Today’s the day when we all read our newspapers, watch our news programmes and look our emails with a little more care in case we’re been tricked by an April Fool joke. We no longer believe something even when we’re being told it’s true by a figure of authority or a serious paper.So it’s been hard to find an April Fool in 2011 that isn’t obvious. (OK, I accept there may be a brilliant one that I haven’t even realised is a joke.)
The Guardian’s creation of a live blog on the Royal Wedding was well done but wouldn’t fool anyone. Unicorn bones at the Tower Of London? I don’t think so. 3D radio? Even John Humphrys couldn’t convince me of that. My favourite this year is the BBC’s report of a protest by an organisation of dads at being discriminated against by Mumsnet because the best April Fool jokes have to be believable but contain the clues that would have prevented us from being fooled if only we’d spotted them.
That’s probably the reason one of the most famous tricks of all time worked so well. Back in 1957, no-one expected the authoritative broadcaster Cliff Michelmore on a prestigious programme like Panorama on a respected channel like the BBC to lie. So when he claimed that the spaghetti harvest was doing well that year and showed it growing on trees, who wouldn’t believe him? Unless you realised spaghetti was made from flour.
The other criterion is that the victim has to have been taken in by the prankster. Amusing as it was, I don’t think readers of the Veterinary Record believed its story in 1972 that there needed to be more research into the potential threat to public health of the pet animal Brunus edwardii, since it was found in over 60% of households. I’m sure the many readers who offered serious responses were just joining in the joke. In case you’re worried as a non-vet, it’s Latin for teddy bear, so you’re safe to buy one of the new Made In England Steiff bears from our shop Your Life Your Style.
My favourite from last year also doesn’t qualify as an April Fool by my own criteria but it was funny. It involved the interminable Terms & Conditions that seem to accompany every internet purchase. Gamestation, knowing that most of us just tick the box without reading them, introduced a clause that said ‘By placing an order via this Web site on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul.’ It seems 88% of purchasers or around 7500 people that day unknowingly signed away their souls. The site went on ‘We reserve the right to serve such notice in 6 (six) foot high letters of fire, however we can accept no liability for any loss or damage caused by such an act.’ It’s funny but I don’t think it can count as a proper April Fool if the people weren’t presented with a story to believe that contained within it the clues that would make them foolish if they did. Still, great PR.
That’s why the all time best public April Fool remains one of the earliest newspaper pranks. Back in 1977, The Guardian ran a supplement about the holiday destination San Serriffe with its idyllic islands Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse and its capital Bodoni. Who wouldn’t believe a serious paper like The Guardian? Yet the clue was there all the time in the use of printers’ typographical expressions. Perfect.
Of course, it is the first of April so maybe you shouldn’t believe all of the above really happened.