The village of Gotham in Nottinghamshire is famous for the crazy behaviour of its residents back in the 12th Century. When King John planned to build a Royal Highway through the village, the town rebelled by feigning madness. The villagers knew that they would be expected to cover the costs and labour of maintaining the road, so they pretended to have highly contagious madness. When the King’s knights saw the villagers behaving in such a silly way, they quickly re-routed the road avoid the village altogether.
2. Corny shoe sizing (1324)
England’s King Edward II decided that shoe sizes should be based on corn in 1324. No, not the corns and calluses you get on your feet: barley corn. Businessmen pressured the King into creating an official decree on measurements so that industry could be standardised. Back in the 14th Century, a lot of things were measured in barley – three barleycorns laid end-to-end was the standard for one inch. It was a ‘step’ in the right direction for show measurements but it depended on the length of the corn, so wasn’t the most reliable method.
3. Fire destroys patent (1836)
But not just any patent: the first patent for the fire hydrant was burnt in fire. Now that’s what we call irony! The inventor of the fire hydrant will never be known, as the only copy of the patent ended up being the fuel for the fire at the U.S Patent Office in the 19th Century. Hundreds of other records were destroyed in the fire, but none as ironic as the fire hydrant patent.
4. Boat hoax (1910)
There were many rivalries in the Royal Navy back in the early 20th century and the fleet captains were always playing tricks on each other. Horace de Vere Cole sent a hoax telegram to the commander of battleship HMS Dreadnought, telling them to prepare for a royal inspection. Cole gathered together a group of friends, including the famous writer Virginia Woolf and two of the commander’s cousins, and dressed them up as Abyssinian royal family. This elaborate practical joke worked, and the group were entertained on the ship for hours without the commander recognising his own family.
5. Alien invasion (1938)
There was mass panic about an alien invasion back in 1938 but don’t worry, no little green men actually landed on Earth. An adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel ‘The War of the Worlds’ was broadcast on the radio as a Halloween special, but listeners thought they were hearing breaking news about an alien invasion. The audience couldn’t even check if the news was trending on Twitter in those days, so word of the alien attack spread from person to person. Even though there had been a notice about the fictional show at the start, those listeners who tuned in half-way through had no idea that the news bulletins about the Martians were fake.
6. Time for a break (1949)
Even though London’s Big Ben is currently out of action while being restored, there have been occasions in the famous clock’s past when time stood still. Back in 1949, the time fell behind by four minutes. No, the clock hadn’t run out of battery; it stopped ticking when a flock of birds perched on the minute hand. The mini murmuration of starlings settled down to roost and the weight of the birds held the minute hand still. Four and a half minutes passed before the birds took flight.
7. Spaghetti harvest 1957
Did you know that spaghetti grows on trees? No? Well, back in 1957 the BBC broadcast the first pictures of the spaghetti harvest in Italy. At the time, not many people in the UK would have known how pasta was produced and when the news broadcaster showed footage of spaghetti strands being plucked from blossoming trees, it was a revelation. It was a while before the audience realised that they were watching the news on the 1st of April. This story has since become one of the most infamous April Fool’s jokes of all time.
8. The Beatles? No thanks! (1962)
Before John, Paul, George and Ringo hit the big time, they auditioned for Decca Records on 1st January 1962. They played 15 songs in an hour including popular covers and some of their own compositions. Decca Records were less than impressed and promptly rejected the band, saying "The Beatles have no future in show business”. Well, we all know what happened after that! Decca’s rejection is widely considered to be one of the biggest mistakes in the history of the music industry. Awkward!
9. Spoof album 1969
The Masked Marauders album was created as a hoax by the editor of Rolling Stone magazine back in the late 60s. With the ability to write anything he wanted in the magazine, Greil Marcus wrote a funny review of a fictional album, insisting that Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and three of the Beatles had formed a supergroup. When readers started asking how they could buy the album, Rolling Stone magazine hired an unknown band to recreate some of the spoof tracks. The fake album sold over 100,000 copies!
10. Walkie talkie melting cars (2013)
In more recent news, a building has been melting cars. No, it’s not another April Fool’s joke – this actually happened. When the London skyscraper nicknamed the ‘walkie talkie’ was under construction, the reflection from the windows began melting cars that were parked on the street. A Jaguar that was left outside the building for two hours ended up with a melted wing mirror, wonky badge and buckled panels. The damaged was caused by the sun’s rays being reflected by the curved shape of the building. The parking spaces outside have since been suspended so that no more vehicles melt like an ice cream on a hot day.