Pranks that made history



Added 112 days ago. 28 March 2024

The first of April has long been known as a time for jokes and japes – but how did this fun tradition come about? And what are some of the pranks that have made history?


Mysterious beginnings

Historians disagree as to the exact origins of April Fools. It has elements in common with both the ancient Roman festival of Hilaria, held on 25th March, and with the Hindu celebration of Holi, which culminates on March 31st. 

A popular theory places its beginnings in 16th century France, when New Year began to be recognised in January, rather than at Easter as had been traditional across much of Europe. Anyone caught mistakenly celebrating New Year on the old date became an ‘April Fool’ or a ‘Poisson d’Avril’, literally, an ‘April Fish’ – because they were easily caught! They would become the butt of jokes and might have had a paper fish attached to their backs... unbeknownst to them of course.

April Fool's Day catches on 

By the 18th century, April Fools had become a popular tradition in Britain. Scotland even made it into two days, starting with ‘Huntigowk Day’, a gowk being a cuckoo, a.k.a. a foolish person. On this day, victims would be sent on a series of fool’s errands involving delivering a sealed message, which then instructed the recipient to send the victim onward with another errand – and so on! Huntigowk Day was followed by ‘Tailie Day’, where the targets of pranks would have tails or ‘kick me’ signs pinned to their backs – or behinds!

The midday rule

In the 20th century, it became common practice for jokes to only be permitted to take place before midday on the first of April. Any jokester attempting to pull off a prank after this point would be called out as the April Fool themselves.

Pranks that made history


1749 Folk fall for faux show

London papers promoted a theatre show where a man was to fit his entire body into a wine bottle. According to legend, the Duke of Portland paid for the advert, after betting a friend that no matter how impossible something was, there would be people gullible enough to pay to see it. The theatre 
had a full house every night, though of course, no performer ever turned up...


1957 Here’s one for the pasta-rity
The BBC’s Panorama programme ran a report about a record spaghetti crop that year in Switzerland, showing Swiss pickers harvesting the lengths of pasta from trees. Unbelievably, the BBC was immediately flooded with calls from people wanting to get hold of their very own spaghetti plant, and they came clean  about the hoax on the news the next day.


1962 Hose hoax
In Sweden, their one and only television channel at the time broadcast a technical expert informing watchers of an exciting new discovery – by simply stretching a pair of nylon stockings over their TV screens viewers could transform black and white programming into fabulous full colour! The result of course was nothing more than a fuzzy screen and a ruined pair of tights.
Google go for it 

The folk at internet search engine Google are rather fond of a jape or two. Recent new Google features with April 1st release dates have included telepathic Google search (maybe one day), and ‘Google Nose’ that lets you search for smells and even save smells using your mobile phone! Not so sure about that one...

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