20 London’s Big Ben converted to digital, April 1, 1980
Once again, in 1980 the BBC perpetrated a hoax in celebration of April Fools’ Day which bemused some and outraged others. Clocks and watches with digital faces rather than traditional dials were all the rage in the late 1970s and early 1980s. On April 1, the BBC reported that in accordance with the times the famed London hallmark, Big Ben, would be equipped with a digital face replacing its dial. The report included much of the history of what is arguably the world’s most famous clock, and closed with the announcement that the hands would be given away to listeners on a first come, first served basis. Calls from around the world began immediately, hoping to obtain a relic of the clock.
Not all of the calls were about gaining one of the clock’s hands. The British public was outraged at the idea. The volume of calls and the anger expressed in them forced the network to issue a statement that the entire report had been an April Fools’ Day joke. That announcement merely increased the numbers of calls into the BBC, from viewers and listeners who did not find the joke the least bit funny. The BBC issued several apologies for the gaffe. The joke has been repeated over the years by British tabloids and magazines, with reasons for the conversion given as an effort to boost tourism and the need to upgrade the clock, but never with the overwhelmingly negative reaction expressed in 1980, which gives an indication of the credibility the BBC held with the public at the time.
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