Top 10 April fool’s day pranks that people fell for

From spaghetti trees to prohibition in Ireland, here are some memorable hoaxes

There is a long and storied history of April's fools day jokes. Some are brilliantly believable, others, well, perhaps less so. Below are some of our favourites.

The spaghetti harvest

In 1957 the BBC's Panorama current affairs programme broadcast a spoof documentary which showed a spaghetti harvest in Switzerland following an unusually mild winter. The video report, narrated by distinguished broadcaster Richard Dimbleby, lasted nearly three minutes and featured a family from Ticino in Switzerland carefully picking strands of spaghetti from the trees and laying them in the sun to dry in the annual harvest.

Mr Dimbleby explained to a British audience, who at the time would still have considered spaghetti an exotic food, that spaghetti harvesters around Europe often worried that severe frost during the winter months would impair the pasta’s flavour.

While some viewers were unimpressed by the hoax and criticised the BBC for airing the item on what was supposed to be a serious current affairs programme. Others quickly got in touch asking where they could purchase their very own spaghetti bush.


Richard Branson’s UFO

Billionaire businessman Richard Branson went to pricey lengths in 1989 to carry out an elaborate hoax as publicity for his new airline, Virgin Galactic. Branson created a hot air balloon shaped like a UFO which took to the skies over London early on April fool's Day with strobe lighting blinking every 10 seconds.

The original plan was to land the balloon in Hyde Park but due to strong winds the aircraft was blown off course and ended up touching down in a field in Surrey.

However, Branson did succeed in convincing some unsuspecting motorists on the M25 who made emergency calls to the police reporting sightings of a UFO.

Alaska volcanic eruption

Mount Edgecumbe in Sitka, Alaska had been lying dormant for about 9,000 years when in April 1974, nearby residents noticed a dark plume of smoke emerging from the crater. When the coastguard helicopter flew to the volcano to investigate the crew discovered 100 burning tyres near the volcano’s crater and the message “April Fool” spray-painted around the rim in 50ft letters. It turned out local prankster Porky Bicker was responsible for the hoax that he had planned for four years.

Why don’t Americans read?

Last year on April fool's day, US radio network NPR released on article online with the headline Why doesn't America read any more? The article itself was filled with dummy text as a test to see whether internet users would actually click into the article before commenting on it. The radio network then stood back and watched the comments flood in.

For those who did click on the article, the following text appeared:

“Congratulations, genuine readers, and happy April fools’ day! We sometimes get the sense that some people are commenting on NPR stories that they haven’t actually read. If you are reading this, please like this post and do not comment on it. Then let’s see what people have to say about this “story.” Best wishes and have an enjoyable day, Your friends at NPR.”

Left-handed burger

On April 1st 1998 Burger King unveiled the “left-handed Whopper” - a regular burger with “the condiments rotated 180 degrees” specifically designed for those who preferred using their left hand. The hoax fooled thousands of burger fans, with many left-handers ordering the new burger at Burger King outlets.

Swedish colour television

In 1962, at a time when most televisions in Sweden only showed images in black and white, Svierges Television station broadcast a special interview with a "technical expert" on how to view colour images on their TV set. Kjell Stensson explained researchers had recently discovered that by covering your television screen with a pair of tights you could bend the light's wavelengths which would produce a colour image.

The end of YouTube

In March 2013 YouTube released a video entitled YouTube's ready to select a winner with employees explaining that at March 31st the site would go offline. Employee Tim Liston explained YouTube would no longer be accepting entries for the competition in selecting the best-ever YouTube video and that the winner would be announced when the site returned in 2023.

“Tonight at midnight, will no longer be accepting entries,” Liston told viewers. “After eight amazing years, it’s finally time to review everything that has been uploaded to our site and begin the process of selecting a winner.”

Prohibition in Ireland

In 1965 The Irish Times ran an editorial on April 1st entitled Staggering in which the paper berated former Taoiseach Seán Lemass for saying he would ban alcohol by enforcing prohibition in Ireland. The editorial quoted Lemass as saying "If I am elected on April 7th, the boozer will have to go abroad for his drink in future. He won't get in here."

On reading the report, the former Taoiseach issued a statement: "The Irish Times seems to have passed into the control of a group of crypto-reds. . . ." The following day The Irish Times ran his statement beside a photo of a grinning Taoiseach holding a pint of Guinness.

The islands of San Seriffe

On April Fool's Day 1977 The Guardian produced a travel supplement on the tiny tropical republic of San Serriffe, "a small archipelago, its main islands grouped roughly in the shape of a semicolon, in the Indian Ocean," which was apparently celebrating ten years of independence.

The introduction of the supplement celebrated the fact that parliamentary democracy had been “in part successful” and the caption under one of the photos described “the many beaches from which terrorism has been virtually eliminated”. The special report included a variety of typographical jokes including the two main islands - Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse.

Gravity drops as planets realign

Astronomer Patrick Moore announced on BBC Radio 2 on April 1st, 1976 the impending arrival of a once in a lifetime astronomical event in which the planet Pluto (when it was still considered a planet) would pass directly behind Jupiter. Moore told listeners that at exactly 9.47am the rare alignment of the two planets would temporarily decrease gravity on Earth. He said if people jumped in the air at the exact moment they would experience a floating sensation. The BBC later received dozens of calls from listeners claiming the floating experiment had worked.

Sticking with the topic of planets, following the decision by scientists in 2006 that Pluto was no longer a true planet, Richard Branson announced in 2011 he had bought Pluto in an attempt to have it reinstated as a planet.

Branson said: “Virgin has expanded into many territories over the years, but we have never had our own planet before. This could pave the way for a new age in space tourism.”

Have an idea for a good prank? Share your suggestions below

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast