The great tangerine debacle

Comic Popper spoofs Fleet Street

Comedian Robert Popper has fooled national newspapers into falsely reporting that Gordon Brown became so furious on a factory visit that he hurled a tangerine into a machine.

The articles appeared after Peep Show producer and co-creator of Look Around You called London radio station LBC to make the allegations about the Prime Minister’s notoriously short temper.

In the guise of Robin Cooper – the pseudodym he often uses for wind-ups – he told phone-in presenter Andrew Pierce that Brown hurled the fruit with such force that it broke a laminating machine.

During the spoof call he said: ‘Last year, he visited our place of work. It was an industrial workshop that made laminating machines

‘He came along. He was very, very polite. I actually shook his hand. But while we were having a tour of the workshop, I witnessed his anger.

‘He received a phone call and was saying, “No, no, please don’t tell me that’s happened” or something like that.’

‘He threw a tangerine which he had, and it hit the machine, the actual lamination machine, and the actual fruit got stuck in the machine and clogged the whole machine. The whole machine broke down because of the peel and it was very embarrassing.

‘We had to stop the tour and he got even more angry and he called the person who gave him the tangerine a “citric idiot” and shouted.’

Pierce did warn at the end of the phone-in: ‘Of course we have no corroboration from No 10 about that’ – but it didn’t stop Fleet Street repeating the fictitious allegations.

Both The Sun and The Daily Telegraph fell for the story, with the broadsheet running an article headlined: ‘Gordon Brown accused of throwing a tangerine’. Only Financial Times blogger Jim Pickard smelled a rat, thanks to Cooper’s ‘EL Wisty’ tone and the reference to ‘citric idiot’.

The story even made it into BBC Two’s new gameshow The Bubble – which, ironically, challenges its panel to identify which news stories are true and false. Host David Mitchell outlined the allegations as if they had been genuine.

Here is the phone call, as animated by Popper:

Published: 28 Feb 2010

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