Fooling Around

by Ron Bolton


April 1st or All Fools’ Day is approaching. You know what happens. The youngster says: “Mummy, you’ve got a big spider in your hair.” Cue for Mummy to have a mild fit whilst the children collapse laughing on the floor. It’s the time-honoured day when we play jokes on family and friends. But why this particular day? Once again, we have to admit that the origins of this tradition are somewhat obscure.

There is a suggestion that it derives from an old pagan festival that occurred between March and April. Another suggestion is that it comes from a Roman festival that celebrates their god ‘Hilaria’ (a time of good cheer). 

But the most commonly accepted theory says it dates from 1582, the year that France adopted the Gregorian calendar, which moved the observance of New Year’s Day from the end of March to the first of January. 

However, people who lived in the countryside were not aware of the change for several years. Others, more obstinately, refused to accept the new calendar and continued to celebrate the new year on April 1st. These people were labelled as ‘fools’, ridiculed and often sent on fool’s errands. 

Over time, the tradition of prank playing on the 1st April spread to other countries, particularly in Europe, and April Fools’ Day was born. 

‘Left-handed Whopper’ specially designed for the millions of left-handed Americans

If you want to play a joke on someone, always remember that noon marks the end of the foolery and anyone caught after this time is considered a fool themselves. 

“Twelve o’clock is past and gone, 

You’re the fool for making me one.” 

The list of jokes and pranks played on unsuspecting friends and family are too numerous to list but here are just a few of them: 

In Scotland this day is often called ‘Hunt the Gowk Day’ (‘Gowk’ is their name for an April cuckoo or foolish person) and is when unsuspecting people are sent on futile errands or pointless searches. 

In France and some other European countries, April 1st is often referred to as ‘April Fish’. The prank is to stick a paper fish on the back of another person without being noticed and then shout “Poisson d’Avril” when the prank is discovered. 

In 2002 the well-known supermarket chain Tesco put an advert in The Sun newspaper announcing the successful development of a genetically modified ‘whistling carrot.’ When fully cooked airholes caused the carrots to whistle. Sales of carrots increased dramatically. 

Burger King published a full-page advert in the April 1st edition of the USA Today paper announcing a new item on their menu. It was called the ‘Left-handed Whopper’ specially designed for the millions of left-handed Americans. By the time the company announced that it was all a big hoax, thousands of customers had requested the left-handed version! 

In London on March 31st 1989, thousands saw a glowing flying saucer descending on the city. The saucer was a balloon that had been made to look like a UFO by Richard Branson. 

Probably one of the greatest media hoaxes of all time, happened in 1957. On 1st April BBC’s 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 happy 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, “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.” 

Whether they are pranks on our television shows or children’s jokes on friends and family, it’s all just a bit of fun and shouldn’t be taken seriously, even if you become the fool.

Northern Life Mar/Apr 2022