In Depth

April Fools' Day: best pranks of 2016 and of all time

Prince Philip to join Remain campaign and hens to lay rugby-themed eggs – if you believe what you read in the papers

Each year on 1 April, the world's brands and media groups compete to come up with the most outlandish April Fools' news stories to confuse and amuse their readers.

Last year, disgraced Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson proved a popular topic for UK newsrooms, with The Guardian concocting a tongue-in-cheek report that the motorhead was to front their climate change campaign.

Even particle physicists working at CERN got in on the action, with a Star Wars-themed prank which saw them claim that their research showed that the Force used by Jedi knights in the movies was real.

This year, Brexit is proving to be a rich seam for news editors in search of a spoof. The Guardian is touting an "exclusive" article which reveals the Royal Family's plans to stage a dramatic public intervention against Brexit.

Offended by reports that the Queen favours leaving the EU, the family wanted someone with "impeccable European credentials" and "a strong affinity with the continent" to front their Remain bid, and have settled on Prince Philip, the paper reports. Ho, ho, ho.

Also jumping on the Brexit theme was the Daily Telegraph, which has revealed that France and Germany will file a petition to kick England out of the Euro 2016 football championships if the UK votes to leave the EU on 23 June – just two days before the Round of 16 kicks off, the paper notes.

If the fundamental improbability of the story didn't tip you off, the name of the Uefa spokesman mentioned in the report makes it clear that the whole article is "Yuro Baloni".

The Times's spoof skewered another frequent news topic of 2016, with an article claiming that politically correct students were pushing to rename Imperial College and King's College London.

Renaming Imperial to Gaia, after the mythical Earth goddess, and rebranding King's as Citizen's College would "represent a 'powerful mobilisation against institutional white supremacist capitalist patriarchy'". Almost keeping a straight face, The Times adds that a spokeswoman for Imperial suggested that Manchester University could change its name to 'Personchester'.

Meanwhile, the German diplomatic mission in London attempted to dispel the stereotype that the Germans don't "get" humour, but unfortunately their bizarre attempt to join in the April Fool's Day banter only reinforced it.

A statement posted on their website announced the German government's intention to make rugby the national sport and win the Seven Nations, including plans for hens which lay rugby ball eggs. "Details on the scientific breakthrough that had enabled hens to lay rugby ball shades of eggs were not provided," the statement attempted to deadpan. Swing and a miss, Germany, but kudos for playing along.

So how did 2016's jokes stack up against previous years? See how they compare with some of the all-time greats below.

One Direction banned from North Korea

In 2014, the Daily Mirror reported that boy band One Direction would not be allowed to enter North Korea unless they got their hair cut to resemble Kim Jong-un. The despot was reportedly starting a new X-Factor-style competition in Pyongyang to find his own band – which the paper wittily dubs 'Un Direction'.

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.

Caring is sharing

Peace in North London at last, as Tottenham Hotspur agree to a "groundshare" plan with arch-rivals Arsenal, the Daily Express reported in 2014. According to the newspaper, the two clubs were planning to cohabit at the Emirates Stadium. A club source told 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".

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, 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."


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