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.

Returns Wednesday 23rd December at 9pm. Episode Guide
Series P, Episode 2 is repeated on Dave today at 2am.

Series K, Episode 8 - Keys

Further details

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Bill Bailey, Stephen Fry, Isy Suttie, Tim Minchin. Copyright: TalkbackThames.


- As the guests are all music comedians Bill, Isy and Tim have keyboards instead of their normal buzzers. Alan has a child's glockenspiel, claiming Bill can teach him some tunes. Bill hits two notes on the glockenspiel and claims it is the sound of an airport announcement. Tim shows the same notes can be a doorbell. The sound is in a major third as the sound heralds good news. Bill claims the best doorbell to frighten people is the tune from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.


- If you are given the keys to the city you will not be able to do many of things you think you can do, like driving sheep across London Bridge or carrying a sword in the City of London. If you did do it then you would be committing a crime and is only done as a publicity stunt, something Stephen claims to have done, as he is a Freeman of the City of London. You do not even get an actual key, just a parchment. However, if you are poor, you can access some educational and charitable funds. Dick Wittington left money in trust for water troughs and children's education, a charity which is still going. (Forfeit: Drive sheep over the bridge)

- XL Tangent: London has had a mayor since 1213. When Stephen got his key to the city he said to the then mayor: "You must feel pretty extraordinary to be in a position that hasn't changed for 800 years." He then heard a little cough from the sheriff of London, who told Stephen that there were sheriffs of London 500 years before that, meaning the post of sheriff dates back to 8th century (the 700s). The word "sheriff" comes the adjective "shrieval" which is related to wigs.

- - XL Tangent: One of the original honours of London's key to the city was that you are free to trade without needing to pay the toll on London Bridge.

- Tangent: In 1980 Detroit gave the freedom of the city to Saddam Hussein, who was an ally of America at the time. Toronto has given the freedom of the city to the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Mickey Mouse. Corona, California gave the world's tallest cat the freedom of its city limits - a fact QI has verified to be true. Cher upset Australians when she sold her key to the city of Adelaide on eBay in 2012 for $96,000. She responded to a Twitter backlash saying: "I'm upset 2 & trying 2get2 bottom! I think my office f***** up?"

- XL: The key role that bigots played in the Second World War was the organisation of D-Day. BIGOT stood for "British Invasion of German Occupied Territory". The landings were so secret that anyone who knew any details of D-Day was put on the BIGOT list and they were not allowed under any circumstances to leave the country with the exception of Winston Churchill. During one rehearsal of the invasion in 1944 ten people on the BIGOT list were killed accidentally, which meant that all plans for the invasion had to be put on hold until they could account for every single body.

- XL Tangent: Winston Churchill was the only person that Field Marshal Montgomery would allow to smoke in his presence.

- XL Tangent: The Allies were constantly trying to make the Germans think that they were not planning to invade Normandy and move their troops to Belgium. There were plenty of missions that involved trying to fool the Germans of Allied invasion plans such as the Zigzag Man who was a double-agent, and Operation Mincemeat, which involved a corpse of down-and-out Welshman made to look like a British officer, that had fake documents on him to make the Germans think the British were going to invade Greece when in fact they were invading Sicily. This later story was turned into the film "The Man Who Never Was".

- XL Tangent: There is an online service on Facebook and Twitter which you can sign up to which monitors your status and tweets, and then when you die it continues to leave messages as you until an executor of the will you have nominated tells it to stop. While you are alive, you can leave feedback as to how good the service is. When someone dies on his contact list Stephen does not remove the name. However, as phone numbers get recycled there is the possibility of someone on Stephen's contact list ringing the number of a now dead person close to him purely by coincidence.

- XL Tangent: In Britain, the current order of the secrecy of documents, starting with the lowest is "Unclassified", "Protect", "Restricted", "Confidential", "Secret" and lastly "Top Secret", which was formerly known as "Most Secret" but then the name was changed to fit more with the Americans. UFO conspiracy theorists claim that there are actually 38 different levels of secrecy above top secret, with the next level being "Cosmic" a level that supposedly the US President does not have clearance for. "CANUKUS' Eyes Only" means a document than can only be shared between Canada, the UK and the US. "AUSCANNZUKUS' Eyes Only" are documents between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US, which is basically a document that should not be shared with France.

- The best way to keep The Open Organisation Of Lockpickers out of your home is to make sure the organisations regulations state that they can only pick a lock that belongs to them. This is a Dutch organisation, shortened to TOOOL, of recreational lockpickers who spread the word about home security and show how things can be picked.

- XL Tangent: Alfred C. Hobbs was a great American locksmith and lockpicker who visited the Great Exhibition. There the great British safe maker at the time, Chubb, had on display a detector lock that detected if someone was trying to pick it and would then make all the tumblers fall down and thus not even the original key would fit in the lock, meaning the lock would have to be destroyed in order to open it. Hobbs however managed to pick the Chubb lock in seven minutes. As a result of this the Bank of England switched its Chubb locks for Hobbs's locks.

- Tangent: Shakespeare wrote that: "Love laughs at locksmiths."

- There is no key-part of an arch. The keystone is not more important to the structure than the other arch stones or "voussoirs"; it is just the last to go in. In Roman times the builder of the arch stood below the arch as the support scaffolding was removed to show that they had faith in their structure. (Forfeit: Keystone)

- Tangent: There are certain things you can only test by using them, and once you use them you cannot use it again. For example, a ring-pull or an airbag. Airbags are hard to test because you need a lot of force to set them off. Similarly, if you deliberately try to walk into a wall at 2mph your body will not let you and you will automatically brace yourself.

- The keys on a QWERTY keyboard are arranged in the way they are to avoid jamming. The letters in English that are most likely to go together are placed further away so that there is no danger of an old fashioned mechanical typewriter from jamming, thus allowing you to type faster and smoother. (Forfeit: To slow typists down)

- Tangent: Stephen loved typewriters when he was a child. He once retyped the whole of P.G. Wodehouse's novel "Frozen Assets".

- XL Tangent: The word "typewriter" can be typed out using just the top row of letters on a QWERTY keyboard.

- The thing that starts with "K" and is killed by curiosity is a kea, a parrot from New Zealand. A bounty was placed on the bird some years ago because they would ride the sheep, peck at them and eat their fat. It was discovered however that they were very curious animals because they grew up in a country with no mammals except bats. So in order to capture them, the hunter would stand near a rock and wait for a kea to arrive. The hunter then hides behind the rock and the kea wonders over to it because it is curious to find where the hunter has gone. As it approaches the hunter kills the kea. Then other keas wonder when the first kea has gone, approach the rock and the hunter repeats the process. (Forfeit: Kitten)

- Tangnet: Another New Zealand parrot, the flightless kakapo, was only likely to be hunted by eagles, and it simply solved the problem by going nocturnal.

- XL Tangent: The kakapo as a bizarre mating ritual called the "bowl and track". The male digs a bowl like a crater and then digs a path towards it. The male also cleans anything off the track. The male then sits for months during the mating season making a large booming noise akin to blowing across a beer bottle. The female listens to the boom they most like and walk towards that track. However, if the track is not clean (a leaf had fallen onto the track for example) the female turns and walks away. The male then has to clean the track again and returns to booming. Some male kakapos wait for three years before they get the chance to mate.

[/i]- Tangent: Stephen once burrowed down into a kiwi nest. The New Zealand government were given two pandas by China in exchange for two kiwis.[/i]

- The panel are shown a picture of a woman strapped into a machine and are asked what she is doing. The machine is from 1929, patterned by Dr. Kurt Johnen, and it is a machine to help you learn how to play the piano. The machine includes a pneumatic belt that records the change in the circumference of the chest, pneumatic cuffs above the upper arms to control the changes in muscle tension, a hose in the mouth records the rhythms of respiration, while another hose transfers the strength of touch. Other piano teaching machines include the chiroplast which was clamped to the piano and trapped the players arms so you can only playing using wrist and finger action; the dactylion, a springed device which strengthened the fingers; and the chirogymnaste, which was a finger gym. There are also other variations of the piano, including one that can be played by the bedridden, and left-handed pianos.

- Tangent: It is believed that Robert Schumann used a dactylion and that it hurt his fingers, although other people claim it was actually syphilis that caused the pain.

- XL Tangent: There are modern spring-loaded gripping gadgets used to strengthen your fingers today. Tim used one when he was learning to play the piano but he decided that actually playing the piano was better. Bill says that his piano teacher had a much better method, which was to strike the back of his hands with a ruler.

- Tangent: Transposing pianos change the key using a single lever. Irving Berlin used one because he always composed in F sharp. He also could not read music despite being the greatest song writer of his age. Due to the copyright laws at the time, Berlin lived long enough to see his songs go out of copyright because at the time music copyright only lasted 75 years and did not extend after death. His first hit was "Alexander's Ragtime Band" in 1911 and he died in 1989.

- XL: Franz Liszt managed to change the piano because he hit the keys so hard and had such large hands that pianos with iron frames were made for him, which eventually became the standard. As a result the film The Piano is in accurate because in it the piano sinks in the sea, but at the time it was set the piano would have a wooden frame and thus should have floated.

- The man who knew everything thought cats were good for being turned into a piano. German Jesuit Athanasius Kircher, one of a number of people given the title of the last person to know everything, along with Thomas Young, Erasmus, Gottfried Leibniz and Alexander von Humboldt, thought cats with different pitched meows lined up together would make a good musical instrument which he called a "Katzenklavier". Amongst his achievements Kircher was lowered into Vesuvius, believed bubonic plague was spread by microbes well ahead of germ theory, falsely claimed to have interpreted Egyptian hieroglyphics, regarded magnetism and love as branches of attraction, denied the possibility of flying tortoises and invented the megaphone. Aside from cats being put into pianos there were also versions using pigs, called the pig organ, the hog harmonium, the pigano, the porko forte and the swineway grand.

- XL Tangent: King Philip II of Spain had a cat piano that was played by a bear.

General Ignorance

- Winston Churchill did not write any books about his life as Prime Minister during World War II, because those books were written by Winston S. Churchill. There was already a successful American novelist called Winston Churchill, so the PM and later Nobel Laureate wrote under the name of Winston S. Churchill (the "S" standing for "Spencer") to avoid confusion between the two writers. A comic exchange of letters between the two men started with the PM writing to the American Churchill: "Winston Churchill has no doubt that Mr. Winston Churchill will recognise from this letter, if indeed by no other means, that there is grave danger of his works being mistaken for those of Mr. Winston Churchill. He feels sure that Mr. Winston Churchill desires this as little as he does himself. In future to avoid mistakes as far as possible, Mr. Winston Churchill has decided to sign all published articles, stories or other works Winston Spencer Churchill and not Winston Churchill as formerly. He trusts that this arrangement will commend itself to Mr. Winston Churchill." The American Churchill replied: "Mr. Winston Churchill appreciates the courtesy of Mr. Winston Churchill in adopting the name Winston Spencer Churchill in his books, articles, etc. Mr. Winston Churchill makes haste to add that had he possessed any other names, he would have certainly adopted one of them." (Forfeit: The Second World War)

- XL Tangent: The only person to win both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar is George Bernard Shaw, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature and a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for "Pygmalion". Al Gore did win the Nobel Peace Prize, but while his film "An Inconvenient Truth" did win an Oscar, Gore himself was not given an Oscar personally. Shaw introduced ladies public lavatories in London.

- XL Tangent: Winston Churchill's grandson, Winston Churchill Junior, was also a Conservative MP. He and Liberal MP Clement Freud, grandson of Sigmund Freud, both went to a fact finding mission to China. Churchill invited Freud to his hotel room for a nightcap and Freud discovered that Churchill's room was much more luxurious than his. When he asked the hotel staff why Churchill's room was better he was told it was because Churchill had a famous grandfather. Freud replied: "It's the only time I've ever been out-grandfathered."

- The truly grim reading matter that was banned in Germany after World War II was the Grimm's Fairy Tales. People believed that the original savage tales had contributed something that made the German people nasty. British Major T.J. Leonard said that the stories had helped teach German children, "all the varieties of barbarousness". One story was called How Children Played Butcher with Each Other, which was removed from the second edition. In the original Frog King the frog is not kissed by the princess, but is instead hurled against a wall with all the strength she has to turn him into a prince. One nicer story, the last in the collection, features a poor boy who goes out into a wintry forest to collect wood on a sled. In the snow he finds a tiny key and next to it an iron box. The boy inserts the key, opens the box, and finds... and the story ends, allowing the read to imagine for themselves what is inside.


- Bill Bailey: 3 points
- Isy Suttie: -8 points
- Tim Minchin: Score not given.
- Alan Davies: Score not given.

Broadcast details

Friday 25th October 2013
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Stephen Fry Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Bill Bailey Guest
Isy Suttie Guest
Tim Minchin Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
John Mitchinson Question Writer
Molly Oldfield Question Writer
Andrew Hunter Murray Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Ruby Kuraishe Executive Producer


A piano made of cats

The panel chat about a cat piano.

Featuring: Alan Davies, Stephen Fry, Bill Bailey, Isy Suttie, Tim Minchin.


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