any? Let us know below, or pop over and join the conversation on our Facebook page :).