Fool Britannia!

It’s meant to be over by noon on April 1, so they say. It doesn’t work after midday and you’re not allowed to come out with any April Fools gags after then, although it’s not clear what purgatorial penance might await a malefactor—perpetual exposure to extremely bad jokes, perhaps. But it does come around each year and the British media are no strangers to constructing sometimes highly elaborate April Fool gags. Some are mediocre; many are intricate, clever, a few have been unforgettable. This year appears to have yielded a reasonable vintage.

The BBC’s flagship morning radio show, The Today Programme, led the way with a story about major changes to the laws governing football. That’s a sporting pastime that some countries insist on calling soccer. There are even those in such countries who can’t appreciate that a nil-nil draw (which they sometimes call a tie, unaware that a tie is something you wear) can be thrilling. All the same, the story leant on a desire to see more goals scored, therefore under these new plans the size of the goal would be increased to let more goals in; the goal being the space into which you seek to propel the ball in order to score a goal (I could explain cricket too, if you’d like me to). The plan was to make goal posts six inches wider and crossbars six inches higher. Even David Beckham was wheeled on to opine that "having larger goals would certainly generate greater interest in my view … [scoring a goal] would be much easier for the average human being."

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Football, or soccer if you really must, contributed its own quip. London’s leading professional team, Arsenal, (full disclosure – your correspondent’s favourite London team) announced the unveiling of the world’s first left-footed ball. They designed it to increase the power and accuracy of the naturally left-sided player. In a sport dominated by right-footed players, and therefore right-footed equipment, Arsenal felt they should lead the way in emancipating their many left-footed stars.

Following last week’s big news about the re-interment of 15th century King Richard III, the Independent newspaper reported that Leicester University will change its name to King Richard University. The story held that the change is a bid to capitalise on the discovery of the bones of Richard III in that city. "The proposal will be debated by the university’s Senate next month," the Indy claimed. "It is expected to agree to the institution formally being rechristened as King Richard University from September 2016."

Traditionally an accomplished April Fooler, the Guardian produced a fine effort about the TV personality Jeremy Clarkson, who made his reputation, and a small fortune, out of being a boorish, xenophobic, misogynistic, climate-change-denying, anti-intellectual presenter of Top Gear, the BBC’s laddish motor show. Clarkson was just sacked for thumping the show’s producer for not laying on a full steak dinner after a long day’s filming. The Guardian had it that Clarkson had not only repented but signed up to the paper’s anti-fossil fuel campaign. They videoed a rather unconvincing lookalike communing with the editor and even practising his new-found devotion to Mindfulness in the newspaper office’s Meditation Room. Their story was by-lined Daisy Pofallor. Think anagram.

We saw a few more besides. Good taste and clever creativity are part of the formula for a decent April Fool spoof, so one tabloid’s story about the fatal shooting of the Easter bunny failed on all counts. The looming British parliamentary General Election deserved a better joke that another tabloid’s report, complete with photoshopped pictures, that Labour Party leader Milliband had dyed his hair blond (Ed Milliblond—geddit?). A better attempt came from the normally humourless Daily Express with news of a major UK supermarket’s plan to install trampolines in the aisles, to enable shoppers of minimal stature to reach items on the top shelves.

By common agreement, the best-ever spoof came when the BBC fooled the entire UK with their 1957 report on the disastrous Swiss spaghetti harvest. You can still find the clip online. Farmers couldn’t cope with an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop, given that the harvest had to be laid out to dry in the warm Alpine sun. The eradication of the spaghetti weevil contributed to the bounty. Farmworkers were shown picking strands of the stuff from the trees.  It worked; there were phone-calls enquiring about where one could buy a spaghetti bush. Pasta would not have been so well-known in Fifties Britain and broadcast TV was in its infancy. Nobody seemed to notice that the story was set in Switzerland, not Italy.

April Fool’s Day is surely a welcome sign of Spring, like sun-drenched daffodils in London parks, (that’s no April Fool, but the forecast’s for rain later) amber warnings of snow and ice across the rest of the UK (that wasn’t an April Fool either), and, with the election coming, a letter from over 100 business leaders to the Tory-supporting Telegraph lauding the Conservatives’ plans for further austerity (that might have been an April Fool—who ever saw that coming?). As we look to the light than shines on us all on Easter Day, it’s surely wonderful to do so with a smile.

David Stewart, S.J., is America’s London correspondent.

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