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Bushfires destroy Oz spaghetti trees

By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia
 

A plantation of 57 spaghetti trees imported from Britain as seedlings in 1957 has been destroyed by bushfires. "It's a heinous tragedy," said Australia's Prime Minister. "We will all have to eat baked beans this year."

Exactly 50 years ago today, broadcaster Richard Dimbleby showed BBC viewers a documentary film of a Swiss family picking spaghetti from a tree and placing it out to dry in the sun.

The BBC switchboard was swamped with callers wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. "Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best," they were advised.

It was a classic April Fool spoof. Since then, press, radio and TV around the world have hidden similar spoof stories among their genuine news items on April 1, causing amusement, annoyance or bewilderment.

So many weird but true stories are reported every day in the world's news that it's often next to impossible to pick the spoof.

Thirteen years after the BBC documentary show Panorama perpetrated the spaghetti tree gag, NBC commentator John Chancellor performed a copycat act in the US, with a fake report about America's remarkable pickle crop. He presented images of apple trees which he described as "dill pickle orchards" at the Dimbledor Pickle Farm in West Virginia.

In 1980, the BBC was at it again. It reported on April 1 that London's famous timepiece, Big Ben, would be converted into a digital clock. Predictably, there were many protests. Some callers wanted to know if they could buy the hour and minute hands of the old clock.

In 1994, America's NPR (National Public Radio) fooled its listeners by telling them they could win a lifetime discount on Pepsi if they tattooed the company's logo on their ears. Eager teenagers sought more details. Pepsi was not amused.

Two years later, another American company, Taco Bell, announced they had bought Philadelphia's historic Liberty Bell, which they would repair, rename it as "The Taco Liberty Bell" and use its image as its corporate logo. Thousands of people protested, and Taco Bell had to apologise in a press release.

"April Fools' Day has been a public gullibility test, even as far back as 1713, when the great satirist Jonathan Swift announced that an executed criminal would be returning from the dead to drink at a local pub." says Buck Wolf, entertainment producer at the US website ABCNEWS.com.

"Swift noted that Londoners showed up hoping to watch the reincarnated man down pints of ale."

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Story first posted April 2007

Copyright 2007

Eric Shackle

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