The report was produced as an April Fools’ Day joke in 1957, showing a family in the canton of Ticino in southern Switzerland as they gathered a bumper spaghetti harvest after a mild winter and “virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil”. Footage of a traditional “Harvest Festival” was aired along with a discussion of the breeding necessary to develop a strain to produce the perfect length. Some scenes were filmed at a Pasta Foods factory on London Road, St Albans, in Hertfordshire quite close to where we lived at the time. The rest was at a hotel in Castagnola in Switzerland.
The whole event was dreamed up by a Panorama cameraman – Charles de Jaeger – after remembering how teachers at his school in Austria teased his classmates for being so stupid that if they were told that spaghetti grew on trees, they would believe it.
Michael Peacock, the editor of Panorama, later told the BBC how he gave de Jaeger a budget of £100 and sent him off to report the story – a story made more believable by having the respected Richard Dimbleby doing the voice-over. Richard loved the idea and went at it with relish. At the time just under 50% of homes in Britain had television!
Pasta was not an everyday food in 1950s Britain, and it was known mainly from tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce and considered by many to be an exotic delicacy. As a result it is estimated that some eight million people watched the programme on Sunday 1st April 1957 – me, my Mum and my Dad were three of them – and hundreds phoned in the following day to question the authenticity of the story or ask for more information about spaghetti cultivation and how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. The BBC reportedly told them to “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best”.