April Fool’s Day originates from Germany. It is believed to be the brain child of Gabriel Hoffman who lived in Damstadt during the 1860’s.
The day is celebrated in many countries with the execution of elaborate practical jokes on unsuspecting victims. April 1st is the accepted date for April Fool’s Day when both simple and very sophisticated jokes are known to catch out the unwary or the gullible.
There is evidence of a similar day in the Gregorian calendar of 1582 and even as far back as ancient Rome when the practice would have been observed on New Years Day. Originally April Fool’s Day jokes typically would have involved sending a person on a ridiculous errand.
A builders merchant might send an apprentice to obtain some sky hooks or a long wait ( weight ) and embarrass them after a period of time with the utterance of the words April Fool.
It is tradition for the jokes or pranks to end by noon. Carrying out an April Fool’s Day joke on someone after this time is said to bring bad luck. Over the years there have been some very elaborate hoaxes even by large TV corporations.
The BBC managed to convince its audience in 1957 that Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. They showed footage of spaghetti growing on trees and were inundated with calls from the general public asking for advice on growing spaghetti.
The BBC even had the audacity to suggest placing a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce to assist its growth.
April 1st is not an officially recognised holiday or event but it is practised regularly in the UK. Prince Charles has been reported to have enjoyed April 1st when until as recently as 2003 he would cause havoc at Buckingham Palace where his favourite trick was to place a whoopee cushion under the bottoms of Royalty, including his mothers – Queen Elizabeth!
There have been many hoaxes and some famous mistakes by media corporations in reporting stories in error. There are also several April Fool’s Day spoofs on the internet. Sometimes these seemingly innocent pranks can cause financial damage or panic when things are taken too far.
In Birmingham on April 1st 1986, a group of students became convinced that the Black plague had returned to the city. Such was the level of confusion and clever manipulation of a drama class and its students, that hospitals in the city were put on full alert and 900 students were sent home by the governor.
The full scale of the hoax was not revealed until the following day when embarrassed school committee members faced the media and issued an apology to parents.
In 2001 Birmingham Council became embroiled in an April Fool’s Day conspiracy involving Pebble Mill on the Bristol Road. They received what they thought was official notification from the BBC of severe structural damage to the BBC building, caused they were informed by a severe earth tremor.
The council acted swiftly and informed the BBC that it had secured space in the Mailbox for all of the BBC staff and studio teams. This particular hoax was only discovered on the day of the move when Birmingham County Council received a fax message which simply read ‘ April Fools’ and was accompanied by a fax message of the original notification.
Michael Johnson, Assistant Director was questioned by Channel 4 in an embarrassing fiasco where Johnson looked bewildered and confused and clearly had no knowledge of events leading to the change of location of the BBC headquarters in Birmingham.
April Fool’s Day is illegal in the Peoples Republic of China, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Alaska, Cuba and Bolivia.