You have to work to put food on your table – there’s no denying that. Food doesn’t grow on trees! Well, actually, it does – at least, some of it. For most of us, however, especially those living in colder climates, feeding ourselves with just things growing on trees is not really an option. It became one in 1950s, when a Swiss family managed to produce pasta by harvesting spaghetti from the so-called “spaghetti tree”. The BBC report aired in 1957. The TV channel’s current-affairs program Panorama showed the process:
Spaghetti cultivation here in Switzerland is not, of course, carried out on anything like the tremendous scale of the Italian industry. Many of you, I'm sure, will have seen pictures of the vast spaghetti plantations in the Po valley. For the Swiss, however, it tends to be more of a family affair. After picking, the spaghetti is laid out to dry in the warm Alpine sun. Many people are often puzzled by the fact that spaghetti is produced at such uniform lengths, but this is the result of many years of patient endeavour by plant breeders who have succeeded in producing the perfect spaghetti.
Now, as you might have guessed, this is a hoax. But things were a little different in 1957, these were… simpler times. In short, people actually believed the miraculous spaghetti trees. Moreover, spaghetti, or any other pasta for that matter, was not a staple food in Great Britain, so this ignorance had contributed to the hoax’ credibility. In fact, reportedly hundreds of viewers had actually called the BBC and asked for advice on how to grow their own spaghetti. This hoax is widely celebrated. In 2010 CNN wrote called it “the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled”. The BBC itself later wrote:
Among those hoaxed included the then-BBC Director General, Sir Ian Jacob. The reaction to the film was huge. Newspapers were split over whether this was a great joke or a terrible hoax on the public.
The mixed reaction didn’t deter the broadcast from airing more hoaxes. Decades later, in 1980, the BBC once again set out to fool British citizens, this time challenging one of the country’s most famous symbols – the Big Ben.
The 70s were over, it was time to get modernized. Digital watches were a big deal back then — probably a lot of people still have the occasional Casio lying around in an old desk drawer. But back then it was the hippest piece of wearable technology. That’s why the British authorities decided that one of London’s hallmarks – the clock at the Palace of Westminster, colloquially referred to as the Big Ben tower would be outfitted with a digital screen. This didn’t really go that well. Listeners were mostly shocked and outraged and they, of course, voiced their concern. Tony Lightley of the overseas service later said: "Surprisingly, few people thought it was funny.”
The news report also promised to give away the old clock hands to the first four listeners to call in. As the story goes, a Japanese seaman in the mid-Atlantic immediately radioed in, to bring an more than unusual souvenir from his trip.