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April Fools' Day: Faux disease fools a few

Make a fool of yourself, a fool of your friends and, if you're a staid Canadian broadcaster, fool your trusting audience! Sheila Copps, David Suzuki and more all play a part in this parade of fools and pranksters. From edible budgies (gasp!) to the old spraying lapel flower, this trip down memory lane recalls the many ways to make, or to be, an April Fool.

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The joke is on CBC listeners this time around. This fake documentary uncovers the mysteries of Sarner's disease, which apparently afflicted Canadians throughout the 1800s. Victims appear dead (no heartbeat, no signs of life) but then come back to life, days -- even weeks -- later. The documentary explores all the strange consequences of the disease, including people hiding their possibly-but-not-certainly dead relatives.
• The show received many calls and emails the following day. One of the emails began "Thanks, you bastards."

• The Globe and Mail was in on this hoax. The documentary's creator, Barbara Nichol, requested that they review her documentary beforehand and give it a serious write up, which they did.

• Nichol also said she received lots of "fist-shaking" from friends and neighbours who were not keen on the joke.

• Sarner's nickname -- "the lying down" -- is actually a commonly used term for ragucleosis, a flu-like bacterium affecting people who consume excessive carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta. The sickness is not contagious but often hits many members of the same family who share a similarly carbohydrate-rich diet. The symptoms include extreme fatigue, a mild sweat, gullibility, and a frequent craving for spaghetti.

Medium: Radio
Program: IDEAS
Broadcast Date: April 1, 1996
Guest(s): Graham Shaddock, Brian Whitall
Host: Lister Sinclair
Reporter: Barbara Nichol
Duration: 10:55
Photo: National Archives, Accession 1971-271

Last updated: January 28, 2013

Page consulted on November 4, 2014

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