On April 1, 1957 the British news show Panorama broadcast a three-minute segment about a bumper spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland. The success of the crop was attributed both to an unusually mild winter and to the “virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil.” The audience heard Richard Dimbleby, the show’s highly respected anchor, discussing the details of the spaghetti crop as they watched video footage of a Swiss family pulling pasta off spaghetti trees and placing it into baskets. The segment concluded with the assurance that, “For those who love this dish, there’s nothing like real, home-grown spaghetti.”
The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest hoax generated an enormous response. Hundreds of people phoned the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this query the BBC diplomatically replied, “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”
To this day the Panorama broadcast remains one of the most famous and popular April Fool’s Day hoaxes of all time. It is also believed to be the first time the medium of television was used to stage an April Fool’s Day hoax.
The person who came up with the idea of the spaghetti harvest hoax was Panorama cameraman Charles de Jaeger.
De Jaeger was born in Vienna in 1911. He worked in Austria as a freelance photographer before moving to Britain during the 1930s where he worked for the film unit of General Charles de Gaulle’s Free French Forces. He joined the BBC in 1943.
De Jaeger had a reputation for being a practical joker. Early in his career at the BBC he was sent to the Vatican to interview the Pope. However, scheduling the interview proved difficult. Finally, he was told by a priest that “His Holiness will see you on Tuesday afternoon.” De Jaeger replied, “Yes, but is he a man of his word?”
Another time de Jaeger had to buy some dungarees to protect his clothes during an assignment. He requested compensation from the BBC but was denied. The administration told him that he should have worn old clothes. A month later de Jaeger submitted an expense report in which he included £6, spent on “entertaining press officer, Mr Dungarees.” De Jaeger noted, “They paid without a murmur.”
The idea for the spaghetti harvest hoax grew out of a remark one of his Viennese school teachers often teasingly said to his class: “Boys, you’re so stupid, you’d believe me if I told you that spaghetti grows on trees.” As an adult, it occurred to de Jaeger that it would be funny to turn this remark into a visual joke for April Fool’s Day. He became quite obsessed with the idea, trying a number of times to sell the idea to different bosses. But it was only in 1957 while he was working for Panorama that he found some willing accomplices.
April 1, 1957
This post is for my husband who suggested it.
Happy April Fools Day