Autumn: Spaghetti-harvest time

Some astute commenters in the Ukelele String Harvest video thread pointed out that this recent video is basically a re-creation/riff on this earlier, classic weird video, from a 1957 BBC show called "Panorama." From the Alexandra Palace Television Society, here's the whole story:

On April 1, 1957 the British television programme 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 shows 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, theres 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 Fools Day hoaxes of all time. It is also believed to be the first time the medium of television was used to stage an April Fools Day hoax.

Since 1955 Panorama had been anchored by Richard Dimbleby, whose authoritative, commanding presence had made him one of the most revered public figures in Britain. If Dimbleby said it, people trusted that it was true. Which is one of the reasons why the spaghetti harvest hoax fooled so many viewers. His participation lent the hoax an air of unimpeachable authority.

Almost no one else at the BBC knew about it. The segment was not mentioned at all in the pre-transmission publicity handouts.

The line-up for that days show included a long segment about Archbishop Makarios, leader of the Greek Cypriots, and a clip of the Duke of Edinburgh attending the premiere of the war film The Yangtse Incident.

The second-to-last segment was about a wine-tasting contest, and then it came time for the spaghetti harvest.

Dimbleby, sitting on the set of Panorama, looked into the camera and without a trace of a smile said: And now from wine to food. We end Panorama tonight with a special report from the Swiss Alps.

The screen cut away to the prepared footage. When it was all over, Dimbleby reappeared and said, Now we say goodnight, on this first day of April. He emphasized the final phrase.

Panorama never attempted another April Fools Day spoof, despite numerous calls for a sequel. However, the hoax did inspire a number of similar stunts in its honour.

This film footage is from the Archive Collection held and administered by the Alexandra Palace Television Society.

Discuss

12 Responses to “Autumn: Spaghetti-harvest time”

  1. xkot says:

    People are so easily duped. The Swiss climate simply can’t produce spaghetti of such uniformity and quality. Any Swiss chocolate grower could tell you that.

  2. Narmitaj says:

    Richard Dimbleby really was a super-big & very authoritative broadcasting cheese for the BBC, at a time when there were only one or two channels: entrusted with commentating on Queen Elizabeth’s coronation and the funeral of her father and of Winston Churchill and JFK. As a war correspondent he went on RAF missions over Germany and was at El Alamein and D-Day, and one of the first at Belsen. So he had gravitas.

    Two of his sons, David and Jonathan, still broadcast on TV and radio, mostly Election Night coverage and political Q&A programmes.

  3. Mike Richards says:

    The BBC still occasionally produces April Fool’s programming. Like this one about flying penguins:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dfWzp7rYR4

    They have also on a couple of occasions dropped drama programmes masquerading as factual into the schedules without warning most of the audience what was about to happen. 

    The most famous being ‘Ghost Watch’ a supposedly serious live investigation of the paranormal fronted by several well-respected faces at the BBC. The BBC switchboard nearly melted when things seemed to go all ‘Paranormal Activity’ long before that movie was dreamt of.

  4. Xeni’s mention of Panorama may lead some people to think it was a TV program that aired only in 1957. It is in fact still alive and well, and approaching its 60th anniversary. It’s the world’s longest-running current affairs television program. As far as I’m aware it no longer pulls April Fool stunts, however.

  5. Ladyfingers says:

    This was rebroadcast in the ’80s  when I was a small kid. Totally fell for it.

  6. AlecMuffett says:

    Earlier this year I tracked down the location where the hoax was filmed; unfortunately there is only limited Streetmapping in the area so I couldn’t get a closeup of the actual building:  http://dropsafe.crypticide.com/article/6772 

  7. Finnagain says:

    As God is my witness, I thought penguins could fly! 

  8. moioci says:

     They really can, just underwater.

  9. DonnyMac says:

    I might be movin’ to Montana soon. Just to raise me up a crop of Dental Floss.

  10. Thad says:

    Panorama was not a “show” — it was a serious current affairs program. 

  11. Mark Horn says:

    When I was a child I saw this on the Jack Paar show. At the end, they revealed it as a hoax, with a deeper hoax, showing miners with a wagon of spaghetti, saying something to the effect of: Of course, this is a joke, we all know that spaghetti is mined. 

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