Monday, March 31, 2008

And The Winner IS.......BBC "Spaghetti Tree"

#1 April Fool's Day Joke Of All Time(maybe): The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest

In 1957 the respected BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in. Many called the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this the BBC diplomatically replied that they should "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."

The person who came up with the idea of the spaghetti harvest hoax was Panorama cameraman Charles de Jaeger. De Jaeger was born in Vienna in 1911. He worked in Austria as a freelance photographer before moving to Britain during the 1930s where he worked for the film unit of General Charles de Gaulle’s Free French Forces. He joined the BBC in 1943. De Jaeger had a reputation for being a practical joker. Early in his career at the BBC he was sent to the Vatican to interview the Pope. However, scheduling the interview proved difficult. Finally, he was told by a priest that “His Holiness will see you on Tuesday afternoon.” De Jaeger replied, “Yes, but is he a man of his word?”

The idea for the spaghetti harvest hoax grew out of a remark one of his Viennese school teachers often teasingly said to his class: “Boys, you’re so stupid, you’d believe me if I told you that spaghetti grows on trees.” As an adult, it occurred to de Jaeger that it would be funny to turn this remark into a visual joke for April Fool’s Day. He became quite obsessed with the idea, trying a number of times to sell the idea to different bosses. But it was only in 1957 while he was working for Panorama that he found some willing accomplices. During the 1950s, only two channels were available to British viewers—the BBC and ITV. Panorama was the BBC’s flagship news program, boasting a viewership of ten million. It aired every Monday night at 8 pm, easily beating out Wagon Train, the show ITV ran against it.

Since 1955 Panorama had been anchored by Richard Dimbleby, whose authoritative, commanding presence had made him one of the most revered public figures in Britain. If Dimbleby said it, people trusted that it was true. As one of his colleagues at Panorama put it, “He had enough gravitas to float an aircraft carrier.” Which is one of the reasons why the spaghetti harvest hoax fooled so many viewers. His participation lent the hoax an air of unimpeachable authority.

In 1957 April 1st fell on a Monday. De Jaeger realized this presented Panorama with a rare opportunity to include an April Fool’s Day segment in its broadcast. He shared his idea with one of his colleagues, the writer David Wheeler. Wheeler loved it. So the two of them pitched the concept to Michael Peacock, Panorama‘s editor.
One of the selling points de Jaeger stressed was that it would be relatively cheap to produce the segment. De Jaeger was going to be on assignment in Switzerland anyway, so could combine the costs with the other project. (De Jaeger was often sent on foreign assignments because he was fluent in English, Italian, French, and German.) Peacock was intrigued, and he decided to okay the plan. He granted them a budget of £100.

De Jaeger headed to Switzerland in March and, accompanied by a representative from the Swiss Tourist Office, scouted out a location. The weather proved problematic. It was misty and cold, and most of the trees were not in blossom. But eventually they found the perfect setting—a hotel in Castiglione on the shore of Lake Lugano surrounded by evergreen Laurel trees. De Jaeger obtained twenty pounds of uncooked homemade spaghetti, and began hanging it from branches to create spaghetti trees. But soon he encountered a problem. The spaghetti quickly dried out and wouldn’t hang from the branches. He tried to solve the problem by cooking the spaghetti and then hanging it, but once cooked the spaghetti became slippery and slid off the branches onto the ground. The tourist rep hit on the solution—placing the uncooked spaghetti between damp cloths to keep it moist until it was ready to use. With this problem solved, de Jaeger hired some local girls to hang the spaghetti in the trees. He had them wear their national costume, and then he filmed them as they climbed ladders carrying wicker baskets which they filled full of spaghetti, and then laid it out to dry in the sun. After he had all the shots he needed of the spaghetti harvest, he prepared a spaghetti feast for his actors, which he filmed also.The footage was rushed back to London where it was edited into a three-minute segment. Music was added to the background to provide the appropriate atmosphere. The selections chosen were “A Neapolitan Love Song” by Walter Stott and “Spring in Ravenna” by Hans May. Wheeler wrote the text that was read by Dimbleby.

Unlike the sign in the photo, Michael Peacock had kept his decision to include an April Fool’s Day joke in the Panorama broadcast a closely guarded secret, fearing his superiors would veto the decision. He only told his boss, Leonard Miall, at the last minute. Almost no one else at the BBC knew about it. The segment was not mentioned at all in the pre-transmission publicity handouts.The line-up for that day’s show included a long segment about Archbishop Makarios, leader of the Greek Cypriots, and a clip of the Duke of Edinburgh attending the premiere of the war film The Yangtse Incident. The second-to-last segment was about a wine-tasting contest, and then it came time for the spaghetti harvest. Dimbleby, sitting on the set of Panorama, looked into the camera and without a trace of a smile said: “And now from wine to food. We end Panorama tonight with a special report from the Swiss Alps.”The screen cut away to the prepared footage. When it was all over, Dimbleby reappeared and said, “Now we say goodnight, on this first day of April.” He emphasized the final phrase.

What follows is the complete text, written by David Wheeler and narrated by Richard Dimbleby, that Panorama viewers heard. The original clip of the spaghetti harvest hoax can be viewed on the BBC's website:
"It is not only in Britain that spring, this year, has taken everyone by surprise. Here in the Ticino, on the borders of Switzerland and Italy, the slopes overlooking Lake Lugano have already burst into flower at least a fortnight earlier than usual.
But what, you may ask, has the early and welcome arrival of bees and blossom to do with food? Well, it is simply that the past winter, one of the mildest in living memory, has had its effect in other ways as well. Most important of all, it’s resulted in an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop.
The last two weeks of March are an anxious time for the spaghetti farmer. There is always the chance of a late frost which, while not entirely ruining the crop, 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.
Spaghetti cultivation here in Switzerland is not, of course, carried out on anything like the tremendous scale of the Italian industry. Many of you, I am sure, will have seen pictures of the vast spaghetti plantations in the Po valley. For the Swiss, however, it tends to be more of a family affair.
Another reason why this may be a bumper year lies in the virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil, the tiny creature whose depradations have caused much concern in the past.
After picking, the spaghetti is laid out to dry in the warm Alpine air. Many people are very puzzled by the fact that spaghetti is produced in such uniform lengths. This is the result of many years of patient endeavour by plant breeders who suceeded in producing the perfect spaghetti.
Now the harvest is marked by a traditional meal. Toasts to the new crop are drunk in these boccalinos, then the waiters enter bearing the ceremonial dish. This is, of course, spaghetti—picked early in the day, dried in the sun, and so brought fresh from garden to table at the very peak of condition. For those who love this dish, there is nothing like real home-grown spaghetti."

All the preceding was gathered from various websites and cobbled together as best I could. Thanks to all the sources. You can still view the broadcast courtesy of the BBC at their website. Until next time, take care.


fishwithoutbicycle said...

That's a great prank :-)

Deanna said...

Thanks! Tim and I both enjoyed the video (he'd seen it before), and we'll share the link tomorrow.

So has anyone fooled you on April 1?

Mies said...

You don't wait for April 1st to be fooled, do you Mike???...hehe..Just kidding...I am okay with the story of spaghetti not growing on trees, just as long as money still grows on them...Boy, don't I wish, sigh....Thanks for the interesting story and link to video...L

patricia said...

Wot??!!! Are you trying to pull an elaborate April Fools' Day joke, Mike?
You won't catch me, I KNOW that spaghetti grows on trees, Smart Guy. Hehehehehe.

Cherie said...

One of the spaghetti manufacturers had a T.V. commercial along these lines a several years ago, remember? Cracked me up, though my kids believed it. They were quite young. So, I had to make homemade pasta to show them the light!

Great story, Mike!

Have you crossed the 200" mark, yet? Your snow accumulation is hitting the bigtime news now.

Happy April First and may the fools not make a fool of you.

Fool Detecter... said...

Too Late...hehehe

Mike S said...

Cherie, 191.25"/4.86m as of 4/1@9PM. Supposed to snow up here inna hills again later in the week, but probably short of the 200" total mark. They've gone over in places higher up and some farther north too:)