April Fools’ Day or April Fool’s Day (sometimes called All Fools’ Day) is an annual custom on April 1 consisting of practical jokes and hoaxes.
Mass media can be involved in pranks on this day and notable practical jokes have appeared on radio and TV stations, newspapers, web sites, and have even been done in large crowds.
- Spaghetti trees: The BBC television programme Panorama ran a hoax in 1957, purporting to show the Swiss harvesting spaghetti from trees. They 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. The editor of Panorama at the time, Michael Peacock, approved the idea, which was pitched by freelance camera operator Charles de Jaeger. Peacock told the BBC in 2014 that he gave de Jaeger a budget of £100. Peacock said the respected Panorama anchorman Richard Dimbleby knew they were using his authoritativeness to make the joke work. He said Dimbleby loved the idea and went at it with relish. Decades later CNN called this broadcast “the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled”.
- In 1962, Swedish national television broadcast a 5-minute special on how one could get color TV by placing a nylon stocking in front of the TV. A rather in-depth description on the physics behind the phenomenon was included. Thousands of people tried it.
- Smell-O-Vision: In 1965, the BBC purported to conduct a trial of a new technology allowing the transmission of odour 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, as did Google in 2013, in tribute.
- In 1969, the public broadcaster NTS in the Netherlands announced that inspectors with remote scanners would drive the streets to detect people who had not paid their radio/TV tax. The only way to prevent detection was to wrap the TV/radio in aluminium foil. The next day all supermarkets were sold out of their aluminium foil, and a surge of TV/radio taxes were being paid.
- Great Blue Hill eruption prank: On April 1, 1980, Boston television station WNAC-TV aired a fake news bulletin at the end of the 6 o’clock news which reported that Great Blue Hill in Milton, Massachusetts was erupting. The prank resulted in panic in Milton, where some residents began to flee their homes. The executive producer of the 6 o’clock news, Homer Cilley, was fired by the station for “his failure to exercise good news judgment” and for violating the Federal Communications Commission’s rules about showing stock footage without identifying it as such.
- In 1989, on the BBC television sports show Grandstand, a fight broke out between members of staff directly behind Des Lynam who was commenting on the professionalism of his team. At the end of the show it was revealed to be an April Fools joke.
- 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.
- Netflix April Fools’ Day jokes include over-detailing categories of films, and adding original programming made up entirely of food cooking.
- 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.
- 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 Mandela what he was doing for April Fools’ Day that the line went dead.
- Archers theme tune change: BBC Radio 4 (2005): The Today Programme announced in the news that the long-running serial The Archers had changed its theme tune to an upbeat disco style.
- National Public Radio in the United States: the respective producers of Morning Edition or All Things Considered annually include a fictional news story. These usually start off more or less reasonably, and get more and more unusual. A recent example is the 2006 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, about half from listeners wanting to request a song.
- 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 was a tribute band called U2opia.
- In 2000, the Triple J breakfast show hosted by Adam Spencer announced that the International Olympic Committee had stripped Sydney of its right to host the 2000 Summer Olympics, including a phone conversation with then-New South Wales Premier Bob Carr.
- In 1993, a radio station in San Diego, California told listeners that the Space Shuttle had been diverted to a small, local airport. Over 1,000 people drove to the airport to see it arrive in the middle of morning rush hour. There was no shuttle flying that day
Newspapers and Magazines
- Scientific American columnist Martin Gardner wrote in an April 1975, article that MIT had invented a new chess computer program that predicted “pawn to queens rook four” is always the best opening move.
- In The Guardian newspaper, in the United Kingdom, on April Fools’ Day, 1977, a fictional mid-ocean state of San Serriffe was created in a seven-page supplement.
- 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 Constantine’s 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 explanation 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.
- Taco Liberty Bell: In 1996, Taco Bell took out a full-page advertisement in 7 major newspapers 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.
- In 2008, Car and Driver and Automobile Magazine both reported that Toyota had acquired the rights to the defunct Oldsmobile brand from General Motors and intended to relaunch it with a line-up of rebadged Toyota SUVs positioned between its mainline Toyota and luxury Lexus brands
Google (including YouTube, Gmail, etc.): Google is well known for the annual April Fools’ jokes, which they have done in 2000, 2002, and every year since 2004 except 2020.
The day is not a public holiday in any country except Odessa in Ukraine, where the first of April is an official city holiday.
The custom of setting aside a day for playing harmless pranks upon one’s neighbor has been relatively common in the world historically.
A disputed association between April 1 and foolishness is in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (1392). In the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale”, a vain cock Chauntecleer is tricked by a fox on Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two. Readers apparently understood this line to mean “32 March”, i.e. April 1. However, it is not clear that Chaucer was referencing April 1, since the text of the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” also states that the story takes place on the day when the sun is in the signe of Taurus had y-runne Twenty degrees and one, which cannot be April 1. Modern scholars believe that there is a copying error in the extant manuscripts and that Chaucer actually wrote, Syn March was gon. If so, the passage would have originally meant 32 days after March, i.e. 2 May, the anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, which took place in 1381.
In 1508, French poet Eloy d’Amerval referred to a poisson d’avril (April fool, literally “fish of April”), possibly the first reference to the celebration in France. Some writers suggest that April Fools’ originated because in the Middle Ages, New Year’s Day was celebrated on March 25 in most European towns, with a holiday that in some areas of France, specifically, ended on April 1, and those who celebrated New Year’s Eve on January 1 made fun of those who celebrated on other dates by the invention of April Fools’ Day. The use of January 1 as New Year’s Day became common in France only in the mid-16th century, and the date was not adopted officially until 1564, by the Edict of Roussillon.
In 1561, Flemish poet Eduard de Dene wrote of a nobleman who sent his servants on foolish errands on April 1.
In the Netherlands, the origin of April Fools’ Day is often attributed to the Dutch victory in 1572 at Brielle, where the Spanish Duke Álvarez de Toledo was defeated. Op 1 april verloor Alva zijn bril is a Dutch proverb, which can be translated as: “On the first of April, Alva lost his glasses.” In this case, “bril” (“glasses” in Dutch) serves as a homonym for Brielle. This theory, however, provides no explanation for the international celebration of April Fools’ Day.
In 1686, John Aubrey referred to the celebration as “Fooles holy day”, the first British reference. On April 1, 1698, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to “see the Lions washed”.
Although no Biblical scholar or historian is known to have mentioned a relationship, some have expressed the belief that the origins of April Fool’s Day may go back to the Genesis flood narrative.
In a 1908 edition of the Harper’s Weekly cartoonist Bertha R. McDonald wrote: “Authorities gravely back with it to the time of Noah and the ark. The London Public Advertiser of March 13, 1769, printed: “The mistake of Noah sending the dove out of the ark before the water had abated, on the first day of April, and to perpetuate the memory of this deliverance it was thought proper, whoever forgot so remarkable a circumstance, to punish them by sending them upon some sleeveless errand similar to that ineffectual message upon which the bird was sent by the patriarch”