April 1st is traditionally a day devoted to pranks. The etiquette suggests that this is a morning thing, and that the pranksters should come clean at noon. There have been many celebrated ones that achieved stardom. In 1957 BBC’s Panorama ran a short film showing spaghetti being allegedly harvested from trees. In 1969 a Netherlands state broadcaster, NTS, ran a feature about detector vans roaming the streets to detect TVs receiving without licences. It said the only way to avoid detection was to wrap the TV set in aluminium foil. Next day all the supermarkets sold out of foil, and record numbers sent in licence payments.
The ASI played one that unfortunately was taken seriously. We sent out a press release condemning the EU’s decision to ban all knives with blades exceeding 10cm, or 4ins, on the grounds that research had established that most knife crimes were committed with blades longer than that. We quoted the EU health and safety commission, Senator Faporillo, welcoming the new law. We quoted the head of the German Employers’ Association refuting the claim that thousands of new jobs would be created, saying that when this had been tested in a trial German town, the only new jobs it generated were for knife grinders shortening existing blades.
Senator “Faporillo” is, of course, an anagram of April Fool. Our intended giveaway was the comment we added from the UK’s Health and Safety Officer, announcing that the law would be rigorously applied when December 31st, the so-called “night of the short knives,” arrived.
Unfortunately, some of the media took it seriously and did some work on the story. The Mail spent time preparing to denounce the move. The Wall Street Journal rang up to ask, “This is a joke, right?” Worst was the Sun, who had prepared to make this their front-page story. They had telephoned the EU to ask Senator Faporillo for a comment, but were told he was out at lunch, presumably by some secretary unwilling to admit she’d never heard of him. When they asked us for a comment and were told it was a joke, they were angry that we had “wasted their time.” We could only apologize profusely, expressing sincere regret at the trouble we had caused. We had intended to amuse people, not to inconvenience them.
Having learned our lesson, we never again played an April Fools’ joke. The other lesson might be that there is no insanity that people believe the EU to be incapable of perpetrating. Even now I imagine someone deep inside Brussels is probably drafting for real the law we posted about in jest…