On April Fool’s Day of 1957 the BBC aired a very strange segment on one of their major news shows. It was a segment about ‘the spaghetti tree’ and featured was a certain family in Switzerland who the show said made their livelihood by harvesting spaghetti from a whole farm full of these trees.
This family, the show said, was in for a great year because the spaghetti harvest was plentiful due to the near eradication of the scourge of all spaghetti farmers: ‘the spaghetti weevil’.
Narrated by a widely popular and respected newsman named Richard Dimleby, footage of smiling people were shown picking spaghetti noodles and gently placing them into baskets, which were then laid out in the sun to dry.
At the end of the spaghetti harvest the family sat down to a ceremonial meal to enjoy heir hard-earned and freshly picked spaghetti from their very own farm.
Sound absurd? It does to us nowadays but the spaghetti tree segment was aired during a time in the UK when most people had only vaguely heard of it. Spaghetti was food from a far away land and for all most people knew it actually could grow on trees.
After the show aired many BBC viewers phoned in to the station to speak their mind about the segment and apparently many people also asked about how they too could grow spaghetti trees. According to Wikipedia the BBC gave these instructions to callers wanting to grow their own spaghetti trees: “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best”.
Later on that night (right before the station signed off I think) the BBC did air a statement saying that the spaghetti tree segment was a joke. The next day several large newspapers ran stories about it and the spaghetti tree hoax went down in history as the first major hoax perpetrated on tv, reaching a total of about 8 million people.
Decades later when I was a kid I saw a commercial for Perfection Pasta based on the spaghetti tree hoax concept. It showed a smiley, wholesome farm family in overalls and smocks picking spaghetti hanging off of tree branches.
These same folks were also shown at a picnic table shoving unnaturally large forkfulls of wound spaghetti into their mouths, then letting bunches of spaghetti hang out of their mouths as they nodded at each other with approving smiles. Apparently the spaghetti was so good that they couldn’t even wait to chew their food before nodding their approval to each other for this, the perfect spaghetti harvest.
At the end of the commercial the voiceover guy made a point of saying that spaghetti doesn’t really grow on trees while one of the farmers held up a sign that said ‘spaghetti doesn’t grow on trees’.
I remember thinking ‘What a silly commercial, who would ever believe that spaghetti could grow on trees anyway?’
I didn’t realize that once upon a time yes some people actually did believe that, not because they were silly or anything (er, maybe some were) but because they just didn’t know much about spaghetti. And, well, the news told them that it grew on trees so it had to be true right?