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Spaghetti Harvest Hoax

One of the most elaborate hoaxes in broadcast history was an April Fool’s joke played on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s current affairs program Panorama, with its rather dignified host Richard Dimbleby earnestly relating a story about the annual spaghetti harvest filmed in a Swiss-Italian spaghetti orchard. Cameraman Charles de Jaeger thought up the spoof and related to Denis Norden how it was accomplished.

“Panorama’s first famous spaghetti harvest came from my school days in Austria,” de Jaeger said, “when a master was always saying to us, ‘You’re so stupid you’d think spaghetti grew on trees.’ So it had always been in my mind to do the story and I tried for several years. It was not until I was working on Panorama that I got the go-ahead.

“I went to the Swiss Tourist Office, who said they would help, and I flew to Lugano. It was in March when I thought the weather would be sunny with flowers out. There was a mist over the whole area.

The tourist office guy took me around all over the place; not one blossom out, no leaves out. It was now Tuesday and I could not find anything and said in desperation, ‘What can be done?’

“Then we found this hotel in Castiglione, which had laurel trees with leaves on, tall trees. So I said, ‘We’ll do it here. Let’s go down into Lugano and get some handmade spaghetti.’

“We did that, put the strands of spaghetti in a big wooden platter, took that in the car and we drove back. By the time we got there, the damn things wouldn’t hang up. They’d dried out. Se we cooked them, tried to put them on the trees, and this time they fell off because they were so slippery.

“Then this tourist guy had a brilliant idea—put the spaghetti between damp cloths. That worked and we got local girls to hang them up—about ten pounds’ worth. Then we got the girls into national costume and filmed them climbing on ladders with these baskets, filling them up, and laying them out in the sun. And we said in the script, with a guitar playing in the background, ‘We have this marvelous festival. The first harvest of the spaghetti.’

“At the end of the three-minute film Richard Dimbleby said, ‘Now we say goodnight to this first day of April.’ In spite of that hint, next morning it was surprising the number of people who didn’t recognize that the spaghetti harvest was a hoax.”

Peter Hay, Canned Laughter, Oxford University Press, Bits & Pieces, March 30, 1995, pp. 19-21