Outrage at YM April Fool


Playing the fool is a dangerous game. Jesters who relied only on bell-embroidered pointy hats to entertain the royal court lasted no more than one performance. Yet those who were good faced an equally shaky career: at first they would find favour, but it could be devilishly difficult to gauge the monarch’s mood. Woe betide the clown who was perceived as being more popular than the head of state, or worse still the comedian who dared to lampoon the crown.

The trouble with playing the fool is that to be any good at it you need to be plausible. You need to present a fantasy as the truth. After all what’s the point of giving the game away in the first line?

Which brings me to YM’s April Fool’s ‘joke’ published way back in the April issue. It was a masterpiece of deception (I can say that because I did not write it), pandering to the base fears of those who think either a) Britain has gone to the dogs or b) well meaning left-wing liberals were giving New Labour a bad name. It was about a plan to house asylum seekers in unused yachts. The resulting furore has gone down in the annals of YM history. But one reader epitomized the tightrope the sketch writer must walk. This fellow contacted the RYA demanding they take action. When he found out the ‘plan’ might have been bogus he was even more incensed and came back on to call YM all the names under the sun for irresponsible foolishness.

Still the shockwaves have not died down. I received an email today from a lady asking me to confirm whether the article was ‘accurate,’ and if so why Labour’s National Executive Committee had ‘not considered using Margaret Beckett’s caravan.’ To house asylum seekers. When I told her it was an April Fool joke she became even more vexed claiming that sailors in Valencia for the Americas Cup, included ‘very many angry people who were not impressed with the article and were intending to make arrangements to demonstrate against the proposal’. She added that she had also sailed in Asia where the article had ‘stirred up more anti UK government feeling’.

So the lesson must be: it’s a mistake to fool some of the people all of the time and much better to fool all of the people some of the time.