Johnny Vaughan beside the space ship simulator.

Television’s most spectacular hoax was more of a life lesson than a practical joke.

In the most gleeful declaration in history of that most versatile of phrases “UNBEKNOWNST TO THEM”, Space Cadets was introduced to the nation’s screens on 7 December 2005.

Wearing a longline parka and an almost cosmic grin, British breakfast bloke Johnny Vaughan told the 2.6 million viewers tuning in to Channel 4 that he and his team would be tricking a bunch of members of the public into believing they were going to space on a five-day mission to orbit the earth.

Showing us around the recreation of a Russian space station in a field near Ipswich (soundproofed so that the bells of a local parish church wouldn’t give the game away), Vaughan demonstrated how the fake spaceship (designed from real blueprints) was simply made of MDF and what looked like tin foil.

The production team visited a local Essex aircraft junkyard to buy some military bric-a-brac, which they plastered with Cyrillic lettering (the “space station” motto is Это не ракетостроение – “It’s not rocket science”) before going to Moscow for a supermarket sweep of Russian supplies to last the space cadets three weeks. “Cheap as chipskis,” hams Vaughan.

In a bid to find suggestible, low-inhibition contenders, the auditions for the space cadets included the gold standard trope of early social experiment entertainment: psychological tests.

These rigorous assessments included:

1. Making them dance blindfolded to no music.

2. Influencing them with fake answers to a how-many-sweets-in-the-jar? guessing game (except with rubber eyeballs because this was Channel 4 in 2005).

3. Seeing if they’d identify non-existent faces in cards patterned with dots (“it looks like an Italian priest, with The Joker out of Batman’s make-up on,” spotted one wannabe astronaut).

4. Making sure they weren’t claustrophobic by trapping them in a lift and filming them until they reached the brink of anxiety attacks. Ethics ’05!

Oh, and they also made sure to eliminate applicants whose hobbies were “military bases or space” – including anyone who could name more than four Star Trek characters.

Nine ecstatic recruits (including three actors who were in on the hoax) were told they would be “the very first televised British space tourists”.

Cue group hugs and cries of “OH MY DAYS” from the unsuspecting gaggle of recruitment consultants, students and administrators. And on they hopped from Kent onto the flight to Russia (a plane flying around the UK for four hours before landing …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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