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The 1957 Spaghetti Harvest, Blackpool, and My Uncle Brian

Updated on April 1, 2018
The spaghetti harvest
The spaghetti harvest | Source

Almost an international incident

I've told you before about my dad and how he seems to get into trouble wherever he goes. Well, it seems that my Uncle Brian is the same.

In 1957 he was embroiled in an event that very nearly caused an international incident - and it was all started by spaghetti. Read on.Uncle Brian worked for the British branch of an American company.

He was excited to be invited to a huge conference in Blackpool (which is noted for fresh air and fun) where there would be delegates from the USA and the UK, including the top brass.His wife, Auntie Mavis, was even more excited because delegates could take their wives and it was an all expenses paid trip to a posh hotel. (Auntie Mavis was very posh).

Images from Wikimedia Commons. Letter courtesy Photoshop.

Blackpool | Source


So, at the end of March 1957, they arrived at the posh Norbreck Hydro Hotel (as it was then called) and the delegates did whatever they do, whilst the wives mingled and chatted.

Needless to say, the English women felt very superior to the American ones. (I'm sure that the opposite was true too but I only got one side of the story.)

In the evenings, the group would assemble in the lounge bar. The ladies would drink genteel G & Ts, or Babycham, and discuss their children and the perils of running a home.

The men drank halves of bitter (their wives told them that pints were 'not the done thing' in posh society) and discussed the intricacies of their business.

Spagehetti | Source

The documentary

In the evenings, the group would assemble in the lounge bar. The ladies would drink genteel G & Ts, or Babycham, and discuss their children and the perils of running a home.

The men drank halves of bitter (their wives told them that pints were 'not the done thing' in posh society) and discussed the intricacies of their business.The bar had feature that was quite unusual for those days in England - a television.

On the last evening at the hotel, the men were watching it with interest. There was only television station in those day, the BBC. It was showing a very respectable, highly regarded documentary called Panorama, which was shown every Monday evening. The ladies found this rather boring until the announcer started to talk about the Swiss spaghetti harvest.

Panorama | Source

A good year

Gravely, the respected commentator and journalist, Richard Dimbleby, reported that the spaghetti harvest was excellent that spring. The ladies were riveted.

The programme proceeded to show young Swiss girls harvesting the spaghetti from the trees and laying it to dry in the sun.The dreaded spaghetti weevil had not been seen that year so there was a bumper crop.

The wife of the American president of the company was visibly bristling. Thrusting forth her not inconsiderable bosom, she bellowed 'what nonsense is this? Spaghetti doesn't grow on trees! How ignorant the British are'.

Now obviously, the Brits weren't going to take this lying down. Well, the women anyway - none of the men would dare disagree with the president's wife.


Uncle Brian groaned when he saw that Auntie Mavis was the first to challenge this slur.

'How dare you?' she said, with no regard for her husband's career 'you might not be aware of it over there but here everyone knows about fresh spaghetti straight from the tree.'

Uncle Brian carefully studied the floor, hoping it would swallow him up as Auntie Mavis continued 'Don't they, Brian?'

Uncle Brian didn't respond so Auntie Mavis warmed to her theme. 'Every year when Brian and I visit Europe' (she had never been further than Wales) 'we always enjoy the delightful fresh spaghetti dishes. Don't we Brian?'

He once again studied the carpet. Auntie Mavis appealed to the English women 'Ladies?'In a remarkable case of the Emperor's New Clothes, the British ladies all nodded agreement.


Enter the chef

The resourceful barman, seeing that trouble was afoot, quickly telephoned the kitchen 'Monsieur le chef' he pleaded 'please come to the bar to settle an argument'. The chef arrived and was apprised of the situation.

Antoine Blanc, the esteemed chef, was actually named Tony White and was from the roughest part of Liverpool so his international culinary knowledge was limited.

Highly skilled in the preparation of brisket, chops and roast beef - and indeed his steak and kidney pies were legendary - he truly had no idea where spaghetti came from. However, he saw that his countrywomen were being challenged and,using his best French accent,said 'of course, everyone knows zat ze best spaghetti comes from ze trees of Italy and Switzerland. We use only ze best in our kitchens here.'

Auntie Mavis beamed triumphantly and the president's wife was furious. 'Hiram' she said to her husband, for that was his name 'take me to my room.We shall continue this conversation after I have called my good friend, the American ambassador'.

Oh dear.Uncle Brian was appalled at the situation his wife had created. And now the embassy was going to be called in. He decided that at the very least, he could write a note to the president apologising for his wife's behaviour. He pulled his pocket diary from his jacket.Licking his pencil, he turned to a page and noticed the date. There was a eureka moment. Here, preserved for posterity, is the very note that he wrote.

Brian to the rescue

Now I never knew that Uncle Brian had a friend at the BBC but he must have been straight on the phone and the call was evidently successful because the following day, they 'admitted' it was a hoax.

Consequently, the British documentary about the spaghetti harvest is seen as an April Fools joke and duly, this was explained in the newspapers, much to the president's wife's gloating satisfaction.

The two couples met in the hotel foyer the following day as they were checking out. Hiram and Brian had obviously had severe words with their wives (hey, this was the fifties) because they were coolly pleasant to each other.

'My dear Mavis' said the president's wife 'what fun our little joke was last night'.

'Ouch' said Auntie Mavis as Uncle Brian surreptitiously kicked her. 'Wasn't it? I'm afraid that one or two of the ladies might have taken it seriously...'

Mrs President tee-hee-d (rather like Betty Rubble) 'Oh no dear, I'm sure they didn't.Everyone knows that spaghetti is made with flour. Well, goodbye dear.

''Harumph' said Auntie Mavis as Mr & Mrs President left in their chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce 'Of course, they don't have fresh spaghetti in America - it has to be eaten within a few days after harvesting. It wouldn't be fresh by the time it got there'.

This story, which is totally fictitious (apart from the fact that the documentary did take place as a spoof) is dedicated to my Uncle Brian and Auntie Mavis. They were my godparents and lovely people - and both had a great sense of humour.

See the actual broadcast.



© 2014 Jackie Jackson


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