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


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2021
  • 283 episodes (19 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.

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Series L, Episode 4 - Levity

Preview clips

Further details

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Josh Widdicombe, Stephen Fry, Sue Perkins, Frank Skinner. Copyright: TalkbackThames


- The panel will get 50 points (L in Roman numerals) if they figure out the connection between their buzzers. Sue has an owl, Josh has a beard-trimmer, Frank has some clothes being torn, and Alan has a squealing pig. The answer is that owls, shaving your beard, the rending of cloth and pigs are all forbidden under kosher law, which is in the book of Leviticus. According to Leviticus homosexuality is an abomination.

- Lab Lark Experiment: The panel perform a "levitation lark", by rubbing a balloon to produce static electricity and then using it to make a piece of plastic film float in the air.

- The funny thing about lightning strikes is that we cannot explain how they occur. Sheet lightning is the same as forked lightning, except that it is hidden by a cloud. Also it does not always strike the tallest point of a building. A photo is shown of lightning Grant's Tomb in Washington D.C. where most of the lightning strikes it about two-thirds of the way up the monument, with only a small part hitting the very top. Half the lightning comes from the ground and the top part meets it around 300 feet up. 90% of lightning strikes on the Empire State Building are ascending.

- Tangent: When Frank was a boy, whenever there was a lightning strike his father would turn the TV off, and cover all the knives and forks with a tea towel for safety.

- XL Tangent: Lightning can be beautiful by producing a Lichtenberg figure. Lichtenberg was a scientist who noticed that when people are struck by lightning they end up with a strange fern-like pattern on their body. You can produce these patterns artificially by causing electricity to run through glass.

- XL: It takes no men these days to work in a lighthouse as now nearly all of them are automatic, but back in the early days it used to be operated by three people, in case one of them died and the second scared the third. There was a case where a lighthouse off the coast of Pembrokeshire was watched by two lighthouse keepers named Thomas Howell and Thomas Griffith. The two were known to quarrel, and in 1801 Griffith died. Howell became worried that people might think he killed Griffith because of their quarrels, so Howell made Griffith a wooden coffin and tried to preserve the body, which he lashed to the outside of the lighthouse. However, a storm arouse, the coffin was smashed, and Griffith's hand started waving as if to beckon Howell. Weeks later Howell was relieved of his duty, but he had gone almost completely insane and people did not recognise him because he failed to preserve the corpse.

- XL Tangent: Probably the most famous lighthouse keeper is Grace Darling. In 1838 her father kept a lighthouse in Northumberland, and during a storm a shipped was wrecked, so Grace rowed out to sea and rescued nine survivors. She was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Humane Society, was sent £50 by Queen Victoria and had poems written about her by William Wordsworth, Algernon Swinburne and William McGonagall. Crowds of tourists came to see her.

- The most famous lighthouse in the world is the Statue of Liberty, although you could argue that the now no-longer standing Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was also as famous. It was visible for 24 miles out to sea, was a gift to America from the French, and is made out of copper. Thus it originally shone, but the copper has since oxidised.

- XL Tangent: In 1986, the centenary of the building of the Statue of Liberty, they decided to give the statue a bit of a makeover, and the only part that did not need a makeover was the copper skin, except in the torch. This was because it needed a special technique called "repousse" or "repoussage" and no American craftsman could be found to do it, so a French team came over to do it. The problem is that while the USA is a very capitalist country it is also a very unionised country and the American workforce objected to having to work with the French workforce. The French all wore uniforms and at lunch they would set up a long table with a tablecloth from which they would wine and dine from, while the Americans just ate on their own. The French used little hammers or "marteaux" to work on the torch. One Frenchman said: "We did everything by hand. The Americans couldn't believe that the best way to rivet is with hammers. It's cheaper, faster and better, but they will always try to find some machine."

- XL Tangent: In the Titanic Museum in Belfast (which Alan describes as being "quite good") they have a reconstruction of the building of the ship, and lots of the rivets were done by hand. The riveters fitted hundreds of rivets at a time in awfully hot and cramped conditions. Frank was in the airport in Belfast and he brought the journal of the Titanic Society. It was around 100 pages long and made no mention of the sinking. Thomas Hardy wrote a poem about the sinking called "The Convergence of the Twain" which tells the story from the view of both the Titanic and the iceberg. In it the two converge with each other and each verse is written in the shape of the Titanic. The cartoonist Bill Tidy created a cartoon in which lots of people are queuing at a Titanic exhibition and at the back of the queue are two polar bears who shout out: "Any news about the iceberg?" Frank says that if he was on the Titanic as it sank who would find it funny to see 40 penguins falling over on the iceberg. Stephen points out that there are not that many penguins in the arctic, although Alan mentions that you can find them.

- Spending-a-Penny Bonus: There are several interesting things you can do with a sausage. One thing you can do is improve the taste of a sausage by injecting into it a form of bacteria found in baby faeces. According to a study in the journal Meat Science sausages like pepperoni and salami are made using bacteria fermentation. One of the best bacteria to use is in baby faeces. This was discovered by a team in Catalonia. Professional tasters confirmed that the sausages tasted the same, and they are also lower in fat and salt. However, the most interesting use was protecting zeppelins. Germany, Poland, Austria and parts of Northern France actually banned the eating of sausages because the army needed them more. The problem with zeppelins was that the highly combustible hydrogen gas would leak out, so beef sausage skins were used to seal the zeppelin up and prevent the gas from escaping. It took two years for the British to create incendiary bullets to bring them down. 250,000 cows were used per zeppelin. Three zeppelins were brought down by lightning.

- XL Tangent: There was a plan to moor airships to the top of the Empire State Building. One did manage to do it in 40mph winds. However, the mast on the Empire State Building is only there so it would be taller than the Chrysler Building. They were built at the same time and the Chrysler Building was going to be the taller, so they built the mast inside the Empire State Building and put it on top when it was completed.

- The charge for the world's first charity single was the bugle call that was used in the Charge of the Light Brigade. In 1890 the bugler who was at the Charge that day, Martin Landfried, performed the same bugle call on the original bugle. The bugle itself was also used at the Battle of Waterloo. The recording was sold to raise money for veterans of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

- Tangent: There are wax cylinder recordings of Alfred Lord Tennyson, the poet who wrote The Charge of the Light Brigade.

- XL Tangent: The Bugle call in the record was a signal to bring the line from a canter to an all-out gallop, but almost all of what we would call a charge was actually at a trot. The whole thing was called an advance until the last 200 yards and then the charge was sounded. However, they did more galloping than would be in a normal British charge. Half a league is 1.5 miles. The Charge of the Light Brigade failed simply because they rode into guns.

- Chicago got completely screwed up because the city was built on a swamp, so in order to protect the city all the buildings were jacked up and screwed in place. The city was a stop-off at Lake Michigan, but typhus and typhoid were devastating the population, so to protect it they lifted the buildings on screw jacks, while people were still in the buildings. The Tremont Hotel for example remained open while it was being jacked up. Whilst the buildings were jacked up fresh water and sewage pipes were installed underneath. They also came up with a system of locks to direct the flow of sewage and fresh water in-and-out of Lake Michigan. Once a year the river that flows through Chicago is dyed green for St. Patrick's Day.

General Ignorance

- Amongst the rules in "race walking" are that you cannot run and, according to the International Association of Athletics Federations: "Race walking is a progression of steps so taken that the walker makes contact with the ground so that no visible to the human eye loss of contact occurs." All race walkers will have feet off the ground at some point, perhaps a few milliseconds long. People watching slow-motion footage on TV sometimes ring to complain about feet being off the ground, but technically the competitor has not broken the rules. (Forfeit: You have to keep one foot on the ground)

- Tangent: Someone once comically said that having a walking race is bit like having a contest to see who can whisper the loudest.

- XL Tangent: There is video footage of two women finishing a walking race who are so exhausted that they had to crawl to the finishing line.

- XL Tangent: Stephen had a time when his legs "turned to jelly" when he rappelled down a cliff face with Bear Grylls. The thing that Stephen found really scary was when Bear took him to the edge and the crew talked about all the safety precautions and hiding the cameramen for 45 minutes, and once Stephen got down this sheer face his legs had gone. Thus Stephen had to "arse-luge" down a huge slope, which ripped his trousers.

- The people on the International Space Station appear weightless because they are both in free-fall and traveling sideways incredibly fast at the same time. (Forfeit: Zero gravity)

- Spacecraft get hot on re-entry because of a bow shock: the pressure of air in front of it. The faster you go, the hotter it gets. You also experience them when you are in a plane and encounter a sonic boom. (Forfeit: Friction)

- Tangent: If you enter the atmosphere at the wrong angle you can just skip off the Earth and be lost in space.

- XL: Beavers eat wood. They are completely vegan. The dam is purely for breeding purposes. If you took beavers into an area where there are no rivers, and played the recording of a river, they will still build a dam. It is possible for a human to stand on a beaver dam without it collapsing.

- Lab Lark Experiment: Prof. Andrew Boothroyd of the physics department of Oxford University helps Stephen to demonstrate another levitation trick. Stephen is presented with a bucket of liquid nitrogen (and demonstrates its coldness by dipping a rose into it and shattering the rose on the desk) and a specially made magnet track. Stephen pours some liquid nitrogen over two pieces of black ceramic material. By making them cold they become superconductors, losing all electrical resistance, and they react interestingly to magnets. They bend magnetic lines and will resist any motion, even if that means hovering above the ground. Stephen picks one piece up, puts it above a magnet and shows that it will hover above it, never touching it provided it remains cold. A second piece is on a small straight magnetic track and moves back-and-forth along it. You can even hold the track upside down and the ceramic will still slide along. Lastly Stephen puts this second piece on a large circuit of magnets and the ceramic piece will travel perfectly along with circuit. The practical application of this would be as a form of transport, but the cost of cooling the nitrogen is very expensive, so scientists are working on cheaper alternatives. The magnets themselves are made out of neodymium, iron and boron, while the superconductors are made out of gadolinium, barium, copper and oxygen.


- Alan Davies: 11 points (Alan's 23rd victory)
- Josh Widdicombe: 5 points
- Frank Skinner: -7 points
- Sue Perkins: -14 points

Broadcast details

Friday 24th October 2014
30 minutes


  1. Tuesday 28th December 2021 at 9:00pm on Dave (60 minute version)

Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Saturday 25th October 2014 9:00pm
45 minute version
Saturday 7th March 2015 9:00pm BBC2
Sunday 8th March 2015 10:35pm BBC2 Scot
Monday 23rd March 2015 2:10am BBC2 Wales
Monday 31st August 2015 11:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 1st September 2015 9:00pm
60 minute version
Friday 20th November 2015 11:20pm
60 minute version
Thursday 31st March 2016 12:00am
60 minute version
Thursday 31st March 2016 10:00pm
60 minute version
Monday 11th April 2016 9:50pm
40 minute version
Thursday 16th June 2016 10:00pm BBC2
Sunday 3rd July 2016 8:00pm
60 minute version
Monday 4th July 2016 12:00am
60 minute version
Thursday 1st September 2016 11:00pm
60 minute version
Sunday 13th November 2016 11:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 22nd December 2016 8:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 9th September 2017 11:40pm
60 minute version
Sunday 11th February 2018 10:30pm
60 minute version
Monday 12th February 2018 2:35am
50 minute version
Sunday 20th January 2019 12:20am Dave
Sunday 20th January 2019 10:00pm Dave
Friday 3rd January 2020 11:40pm Dave
Saturday 4th January 2020 2:30am Dave
Tuesday 30th June 2020 8:20pm Dave
Wednesday 9th December 2020 12:00am Dave
Wednesday 9th December 2020 8:20pm Dave
Saturday 27th February 2021 1:20am Dave
Saturday 10th July 2021 11:20pm Dave
Monday 20th September 2021 8:20pm Dave
Tuesday 21st September 2021 2:25am Dave

Cast & crew

Stephen Fry Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Sue Perkins Guest
Frank Skinner Guest
Josh Widdicombe Guest
Andrew Boothroyd (as Professor Andrew Boothroyd of the Physics Dept. Oxford University) Self
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
Justin Pollard Associate Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Howard Goodall Composer
Mat Coward Researcher
Will Bowen Researcher
Anna Ptaszynski Researcher
Alex Bell Researcher
Ben Dupré Researcher


What was the charge for the world's first charity single?

The panel are played an ancient recording of a bugle playing the order for the doomed Charge of the Light Brigade.

View this clip on the BBC website

Featuring: Stephen Fry & Alan Davies.


Radio Times review

Sue Perkins appears to be taking this edition incredibly seriously, frowning as she unpicks the brainteasers and listening intently to Stephen Fry's elucidations as if she was the classroom swot thirsty for every drop of knowledge. That is until he poses the question how did Chicago get screwed up, to which she flippantly replies: "They put Catherine Zeta-Jones in it."

The lavatorial round may send you running towards the smallest room because the explanation is so nauseating even the panellists shriek in horror. But stick around for the quantum levitation demonstration. It's childishly and joyously brilliant. Josh Widdicombe's right when he says: "That would be the best Christmas present in the world!"

Jane Rackham, Radio Times, 24th October 2014

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