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The Danish Money Exchange (1980) On March 11, 1980, the National Bank of Denmark issued a 20 kroner banknote that featured a picture of two house sparrows. Curiously, one of the sparrows appeared to be one-legged. This inspired the Roskilde Tidende newspaper to run a story that year announcing that all bills with one-legged birds were fake, but that they could be exchanged at the post office for genuine bills depicting two-legged birds.
Lines at post offices soon became so long, with people eager to exchange their fake bills, that post office employees had to put notices on the doors explaining that no currency exchange was taking place.
The hoax was the brainchild of artist/cartoonist Jan Robert Thoresen. He was subsequently questioned by the police, but let go without any charges being filed since there was no law against improving the country's currency. Nor was it plausible that any government would ever allow people to swap counterfeit banknotes for genuine ones.
Gazette Buys New London Day (1980) The Connecticut Gazette, a small weekly newspaper, announced that it was purchasing the New London Day, a large daily newspaper. The article also announced the Gazette planned to expand the news staff of the New London Day “by cutting it in half—literally, at the waist; this would create twice as many reporters although, of course, they would be half their former stature.“ The article concluded with an “April Fool.“ Nevertheless, according to the paper’s editor their phones were ringing off the hook for weeks. In addition, the fictitious purchase was reported as fact in the New England Printer and Publisher, a trade journal.
Ipswich Chunnel (1980) An Ipswich radio station reported there were plans for the construction of a tunnel under the North Sea, connecting Felixstowe in England with Zeebrugge, Belgium. The station claimed that 800 Felixstowe homes would have to be bulldozed to make way for a terminal and that digging would begin on April 1, 1981. Listeners jammed the switchboard. "We were amazed that so many people were taken in," the station admitted later.
Big Ben Goes Digital (1980) The BBC's overseas service reported that Big Ben was going to be given a digital readout. The news elicited a huge response from listeners shocked and angry about the change. "Surprisingly, few people thought it was funny," admitted Tony Lightley of the overseas service.
The same news report also claimed that the clock hands would be given away to the first four listeners to contact the station. One Japanese seaman in the mid-Atlantic immediately radioed in, hoping to be among the lucky callers.
Bearskin Helmets Need Trimming (1980) Soldier, the magazine of the British Army, revealed that the fur on the bearskin helmets worn by the Irish guards while on duty at Buckingham Palace keeps growing and needs to be regularly trimmed:
The most hair-raising fact about the bearskins has been discovered by scientists recently. The skins retain an original hormone, which lives on after the animal has been skinned. Scientists call it otiose and it is hoped it can be put to use in medical research — especially into baldness.
The article quoted Maj. Ursa who noted, "Bears hibernate in the winter and the amazing thing is that in the spring the skins really start to sprout." An accompanying photo showed Guardsmen sitting in an army barbershop having their helmets trimmed. The story was picked up by the London Daily Express and run as a straight story.
The Island of Murango (1980) The London Times reported on a small, Pacific island state named Murango whose inhabitants (most of whom seemed to be of British descent) were busy preparing to send a delegation to the Moscow Olympics, despite the western boycott of the games. The Murango islanders were said to enjoy two things most in life: their local drink, ourakino, and sports. In 1972 the small island state had supposedly achieved a brief moment of glory on the international stage by winning a bronze medal in boxing during the 1972 Munich Olympics. The winner of the medal had been named Dick T. Murango. However, Dick T. Murango and the island of Murango were entirely fictitious, though in 1972 a man named Dick T. Murunga had won a bronze medal for boxing. Mr. Murunga, however, was from Kenya.
The Eruption of Mt. Milton (1980) The Channel 7 news in Boston ended with a special bulletin announcing that a 635-foot hill in Milton, Massachusetts known as the Great Blue Hill had erupted, and that lava and ash were raining down on nearby homes. Footage was shown of lava pouring down a hillside. The announcer explained that the eruption had been triggered by a geological chain reaction set off by the recent eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington. An audio tape was played in which President Carter and the Governor of Massachusetts were heard declaring the eruption to be a “serious situation.“
At the end of the segment, the repoter held up a sign that read “April Fool.“ However, by that time local authorities had already been flooded with frantic phone calls from Milton residents. One man, believing that his house would soon be engulfed by lava, had carried his sick wife outside in order to escape. The Milton police continued to receive worried phone calls well into the night. Channel 7 was so embarrassed by the panicked reaction that they apologized for the confusion later that night, and the executive producer responsible for the prank was fired.
Rat Fur Coats (1980) The South African Johannesburg Star ran a story exposing an illicit ring of rat furriers. It said the police had raided a sewer where the ratters were breeding a special strain of imported Irish rats and selling the pelts as mink, seal skin, and other furs. Hundreds of rat fur coats had been sold. Women were warned that if their coats smelled fishy, they were probably made of rat fur. As a result of the story, furriers were besieged with calls from worried customers. After receiving complaints, the Star reminded its readers that the story had been run on April 1st.
The Real Sherlock Holmes (1980) The London Times published an article revealing shocking revelations about the private life of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. The revelations had been unearthed in a collection of papers found at the home of Sherlock Holmes’s former physician, Dr. Moore Agar. According to the Agar papers, Holmes’s faithful sidekick, Dr. Watson, had engaged in a systematic cover-up of the true character of Holmes “in order that so great a man as Sherlock Holmes should not be pilloried in the public prints.“ The most shocking revelation was that Holmes’s arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty, was merely “a figment of the detective’s imagination, distorted by stress and despair and by a burning desire to ‘punish’ Watson for what Holmes saw as his disloyalty.“
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