April Fools' Day pranks: the best hoaxes ever

Apr 1, 2015

Last year it was UN peacekeepers in Scotland, this year Clarkson is trying to save the environment

Getty Images

Each year on 1 April, the world's brands and media groups compete to concoct fantastical April Fools' news stories to confuse and amuse their readers.

Last year Scottish independence proved a particular favourite for editors, along with Pokemon and One Direction.

This year, Jeremy Clarkson is to join a climate change campaign run by The Guardian newspaper. Or is he? According to the paper's April Fools prank, following a "dark night of the soul", the disgraced former Top Gear presenter has become the latest celebrity to support the liberal newspaper's campaign for fossil fuel divestment.

Over at The Sun they are trying to keep a straight face as they tell us that a limited edition £5 note is to be produced with Simon Cowell's face in the place of the Queen's. According to the report, the Britain's Got Talent host "won the honour" through a public vote. One can only imagine that Cowell thinks such a move would be entirely fitting.

The Daily Mail, meanwhile, tells readers that Longleat Safari Park will be covering visitors' cars with bubble wrap to stop monkeys from damaging and dismantling vehicles. The Mail says the wrapping service, which costs £10, is recommended by a Park employee called Paolo Flirs – which is an anagram of April Fools.

With the general election campaign underway, the Mirror tries to fool its readers into believing that a secretive new agency will use Twitter and Facebook to decide who will run the country in the event of a hung parliament.

The previously concealed department is known as Office for Estimation because it will use the social networks to estimate who should get the keys to Downing Street.

Never one to miss out on a good gag, Google has enabled a playable version of Pac-Man on its Google Maps feature – with hours of fun to be had, just don't be disappointed when the real Oxford Street doesn't quite live up to the retro arcade version.  

Proving that the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything may well be Star Wars, everyone's favourite particle physicists at CERN have today confirmed the existence of "The Force" – with one dubiously named physicist Ben Kenobi stating: "The Force is what gives a particle physicist his powers."  

Arsenal Football Club get in on the banter by revealing the production of a football specially made for left-footed players. Midfielder Santi Cazorla sums up the prank well, when he says of the ball: "It's unbelievable!"

If you feel like pulling a prank of your own, the Mirror has a list of 15 you can pull on colleagues or friends.

Finally, the prize for the most lexically pleasing April Fools undoubtedly goes to the Radio Times, which today claimed that Strictly Come Dancing star Anton Du Beke will join Ant and Dec for television appearances under the title "Ant, Dec and Anton Du Beke" from February 2016.

So how did this year's jokes stack up against last year's crop? See how they compare with some of the all-time greats below.

2014's best April Fools pranks

One Direction banned from North Korea

The Daily Mirror reports that boy band One Direction will not be allowed to enter North Korea unless they get their hair cut to resemble Kim Jong-un. The despot will also reportedly be starting his own X Factor-style competition show to find his own band – which the paper wittily dubs 'Un Direction'.

Robin Hood returns to Nottingham

Two years after the remains of King Richard III were found beneath a car park in Leicester, archaeologists made another spectacular discovery.

The remains of Nottingham's most famous son, Robin Hood, were found by an archaeological team on Maid Marian Way, complete with arrow heads and an astonishingly well-preserved headstone.

The prank was the work of the chairman of the Nottingham Business Improvement District, Jeff Allen, who said the idea had come about after "a measure of wine."

"Sooner or later someone is going to propose that finding the bones of Robin Hood would be a great thing to happen and like a lamb to the slaughter, propose it I did," he said. 

The prankster sought council approval to dig the hole, planted the fake bones, commissioned the fake sandstone plaque and hired an actor to play the (in hindsight) suspiciously named archaeologist in charge of the excavation, Doug Skelton.

Reading vs commenting

"Why doesn't America read any more?" is the kind of headline bound to stoke an angry exchange in the comments - regardless of what has been written in the article below it. US radio network NPR put that theory to the test by filling the article with dummy text, and then standing back and watching the comments flood in. "It is kind of funny, and fascinating (like a car crash) but I find myself more depressed as I read the comments," wrote Brad Foley. "It's like every other comment thread - preconceived indignation, irrelevant Dem-Repub flame wars, and off topic information dumps. And worse, few of the people who just commented on the title ever figured out that it was a joke."

Square eggs

Experts on ITV have declared themselves "baffled" by the appearance of a square egg. The shape apparently makes it convenient for eating, and "it also means making egg sarnies has become even simpler".

Already flagging?

The Daily Mail has an exclusive insight into how the "Scot-free' Union flag will look in the event of Scottish independence. "Secret Government papers propose ditching the cross of St Andrew, a white X on a blue background, that makes up a third of the current design if Scotland votes for independence," it explains. 

Independent on independence

The Independent takes a different line with its story on Scottish independence, claiming that the UN is planning to send peacekeepers to the border should Scotland vote "Yes". But headwear for the peacekeeping force may present a problem, the Independent reports: "Fears that the traditional ‘blue helmet’ colour scheme of UN peacekeepers could be misinterpreted as a show of support for an independent Scotland have led to a rethink on what headwear UNPPICT (the UN Prevention Programme for Inter-Caledonian Tensions) personnel might wear. A 'neutral' purple beret is the favoured alternative."

Left or right?

The Guardian's take on the Scottish question concerns the road system. If Scotland goes it alone then there will be significant changes for drivers, claims the paper, with proposals to switch from driving on the left to the right.

Caring is sharing

Peace in North London at last, as Tottenham Hotspur agree to a "groundshare" plan with arch-rivals Arsenal. According to the Daily Express the two clubs will cohabit at the Emirates Stadium. A club source tells the paper that "fans may have waited nearly a decade for glory but this move immediately doubles the chance of the Emirates crowd seeing a trophy won".


All-time greats: the best April Fool's Day pranks

The spaghetti harvest

CNN called it "the biggest hoax any reputable news establishment ever pulled". In 1957, Richard Dimbleby lent his voice to a BBC Panorama program about how Swiss farmers were struggling to cope with "an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop". The director-general of the BBC, Ian Jacob, admitted to being fooled himself, looking up "spaghetti" in his encyclopaedia.

Big Ben for sale

In 1980 the BBC reported that the hands from Big Ben would be sold to the first four bidders and the analogue clock face replaced with a digital display. A Japanese sailor heard the news and radioed in a bid for the historic timepiece.

Fairy dust

In 2007 the remains of an eight-inch winged creature were dug up on Roman road in rural Derbyshire. The skeleton, which looked startlingly like the preserved remains of a fairy, were allegedly discovered by a man walking his dog. The report prompted a huge response, the Daily Mirror reports, will tens of thousands of visitors and hundreds of emails to the website of the Lebanon Circle Magik Co who had orchestrated the hoax. By the end of the day, the owner of the site, Dan Baines, confessed the whole thing had been an April Fools' Day prank. He admitted he had used his skills as a magician's prop-maker to build the convincing-looking skeleton. Long after he had owned up, Baines continued to receive emails from people who refused to believe that the fairy was not real.

Titanic 2

The joke was on the editors of the Daily Mirror when its spoof story on the construction of a Titanic Two actually turned out to be true. Just a month after the story was printed in 2012, one of the world's richest men, Clive Palmer, announced plans to build a replica of the Titanic. The paper congratulated itself on its "scoop".

Richard Branson's UFO

In 1989, entrepreneur Richard Branson planned an audacious hoax to generate publicity for his new airline. Branson took to the skies in a hot air balloon shaped like a UFO, aiming to land in Hyde Park in London on 1 April. Unfortunately, the balloon was blown off course, and ended up touching down in a field in Surrey. Still, the hoax fooled some motorists on the M25, several of whom made emergency calls to the police to report sightings of an alien spaceship.

Left-handed burger

In another case of marketing genius, fast-food chain Burger King announced a new left-handed Whopper in 1998 with a full-page ad in USA Today with "the condiments rotated 180 degrees". The burger, it said, would be easier to hold for the 10 per cent of the population who are left-handed. Good sense and good taste, it seems, did not stop people across the US from heading out to purchase one.

The isles of San Serriffe

The Guardian's most successful April Fools' Day prank came in 1977 when the paper published a seven-page travel supplement on the tropical island of San Serriffe, "a small archipelago, its main islands grouped roughly in the shape of a semicolon, in the Indian Ocean". The special report was packed with typographical jokes including Bodoni, the capital, which is a variety of typeface, and the two main islands – Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. Kodak took out an ad in the edition asking readers to send in their holiday pictures of San Serriffe "before noon today".

Planetary alignment decreases gravity

In 1976, British astronomer Patrick Moore told BBC radio listeners that at 9.47am a rare alignment of Pluto and Saturn would temporarily decrease gravity on Earth. Moore said that if people jumped in the air at that exact moment they would experience a floating sensation. Many users, curiously, rang in to say that they had felt the effect.

Dormant volcano 'erupts'

In Sitka, Alaska, the Mount Edgecumbe volcano that had lain dormant for 9,000 years suddenly began spewing a plume of dark smoke in 1974. When the coastguard team flew in to investigate, they discovered 100 burning tyres near the volcano's crater – the work of local man Oliver Bickar who had planned the stunt for four years.

Alabama redefines Pi

Physicist Mark Boslough wrote an article in the April 1998 issue of New Mexicans for Science and Reason under the pen name "April Holiday" suggesting that the Alabama legislature had redefined Pi from 3.14 to 3.0 to bring it closer to the "biblical value". State legislators were reportedly deluged with phone calls insisting that Pi be left alone.

YouTube closes down

In 2013 YouTube announced that it would stop accepting videos and go into a decade-long hiatus to judge which clip submitted to the site should be awarded the title of "Best video on the internet". YouTube said: "We are so close to the end. Tonight at midnight, YouTube.com will no longer be accepting entries. After eight amazing years, it's finally time to review everything that has been uploaded to our site and begin the process of selecting a winner."


Your smart start to 2016 – Get 6 free issues of The Week magazine.
In Depth

Disqus - noscript

April 1st is tomorrow!

yep im putting an air horn behind a door so when my little bother slams the door he will be scared to deat well he is learning a lesson!lol

My best was sticking a long hair to my mother's prized [and expensive] vase so it looked like it had a fine crack in it. Spoilt somewhat by the fact that I had to casually call her attention to it before midday. Still, it got the desired effect, and a boot up the butt.

Check your calendar.