The Great Spaghetti Tree Hoax

What is said to be the best April Fools joke of all time was pulled on the bangers-and-mash loving, fish-and-chips munching British public on April 1, 1957, when TV was still in its infancy. The BBC news show Panorama reported on a bumper spaghetti crop in southern Switzerland, the result of an unusually mild winter.

“The spaghetti harvest here in Switzerland is not, of course, carried out on anything like the tremendous scale of the Italian industry,” intoned the respected anchorman Richard Dimbleby as images of a rural Swiss family harvesting spaghetti from treeilimbs and tucking it in baskets flickered. “Many of you, I’m sure, will have seen pictures of the vast spaghetti plantations in the Po Valley,” he continued. “For the Swiss, however, it tends to be more of a family affair.”

Dimbleby also explained the mystery of tree-grown pasta coming in uniform lengths, calling it “the result of many years of patient endeavor by past [plant] breeders who succeeded in producing the perfect spaghetti.”

In those days, spaghetti was rarely eaten in Great Britain, which was slow to embrace foreign food. How many of the audience fell for the joke and how many recognized it instantly for what is was is unknown. What is known is that hundreds of viewers called BBC to inquire about the segment, many of them asking how they could grow and cultivate their own spaghetti trees. Staying in character (and impeccably so), BBC customer service representatives replied, “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”

         “Curiosity Corner” box, Baking Soda, Banana Peels, Baby Oil & Beyond (Reader’s Digest, 2008)