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.

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An episode is repeated today at 9pm.

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Noel Fielding, Sandi Toksvig, Holly Walsh, David Mitchell. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series N, Episode 6 - Night

Further details


- The most mysterious thing you do in bed is sleep, because nobody knows why we do it. People have previously thought that it was to do with energy conservation, but you don't save that much energy by sleeping, namely 110 calories per night. In comparison, a two-fingered Kit Kat is 107 calories. One theory developed by scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York is that our brains are cleaned while we sleep. Prof. Maiken Nederaggrd says that: "You can think of it as having a house party. You can either entertain the guests or clean up the house, but you can't really do both at the same time."

- Tangent: All the cells in the human body are replaced over a period of ten years, except for the gums which just recede.

- XL Tangent: Holly sleep-talks. The most memorably case was when she sat up in bed and said: "brilliant.com/awesome", and then went back to sleep again.

- Tangent: Staying awake for 17 hours has the same effect as having two glasses of wine in terms of affecting your performance.

- Tangent: If you want to find out how much sleep you need, you should go to sleep without an alarm clock and wake up naturally, and then log how many hours you have slept during that period.

- Tangent: Alan complains that your sleep always tends to get interrupted by the need to go for a small wee at around five in the morning, and suggests that you should invent a device so you can sleep on the loo. Alan's father was once in hospital and had a catheter fitted, and said he hadn't slept so well in about 50 years. Holly claims you should not use hotel kettles because people wee in them, but the rest of the panel don't believe her.

- The night of the horrified sheep was on 3rd November 1888 when all the sheep over a 200 square mile area of Oxfordshire were spooked. The cause of it was just one sheep being spooked, which scared all the others.

- Tangent: Holly claims that a cat-owner dies and no-one comes to attend to them that the cats will eat the body. Alan says that once the body has aged three days then the flesh is suitable for the cats to consume.

- XL Tangent: Cats don't like orange peel, and spiders don't like conkers.

- Tangent: On 9th November 1874 the New York Herald published a front page headline: "The wild animals have escaped from Central Park!!" It claimed that 49 people were killed and 200 were injured by escaped animals, including a sighting of a lion in a church and rhino in a sewer. The bottom of the article then went onto say that the entire article was false, and was designed to draw people's attention to the fact that there were no procedures about what to do if some wild animals really did escape from Central Park. This is one of the most notorious and accidental media hoaxes ever, because it caused panic in the streets.

- Tangent: In February 2016, Ueno Zoo in Tokyo performed their annual test to prevent animals from escaping. However, it consisted of 27-year-old gorilla keeper Yumi Tamura to dress up in a zebra, walking on two legs. The rest of the staff carried nets and one had a tranquiliser gun, which they pretended to fire and Tamura lazily fell to the ground. To make sure the "zebra" was asleep, they drove by and poked Tamura with a stick.

- XL Tangent: Alan went to London Zoo and in the tiger enclosure there is a little platform you can stand on so you can get an eye-level view. He was standing there with his kids, and then a woman came with her son and said: "Look at it. Lazy. Like Daddy", and then she just took her son away. Sandi once took her son to London Zoo when he was about three, at the time the zoo was undergoing some renovation. The only time he took the dummy out of his mouth was to say: "Look, Mum. A digger!"

- XL: A night witch would travel via plane. It was the nickname given by the Germans to the 588th Night Bomber Regiment from the USSR in the Second World War. It was an all-female unit, from the mechanics to the pilots. Because many men didn't want them to fight, they were all given men's uniforms, all made to have their hair cut short, and they were all given rubbish planes. They fought in Polikarpov Po-2 planes which were made out of plywood and canvas, which were normally used for training or crop dusting. This meant the planes had weight restrictions, had to fight close to the ground and couldn't take parachutes. As they flew so low, the Germans said they sounded like witches on broomsticks. (Forfeit: Broomstick)

- XL Tangent: Sandi met Joy Lofthouse, who was part of the Air Transport Auxiliary, and was one of 168 female pilots that Britain had in the war. She delivered spitfires among other planes.

- XL Tangent: Rembrandt's painting "The Night Watch" was once restored, and it was revealed that it was covered in dark varnish. As a result they had to rename the picture "The Day Watch" because it was quite clearly set in the daytime. The picture is currently hanging in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, but part of the picture has been cut off because it would not fit on any of the walls.

- XL Tangent: The UK used to have night watchmen, because walking around town at night (aka "night walking") was illegal between 1285 and 1827. The night watchmen were there to enforce the law. The oldest town in Denmark, Ribe, still has night watchmen. They sing songs while they work, and every hour has a different verse. Holly's boarding school had night watchmen because it was a mixed gender school. Sandi went to a single-six boarding school and claims that they didn't have night watchmen, but they should have.

- Your worst nightmares occur most often when you sleep on your left-hand side, according to a study from 2004.

- Tangent: David claims he doesn't have nightmares, just dreams that are quite stressful. One of these is a dream that he is having to his A-Levels again.

- Tangent: Holly's husband makes her sleep away from him, because Holly breathes too loudly. She also claims that she learnt from her husband that it was not usual to your underwear and socks on before you put any of your other clothes on.

- XL Tangent: In 1821 in Paris, a man woke up to find a strange creature in his room. He thought it was the Devil, so he called for his servant and then immediately died of fright. The servant chased away the creature, which turned out to be large ape that had escaped from a nearby menagerie and had climbed down the chimney.

- The worst thing you can do on a bed of nails is press up on it with your hands when you get up from it. If you apply the pressure evenly you will be fine, which the panel demonstrate using a mini bed of nails and pushing a balloon down onto it, which doesn't burst when pressure is allied all across the nails.

- Tangent: When David was at school aged seven some circus performers came one day to teach the pupils circus skills including lying on a bed of nails. David considered all the skills pointless and wanted to learn something else.

- Tangent: The panel are shown black-and-white footage of a woman lying on a bed of nails, then an anvil put on top of her, and then men hitting the anvil with large mallets.

- XL: You can tell if a fish is asleep by seeing if it is near the bottom of the tank. It will be in a trance-like state, and if you feed them it would take them noticeably longer to respond. Dolphins and whale sleep using a method called logging, in which half of the brain the opposite eye sleep for one period, and then switch over after about two hours. Some hibernating animals have to wake up in order to get to sleep. If they don't wake up, they end up sleep-deprived. Other animals such as the water-holding frog, the western swamp tortoise (which is actually a turtle) and the African lungfish just go into torpor to avoid the heat.

- The best place to sleep on the job is space, because if we could astronauts to hibernate that would mean travelling further distances would be easier. Oxford scientists have been studying the hibernation of the Madagascan fat-tailed dwarf lemur, and NASA have been investing a lot of money into the scheme, because hibernating or suspended animation would use less food, less water and less oxygen, and would also avoid boredom. Plus, suspended animation has no detrimental effect on the body, whereas currently astronauts have to exercise six hours a day. The genes for hibernation still exist in the human body, but are dormant. When taking off, some astronauts sleep on the launch pad because they are strapped down and there is nothing to do.

- Tangent: Holly used to sleep in the boot of her car when she had a job at a textbook company during her university holidays. Holly did her work in about an hour so had plenty of time, so she started taking a duvet in her boot, which she called her "boovet". She was asked to leave work after her boss saw her climb out of the back of her car in working hours. Noel meanwhile lasted only four hours when he worked at a bakery, because the boss found him on the floor, eating éclairs without using his hands. The boss didn't pay him, so Noel's mother marched him down to the bakery and asked the boss for the money he earned for the four hours he worked.

- Tangent: At British Layland's Cowley Works in Oxford in the 1970s, the management discovered that the employees had a dormitory where they had beds and duvets.

- XL: The most dangerous thing beginning with "N" that you can be stuck in a lift with is nitrogen, or rather liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen can push the oxygen out of a lift and kill you. Therefore, when transporting liquid nitrogen you either have to take the stairs or put in the lift but not get in it. Instead you reach around the door, push the floor button, get out of the lift, and let the liquid nitrogen make the journey to the correct floor where someone else will be waiting to collect it. (Forfeit: Nigel Farage)

- XL Tangent: Liquid nitrogen can be used to make ice cream. One place that serves this is Heston Blumenthal's café at Heathrow's Terminal 2, and the liquid nitrogen has to be sent via a special security entrance. Liquid nitrogen creates smaller ice crystal so the ice cream is smoother. Liquid nitrogen was first used to make ice cream in 1890, and was written in a book called "Fancy Ices" by Mrs. Marshall.

- The thing that the EU has against nightingales is the noise they make. They are so loud that they break EU health and safety regulations. Male nightingales can reach 95 decibels, which is the same as a chainsaw, and the regulations say you should not be exposed to anything over 87db. Research in Berlin however, has shown that birds living in cities are getting louder by 14db to drown out city sounds.

- Tangent: The BBC's very first outside broadcast in 1924 featured cellist Beatrice Harrison playing a duet with a nightingale. When she played nearby nightingales were joining in. She approached Lord Reith and he was dubious about the idea, but a million people tuned to listen in.

- XL: You might not want a nightcap. Aside from an alcoholic drink, a night cap was a cap you wore when being executed. The hangman would place it over your head in place of a hood. In the USA, a nightcap is the second game in a double-header in baseball. (Forfeit: Yes)

General Ignorance

- Shropshire Blue cheese comes from Scotland. The people making it originally called Inverness-shire Blue and Blue Stuart, but then they marketed it with the name "Shropshire" believing it would sell better. (Forfeit: Scotland)

- Tangent: Stinking Bishop cheese was invented in 1973, and named after the perry it is steeped in. The pears themselves were bread by a man named Bishop who got the nickname "Stinking Bishop" because he was so bad-tempered. He was so bad-tempered than once his kettle failed to boil as quickly as it should, so he shot it.

- XL Tangent: The most expensive cheese in the world, pule, costs £700 a pound. It is made out of donkey milk, and it takes 25 litres to make 1kg of pule.

- XL Tangent: Alan once bought some fancy cheddar cheese, covered in a waxy dome. When he got home he found that his wife had grated it on the children's jacket potatoes.

- XL: If you look out first thing in the morning and see a rainbow, you will only find red, orange and yellow. When it is early or late in the day, the sun has to pass through more of the atmosphere, so the other colours do not appear. (Forfeit: Blue)

- XL Tangent: Upside-down rainbows appear in clouds when light is refracted through ice crystals. There are also known as circumzenithal or Bravais' arcs.

- Sun Day lasts for about six minutes and is the first day that the sun becomes visible at the end of the Arctic winter in Uummannaq, Greenland, on 4th February. The day is celebrated by the children having the day of school, drink hot chocolate, eat doughnuts and they organise events to see the sun. (Forfeit: After Saturday; Before Monday)

- Tangent: The Weather Project exhibition in Turbine Hall at the Tate featured a large sun in it. Holly went to a Tate exhibition of pop art, including some of the pornographic works of Jeff Koons that was off in a separate room. She witnessed a middle-class woman and her two children trying to enter, but they couldn't as it was for over-18s only, so the mother decided to go in on her own and tell her children what she saw. When she returned a split-second later, ashen faced, she said to her kids: "What happens between a man and a woman is a beautiful thing, but what I saw in that room is of no help to anyone."


- Holly Walsh: 3 points
- Noel Fielding: -8 points
- Alan Davies: -10 points
- David Mitchell: -37 points

Broadcast details

Friday 2nd December 2016
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
David Mitchell Guest
Noel Fielding Guest
Holly Walsh Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anne Miller Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Sohail Shah Executive Producer

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