Geek Trivia

For Their April Fool’s Day Prank In 1965, The BBC Claimed They Could Wirelessly Transmit What?

Shillings
Candy
Smells
Beatles' Concert Tickets
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Midcentury family watching television on a black and white television set
Evert F. Baumgardner

Answer: Smells

In 1965, the BBC played a little April Fool’s Day prank on their viewers. During a news segment, news anchors interviewed a professor who explained that he had created a way to transmit smell through the airwaves from the studio to the viewer’s living room by breaking the scents down into their component molecules and recreating the scents at the viewer’s television set.

To demonstrate, he chopped up an onion while brewing a pot of coffee. Hundreds of viewers called in from across Britain to report the experiment was successful and that the smell of coffee and onions was impressively clear. Now, while we may laugh at them from the present, we can at least give them a sympathetic nod or two. First, the power of suggestion is, well, enormously powerful. Second, the whole concept of scents being released during movies was in the public consciousness by 1965 (as various companies and movie studios had dabbled with and given public demonstrations of the technology at that point). These included Smell-O-Rama in the 1950s, and Smell-O-Vision in the 1960s.

What’s fascinating about the prank is that it wasn’t a one-off experiment into the power of suggestion. Over a decade later in 1977, a professor at Bristol University, Michael O’Mahony, replicated the effect with audiences in the Manchester region by telling them, on the late evening news, that he was transmitting “pleasant country” smells to them. He asked viewers to call in and report what they smelled. Nearly 200 did within the next 24 hours, reporting the smell of flowers, baking bread, hay, and more. Two of the callers even said that they were having allergic reactions to the smell of hay.