QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Sandi Toksvig. Copyright: TalkbackThames.


BBC Two and BBC One panel show about quite interesting facts. 266 episodes (pilot + 18 series), 2003 - 2020. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

Christmas special coming up.
Series K, Episode 15 is repeated on Dave today at 9pm.

Series J, Episode 13 - Jobs

Further details

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Richard Coles, Stephen Fry, Sarah Millican, David Mitchell. Copyright: TalkbackThames.


- XL Tangent: David protests over his buzzer noise. They are meant to represent their former occupations. David used to be a cloakroom attendant and his buzzer is the sound of a toilet flushing, when he actually looked after people's coats. Richard does have a cloak as part of his uniform. It has deep poachers pockets so you can keep things like holy water in it. It is also practical. It has special tapes and bits you can hang onto. It is also normal to kiss the stole of the cloak before putting it on as a form of prayer. Stephen cannot help but think that Richard would look like an exorcist, which is a ritual Richard has performed, although now it is called "Deliverance". He once worked in a parish with a lot of drugs problems, so he often found himself being called out by people who had taken a lot of speed. As the callers told them what happened, he would realise they would be describing the horror film they saw at the pictures the week before.

- XL Tangent: Stephen had a friend called Dom Sylvester Houedard who was called out by someone who thought he was Napoleon. Dom's reply was to say that he was Wellington. Richard had a friend, Donald who ran a psychiatric ward an one of the patients thought that he was God. He would ask Donald all sorts of hard religious questions. Eventually Donald got impatient and said, "If you are God, would you kindly settle, once and for all, the exact relation of the three Persons of the Trinity?" The man's reply was: "I never talk shop."

- The panel are given a list of obscure job titles taken from the 1891 UK Census and are asked what the job was.

- Ripper: Other than a murderer, is someone who sells fish by the riverside. It comes from the word "riparian" which means, "of the riverside".

- Burgrailler: Someone who removed burrs from the teeth of combs in a cotton mill.

- Willyer: Also known as a "woollier", is someone who operates a willying machine, a type of loom.

- Wharfinger: Someone who owns a wharf.

- Tangent: Worf is a character in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The pop group T'Pau took their name from an episode of Star Trek[u]. T'Pau once toured with Richard's band The Communards. He claims that he often find himself in a hotel with both T'Pau and Public Image Ltd., so he would find himself having lunch between Carol Decker and John Lydon. Stephen once stayed in a hotel in America with Shaun Ryder's band Black Grape. The floor of the hotel was so rowdy that when he woke up the next morning he opened the door and found a bottle of extremely high-quality brandy with a little note on it saying: "Hope you weren't disturbed. Love, Shaun." Stephen looked down both sides of the corridor and found bottles of brandy outside every room.[/i]

- Tangent: Richard's band had a bass player who came downstairs from a hotel room one morning as they checked out and said that he trashed his room the previous night. He was pleased at first, but later found out that all the bassist did was tear up a copy of The Guardian. The rest of the band made him tidy the mess up.

- Flong maker: Taken from a corruption of the French word, "flan", meaning "heavy base", this is a printing job. The Greek for "solid" is "stereo", from which we get the word "stereotyping" because you made the same thing each time. The noise made by the rolled ink was rendered as "cliché".

- Macaroni loper: No-one can remember what this job was. It could be a job in pasta making.

- Tangent: David suggests that the macaroni loper could be a joke job title, like when people on today's census claim their religion is "Jedi". When Richard worked as a prison chaplain, he learnt that one of the inmates wanted a Jedi chaplain. Eventually they found a shaman in Lincoln who did the job, but instead of a light sabre he had a shaking stick.

XL: Snake farming works by someone getting bit by all kinds of different snakes and making yourself immune to the poison. The best known farmer, Bill Haast (1910-2011) was bitten over 120 times, the first time being at the age of 12. He claimed to have been bitten almost fatally 20 times. His blood was so rich in antibodies that they could be used in science.

- XL Tangent: In some Southern States of the USA people get bitten by snakes as a sign of faith, because there is a passage in Mark's Gospel that serpents cannot harm you if you believe in God enough. The problem is most people actually just die of the poison eventually because they did not build an immunity of it from a young age.

- XL Tangent: Mithridates, King of Pontus (Northern Turkey), an enemy of the Romans, made himself immune to poisons by taking small does. When he was cornered by the general Pompey he tried committing suicide by taking poison, but was so immune to it that it did not work, so his servant had to stab him to death.

- XL Tangent: Alan went to India on holiday and saw some green chilies in a glass. He picked up one them, and suddenly spotted three local ladies all looking at him with anticipation. He nibbled then end of it and his numb down the side of his face for a few minutes. While he was there however he learnt about another local woman who got into the Guinness Book of Records for eating dozens of them.

- XL Tangent: In Iceland they serve hakarl, which looks like cubes of foul-smelling strong cheese, which tastes awful. However, it is actually shark which is buried in sand on a beach with putrefies in its own urine.

- An inspector of nuisances was the environmental health officer of their day. They were appointed by the local authority for sanitary and health issues. They would sort out smelly houses, hoarders, disinfect houses that had smallpox, and were responsible for the scavengers, formerly known as "night soil men", who were the people who collected faeces from outside toilets.

- Tangent: Scavengers still exist. Richard encountered them when he worked as a chaplain in Uganda. He only saw it once, and remembered that the faeces had mulched down into a kind of slop.

- The thing that gets software engineers that drives people to violence is when new technology comes to replace them. Ada Lovelace, mathematician daughter of Lord Byron, and Charles Babbage, inventor of the Difference Engine, wanted to steal Frenchman Joseph Marie Jacquard's idea of using punch cards to automate things, to see if it could also be used to do calculations. Jacquard invented the Jacquard loom that used punch cards to create different patterns in the cloth, but this system put lots of people out of work, so in revenge they threw their wood clogs, known as "sabots", into the machines, from which we get the word "sabotage". The sabotages were much more violent than British Luddites.

- Tangent: When Sarah wants to type the c-word the autocorrect comes up with "Cynthia", which happens to be the name of her mother-in-law. In the original Greek "Cynthia" is spelt "Kunthia" because there is no letter "Y" in Greek, so it becomes an upsilon or "U".

- Tangent: Richard's parish had an outbreak of sabotage. It is a shoe-making area so when shoe-making became automated they broke down the machines.

- Famous fictional butlers include Hudson in Upstairs Downstairs. Jeeves however was a valet, a gentlemen's personal gentleman, but Bertie Wooster does say of him: "Although he is not a butler, if it comes down to it, he can buttle with the best of them." A butler is the head of a household whereas a valet is a personal attendant. (Forfeit: Jeeves)

- Tangent: Jeeves was older in terms of his age when Stephen played him Jeeves and Wooster, but in the first novel Carry On, Jeeves the only physical description of him is, "a darkish, youngish chap stood in the doorway."

- Tangent: The Fifth Duke of Portland relied so much on his valet that when the Duke was ill the doctor would stand outside the room while the valet carried out the examinations and called out what he saw.

- Tangent: When Stephen was asked to address the Oxford Union, and met this young man in a wing collar, who spoke in an incredibly posh accent, whose name was Jacob Rees-Mogg. He is the son of former Times Editor William Rees-Mogg, and now a Conservative MP. When canvassing he was infuriated when leafleting the streets of central Fife because he was assisted by his nanny. His reply was: "Well, I do wish you wouldn't keep going on about my nanny. If I had a valet, you'd think it was perfectly normal!" Richard had a tweet relationship with William Rees-Mogg, who quoted Anglican psalms to him.

- A sheep can be used in a gold rush because who can use the wool to filter out golden ore. You take the fleece, water runs through it and flecks of gold are left behind. You then dry the fleece and shake the gold out. This is a better method than panning. One man, Tim Severin, who wrote a book called The Jason Voyage, claims that the myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece is an exaggeration of this method.

- XL: The thing the Swiss are planning to tidy up next is space. The debris up there is very dangerous. Even a chip of paint is travelling at 18,000mph. If it hits something it shatters causing more mess and smaller pieces which are harder to clean up. In space there is 480 million copper needles because of a terrible idea by the Americans called Operation West Ford, where between 1961-63 they tried to create an artificial ionosphere that could be used to bounce radio signals off. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne is developing a project called CleanSpace One, where a sequence of janitor satellites manoeuvre alongside some rubbish, grapple it with a claw, then dive into the atmosphere where it will burn up on re-entry. The problem is the janitor is also destroyed and each satellite costs £27 million. In Britain's University of Surrey a different idea is being planned, which is the CubeSail, a nanosatellite the size of shoebox is sent up, which has a 25-square-metre solar sail. It is then driven by the Sun's photons, then carries any junk into outer space. It could be the case that anything that is sent into space may have such devices in the future.

- XL Tangent: When Stephen was a boy and went on holiday to Switzerland he discovered that the urinals had photoelectric cells. When he moved he saw the urinal flush and heard a click, so Stephen just did jack-and-forth pelvic movements until someone came into the gents.

- The best planet in the solar system to take your annual holiday in is Earth, because it is the only one who can survive on. In terms of time, Uranus might be a good place because a year there is 84 Earth years long, but each day is only 17 hours long. A year on Jupiter is equal to 12 Earth years, and its days at only 10 hours long. However as these are both gas planets holidaying on them is difficult for obvious reasons. Having said this, Jupiter might be a good place to sightsee. Sights include a layer of black liquid hydrogen 27,000 miles thick, which crushes carbon into diamonds the size of the Ritz Hotel. Also, it rains neon rather than water, so the rain is a brilliant bright red colour. The Giant Red Spot on Jupiter is four times the size of the Earth. Venus on the other hand rotates so slowly that a day is longer than a year, so a fortnight there would last 15 years. Sadly the weather is terrible. There are clouds of sulphuric acid, the surface is hot enough to melt aluminium, the atmospheric pressure is equivalent to being half a mile under the Earth's sea, and the air is mostly carbon dioxide.

- XL: Dubious Theory - Alice in Wonderland is not a children's fantasy story, but a satire on Victorian mathematicians. Lewis Carroll was a mathematician at Oxford, who was a very conservative, classical mathematician. He believed in Euclidean geometry, and was opposed to the mathematics that led to David Hilbert's questions, the Poincare Conjecture, and Riemann's Hypothesis, which later mathematicians like Alan Turing were devoted to. Carroll disliked the way maths was becoming more abstract, as he preferred symbolic logic and plain geometry. According to author Melanie Bayley, scenes including the Mad Hatter's tea party, the encounter with the Caterpillar, and meeting the Duchess whose baby turns into a pig, those scenes typified modern mathematics as nonsense. In the later story of the Cheshire Cat, who leaves only with a vanishing grin, this is claimed to be humorous way of making a serious point about the futility of abstraction (How can a cat leave a grin behind?). Also, all of Carroll's other works are either very dull, moralistic or technical. Queen Victoria loved the Alice stories so much that she asked for his next book to be dedicated to her. His next book was a rather complicated mathematical book. In the Tim Burton film version of the story the Cheshire Cat was voiced by Stephen. For more information visit aliceschaliuce.co.uk.

- A Jolly jape: Stephen is given a line of four balloons, the first three being black and last one white. He uses a laser pen to burst the black balloons, simple by focusing the beam on the balloon surface. It bursts because the black balloons absorb the green light of the pen. However, the white balloon reflects the light and does not blow up. Alan then draws a black target on the white balloon and is able to burst the balloon himself by aiming at the spot.


- The Rev. Richard Coles: 23 points
- David Mitchell: 13 points
- Sarah Millican: 8 points
- Alan Davies: 0 points

Broadcast details

Friday 14th December 2012
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Stephen Fry Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
David Mitchell Guest
Sarah Millican Guest
Richard Coles (as Rev Richard Coles) Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
John Mitchinson Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Ruby Kuraishe Executive Producer


Stephen Fry pops balloons with a laser pen

Stephen Fry demonstrates how a laser pen can pop balloons. Alan Davies thinks he's spotted something racist.

Featuring: Alan Davies, Stephen Fry.


Supporters and subscribers get more

Additional content and tools are available across the site for Supporters and BCG Pro subscribers. On this page you can:

  • Broadcast details of 55 further repeats of this episode
  • BCG Pro business users can see additional crew credits  
    If you join BCG Pro business, you can see composer, editor, production designer & researcher credits for this episode.

Donate (for fans) BCG Pro

Already a donor or Pro user?