It’s April 2nd. April Fool’s Day is over, and for a change there weren’t many pranks pulled; in light of what the world is going through, while a little levity is absolutely appreciated, misinformation – the core of most April Fool’s Day pranks – is quite reasonably a very sore subject.
So, the day passed with many extra cat memes and jokes both silly and dark. But there have been times when pranks were commonplace, and among the most successful of them was the Swiss spaghetti farmers.
In 1957, British television only had two channels, BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) and the ITV (the Independent Television network). The BBC’s anchor show on Monday nights was Panorama, a current affairs program designed to keep Britons up to date on the world via a series of hosted documentary clips.
The host in 1957 was Richard Dimbleby. He’d had the job for two years and both his appearance and his voice conveyed authority. Every Monday night he would help explain modern global affairs to television viewers. And in 1957, April first fell on a Monday.
It’s worthwhile to note that Italian food was popularized in America after the immigration wave of the late 19th and early 20th century, most prominently due to the widespread appreciation for the brilliant cuisine of Chef Boiardi of New York. His recipes became so popular in the 1920s that entrepreneurs worked with him to make Italian food available to the masses, which was how Chef Boy-ar-dee began as a brand. In the UK, however, the love of contemporary Italian food was slow to spread. Most of the aficionados were people who’d traveled to Italy or the United States and brought back with them some of the exotic comestibles. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Italian restaurants developed any significant presence in the UK.
Thus, the people of the UK might be forgiven for falling for the hoax of spaghetti farming. The trustworthy Dimbleby was telling them about it, and they’d heard of and possibly even tasted some of the famed “pasta”. They didn’t have the internet handy to perform even basic research.
Or I may be too kind. After all, there were other noodle dishes which were popular in Germany and France, non-spaghetti noodles were already well known in the UK and it would be simple enough to consult various cookbooks about how to make them from scratch.
One way or another, the reaction was immediate. The BBC phone lines were flooded with calls of an unique sort – the phone operators were being asked to settle arguments, with some of the callers insistent that spaghetti was grown (because they’d seen it on television) and others insistent that it was made with flour and eggs (because they knew how noodles were made.) As if that weren’t enough, they were also being pressed to provide information on how people might grow their own spaghetti trees.
Was it believable? You tell me. I present to you now, more than sixty years after its original broadcast… Swiss spaghetti farming.
Question of the night: what’s your favorite noodle dish?