British Comedy Guide

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

QI

BBC Two and BBC One panel show focusing on quite interesting facts. 217 episodes (pilot + 15 series), 2003 - 2018. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

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Series L, Episode 16 - Landmarks

Full synopsis

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Jo Brand, Stephen Fry, David Mitchell, Colin Lane. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Theme

- This is a "General" show in Series L, covering a wide range of different topics beginning with "L".

Topics

- Stephen decides to get the panel to do some work and for them to choose one of two questions: whether they want to know about the death of the last American Civil War pensioner, or the last thing you would like to see on the London Underground.

- The interesting thing about the death of the last American Civil War pensioner is that it has not happened yet, even though the American Civil War ended in 1865. The last actual veteran was named Woolson and he died in 1956, aged 109. The last widow of a Civil War veteran died in 2008. She was Maudie Hopkins, who in 1934 married an 86-year-old veteran named William Cantrell. Another woman, Alberta Martin, died in 2004, but aged 21 in 1927 she married an 81-year-old Confederate veteran who died in 1931. Martin then married her step-grandson. But the actual pension of $876 per year is still being given to the children of veterans, who are still alive.

- The last thing you would like to see on the London Underground is a public execution. Public executions still existed at the time the first Underground trains were running. People travelled to Newgate (now the Old Bailey), some of who came by Tube, to see the last public execution, who was of Michael Barrett, a Fenian (Irish nationalist) who many people believe was innocent of his crime of placing a bomb outside Clerkenwell Prison to help another Fenian to escape. It is believed it was most likely a gang who did it, but Barrett was the only one who was caught and was arrested on very little evidence.

- XL Tangent: Stephen remembers that his father listened to the Finnish composer Sibelius talking on the radio, who spoke about when he was young Sibelius had a old music copyist who had previously worked for Beethoven.

- A question on larceny: out of a choice between getting an email from a Spanish prisoner or a Nigerian prince, you would rather not have either because both are likely to be scams. The Spanish prisoner scam was the medieval version of the modern day Nigerian email scam. These letters were sent by people claiming to be Spanish prisoners, needed someone to pay for their freedom, and would pay them back a thousand-fold once out. In 1914, the year Nigeria was founded, the British ambassador to Spain wrote to the Nigerian colonial offices warning them about the Spanish prisoner scam. It is possible therefore that Nigerian criminals got this scam from the British. The Nigerian scams deliberately use bad spelling and grammar because someone who fails to spot the mistakes is more likely to be conned - it is to weed out smart people who are unlikely to fall for the scam.

- Tangent: Colin claims he has never received a scam Nigerian email. Stephen jokingly claims that this is because the internet connection in Australia is so slow that they cannot get emails down under. Colin pretends to walk off the set in protest but returns.

- Tangent: Alan got a letter from a Nigerian person and it said that he should ring a particular phone number, but the number was in Spain. The letter went to a house that Alan no longer lived in, and it was addressed to person who owned the house before him. The letter told Alan that he won a large sum of money, so Alan rang the number and told the sender about the error with the previous owner. The scammer said that according to the terms and conditions the winnings can be passed on to the next owner of the house. Alan accused the man of conning him, to which the scammer angrily said in a thick Nigerian accent that he was not. Alan then asked for the money to which the scammer said that he needed Alan's bank details, to which Alan put the phone down.

- Tangent: "419 baiters" are people who deliberately play along with scammers and waste their time with no intention of falling for the scam. The name comes from the fact that in the penal code of Nigeria, article 419 covers that kind of fraud.

- Tangent: Jo likes the fact that these scams always include a huge sum of money totalling millions of dollars, rather than a more reasonable sum that is more believable.

- Tangent: In Nigerian English they put the accent on English words in different places. For example "CAT-eg-ory" becomes "cat-EG-ory".

- Tangent: Alan jokes that the reason Nigerian email scams use bad spelling and grammar is to con Australians. Colin reacts by throwing things at Alan.

- XL: You can turn a camel into a mule by leading it down a path without feeding it. Drug traffickers can train their camels to be drug mules and to take secret smuggling routes by leading them down the preferred route without feeding them. The camel only gets fed once they have reached their destination. This makes the camel remember the route and so it can transport drugs without the need of a human to travel with it. The trafficker can just wait in a hotel while the camel makes the long walk, and if the camel is caught by the police there are no humans to arrest. Some smuggling routes can be as long as from the Red Sea to Morocco, where the drugs can then be shipped to Spain.

- XL Tangent: It is reported that cocaine and ibuprofen are now getting into Britain's water supplies because the British consume these substances so much. Traces of cocaine are sometimes found on banknotes too.

- The aviation techniques of the concrete arrows involved putting large concrete arrows in the ground across the USA pointing west, so that pilots could see these from high in the air and know which direction they were travelling in. These 70 foot long arrows occurred every 10 miles across the country. This programme was stopped in 1933 due to advances in radio technology. Often the names of towns would be painted on large buildings as an additional aid.

- Tangent: During World War One the French tried to design a replica Paris in order to trick the Germans and prevent the real Paris from being bombed. It was built 15 miles to the north of the actual Paris on another stretch of the Seine. The replica included a fake Gare du Nord and moving lights to suggest moving trains. It was left incomplete by the time the war ended.

- XL Tangent: The magician Jasper Maskelyne claimed that he camouflaged the Suez Canal and created a fake army in Kent during WWII, but these claims are disputed.

- XL Tangent: Harry Houdini was the first person to make a powered flight in Australia. He did it because no-one had yet done it. Stephen did a show in Broadway at the Belasco Theatre where Houdini did his famous elephant disappearing trick. The theatre has the deepest sub-stage that you can imagine because it needed to house two elephants. The Theatre Royal in Newcastle has replicas of all the Victorian ropes and pulleys that it used so you could have moving floors or stage a horse race on a revolving stage. The originals were burned down in the 1980s. The originals were operated by sailors, but at one time they did such elaborate stage work that they would have 190 crew members working under the stage. Meanwhile, the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane had a steam main.

- There is a mighty Norfolk oak which commemorates a military leader. Unfortunately the leader was Adolf Hitler. Everyone who won a gold medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics was given a sapling of an oak tree. The one in Norfolk is the only one left in Britain. Most Americans got rid of the trees they were presented with, but Jesse Owens kept his. One of his oaks still survives in his old training school in Cleveland, Ohio. Another was given to his mother. The German for "oak" is "eich", so "Eichmann" means "Oakman" in English. (Forfeit: Nigel Farage)

- XL Tangent: In Kyrgyzstan there was a forest, possibly planted by WWII German prisoners of war, which when it grew up was shaped like a swastika. There was another forest swastika in Brandenburg, Prussia, which used larch trees that turned yellow at a particular time of year so the swastika was only visible for a brief period each year. It was possibly planted by enthusiastic Hitler Youths. In modern day Germany anything seen to promote Nazism is illegal so the trees were cut down in 2000.

- XL: In a fight between Chuck Norris or communism you could argue that Norris would win. One of things that communist regimes did, especially those of Nicolae Ceau?escu in communist Romania, was they wanted to prevent the people from knowing how well off the west was. Censorship was so great that even in Tom and Jerry cartoons if someone opened a fridge that scene would be cut because they did not want to show the fridge full of food. However, one woman on her own named Margareta Nistor imported over 5,000 western movies and dubbed them (albeit not changing her accent to differentiate between the characters) including Jaws, The Godfather Part II, The Shining and lots of Chuck Norris films. After Ceau?escu, Nistor was the most famous person in Romania for a whole generation, although she never revealed her true identity at the time. Her story is now being turned into a film called Chuck Norris VS Communism.

- XL Tangent: Stephen was once in a New York cab driven by a Romanian who told Stephen that when he rescued his mother from communist Romania they both went to a corner supermarket. The driver was picking stuff off the shelves when he noticed his mother disappeared. He turned around the aisle and spotted his mother sobbing, saying that the her government had lied to her. They said that most westerners were poor, only very few were rich, and yet her son could afford to buy all of this stuff.

- XL: Spend-a-Penny Bonus: You should get out bed and go to the lavatory in order to avoid being eaten by the Big Bad Wolf. This is a bizarre 1870 version of Little Red Riding Hood, where after Red Riding Hood gets to her grandmother's house the Wolf asks her to perform a striptease and throw her clothes on the fire. The Wolf then tells her to get into bed, does so, and then she realises that the Wolf is not her grandmother. To escape Red Riding Hood asks to go to the lavatory. The Wolf urges her just to take a dump in the bed, but she refuses, goes outside to go the lavatory, and escapes using her good manners. This was one of the fairy tales collected by Charles Perrault, but in his version Red Riding Hood goes to sleep and is eaten by the Wolf. There is an 11th century version of the story called The False Grandmother where instead of a wolf an ogre kills the grandmother and uses her intestine as a latch string on the door. When Red Riding Hood enters the house she eats her grandmother's dismembered teeth and drinks her blood by accident.

- XL Tangent: If you meet a wolf in the wild the thing to remember is that you should be OK if you only see one. This is because wolves a pack animals, so they only hunt when they are together. If there is a wolf pack, you should be able to hear them howling from far away and escape.

- XL Tangent: In the original story of "Pinocchio" by Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio kills Jiminy Cricket with hammer, then Pinocchio is later robbed, beaten, has his legs burnt off, and is eventually hanged by a cat and a fox for being smug. In one of the early versions of "Cinderella" the wicked stepmother and the ugly sisters try to make their feet fit into Cinderella's glass slippers by cutting off their toes and bunions.

- Spending-a-Penny Bonus: The panel are shown some film footage form 1902 of a British coronation and are asked who the man with the big beard is. The man is actually a French lavatory attendant, who briefly became one of the biggest film stars in the world, for playing Edward VII in a film adaptation of the king's coronation. It was filmed by George Melies, who had planned to film the actual coronation but his equipment was too loud and so he was not allowed to do so. So he re-created it in a French film studio and used a lavatory attendant to play Edward VII. The only real footage in the film is of the king in his carriages. The film actually went better than the real ceremony, during which the elderly and almost blind Archbishop of Canterbury put the king's crown on backwards, and when he knelt down to swear fealty to the king he could not get up again. Edward VII liked the film when watched it, according to a letter to QI sent by Melies's great-great-granddaughter Pauline. (Forfeit: George V; Edward VII)

- XL Tangent: Melies's film also conveniently hid the fact that Edward VII's wife, Queen Alexandria, was a lot taller than Edward.

General Ignorance

- The Duchy of Cornwall is mostly in Devon.

- A cowboy calls his rope just a rope. Calling it a lasso is giveaway that you are a city slicker. Lassos have been known to have been used by the Ancient Egyptians to capture antelopes and wild oxen. (Forfeit: Lasso)

- Tangent: A picture is shown illustrating the Egyptians using a lasso to capture a hippo. Hippos kill a lot of humans, normally by upturning boats. Hippos are actually vegetarian.

- Tangent: NASA plans to use a lasso to capture a small asteroid and make it orbit the Moon.

- The company which makes the most tyres in the world is Lego. Obviously, they are not "proper" tyres used in cars, but they are a kind of tyre. (Forfeit: Goodyear; Dunlop; Firestone; Pirelli)

- Tangent: Harry Hill used to do a joke that went: "Who was that character in Corrie? Julie..." to which someone would shout "Goodyear", and Harry would say: "Yeah, not bad thanks." A similar joke is to say the name of the Austrian racing driver "Niki", then someone says "Lauda", and then repeat the question louder. Colin talks about an actress from Legally Blonde who was stabbed called "Resse", to which Stephen answers "Witherspoon" and Colin says: "No, with a knife." Stephen can't remember of the name of an actress in Friends called "Courtney", to which Alan answers, "Cox" and Stephen replies: "Caught any cock? No, not lately."

Score

- Colin Lane: 2 points
- Alan Davies: 0 points
- Jo Brand: -18 points
- David Mitchell: -48 points

Broadcast details

Date
Friday 23rd January 2015
Time
10pm
Channel
BBC Two
Length
30 minutes
Ratings
1.44 million viewers (7.60% audience share)

Repeats

  1. Friday 23rd January 2015 at 11:05pm on BBC2 Scot
  2. Saturday 18th April 2015 at 10:20pm on BBC2 (45 minute version)
  3. Wednesday 15th July 2015 at 10:00pm on BBC2
  4. Monday 23rd November 2015 at 10:00pm on Dave (60 minute version)
  5. Tuesday 24th November 2015 at 9:00pm on Dave (60 minute version)
  6. Thursday 28th January 2016 at 1:00am on Dave (60 minute version)
  7. Thursday 28th January 2016 at 9:00pm on Dave (60 minute version)
  8. Friday 29th April 2016 at 12:55am on Dave (60 minute version)
  9. Friday 29th April 2016 at 9:00pm on Dave (60 minute version)
  10. Thursday 7th July 2016 at 10:00pm on Dave (60 minute version)
  11. Thursday 29th September 2016 at 8:00pm on Dave (60 minute version)
  12. Friday 30th September 2016 at 1:20am on Dave (60 minute version)
  13. Thursday 26th January 2017 at 8:00pm on Dave (60 minute version)
  14. Saturday 28th January 2017 at 2:00pm on Dave (60 minute version)
  15. Friday 7th July 2017 at 1:00am on Dave (60 minute version)
  16. Friday 7th July 2017 at 9:00pm on BBC2
  17. Sunday 1st October 2017 at 1:00am on Dave (60 minute version)
  18. Monday 27th November 2017 at 11:00pm on Dave (60 minute version)
  19. Tuesday 28th November 2017 at 2:00am on Dave (60 minute version)

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Stephen Fry Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Jo Brand Guest
David Mitchell Guest
Colin Lane Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
John Mitchinson Question Writer
Molly Oldfield Question Writer
Andrew Hunter Murray Question Writer
Anne Miller Question Writer
Stevyn Colgan Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Ruby Kuraishe Executive Producer
Suzanne McManus Executive Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Howard Goodall Composer

Video

The secret of Edward VII's coronation film

Stephen Fry and his guests discuss Edward VII's coronation film.

Featuring: Alan Davies, Stephen Fry, Jo Brand, David Mitchell, Colin Lane.

Press

Radio Times review

If I tell you that the expression "penal code" is enough to raise a laugh in this edition of QI and that at one stage Alan Davies is reduced to sticking his biro to his top lip for fun, you'll get the picture. It's not, I'm afraid to say, a classic. And that's despite the presence of the usually rock-solid David Mitchell, who is strangely subdued throughout.

So why watch? Well because even a sub-par, so-so QI can put a wry smile on your face and impart mildly intriguing titbits, such as the fact that a French documentary about King Edward VII's coronation featured a lavatory attendant standing in for the king.

David Butcher, Radio Times, 23rd January 2015

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