“But what” the narrator asks “has the early arrival of [Spring] have to do with food?”
“Well it’s simply that the past winter, one of the mildest in living memory, has had its effects in other ways as well.”
“Most important of all, it’s resulted in an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop…”
And so perhaps the biggest major prank in April Fools’ Day history was born.
Eight million viewers, hundreds of phone calls
The video, released by the BBC on April 1st, 1957, told the story of a family of spaghetti harvesters from the southern Switzerland canton of Ticino.
“The last two weeks of March are an anxious time for the spaghetti farmer” the narrator continues.
“While not entirely ruining the crop, it generally impairs the flavour – and makes it difficult for him to obtain top prices in world markets. But now these dangers are over, and the spaghetti harvest goes forward”.
In several black-and-white clips, a team of harvesters pluck what appears to be moistened spaghetti out of the trees.
An estimated eight million people in Britain are said to have watched the broadcast, with hundreds calling to the BBC the next day to ask how they could grow spaghetti trees in their own gardens.
The BBC – seemingly unaware that the joke should end on April 1st – told them to “place a sprig of spaghetti into a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best”.
An exotic delicacy
Although in 2020 it appears ludicrous, the success of the video was down to two things: the exotic nature of spaghetti at the time as well as a lack of familiarity with April Fools’ Day pranks.
Shot on a budget of £100, the joke was thought up by Austrian cameraman Charles de Jaeger. As a child, his teachers had told some of his classmates that they were so stupid that they probably thought spaghetti grew on trees.
Spaghetti might be a staple in most kitchens around the globe, but in 1957 it was an exotic delicacy. Those who had eaten spaghetti had mostly done so from a can, with the fresh stuff certainly something few knew how to make.
April Fools’ Day jokes were also rare at the time – particularly when made by the national broadcaster.
CNN in 2009 said that the prank was “undoubtedly the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled”, while National Geographic said the stunt “shifted April Fools’ Day into a media event”.