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 3 is repeated on Dave today at 9pm.

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Johnny Vegas, Sandi Toksvig, Jimmy Carr, Ronni Ancona. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series N, Episode 13 - Naval Navigation

Further details


- The panel are given naval hats with the names of ships on them. Jimmy has "Banterer", Ronni has "Spanker", Johnny has "Flirt" and Alan has "Titan Uranus". The panel are asked which are the names of genuine navy ships. The answer is that they are all are. Banterer, Spanker and Flirt were all in the Royal Navy, and there have been two Merchant Navy ships called Titan Uranus. One was an oil tanker, and the other an ore carrier.

- Tangent: Ronni's brother is an admiral in the navy, and their father was a commander.

- Tangent: Animals that have navy ships named after them include the kangaroo, gnat, weasel, zebra and cockchafer. There was also HMS Pansy and Happy Entrance.

- If you are at sea at night and see two lights on a ship, the left one green and the right one red, it means the ship is coming towards you. The red light is always on the port side, which is the ship's left-hand side, while the green light is on the starboard side, the ship's right-hand side. Thus, if port is on your right and starboard on your left, the ship is coming towards you and you should move out of the way.

- Tangent: The book with the third oddest book title in history is the 1992 book How To Avoid Huge Ships. The second-oddest book title is Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers, and the oddest of all is People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It.

- XL: You would spend a year's rent hiring a rowing boat to see Napoleon Bonaparte. After losing the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Napoleon wanted to emigrate to the USA. He went to Rochefort on the west coast France, and boarded the HMS Bellerophon, known by the men as "Billy Ruffian", but the British blockaded the port. Thus Napoleon surrendered and was taken to British waters. It was supposed to be secret that he was at anchor just outside Brixham, later moving to Plymouth. However, Napoleon was so popular with the British public that people were willing to spend a year's rent to get a rowing boat out from the shore so they could see him in the flesh. Napoleon was not allowed to set foot on land because it was feared he was so popular there might have been a public uprising against the state, and thus he might achieve his goal of defeating Britain. 10,000 people boarded 1,000 small boats in order to see him. It can be argued that the British victory at Waterloo was bad for democracy. The victory meant the Bourbons were restored as the kings of France and the revolution was over. There were people who believed Napoleon, who said that if he came to Britain he would get rid of the nobility and spread all the money to the people. In the end, Napoleon was taken to St. Helena, and then 2,800 men and a squadron of 11 ships made sure he stayed there.

- XL Tangent: Lord Nelson's pension ran out in 1947, 142 years after his death. After the Battle of Trafalgar his brother, Norfolk parson Rev. William Nelson, was given an earldom and a pension of £5,000 a year. This passed on down the family line until it was stopped by Clement Attlee. In 1947, this pension was worth £400,000 a year in today's money.

- The panel are asked to complete these lines from a nautical rhyme: "A pig on the knee..." and, "A cock on the right..." The whole rhyme goes: "A pig on the knee, safety at sea. A cock on the right, never lose a fight." Superstitious sailors used to get a tattoo of a pig on their left knee and a tattoo of a rooster or cock on their right foot. Because pigs and cockerels were kept in crates when transported by ship, if the ship sank the wooden crates would float, often protecting the animals from drowning, and thus they were associated with surviving shipwrecks.

- XL Tangent: Tattoos were invented at least 5,000 years ago for medical reasons. Otzi the Iceman, who was found in the Alps, had tattoos all over his spine, his right knee and his ankles. He had osteoarthritis in his joints.

- XL Tangent: Johnny's brother had a tattoo in a language that he didn't understand. Johnny asked what the tattoo read but when their mother entered the room he quickly covered himself up and pretended he never had the tattoo done.

- Tangent: Nora Hildebrandt was America's first professional tattooed lady. She had 365 designs tattooed on her. She claimed she had been captured by Sitting Bull and his tribe, who tied her to a tree and tattooed her every day for a year; in actual fact her father gave her the tattoos as a way of promoting his business.

- Tangent: When you have a tattoo lasered off, you poo it out. The beams of light heat the ink, breaking it down into little pieces where it is absorbed into the blood and then excreted.

- XL Tangent: A man at Barts (St. Bartholomew's hospital) had a collection of tattoos. Whenever the hospital got cadavers in, he would take off people's skin if it had an interesting tattoo on it.

- The navy salute is different from the army salute because the navy didn't want to offend Queen Victoria. In the army, the palm of the hands faces forward, but in the navy it faces downward because Victoria did not like see the grease-covered hands of sailors. The navy also toast the monarch sitting down. This dates back to either William IV or Charles II, who, when sailing home to England, stood up during a toast and hit their head on a beam, so to avoid this from happening again decreed that the navy should sit when toasting.

- Tangent: In naval slang, the term for premature ejaculation is: "getting off at Fratton". This is because Fratton is two train stops before Portsmouth.

- The panel are shown some statues which are looking down at their own bodies, and are asked which part of their body they are looking at. The statues are navel-gazing (omphaloskepsis), which in Ancient Greece was an aid to meditation.

- Tangent: The average human navel has 50 species of bacteria in it. The reason why people have slightly different "in" or "out" navels is that when the umbilical cord is cut, it dries up and falls off as the muscles close up. The navel is the scar left over, which usually ends up slightly retracted, but sometimes a bit of extra skin is also present.

- Tangent: Doctors can remove a kidney or gall bladder through the human navel.

- XL Tangent: Underwear model Karolína Kurková has no navel. One female tattoo artist has had the whites of her eyes tattooed blue and her navel removed. Johnny says that if you drink for 20 years it makes your eyes red without the need for tattooing.

- The thing that Sandi is an inch-and-a-half taller than is the minimum height required to be an astronaut for NASA. Sandi is five feet tall, and the minimum height is 4' 10.5". The maximum is 6' 4". You need to be tall enough to reach the controls and not too tall to fit in the seat. In space, you can grow by two inches due to the lack of gravity, so it possible to go into space and then break the height limit. When Scott Kelly came back from the International Space Station he was two inches taller than his twin brother. When you return to Earth you return to your original height quickly. Also, in space the internal organs move inside the torso, so your waist shrinks by several inches. On Earth, human leg muscles pump blood into the upper body against gravity, but in space the blood and fluids get pumped upwards, giving you a buffed up torso.

- Tangent: Ronnie Corbett was 5' 1.5". He and Sandi were once playing golf together, and Ronnie said: "Dear God, darling, from a distance we must look like a condiment set."

- XL Tangent: When Jimmy first met Johnny he had acid reflux at the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh. Johnny was trying to cure it by making home-made Gaviscon from half a pint of Baileys and half a pint of Cointreau.

- XL Tangent: Due to the lack of gravity in space, you can feel your food floating around inside your stomach.

- Tangent: Sandi says she would like to go up into space, and hoped that more artists and writers would be sent into space because they could better describe what it is like. Alan however suggests that you need the right writer, and someone like Will Self would be a bad idea because he is normally so miserable.

- XL: The thing that Alan has that most people would describe as "average" rather than "large" or "small" is his nose. Early British passports had no photographs, so you had to describe your facial features. When talking about their noses, almost everyone described their nose as "average". Other people described their noses as "Roman". Other categories on early passports included "forehead" and "complexion" - the last one often being described as "ruddy" or "fresh". The government disliked the idea of putting physical descriptions in passports, because British people would be scrutinised by foreigners. In 1835, Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston argued with the Belgian government, saying that: "Requirements to provide one's height and eye colour was degrading and offensive." Eventually attitudes changed with World War One and fears over German spies.

- XL Tangent: Ronni's eight-year-old daughter was body searched and swept for explosives twice.

- XL Tangent: In 1914, one Bassett Digby wrote a letter of complaint saying: "Sir. A little light might be shed with advantage upon the high-handed methods of the passports department of the Foreign Office. On the form provided for the purpose, I described my face as 'intelligent'. Instead of finding this characterisation entered, I have received a passport in which some official, utterly unknown to me, has taken it upon himself to call my face 'oval'."

- XL Tangent: The only person in Britain who doesn't need a passport to travel abroad is the Queen. Passports are issued in her name, so giving her one is redundant.

- XL: Every year, the ancient murrelet flies 5,000 miles across the Pacific for seemingly no reason. It flies across the Northern Pacific ocean, lands in Japan, rests, and then flies back home again to Western Canada, all to no apparent purpose. The food and the climate is the same at both ends of the trip. The only possible explanation scientists have devised so far is that these birds are following an ancient migration route which used to make sense and the birds have yet to realise that it is now pointless.

- XL Tangent: Arctic terns travel up to 50,000 miles between the Earth's polls every year. However, rather than fly directly they take a route that adds 1,800 miles to their trip, but they take advantage of the global wind system so are probably saving energy overall. The longest non-stop flight recorded is that of the bar-tailed godwit, which flies 7,100 miles without stopping.

- XL Tangent: Sand wasps fly backwards around their homes when they leave, to make sure they can find their way back again.

General Ignorance

- The fastest swimming stroke is the fish kick. This is the kick you see professional swimmers do underwater once they have reached the end of the lane, turn around and swim the other way in a race. However, competition rules state you can only swim underwater for the first 15m. (Forfeit: Butterfly)

- XL Tangent: One advocate for underwater swimming is American swimmer Misty Hyman. She says audiences would have the excitement of wondering where the swimming is going to pop up again

- XL Tangent: Sandi says she enjoyed swimmers who won gold at the Olympics. She recalled one who when asked what their secret was, they answered: "I realised the competition was very stiff, so I put my head down and swam really fast."

- The clothes worn by the Highland warriors at the Battle of Bannockburn were yellow tunics called "leine croich". To make the tunics yellow they used saffron, but if none was available they used horse urine. (Forfeit: Kilts)

- Tangent: The word "kilt" comes from the Danish "kilte", meaning, "tuck".

- Tangent: Urine was originally used to make tweed, because it was used to fix the colours.

- Tangent: The short skirt-like kilt was invented in the 1720s by English Quaker and industrialist Thomas Rawlinson, as a form of safer clothing for the Scottish workers in his iron foundry. The word "tartan" comes from Middle French. Sandi claims that kilt shops that say they can find the tartan for any surname cannot do so, because they isn't a Toksvig tartan.

- XL Tangent: Sandi speaks some Danish for Ronni, which translated means: "You're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen." Sandi claims she can lie in two languages.

- The panel are asked to name a cold-blooded creature. The problem however with naming generic animals such as lizards and fish is that there are some warm-blooded varieties, discovered in 2015. They include the opah fish, the only completely warm-blooded fish in the world. However, nearly all reptiles are cold-blooded. No-one knows how warm-bloodedness evolved. Disadvantages of being warm-blooded include having to keep eating in order to get fuel. If a lion was the size of a T-rex it probably wouldn't be able to eat enough to survive. (Forfeit: Lizards)

- Tangent: There is a theory that the dinosaurs died out because of a change in temperature. The theory says that over a certain temperature all the eggs hatched as male, and under a certain temperature all the eggs hatched as female, and when the global climate dropped there were only female dinosaurs hatching, with mating becoming impossible. Dinosaurs were somewhere in-between warm and cold-blooded.

- The village where Napoleon was defeated in 1815 are in fact the two municipalities of Braine-l'Alleud and Lasne. The Battle of Waterloo gets its name from the place the Duke of Wellington stayed on the night of the battle, and it is where he wrote to his superiors about the conflict. (Forfeit: Waterloo)

- The people who wore the trousers in Britain in the 18th Century were lower-ranked sailors. Senior sailors and most men wore britches, while the women wore skirts.

- Tangent: The Duke of Wellington was once thrown out of a club for wearing trousers.

- XL Tangent: One of the reasons given for Lord Nelson's death at the Battle of Trafalgar was that he wore his epaulettes, which allowed him to be seen by the French. Wellington, meanwhile, wore dark clothing with no decorations, making him one of the first people to wear camouflage in battle. Nelson had originally discouraged British sailors from wearing epaulettes because it looked too French.


- Ronni Ancona: 7 points
- Johnny Vegas: 1 point
- Jimmy Carr: -2 points
- Alan Davies: -36 points

Broadcast details

Friday 20th January 2017
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Jimmy Carr Guest
Ronni Ancona Guest
Johnny Vegas 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


King Kong and the dinosaurs

A chat about dinosaur extinction theories.

Featuring: Sandi Toksvig, Jimmy Carr, Ronni Ancona, Johnny Vegas.


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