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History's Greatest Hoaxes

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To celebrate April Fool's Day, Stylist presents 14 of the most bizarre pranks ever played on April 1st.

Picture credits: Rex Features

The end of the world (1940)

A Philadelphia radio station told listeners that the world would end at 3pm the next day, and that it wasn’t an April Fool. In fact, it was a prank, all done to publicise a cheeky scientist’s lecture.

Spaghetti Harvest (1957)

Panorama’s spoof report about a spaghetti harvest in Ticino, Switzerland, was one of the first-ever televised April Fools’ jokes. Richard Dimbleby narrated over images of women plucking strands of spaghetti from trees and laying them in the sun to dry. Some viewers were outraged that a serious BBC programme had stooped so low, while others called in excitedly, wanting to know how they could grow this exotic delicacy.

Stocking TV (1962)

A scientist appeared on Sweden’s only TV channel (broadcast in black and white) and sombrely told viewers that if they pulled a pair of stockings (preferably 25 denier) over their screen, it would magically be converted into colour. Thousands dutifully followed his advice only to be left disappointed. Colour television eventually arrived in Sweden on 1 April, 1970.

Metric time (1975)

Australian TV show This Day Tonight announced the entire country would be converting to ‘metric time’ – 100 seconds to the minute, 100 minutes to the hour and 20 hours to the day. People were livid when the truth was finally revealed.

Floating on air (1976)

Astronomer Patrick Moore told Radio 2 listeners that at 9.47am Pluto would pass Jupiter, lessening the Earth’s gravity. He said that if people jumped in the air at that exact moment, they would float. The BBC’s switchboard was jammed and one woman claimed she and friends had floated around the room.

A fake island escape (1977)

The Guardian printed a supplement about an exotic destination in the Indian Ocean. The republic of San Serriffe consisted of semi colon-shaped islands named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. Readers called all day wanting more info on how they could book a holiday there.

An imaginary artist (1978)

The cream of the art world were tricked into attending a party for famous artist Nat Tate, only to discover he wasn’t even real – author William Boyd made him up.

An Australian iceburg (1978)

Crowds gathered at Sydney Harbour on the morning of 1 April, 1978 to witness flamboyant entrepreneur Dick Smith towing an iceberg he’d brought back from Antarctica. Except it was actually made from white plastic and foam. “Switchboards were jammed and, by the time we towed the barge in, the headlands were covered with people. The navy even rang to offer us somewhere to moor,” Smith recalled.

Eiffel Disney (1986)

Gustave Eiffel’s feat of engineering has been the defining icon of France for over 100 years. So imagine the dismay of locals when Le Parisien newspaper ran a story saying it was to be dismantled and moved to the Euro Disney theme park, making way for a new stadium. Outrage was followed by lots of red faces.

Branson's big UFO hoax (1989)

London drivers pulled over in their droves to watch what they thought was a UFO landing in a field. A police officer ran away in fright when prankster Richard Branson climbed out.

Nixon-gate (1992)

“I never did anything wrong, and I won’t do it again,” isn’t the best campaign slogan, but it was Richard Nixon’s when he ran for president again in 1992. Except, he didn’t. It was a comedian sound-alike who tricked US radio listeners. People called in their droves to declare they wouldn’t be voting.

The philosopher's tomb (1995)

The Greek ministry of culture announced that a tomb believed to be that of the great philosopher, Socrates had been found in Athens. One prestigious news agency reported the story, only to be forced to issue a red-faced retraction hours later.

What a Whopper (1998)

Burger King announced the arrival of their ‘Left-Handed Whopper’. Specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans, it had all the ingredients of the classic burger, but the condiments were rotated 180 degrees to help out the lefties. Thousands flocked into branches to request the fictional creation.

Flight of the penguins (1998)

Viewers couldn't wait to tune into the BBC documentary Miracles of Evolution, after a trailer showed a flock of penguins found in the Falklands, flying, heavily promoted on the BBC website, the clip showed the birds soaring above the ice. Even once the hoax was revealed it became one of the most watched clips of the year.

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