The First Great Radio Hoax: London, January 16, 1926
May 14, 2010 6:48 AM   Subscribe

The First Great Radio Hoax: London, January 16, 1926 Twelve years BEFORE Orson Welles’ infamous War of the Worlds hoax, BBC radio put out a fake news programme of its own. Ronald Knox’s Broadcasting the Barricades convinced thousands of British listeners that London had been attacked by Communist rioters, Big Ben flattened by mortars, the Savoy Hotel bombed to rubble and a Government minister lynched in the street. [via mefi projects]

The BBC was flooded with anxious calls, provincial mayors dusted off their own cities’ emergency plans and the Royal Navy was told to dispatch a battleship up the Thames. The New York Times had a jolly good laugh at the Brits’ foolish gullability, smugly heading its own report: “We are safe from such jesting”. Oh, really?
posted by seanyboy (10 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It pleases me, in a way, to know that people being assholes to their fellow humans is not a phenomenon borne purely by the internet.
posted by anifinder at 6:54 AM on May 14, 2010

Imagine if the hoax continued; paranoid and unstable radio personalities daily propping up imaginary foes, spreading populist fear against protecting our common interests. When will it ever end?
posted by Brian B. at 7:04 AM on May 14, 2010 [8 favorites]

This sounds like a much crueler hoax than "War of the Worlds". Riots and lynchings are plausible, whereas not that many people were seriously convinced by reports of an alien invasion. Most of those who were frightened just called the authorities and were reassured.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:12 AM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

whereas not that many people were seriously convinced by reports of an alien invasion....

posted by vogon_poet

posted by The Whelk at 7:14 AM on May 14, 2010

In copying the BBC’s determination to educate its listeners, Knox often slips in a passage of unwanted historical detail before returning abruptly to the subject at hand. On the Houses of Parliament, for example, he says: “The building is made of magnesian limestone from Yorkshire, a material which is unfortunately liable to rapid decay. At present, in any case, it is being demolished with trench mortars.”

That is quite wonderful. Thanks for this.
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:50 AM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

The last great TV hoax: 1996 - today. Shocked and awed in equal measures by the audiovisual potenciality of The Day Today, Rupert Murdoch instructs mercenary elves to enact his newsoramic partisanacity upon an unsuspecting public.

Unable to do this in the UK due to "laws", he plans his grand experiment to run out of New York for an American audience. Korean scientists employed through a front company clone and fuse stem cells from a biomedical sample of Rush Limbaugh's pilonidal cyst and Glenn Beck's discarded nostril hair.

Their first attempt fails: by increasing the dosage of CoEnzyme Q10 to improve cognitive function the first artificially created news reader kills himself upon sight of a initial set of scripts. The second attempt is successful, although widely considered to be unstable. Nonetheless, Bill O'Reilly goes on to head up several programs.

From 2001 onwards Murdoch's elves scheme even hoaxier ways to pull the leg of news audiences including a color-coded threat level monitor actually driven by the color of underpants Roger Ailes chooses on a given day and the subsitution of newsgathering teams with a team of monkeys trained to generate question begging statements about minority groups and democrats through the use of banana scented stenographic machines.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:56 AM on May 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

Fascinating—I knew nothing about this. Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 2:06 PM on May 14, 2010

To fully appreciate the story, you have to know a little something about Ronald Knox
posted by IndigoJones at 2:08 PM on May 14, 2010

Seem to missed the fact that there was more than one page. My bad.

On the other hand, you think they'd have mentioned that this happened just months before the General Strike. (Well, I thought it was an interesting coincidence.)
posted by IndigoJones at 3:27 PM on May 14, 2010

It was January 16, 1926, and many listeners must been half-expecting news like this to break any day. Russia’s 1917 revolution had left Britain’s establishment nervous about proletarian revolt, the First World War had undermined all notions of working class deference and the Labour Party had just adopted Clause IV’s call for common ownership. The first half of the 1920s saw the formation of the British Communist Party, two miners’ strikes paving the way for a General Strike to come, and the election of the country’s first Labour Government.

This paragraph appears on page one of the article, right after the intro par. So there.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:25 AM on May 15, 2010

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