Traditionally, in many countries, April 1 or April Fools’ Day is celebrated by pranks and practical jokes. This is the list of famous practical jokes that have appeared on radio and TV stations, newspapers, web sites, and have been performed by large corporations.
- Spaghetti trees: The BBC television programme Panorama ran a hoax in 1957, showing Swiss harvesting spaghetti from trees. They had claimed that the despised pest, the spaghetti weevil, had been eradicated. A large number of people contacted the BBC wanting to know how to cultivate their own spaghetti trees. It was, in fact, filmed in St Albans. Decades later CNN called this broadcast “the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled”.
- Smell-o-vision: In 1965, the BBC purported to conduct a trial of a new technology allowing the transmission of odor over the airwaves to all viewers. Many viewers reportedly contacted the BBC to report the trial’s success. In 2007, the BBC website repeated an online version of the hoax.
- In 2008, the BBC reported on a newly discovered colony of flying penguins. An elaborate video segment was even produced, featuring Terry Jones walking with the penguins in Antarctica, and following their flight to the Amazon rainforest.
- Jovian-Plutonian gravitational effect: In 1976, British astronomer Sir Patrick Moore told listeners of BBC Radio 2 that unique alignment of two planets would result in an upward gravitational pull making people lighter at precisely 9:47 am that day. He invited his audience to jump in the air and experience “a strange floating sensation”. Dozens of listeners phoned in to say the experiment had worked, among them a woman who reported that she and her 11 friends were “wafted from their chairs and orbited gently around the room.
- Death of a mayor: In 1998, local WAAF shock jocks Opie and Anthony were discussing April Fool’s Day hoaxes, and sardonically stated that Boston mayor Thomas Menino had been killed in a car accident. Menino happened to be on a flight at the time, lending credence to the prank as he could not be reached. The pair repeated that the mayor was dead several times throughout the broadcast, however listeners who tuned in late to the broadcast did not hear that they were repeating a bit, and when they pretended to tell the “news” to an unsuspecting listener (the listener thought she was calling a different show), the rumor spread quickly across the city, eventually causing news stations to issue alerts denying the hoax. The pair were fired shortly thereafter.
- Archers theme tune change: BBC Radio 4 (2005): The Today Programme announced in the news that the long-running serial The Archers had changed their theme tune to an upbeat disco style.
- iBod: Every year, National Public Radio in the United States does an extensive news story on April 1. These usually start off more or less reasonably, and get more and more unusual. A recent example is the story on the “iBod,” a portable body control device. In 2008 it reported that the IRS, to assure rebate checks were actually spent, was shipping consumer products instead of checks. It also runs false sponsor mentions, such as “Support for NPR comes from the Soylent Corporation, manufacturing protein-rich food products in a variety of colors. Soylent Green is People”.
- Canadian three-dollar coin: In 2008, the CBC Radio program As It Happens interviewed a Royal Canadian Mint spokesman who broke “news” of plans to replace the Canadian five-dollar bill with a three-dollar coin. The coin was dubbed a “threenie”, in line with the nicknames of the country’s one-dollar coin (“loonie” due to its depiction of a common loon on the reverse) and two-dollar coin (“toonie”).
- Country to metal: Country and gospel WIXE in Monroe, North Carolina does a prank every year. In 2009, midday host Bob Rogers announced he was changing his show to heavy metal. This resulted in numerous phone calls, but about half were from listeners wanting to request a song.
- Hoax phone call to Mandela: In 1998, UK presenter Nic Tuff of West Midlands radio station pretended to be the British Prime Minister Tony Blair when he called the then South African President Nelson Mandela for a chat. It was only at the end of the call when Nic asked Nelson what he was doing for April Fools’ Day that the line went dead.
- U2 live on rooftop in Cork: In 2009, hundreds of U2 fans were duped in an elaborate prank when they rushed to a shopping centre in Cork believing that the band were playing a surprise rooftop concert. The prank was organised by Cork radio station RedFM. The band were a tribute band called U2opia.
- In The Guardian newspaper, in the United Kingdom, on April Fool’s Day, 1977, a fictional mid-ocean state of San Serriffe was created in a seven-page supplement.
- Taco Liberty Bell: In 1996, Taco Bell took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times announcing that they had purchased the Liberty Bell to “reduce the country’s debt” and renamed it the “Taco Liberty Bell”. When asked about the sale, White House press secretary Mike McCurry replied tongue-in-cheek that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold and would henceforth be known as the Lincoln Mercury Memorial.
- A 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated, dated April 1, featured a story by George Plimpton on a baseball player, Hayden Siddhartha Finch, a New York Mets pitching prospect who could throw the ball 168 miles per hour (270 km/h) and who had a number of eccentric quirks, such as playing with one barefoot and one hiking boot. Plimpton later expanded the piece into a full-length novel on Finch’s life. Sports Illustrated cites the story as one of the more memorable in the magazine’s history.
- Associated Press were fooled in 1983 when Joseph Boskin, a professor of history at Boston University, provided an alternative explanation for the origins of April Fools’ Day. He claimed to have traced the practice to Constantines’ period, when a group of court jesters jocularly told the emperor that jesters could do a better job of running the empire, and the amused emperor nominated a jester, Kugel, to be the king for a day. Boskin related how the jester passed an edict calling for absurdity on that day and the custom became an annual event. Boskin explained the jester’s role as being able to put serious matters into perspective with humor. An Associated Press article brought this alternative explanantion to public’s attention in newspapers, not knowing that Boskin had invented the entire story as an April Fool’s Joke itself, and were not made aware of this until some weeks later.
- Kremvax: In 1984, in one of the earliest on-line hoaxes, a message was circulated that Usenet had been opened to users in the Soviet Union.
- April Fools’ Day Request for Comments: Almost every year since 1989, the Internet Engineering Task Force has included an April Fool in their Request for Comments publication, including a “Hyper Text Coffee Pot Control Protocol” and “Electricity over IP”.
- Dead fairy hoax: In 2007, an illusion designer for magicians posted on his website some images illustrating the corpse of an unknown eight-inch creation, which was claimed to be the mummified remains of a fairy. He later sold the fairy on eBay for £280.
- Minecraft 2.0: In 2013, Mojang gave a fake copy of Minecraft to select YouTube video makers for them make videos of this joke, and this copy of Minecraft included many silly things, such as evil chickens and making animals explode if you feed them too much. The fact that you could actually download this version if you knew where to look cemented this April Fool’s Day joke in even more.