The April Fool Archive

Top Secret Atomic Papers    (April Fool's Day - 1952)

Two teenage boys walked into London's Highgate police station and presented the officers on duty with a buff-colored folder that appeared to contain designs for a new kind of atomic weapon. The boys said they had found the folder lying on the pavement at a bus stop.

Papers inside the folder included blueprints with cryptic mathematical equations and symbols written in the margins. On the letterhead of a Norwegian form was typed, "Plan for Atomic Device C.D.ZZ 29679 Nuclear Physics Pattern O. 778523." The folder itself was marked "Harwell Atomic Research Establishment, Harwell, England; Top Secret — To be burned after reading."

The police immediately contacted Scotland Yard, but thanks to a reporter present at the station when the boys arrived, word of the boy's discovery went public within an hour. A Member of Parliament, C. Orr-Ewing, upon hearing the news, stood up in the House of Commons and informed the other members of the disturbing loss of atomic secrets.

Meanwhile, detectives at Scotland Yard were puzzling over the documents. They later admitted, "We couldn't tell whether it was a formula for atomic energy or lemonade." So they brought in atomic experts from Harwell who studied the formulae and blueprints and concluded they were meaningless.

As public concern mounted, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe of the Home Department attempted to allay fears by announcing that "the situation is well in hand," insisting that the papers "bore no relation to atomic secrets at Harwell or any other establishment." He pointed out, "This incident has been reported on the appropriate day" (April 1st).

The mystery was finally solved when reporters tracked down the two boys who had turned in the folder, Harry Sibley (age 14) and Neville Thompson (age 13). The boys revealed that they hadn't found the folder themselves. Instead, it had been presented to them by their friend, Victor Paul Mehra (age 15).

Upon questioning, Mehra, who was an apprentice factory draftsman, readily confessed that he had created the "top secret" documents himself out of papers (including Norwegian billhead receipts and pieces of an old blueprint for a nut and bolt) taken from the office where he worked. He wrote "a lot of gibberish" on the papers, put them in a folder, and then showed it all to his friends, claiming he had found it lying in the street.

Mehra explained, "I didn't think it would go as far as this. I made up the bundle as an April fool's joke at lunchtime yesterday."

The next day, headlines declared the prank to be the "Biggest April Fool's Hoax Ever Played on the British Government." The Daily Mail editorialized, "These boys have unwittingly made us sit back and look at ourselves... Come to think of it, we could only have been made 'April Fools' in this way because our world is as mad as a March Hare."

More content from the Hoax Museum: