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


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2024
  • 312 episodes (21 series)

Panel game that contains lots of difficult questions and a large amount of quite interesting facts. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

  • Due to return for Series V
  • Series J, Episode 9 repeated at 10pm on Dave
  • JustWatch Streaming rank this week: 1,000


Episode menu

Series L, Episode 3 - Literature

Preview clips

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Lloyd Langford, Stephen Fry, Victoria Coren Mitchell, Jack Whitehall. Copyright: TalkbackThames


- Stephen asks the audience to put their hands up if they have read 1984 by George Orwell. The audience are penalised because about a quarter of people who claim to have read it are lying. Stephen gives some points back to those audience members who are honest and admit to lying. (Forfeit: Yes)

- Tangent: Stephen studied English at university but he has never read 1984. Alan, trying to get some points, states that there are two TV shows whose names come from the novel, by Stephen rather ruins it be mentioning that they are Room 101 and Big Brother. Stephen knows that the opening line mentions the clocks striking 13 and that the main character is called Winston. There was a film adaptation starring John Hurt.

- Tangent: Jack jokingly claims that he has never read the end of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and that he has not read the Harry Potter books because he prefers the audiobooks read by Stephen. Jack claims that he is so used to hearing Stephen speak that he now thinks of everything in Stephen's voice - including sexual thoughts involving Camila, Duchess of Cornwall.

- XL Tangent: Orwell's real name was Eric Arthur Blair. His allegorical tale about Stalin and Trotsky, "Animal Farm", was turned down by several publishers during World War II because Britain was allied to Stalin's Russia. One of the people who turned it down was T.S. Eliot.

- The panel are given some Victorian slang terms beginning with "L" and are asked what they mean:

- Land o'cakes: Scotland.

- Land o'Scots: Heaven.

- Learning shover: Teacher.

- Lally-gagging: To flirt.

- Lemon squash party: A party for men in which only lemon squash is served, practiced by members of the temperance movement.

- Last shake o'the bag: Your last child.

- Leg maniac: An eccentric dancer.

- Spending a Penny Bonus: The panel have to identify the contents a blurry picture without mining their words. This is just about impossible to do because the item in the picture is always referred to euphemistically, normally as a "toilet" or "lavatory". The word "toilet" comes from French "toile" which means "towel". "Lavatory" comes from "lavare", the Latin for "to wash", so it is akin to the American term "washroom". "Water closet" means "a closet with running water in it". (Forfeit: Toilet; Lavatory)

- The panel try to suggest ideas for the last line of the following limerick: "There was an Old Person of Chile; Whose conduct was painful and silly; He sat on the stairs; Eating apples and pears..." Alan suggests: "Firing pips out of his willy", which everyone agrees is much better than the original line composed by Edward Lear which is: "That imprudent Old Person of Chile." Lear popularised the limerick, but had the annoying habit of making the final line almost the same as the first, making it less funny - something which Alan rants about at length. The panel are given another of Lear's limericks to finish: "There was an Old Man with a gong; Who bumped at it all day long; But they called out, 'O Law!; You're a horrid old bore!'..." to which the last line is: "So they smashed that Old Man with a gong." To be fair to Lear, poetry is what he was second best at. His greatest skill was as a painter of birds: both highly accurate, scientific paintings and more simplistic comic ones. David Attenborough claims that Lear was the greatest ornithological painter there ever was.

- XL Tangent: The panel are given another Lear limerick to end which goes: "There was a Young Lady of Poole; Whose soup was excessively cool; So she put it to boil; By the aid of some oil..." The last line is "That ingenious Young Lady of Poole."

- XL Tangent: Alan talks about an episode of Gogglebox which featured one person who was German watching Heston Blumenthal. Someone else watching it with asked the German if Heston's name was German, to which the German said that "Blumenthal" means "Flower Valley". However, in his German accent "Valley" came out as "W-alley", and even his own wife thought that he had said "willy". Everyone except the German was laughing. Stephen had a Hungarian grandfather who spoke German. As a child Stephen complained when his grandfather could not pronounce English sentences correctly, and his grandfather complained when Stephen could not pronounce German sentences correctly.

- XL Tangent: Comedian Ronnie Barker annotated his collection of Edward Lear poems so that the last line in each of them was funny. Barker began his collection with a limerick of his own that read: "There was an old fossil named Lear; Whose verses were boring and drear; His last lines were worst; Just the same as the first; So I've tried to improve them on here."

- XL Tangent: Lear had a pet cat called Foss that he was so fond of that when Lear was forced to move house he decided to build another house, identical to the first, so Foss would feel at home.

- The kind of logical reasoning used by Sherlock Holmes was abductive reasoning. An example could be phrased: "I saw Alan Davies in an Arsenal scarf. Alan Davies always cries when Arsenal lose. I saw Alan Davies crying. Therefore Arsenal just lost." It is not absolutely true, but it is normally the case that it is. Holmes did not use deduction, which is where you reason something that is unchallengeable. For example: "All humans are mortal. Alan Davies is a human. Therefore Alan Davies is mortal." (Forfeit: Deduction).

- Tangent: Jack jokingly claims Holmes used "lavatorial reasoning", saying that you often have much clear thoughts when you are going to the toilet. Jack uses the phrase "dropping the kids at the pool" to euphemistically describe defecation - a phrase Stephen has never heard before.

- Tangent: Holmes never says: "Elementary, my dear Watson." This was created by P.G. Wodehouse, in the 1915 novel Psmith, Journalist. The relationship between Jeeves and Wooster is partly inspired by the relationship between Holmes and Watson.

- XL Tangent: Wodehouse played cricket with Arthur Conan-Doyle, and was a POW during World War II. He was taken to Upper Silesia, to which he once said: "If this is Upper Silesia, God knows what Lower Silesia must look like."

- Probably the only people who like clowns are other clowns. A study in 2008 has shown that children do not like them.

- Tangent: Jack claims that UKIP supporters like clowns because like clowns they are fun, comical, wear silly clothes, but they are also terrifying. Lloyd also adds that like clowns, UKIP also has a lot of white faces.

- XL Tangent: P Diddy is afraid of clowns. Most people believe that the technical term for this is "coulrophobia". However, the world is not in the OED, and if you look it up in the Online Etymology Dictionary it says: "It looks suspiciously like the sort of thing that idle, pseudo-intellectuals invent on the internet, and which every smarty-pants take up thereafter." It reportedly comes from "coulro", which is "limb", possibly referencing a stilt walker, and the Greek word for clown is "klooun", which comes from English. So perhaps it should be "kloounophbia". Jack jokingly says that is the fear of Martin Clunes. One time Stephen was with Clunes, who had picked up a magazine because he thought there was an interview of him inside it. The opening line of the interview described Clunes as: "Face like a torn arse..."

- XL Tangent: Clowns date back as far as 2,500 B.C., with the first famous British clown being Joseph Grimaldi, born 1778 and working in the 19th century. During the height of his fame one-in-eight Londoners came to see him perform. There is a Grimaldi Park near to where George Orwell used to live. There was one story about a man who went to see a doctor because he was so miserable, and the doctor suggested that he should go and cheer up by going to see Grimaldi. The patient replied: "I am Grimaldi". Grimaldi had a tragic life: his wife died in childbirth, his father was somewhat insane, and his son drank himself to death. Grimaldi said: "I am grim all day, but I make you laugh at night."

- In honour of Victoria, the panel plays a game of Only Connect, and try to find the connection between five clues. These are: "John F. Kennedy: Profiles of Courage", "Schumann: Theme and Variations in E Flat", "John Prescott: Prezza", "Alcoholics Anonymous: The 12 Steps" and "Katie Price: Crystal". The answer is they were all ghost-written. Bill Wilson, one of the founders of AA, claimed that a spirit told him the 12 steps and he wrote them down. Robert Schumann claimed that the spirits of Schubert and Mendelssohn gave him the idea for Theme and Variations in E Flat, which are also known as the Ghost Variations. Prezza was ghost-written by Hunter Davies who also ghost-wrote Gazza and Wayne Rooney's autobiography. Crystal outsold all seven Booker Prize nominees the year it came out. Reportedly Katie Price talks through her stories with her ghost-writer who then writes the story out, or as one of her managers put it: "Katie says what she wants the story to be like, and they just put into book words." Kennedy's book was ghost-written by his speech writer Ted Sorensen, who also came up with Kennedy's quote: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

- Tangent: Alan admits that he has never managed to watch a whole episode of Only Connect.

- Tangent: Ronald Regan said of his autobiography: "I look forward to reading it."

- XL: The panel are shown the longest word in literature, which is a Greek word written in the Greek alphabet, and are asked what it means. It is word created by the comic playwright Aristophanes which is basically a very specific kind of lunch. It is translated into English as: "a dish of sliced fish, shark and remnants of dogfish head, forming a pungent sharp tasting mixture, laserwort, crab with drizzled honey, and thrush and a blackbird on top, a wood pigeon, a normal pigeon, a little baked chicken, another pigeon, a hare with boiled down wine, and crunchy wings for dipping." In Greek this is pronounced: "Lopado-temacho-selacho-galeo-kranio-leipsano-drim-hypo-trimmato-silphio-parao-melito-katakechy-meno-kichl-epi-kossypho-phatto-perister-alektryon-opte-kephallio-kigklo-peleio-lagoio-siraio-baphe-tragano-pterygon".

- XL Tangent: Stephen and Victoria have an argument about the origin of the word "lunch". Victoria, who once presented a documentary about it, said that the word began as "lunch", was extended to "luncheon", and then shrunk back down again. However, Stephen claims it originally comes from an Anglo-Saxon word "nuncheon". Victoria then claims that the phrase "ploughman's lunch" comes from the Milk Marketing Board, and that the origin of term "nuncheon" is disputed. Then Stephen says that "nuncheon" was used until around the 18th century, and this word comes from "noon" and "schench" which means drink, so it is a liquid lunch. No-one knows why it changed to luncheon, but it did, and then it changed to lunch.

General Ignorance

- The thing that comes before a fall is a haughty spirit. According to the Book of Proverbs in the King James Bible: "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before the fall." (Forfeit: Pride)

- Tangent: According to a survey in 2009 the most common misquote is to wrongly pronounce "damp squib" as "damp squid". Other misquotes include "on tender hooks" instead of "on tenterhooks", "nipping something in the butt" instead of "nipping something in the bud", and a "mute" point instead of a "moot" point. These are examples of "eggcorns", which comes from a mangled pronunciation of "acorns". Examples of eggcorns include "in lame man's terms", "to all intensive purposes", "the feeble position" (rather than foetal), "soaping wet", "with flying collars", "to name a view", "self-phone", "giving up the goat", "putting the cat before the horse", "nipples in a twist" and "chickens coming home to roast". Alan quotes an example from the Australian comedy Kath and Kim where one hungry character says: "I'm absolutely ravishing".

- A siren's tail was birdlike. The sirens, often confused with mermaids, where the creatures in Greek mythology who sung to sailors to lure them onto the rocks. (Forfeit: Fishy)

- XL Tangent: Odysseus supposedly survived listening to the siren's song by having his men tie him up to the foremast of his ship with his ear open, and he made his men plug their own ears with wax. Odysseus then told his men that no matter how much he screamed and begged to be freed not to be released until they were a safe distance away from the song.

- XL: Despite what QI said back in Series A, you can get lead poisoning from a pencil, if your pencil is old enough. This is because pre-1970s pencils used to be covered with lead paint. There have been two cases of lead poisoning from such pencils. Lead became illegal in all household products by 1978.


- Victoria Coren Mitchell: 9 points
- The Audience: -2.5 points
- Lloyd Langford: -10 points
- Jack Whitehall: -16 points
- Alan Davies: -39 points

Broadcast details

Friday 17th October 2014
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Stephen Fry Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Jack Whitehall Guest
Victoria Coren Mitchell Guest
Lloyd Langford Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
John Mitchinson Question Writer
Mat Coward Researcher
Molly Oldfield Question Writer
Will Bowen Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Question Writer
Anna Ptaszynski Researcher
Alex Bell Researcher
Anne Miller Question Writer
Stevyn Colgan Question Writer
Ben Dupré Researcher
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Ruby Kuraishe Executive Producer
Suzanne McManus Executive Producer
Justin Pollard Associate Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Howard Goodall Composer


Guess the last line of the limerick

The comedians talk about limericks, and Alan becomes angry at how bad Edward Lear's were.

Featuring: Stephen Fry, Alan Davies, Jack Whitehall, Victoria Coren Mitchell & Lloyd Langford.


Radio Times review

In honour of guest Victoria Coren Mitchell, QI goes off-grid and includes an Only Connect round. The most shocking thing to emerge from this dramatic deviation from the norm is that Alan Davies has never managed to sit through an entire episode of the BBC Two brainiac quiz.

It will surprise no one to learn that Jack Whitehall takes over the proceedings completely for his usual Whitehall farce, though you can't dislike him for it. He's funny, particularly when discussing his dad's disapproval of his son's bromance with host Stephen Fry.

Elsewhere, we learn the connection between PG Wodehouse and Sherlock Holmes - and did you know that a quarter of the people who claim to have read 1984 are lying?

Alison Graham, Radio Times, 17th October 2014

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