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


BBC Two and BBC One panel show about quite interesting facts. 269 episodes (pilot + 18 series), 2003 - 2021. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

Series S commissioned.
Series Q, Episode 4 is repeated on Dave today at 8pm.
Recording at Zoom (Virtual). Tickets

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Matt Lucas, Sandi Toksvig, Cariad Lloyd, Jerry Springer. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series N, Episode 12 - Noodles

Further details


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

- XL Tangent: In the introduction Jerry is described as "netholiginous", meaning, "producing clouds of smoke". Cariad is described as "noctivagant", meaning, "night-wandering".


- The list of the Christian names of the first 200 parachutists to land in Normandy on D-Day is very short, as they were all dummies called Rupert, which was nickname used in the British army for officers. The first parachutists consisted of 200 dummies, six men, some gramophones and a pigeon. The dummies were a diversionary tactic, the six men were SAS troops who played battle noises on gramophones to trick the Germans, and the pigeon was a carrier pigeon strapped to the first man to actually land in Normandy, the appropriately named Norman Poole. The Ruperts were 2'9" tall, but looked full-size from the ground. They also had firecrackers which went off when the landed, so it sounded like they were firing guns. They successfully distracted a whole German division. In 2013, a Rupert was discovered intact in a British garden shed. No-one knows how it got there, and it is now in the Museum of Army Flying in Middle Wallop. (Forfeit: No; Not that; Keep trying)

- XL Tangent: When parachuted, carrier pigeons were strapped onto someone or they had a little parachute and they dropped in a container. In Monmouth, there was a factory that only made pigeon parachutes. In the USA, the Maidenform Bra Company stopped making bras and just made vests and parachutes for pigeons. The Museum of Army Flying also has a replica of the Hamilcar, a wooden guilder large enough to carry a seven-tonne tank.

- XL Tangent: Many of the Allied soldiers on D-Day were wearing pyjamas because it was more comfortable. One of the people present on D-Day was J. D. Salinger, who was carrying the first six chapters of "The Catcher in the Rye" in his backpack.

- Tangent: Lord Lovat, commander of the first commando brigade, took his personal bagpiper Bill Millin with him on D-Day. Millin walked slowly up and down Sword Beach in Highland dress, playing the pipes to encourage the troops, and then he later piped the commandos through the French countryside. The German snipers said that they didn't shoot Millin because they thought he had gone mad.

- Tangent: Jerry was born in the UK, six months before D-Day in Highgate Underground Station. Jerry complains that there is no plaque there commemorating his birth. Jerry was mayor of Cincinnati in 1977, and the city has a subway system that was built but never used, because the money ran out and it was never completed.

- People from Newcastle took dead fish down coal mines in the 18th century because they glowed in the dark, making them safer to light mines than lit flames. They had to putrefy first before they glow, because the glowing comes from a type of bacteria. It is possible that these bacteria use the glowing to attract living fish to eat the dead fish, and thus cause the bacteria to spread. This has been known about for millennia. Aristotle wrote about wood glowing, and Pliny the Elder recommended using a walking stick dipped in a jellyfish's glowing slime as a torch.

- Tangent: Toxoplasmosis is a bacterium that lives in cats. If it can't get into a cat, then it will infect a rodent and make it not scared of cats anymore. Thus the rodent is more likely to be eaten by a cat, which then becomes infected. Humans who have toxoplasmosis are more likely to have car crashes, so the bacterium is trying to kill you in the hope that a cat will find you.

- Tangent: Some fish glow when they are disturbed by a boat's wake. In World War One, a German submarine was tracked and sunk because it had created a bioluminescent trail that could be seen from the surface.

- XL Tangent: There is a form of bacteria that has been engineered to glow in polluted water, so you know the water is dangerous.

- Tangent: Mice have been injected with bioluminescent herpes virus, so scientists can tell how the virus moves around the body.

- XL Tangent: Since the decline of the coal industry, young people seem to be unfamiliar with the phrase: "carrying coals to Newcastle". To demonstrate, the audience as asked to put up their hands if they had heard of the phrase, and then told to put their hands down if they are aged over 30. The number of hands left up is tiny, showing that the idiom has died out in a single generation. Similar phrases include the Danish: "Give bagerborn brod", which means, "Gives the baker's children bread", and the Greek: "Bringing owls to Athens". The later phrase comes from owls that used to roost in the rafters of the Parthenon. Owls were sacred to the goddess Athena, and the owls were depicted on Athenian coins. The panel try to come up with new phrases to replace "coals to Newcastle", such as "fake tan to Essex" and "bringing Andrew Cole to Newcastle" (Cole used to play for Newcastle United).

- The most painless way of sacking 24,000 people at the same time is to sack people who don't exist. In February 2016, Nigeria sacked 23,486 employees on the government payroll for not existing, in a move that saved £8million a month. These employees are known as "ghost workers", and real workers claim the wages of their fictional co-workers. In 2011, a newborn baby was added to the government payroll, and got £90 a month and a diploma. Meanwhile, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Minister of Foreign Trade in 2007 was Andre Kasongo Ilunga, who also didn't exist. The law states that there has to be at least two candidates for any ministerial post, so politician Kasimba Ngoi, who wanted the job, invented a fake rival and assumed the Prime Minister would choose the person he had heard of. However, the PM hated Ngoi, so picked the fake Ilunga instead. Ngoi later claimed that Ilunga had resigned, but the PM said he would only accept the resignation in person. Ilunga was eventually sacked.

- XL Tangent: A Spanish water board employee named Joaquin Garcia bunked off work for at least six years, and read the work of the Dutch philosopher Spinoza. The water board thought the city council was employing, while the council thought he was working for the water board, and he was only rumbled when he was awarded a special award for two decades of loyal service and no-one could find Garcia to give him the prize.

- XL: Cariad tells a story of a Bristol car park attendant who collected £3 of people to park their car. One day he was absent so people asked where the attendant was, only to find out the car park had no attendant and this person had been conning people for 15 years. However, this story is an urban myth.

- Out of death or Norfolk, Norfolk is worse. Norfolk Island is a tiny island off Australia, which in 1825 was established Australia's penal colony. Thus, Norfolk Island was a penal colony for a penal colony, and was used to transport criminals who were already serving a sentence in Australia. People who were sentenced to death on the mainland thanked God that they were not going to Norfolk Island because it the island was so awful. Some people hated the island so much that chose to commit capital offences in the hope they would be executed rather than be sent to the island.

- The newly-discovered continent, beginning and ending in "A", that most British convicts were transported to in the 18th century was America. Between 1718 and 1775, at least 52,000 convicts were exclusively sent there. Possibly a tenth of migrants to America during that period were British convicts. It wasn't until the American War of Independence started that Australia was used to transportation. (Forfeit: Australia; Antarctica)

- XL Tangent: Places in Norfolk, England, include Misery Corner, Vinegar Middle, Tuzzy Muzzy and Nowhere. 16 people lived in Nowhere in 1861, but now Nowhere is nowhere to be found. Norfolk is the last place in England where people regularly ate swan. One of the few places where you can eat swan is St. John's College, Cambridge. Swans are now symbols of love, with one example being in Boston Public Gardens, where two swans named Romeo and Juliet, who have been together for over a decade. It was recently discovered however that they are both female.

- The country where you will find the highest peak of the Alps is the Netherlands. Swiss geologist Horace-Benedict de Saussure, who led the first expedition to Mont Blanc, cut off the top of the mountain when he reached it and kept it as a souvenir. This is now kept in the Teylers Museum in Haarlem. Saussure was a polymath who some describe as "the inventor of climbing". (Forfeit: Italy; Switzerland)

- XL Tangent: de Saussure helped women's education and taught his daughter Albertine. On his expedition to Mont Blanc he took with him two frock coats, several waistcoats, his slippers, two cravats, a bed, a blanket, a mattress and 18 guides.

- Tangent: Matt suggests a good title for The Jerry Springer Show would be "My friend claims he invented climbing." Jerry suggests you can also add to this, "...and the women who love him." Jerry says you can add those words to anything and it could be a title for his show.

- XL Tangent: The highest point in the Netherlands is in the Caribbean. The volcanic island of Saba is a Dutch possession, and is 887m high, and is nearly three times higher than the tallest part of the European Netherlands. The highest point in the Dutch province of Drenthe is a 56m-high VAM-berg, which is a landscaped former rubbish dump.

- Tangent: In 2015, artist Oscar Santillan removed the topmost inch off Scafell Pike, angering the locals. The managing director of Cumbrian Tourism, Ian Stephens, said: "This is taking the mickey. We want the top of our mountain back."

- Britain's biggest national secret was the BT Tower. It was built in 1965 and it was considered such an important part of the telecoms infrastructure it was classified as an official secret, even though it was Britain's tallest building, contained a public viewing gallery and a revolving restaurant. Under the Official Secrets Act, it was illegal to take photos of the tower; it was in no Ordnance Survey maps until the mid 1990s; in a 1978 case a judge could only refer to the tower as Location 23; and in 1993 MP Kate Hoey spoke in Parliament to state the location, saying: "I hope I am covered by Parliamentary privilege when I reveal that the British Telecom Tower does exist, and that it's address is 60 Cleveland Street, London." In 2009, BT said they were going to reopen the revolving restaurant, but they never did.

- Tangent: Alan once went to the BT Tower for a charity event where Rick Astley was performing. Alan went to the toilet located in the middle of the tower, and when he returned the stage had rotated, so Alan walked out right next to Astley.

- XL Tangent: The worst ever breach of British national security, according to historian Peter Hennessy, was on 25th June 1963. On this day, Britain was left entirely unguarded against nuclear attack because every single screen of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System was tuned into the cricket.

- The best cure for nostalgia is to threaten people with being buried alive. A Russian general in 1733 threatened this to his troops, as back in the 18th and 19th century nostalgia was considered a disease. It was called "Schweizenkrankheit", or "Swiss illness", because Swiss soldiers were prone to it. In the American Civil War over 5,000 men were diagnosed with nostalgia, and reportedly 74 people died from it. The Unionist Army was forbidden from playing the song "Home Sweet Home" in case it brought on attacks of nostalgia. The suspected causes of nostalgia were unfulfilled ambition, poor hygiene, coming from farming stock and masturbation. It was declassified as a disease in 1899.

- Tangent: The only think Alan would like to bring back from his past is his grandmother's trifle. No-one now knows the recipe for it.

- Tangent: Nostalgia is thought to protect against cold. People can stand the pain of icy water for longer if they focus on nostalgic memories.

- XL Tangent: When Alan and his family went to visit his grandmother, she would produce a stool for people to sit on, and everyone wanted to sit on it, even though it was the wrong height for the nearby tables and it was uncomfortable.

- Alan is and is not a narcissist. In the standard modern test for narcissism, research shows that narcissists feel so good about themselves that they don't mind admitting it. Thus, if you think you are a narcissist, then you are one. The term "narcissism" comes from the Greek legend of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in a pond. He couldn't leave his reflection, and ended up transforming into a flower. However it is never stated what flower he is transformed into. The narcissi flower we have today has no connection with the myth, with the name coming from the narcotic quality of the plant bulb.

- XL Tangent: We are reportedly in the middle of a narcissism epidemic, with things like the selfie and social media being evidence of this. The panel are tested for their narcissism by being given a picture of a poll in the distance and being told if they think they are taller or shorter than it. Powerful people will assume they are taller.

- XL: The thing that has five faces and bigger sperm than you is a nematode worm. One of these, Pristioncus borbonicus, has sperm that is larger than that of a human and grows one of five different faces as it matures, depending on whether it is going to eat microbes or other worms. This is known as "polyphenism", and it is when animals change their form depending on the environment. Scientists believe there are over a million undiscovered species of nematode. Some are so small that it would take 20-30 of them lying end-to-end to equal the thickness of a single average coin. Some species live exclusively in vinegar and in book-binding glue. Other species use slugs as taxis by getting themselves eaten and being extracted later on, while being protected by thick skin that stops them from being digested. Bigger animals produce smaller sperm because the bigger you are the more sperm you need to produce to increase the odds of fertilising the ovum.

General Ignorance

- The panel are shown a picture of a body builder and a normal man flexing their muscles and are asked whose muscles are stronger. It is the normal man who has the stronger ones. Pound-for-pound, body builders have weaker muscles than normal people. One of the reasons body builders are so strong is that they have a large amount of muscle, but the muscles they do have are weaker. If you don't have muscles, but you do have a really good imagination, you can exercise your muscles. For example, if your hand is in cast, you can prevent yourself from losing muscle mass by imaging yourself using your hand muscles.

- XL Tangent: People with missing limbs who suffer from phantom pains can get rid of the pain by wriggling the remaining limb in front of a mirror, as it tricks the brain.

- The Shakespeare play that wasn't performed at first because it was believed to have been cursed was Henry VIII. In 1613, the first production of the play resulted in the Globe Theatre burning down, when cannon used in the special effects hit the straw thatched roof. No-one was injured in the incident, but one man's britches caught fire and he was put out with a bottle of beer. No-one was superstitious about Macbeth in Shakespeare's lifetime.

- Tangent: 400-500 years ago a theatre burned down because one man advertised that he could squeeze himself into a quart bottle on stage. When the audience learned that he couldn't do so, they rioted.

- XL Tangent: When the Globe Theatre was being excavated they discovered a layer of hazelnut shells that allowed the rainwater to filter through. When the theatre was rebuilt, they sourced 7.5 tonnes of hazelnuts from Turkey that were flown over on a military transport plane to be used in the same way.

- Tangent: The reason why Macbeth is considered unlucky is that it if a repertory company was doing a play that was not selling, they would put on Macbeth instead which was always popular. Thus, if you were putting on Macbeth, the play you really wanted to do was a failure.

- XL Tangent: Among the disaster that have actually occurred when producing "Macbeth" include one in 1947 when Harold Norman, an actor playing the lead who ignored the superstition concerning the play, died in Oldham Coliseum when he was accidentally stabbed with a real sword. In 1849, British actor William Charles Macready and American actor Edwin Forest were both playing Macbeth in different theatres in New York, and their fans rioted as to who was most successful, killing over 20 people and injuring over 100.

- America's biggest fault is the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The maximum earthquake the San Andreas fault could cause is 8.2 on the moment magnitude scale. The Cascadia Subduction Zone, which is off the coast of California could release an earthquake 30 times stronger than this. However, this is still half as large as the earthquake that caused the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 in the Indian Ocean. A big earthquake could cause a tsunami 100 feet high. (Forfeit: Donald Trump)


- Cariad Lloyd: 7 points
- Jerry Springer: -26 points
- Matt Lucas: -36 points
- Alan Davies: -56 points

Broadcast details

Friday 13th January 2017
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Matt Lucas Guest
Cariad Lloyd Guest
Jerry Springer Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Andrew Hunter Murray Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Sohail Shah Executive Producer


Britain's secret tower

How the BT Tower was covered by the Official Secrets Act.

Featuring: Sandi Toksvig, Alan Davies, Matt Lucas, Cariad Lloyd, Jerry Springer.


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