Celebrating April Fool’s Day in Britain

How do the British celebrate April Fool’s Day?
Dangerously. The newspapers–or at least some of them–sneak in a fake story and wait like giggling ten-year-olds to see if anyone spots it.
Late in the day on April 1–some good long time after I’d read the paper–I remembered the date and realized I hadn’t spotted any obvious April Fool’s joke. That made me nervous. What had I fallen for? That the school funding crisis could swing the election against the Conservatives? Nope. I’ve followed that story. It’s real. That the candy company Ferrero says Britain leaving the customs union and the single market when it leaves the E.U. “could affect an array of chocolate products, leading to shortages, delays, higher prices, limited ranges and merchandise going stale in warehouses.”
Good candidate. It’s not going to send anyone into a War-of-the-Worlds type panic. Or maybe a few people, but not many. Still, it’s not far enough out there for a prank story.

Irrelevant photo: Yet another whatsit plant, in bloom. We grow a lot of them and they have a surprising range of blossoms.

Full disclosure:I’m doing a small bit of lying for the sake of verisimilitude. And I’m using long words for the sake of impressing you. I didn’t actually go back over the headlines to see what I’d fallen for. When I started writing this post, I called up the headlines from the Observer, the Guardian‘s sister paper, to remind myself what they were that day. My memory, sadly, is more decorative than functional.

By then, the real fake story was making small headlines, because a pair of BBC presenters had broadcast it. It was a story claiming that an Italian tech firm had created emojis for the opposing sides of the Brexit debate, and it quoted members of parliament who were outraged by how divisive they were. One emoji was called the Brexit Bulldog and the other Starry Blue, which picked up on the European Union flag. I mention that because I can’t remember knowing what the E.U. flag looked like before I moved to Britain. Or possibly before the Brexit debate.
When the BBC presenters were told what they’d just stepped into, they did two things: One, admitted it to their listeners (“sheepishly,” according to the story I read; bravely, in my opinion), and two, said, “Oh my goodness.”
Or one of them said that. Surely no two people would actually say “oh my goodness.” It’s improbable enough that one of them did.
But the Observer wasn’t the only media outlet playing April Fool’s gags. A different BBC show ran a story on a kraken, a legenadary sea monster said to live off the coast of Norway and Greenland, being spotted on the Thames. The Mail said Prince Harry’s stag party would involve laverbread smoothies and chakra realignment.
A few companies piled in as well. Coca-Cola announced that it was releasing avocado-flavored Coke. Burger King swore it would be selling a flame-grilled chocolate patty with raspberry syrup and vanilla frosting. Plus candied oranges and a bun made of cake. And Heinz was coming out with chocolate mayonniase.
The West Yorkshire Police announced that they now have a police rabbit. It wears a little blue police harness and looks fearsome.
Historically, my favorite spoof is from 1977, when the Guardian ran not just a story but an entire seven-page supplement on the island of San Seriffe, commemorating the tenth anniversary of its independence from I’m not sure who. Wikipedia–that most reliable of sources (actually, it doesn’t do badly)–says it was one of the most successful recent hoaxes. If you consider 1977 recent, which, being 103, I do.
San Seriffe was revived in 1978, 1980 and 1999.
The name, in case you don’t live and breathe this stuff, refers to a kind of typeface. Typefaces come in two flavors, serif, which kind of melts outward at the bottom, as if the pavement’s too hot, and sans serif, which runs downward in a straight line and could be driven into the ground if you had a tiny little mallet.The S is silent. Or if you like it better, blends into the S of the next word.
April Fool’s Day had passed when I read the Wikipedia entry, but I do wonder about that seven-page supplement. I’ve never worked in newspaper publishing, but every kind of publication I had anything to do with was printed in multiples of four. You could, if you really had to, cut a four-page sheet in half and get two pages–one sheet of paper printed on both side–but since paper inherently has two sides–. You see the problem, right? I suppose you could run a page of ads and call that not-part-of-the-supplement but I feel this pull on one of my legs when I so much as think about it.
I could be out of date–I’ve been gone for eleven years now–but when I was still living in the U.S., all an adult had to watch out for on April Fool’s Day was silly phone messages. You know: Please call Mr Bear, followed by the phone number of the nearest zoo. Or kids switching those unpeeled hard-boiled eggs you’d left in the refrigerator for the uncooked ones.
What’s the history of April Fool’s Day? According to the Metro, there’s an ambiguous reference to April Fool’s Day in Chaucer (1390s), and then no written reference for the next 300 years, when in 1686 there’s a reference to “Foole’s holy day.”
Thirteen years after that, “On April 1, 1698, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to ‘see the Lions washed’, which was perhaps the first large-scale April Fool in British history.”
The Metro also says Scotland celebrates April 1 with Hunt the Gowk Day. “The pranker asks the prankee to deliver an envelope requesting help, but instead the message inside reads: ‘Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile.’ The recipient, upon reading it, will explain they can only help by contacting another person, and sends the victim to this next person with an identical message, producing the same result. And if that’s not enough, they also celebrate Taily Day on April 1, which involves “trying to put ‘kick me’ signs on people’s backs, plus plenty of posterior-based jokes.”
I was inclined to think this was all an elaborate joke, but I find enough references to both to think they’re probably real.
April Fool’s Day isn’t specifically British. Lord Google tells me that some version of it is celebrated–if that’s the right word, which I suspect it isn’t–throughout Europe and in Iran, India, Lebanon, the Phillipines, many Spanish-speaking countries, and the U.S. I can testify that it’s celebrated in the U.S. Beyond that, on this subject I’m not taking anybody’s word for anything.

75 thoughts on “Celebrating April Fool’s Day in Britain

  1. This year we received an elaborate April 1st email from LateVrooms.com; fairly sure that was a spoof. I’ll forward you the email privately if you like. Also, we’re pretty sure the Sunday show on R4 had a good one about robot vicars being considered by the CofE.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I definitely want a flame-grilled chocolate patty with vanilla frosting – hold the raspberry syrup – (hey, they still say “have it your way”) but yes to the candied oranges and a bun made of cake. Since I grew up in Pittsburgh, if Heinz introduces chocolate mayonnaise, I will buy it.

    The story I was waiting to see develop was that “Notes from the U.K.” was switching to Comic Sans. Perhaps that is taking longer than originally planned.

    Liked by 2 people

    • If I remember right, the typeface is built into the format I use unless i want to pay for the right to waste my time obsessing over typefaces. I don’t. It’s legible. I like serif better than sans serif, but not enough to pay for little metly feet on my type. I could be wrong about all that–I might be able to change typefaces for free–but I don’t care enough to check.

      What I thought you were building up to, though, was that Notes from the U.K. doesn’t really exist–it’s all an elaborate multi-year April Fool’s joke. Or, well, something along those lines.

      The flame-grilled chocolate patty reminds me of a British phrase I love: “That’s about as useful as a chocolate teapot.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • You probably don’t want to know, but being a techie, I’m compelled by the dark rules handed out during my initiation to tell you. Also, being male, explaining things people have said they don’t care to know is important. You can change the font on a free WordPress site, by a relatively easy to apply string of CSS code.

        I won’t give you an example, but if you are interested, let me know.

        I like that expression.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s a lot of foolery, Tom or otherwise. ;) I was especially taken with “Foole’s holy day.” It’s right up there with “Lord of Misrule.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. In Italy, it’s called Pesce d’aprile (Fish of April). I have no idea why it’s called that, but folks do pull pranks on one another. Of course I got caught this year. Why do you even ask!

    Liked by 1 person

      • >I had trouble figuring out how anyone would fall for it.
        Well we wouldn’t these days, would we? But back in 1957, Britain was still in the post-war food dark ages (many North Americans believe in the myth that we still are – though that’s a topic for another day)*. Spaghetti was exotic back then – indeed any foreign food was exotic. So the perpetrators of the hoax reasoned that a good few people would be ignorant of how spaghetti was made, or even what it was made of. This all changed of course when Heinz in the UK (hello Dan Antion) introduced tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce (aka tomato slimy strands).

        * The French still seem to believe that every nation other than France is in the food dark ages.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah. From the safety of my couch, I love the spaghetti harvest and the island of San Seriffe. If I was the one person in the office we hadn’t gotten the joke, though, I’d have hated everyone. Probably.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. I suspect a “holy fool” goes back to the Fool in the Tarot Deck being considered holy or protected by angels; many cultures have a trickster type of deity like that. Also I think the word “Silly”meant “filled with the Holy Spirit” or “touched by God (in the head?)” as in ” The Silly Sisters of St. Gertrude” or whatever it was. I ‘ve quit doing April Fools pranks because nobody believes much of anything I say anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No one doing anything about it would be a relief. No one I know here does anything except eye the newspapers (and listen to the radio and TV, I guess) with more than usual care. I didn’t think about that until I read your comment. What an odd split in how a holiday’s marked.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The problem with Aprils Fools’ is that you are not quite sure what to believe (not an uncommon feeling in this post-truth age). There was a story about A massive crack appearing in Kenya & speculation that Africa was splitting into two which I was convinced was a ham-fisted attempted at an April’s Fool..turns out it was just newspapers getting over-excited in the usual ways they do with weather e.g. “Hotter-than-the-Sahara” or “Colder-than-the-North-Pole”!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: April Fool’s Day in Britain: a link | Notes from the U.K.

  8. My memory is certainly leaving me slowly since I cannot recall many pranks which we did to each other on this day throughout my life in Slovenia. The most recent was when mom told me in an email that she had sold many rocks she had painted to tourists from huge cruisers and I easily bought it since I completely forgot about that day here in Italy (even thought they have it here too and they call April’s Fish). Okay, I also told a man once that I was pregnant but that one was really below the belt.

    Liked by 1 person

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