Wednesday 1 April 2009

Happy fools day

I have always been a big fan of April 1st in general - and of April Fools Day spoofs in the media in particular. As the enjoyment of these depends on stumbling across them, I will follow tradition and not discuss any from this year this side of midday.

Today's Independent has a handy guide, from the famous Panorama spaghetti special onwards.

There are a couple of problems though. One begins to doubt news that turns out to be true. I had a double-take at the Shearer takes over at Newcastle United story, until I noticed it was being reported straight and in all of the papers. Even the return of Kevin Keegan could have proved a non-spoof, such are the wonderful ways of Geordieland. What it will do for the Toon remains to be seen, but it will bring about immediate, welcome improvements to Match of the Day.

The problem of producing an amazing, made-up tale masquerading as news must present a particular challenge for staff at the Daily Express, as they search for a unique, one-off way to mark this particular day of the year.

When I was at The Observer in 2001, there was a good deal of anticipation given that April Fools Day falls on a Sunday only once every seven years. There turned out to be a problem: editor Roger Alton hated them on principle. 'Every week, every story in the newspaper should have readers saying, that's astonishing, I don't believe that. That's our job', he said. It would simply erode trust if one of them turned out not to be true. In the end, a gentle, well executed report by Euan Ferguson about an imaginative new Caxton project to store all of the books on the internet on paper was allowed through:

The main problem he faces is storage space. 'If we get enough stuff downloaded, that's going to be one mother of a lot of paper. We need big rooms, big halls.' He has been in discussion with councils in London, and there have been encouraging signs from Barnetstone and Flatford, both of which have, along with most other councils, carried out extensive public-library closure programmes. 'I can't comment officially,' said a spokesman for Flatford, 'but a few members are rather taken by the idea. We have two smallish libraries already closed which we could turn over - or we could even bring forward closure of the main borough library to make way for what promises to be a truly exciting new development.'

My favourite recent spoof was The Guardian's David Cameron-Chris Martin link-up in 2006:

"Coldplay's music shines with the kind of optimistic vision I want to bring to Britain as a whole," Mr Cameron said yesterday, at an impromptu press conference outside his local organic microbrewery.

It was splendidly written, gradually accumulating those small details on which the credibility of such a story depends. I spoke to my brother later on that day and mentioned how funny it was. Having just flicked the paper, he had assumed it was simply the latest piece of Cameroonian rebranding. And you just knew too that Steve Hilton was kicking himself, and thinking if only.

1 comment:

Calix said...

Yes, that Cameroon one is good. The best jokes are ones that do have an element of truth in them and are believable at first.

However, one needs to ensure that April Fools jokes are not too serious because there are implications! In Bulgaria in the early 90s a TV programme was interrupted by a solemn voice announcing there had been a nuclear leak in a reactor - this was just after Bulgarians had learnt the full truth of Chernobyl once communism had fallen (it had been totally covered up). This 'joke' was not considered very funny, and the TV company was taken to court.