British Comedy Guide

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


BBC Two and BBC One panel show focusing on quite interesting facts. 233 episodes (pilot + 16 series), 2003 - 2018. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

Another series is in development.
Series N, Episode 1 is repeated on Dave today at 9pm.
Recording at The London Studios. Tickets

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Bill Bailey, Sandi Toksvig, Phill Jupitus, Claudia Winkleman. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series O, Episode 1 - Ologies

In the first episode of the 'O' series, Sandi Toksvig sets out in search of 'Ologies' and 'Odoxies' - and finds out how an amusement arcade helped to win the Cold War, meets a lizard with three eyes, and much else besides. The guests are Bill Bailey, Phill Jupitus and Claudia Winkleman.

Full synopsis


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


- A question on oceanography. The CIA attempted to win the Cold War using a claw crane machine to pick up submarines from the bottom of the ocean. They used the biggest claw grabber ever made to pick up a Soviet strategic ballistic submarine which had sunk in the Pacific Ocean. In 1968, Project Azorian was launched to retrieve the submarine K-129 using a special ship called the Hughes Glomar Explorer. It looked perfectly normal from the outside, but the hull opened to allow the claw, nicknamed Clementine, to be lowered. They grabbed the sub, but two-thirds of it broke away as it was raised. However, the section they retained hold of contained two nuclear torpedoes.

- XL Tangent: The reason why most claw-grab game machines don't work is because they are rigged.

- Tangent: In March 2017, a three-year-old Irish boy named Jamie Bracken-Murphy so wanted a dinosaur toy that was in claw crane machine that he climbed up the dispensing chute and got trapped in the machine. As he wouldn't come out without the dinosaur, he had to be rescued by a passing fireman. He was allowed to keep the dinosaur.

- Tangent: There are disposable submarines. Narco-subs are fibreglass submarines used to traffic cocaine. 80% of Colombia's cocaine is trafficked out of the country using these. The subs travel up the US coast, smugglers deposit the cocaine safely and then dump the sub.

- Tangent: Mexicans smuggled cocaine on pallets, and one such consignment once washed up on a beach in north Devon, and was found by a dog walker.

- XL Tangent: Examples of grand thefts include an entire 10-tonne rail bridge that was stolen in broad daylight in the Czech Republic in 2012. The thieves claimed they were clearing the bridge to make way for a new cycle path. Another example includes an entire beach in Jamaica that was stolen in 2008, taken by a rival hotel to improve its own seafront offering. A 400-metre stretch of white sand was stolen, which is about 500 truckloads. Nobody noticed until it was too late. In southern India, beach theft is so commonplace that there is a word for it in Tamil - manarkollai.

- The panel are given a list of other ologies and are ask what they are the study of.

- Enterology: The study of intestines, and also the name given to the practice of contortion. One man, Rick Maisel, combines enterology with escapology. One of his acts is to enter a washing machine wearing five pairs of handcuffs and two pairs of leg irons, get someone to turn the machine on, and escape while being tumbled in soapy water. There are also various kinds of contortionists: front-benders have spines that flex forwards; back-benders have spines that flex backwards; splitters have flexible hips; and dislocaters can dislocate joints at will.

- Tangent: Alan watched a dislocater who was able to squeeze themselves through the head of a tennis racket.

- Oology: The study of eggs. Since 1954, it has been illegal to possess a wild bird's egg, so the practice has died out in Britain.

- Agnoiology: The study of things we don't know. The term was coined by James Fraser, professor of moral philosophy at St. Andrews (1808-1864). He claimed that there is more ignorance than knowledge, so therefore ignorance needs to be studied.

- XL: Posology: The study of medical dosages.

- Autology and Heterology: Autological words are words that are self-descriptive, whereas heterological words are not self-descriptive. For example, if "misspelt" is British English as opposed to "misspelled" which is American English, then "misspelt" is autological in the USA but heterological in the UK.

- Piphilology: The practice of using mnemonics sentences to remember pi. You use words with the same number of digits to remember it. For example, a piphilogoical sentence that would review QI could read: "Now I need a think knowledge of clever ideas was aptly conveyed, including General Ignorance." The easiest sentence is: "How I wish I could recollect pi easily today." There is a 10,000 word piphilological novel, called Not a Wake, written by software engineer Michael Keith.

- A question on ophthalmology. The thing that has a U, two Ts and three eyes is a tuatara lizard. It has a tiny third eye in the top of its head than can distinguish between light and dark. Most lizards have a third eye to a greater or lesser extent, as do many lampreys and frogs.

- Tangent: Claudia asks Sandi if a deal can be done so that the klaxon will not ring, because she worries that she will jump in fright towards Phill. Phill doesn't mind and turns to Claudia, waiting willingly. (Forfeit: OK).

- XL Tangent: The Tuatara lizard can move its two main eyes independently. One male tuatara lizard, Henry of Southland Museum, New Zealand, possibly became a father for the first time in 2009, at the age of 111.

- XL Tangent: The third eye is really a conduit to the pineal gland. All vertebrates have a pineal gland, but with humans it is inside the brain. The gland controls the production of melatonin. Bill claims that if you put a mobile phone next to your head while you sleep, it interferes with the gland's production of melatonin, and thus you don't get a proper sleep.

- XL Tangent: Bill was once asked to go on Strictly Come Dancing, but told them he wanted to do it in character. When asked which character, Bill said he wanted to be Abu Hamza. He was turned down.

- XL Tangent: The cockeyed squid has one huge eye pointing upwards towards the light and a smaller eye pointing downwards looking for prey. It is the only known bilaterally symmetrical animal in the world that has differently shaped eyes.

- XL: The panel are given another game to play with called "Cover the Spot", where they have five small metal discs and have to use them to entirely cover a large red spot. There is only one viable arrangement: put the first disc at the top, balance two more discs on top of the first, so they are left and right of each other but don't overlap, and then the last two can rest on the middle row next to each other.

- XL: The reason that manhole covers are circular is because they cover circular-shaped holes. People think they are round because they can't fall down the hole, but this is not true. Firstly, given a sufficient lip you can stop any shaped cover falling into a manhole; and secondly, in the UK most manhole covers are not round, but made up of two triangles that form a rectangle. It is the nature of a triangle to be inherently stable so the cover doesn't wobble. If it was just one single piece and a lorry ran over it then it might bend out of shape. Microsoft and Google often asked this question when testing their employees. (Forfeit: To stop them falling in)

- XL Tangent: There is a Korean arcade game called Boong-Ga Boong-Ga, which translates as "Spank 'em", in which the player has a controlling finger that they insert into the game's fake bottom. It is based on a Japanese childhood prank called "kancho", where you clasp your hands together with index fingers pointed, mimicking a gun, and attempt to poke your friend's anus whilst shouting: "kancho", which is Japanese for "enema". There is another arcade game from Japan where you have to hit a dummy and receive points for comic timing. There is also a Soviet arcade game called "Repka Silomer", which is literally the "Turnip Strengthometer", where you test your strength by pulling turnips out of a vegetable patch. You start off at mouse level, then it goes up to cat, dog, daughter and finally grandma.

- A question on oenology. The panel taste four different wines while blindfolded and have to guess what they are.

- Bill: A white wine served at room temperate. (Forfeit: Red wine)

- Phill: A chilled red wine, which most people would assume to be white.

- Claudia: A mixture of both red and white wine. (Forfeit: Rosé)

- Alan: White wine with red food colouring mixed into it, given to Alan on the grounds that people thought he would cheat by looking at it, which he does. (Forfeit: Red wine)

- Tangent: One Californian wine grower, Robert Hodgson, was upset by how inconsistently his wine fared in competitions and wondered if the expert judges really knew what they were talking about. He experimented by serving the same wines to the same experts at different times. His findings showed that only 10% of the judges were consistent in any given year, and none were consistently consistent. Thus, if you made a good judgement one year, you may make a bad one next year. Therefore, in California all the medals given to wine growers are essentially awarded at random.

- XL Tangent: In 2011, psychologist Richard Wiseman tested 578 people, and found that people can't tell the difference between wines if they cost between £5 and above £10. This doesn't mean that wine experts are talking nonsense however, as there are hundreds of different taste receptors involved. One piece of advice is that you should not drink expensive wine on a plane. A bloody Mary however can taste better as the savoury taste is enhanced by the cabin noise.

A question on optology: the panel are shown a picture of a fire engine filtered through a grey-green lens and are asked what colour the fire engine is. If you hide the rest of the picture so only the red bits of the fire engine can be seen, it would look grey-green. This is known as the "retinex effect" or "Land effect", named after Edwin Land, the inventor of Polaroid cameras. An optical illusion is caused due to all the things we are seeing. Another example of the Land effect is the splitting colour illusion, where if you have two identical flickering coloured strips placed horizontally parallel to each other, and pass two think blue-yellow strips through one and blue-red strips the other in the opposite direction, the flickering strips will change colour. (Forfeit: Red)

- Tangent: Another optical illusion is the Fraser spiral illusion, which looks like a spiral being drawn into the centre of a picture, but actually is lots of separate circles. The background image makes it look like a single spiralling line instead.

General Ignorance

- The panel are shown a picture of a fish and are asked if it is a sardine or a pilchard. It's actually a herring. The terms "sardine" and "pilchard" describe the ways of packing the fish, rather than the species of fish. (Forfeit: Sardine; Pilchard)

- XL Tangent: The UN and WHO cite 21 different species of fish that can be classed as sardines. FishBase, which is a comprehensive database of information about fish, say there at least six species of fish that are pilchards and over a dozen that are sardines. Fish that are shorter than six inches are sardines, and if they are larger they are pilchards. Other renamed fish include the witch flatfish, which became more popular after it was renamed "Torbay sole"; and slimeheads are sold as "orange roughy".

- In theory, a boat can sail faster than the speed of wind. If you sail directly downwind (aka "running"), the wind can't fill the sail and the boat can't go as fast as the wind due to resistance from the water, but if you sail across the wind, you generate lift, reducing water resistance and sucking the boat along, thus making it possible to travel faster than the wind. Modern racing catamarans can sail up to 2.79 times faster than the speed of wind. (Forfeit: Slower than the wind)

- Tangent: Sandi illustrates the question using a toy boat, but when she first gets it out one of the sails is not attached properly so she has to retake the shot. Before doing so Alan correctly guesses the answers to the question is something to do with the wind. As Sandi starts the second take, Bill buzzes in quickly saying it is something to do with the wind. Sandi says: "Oh, how unusual, a boy who came before I was
ready!" Then she tells Bill to "shut the fuck up", and gets Claudia to say the answer. She gets a big round of applause, causing Alan, Bill and Phill to leave the studio with their glasses of wine, returning after a short while. As Sandi finishes the question, Alan blows a raspberry. She tells the audience that people often ask her what Stephen Fry said to her as he left, and that he shook his head and said: "You have no idea."

- Out of trees on Earth, stars in the Milky Way and neurons in your brain, the one there is most of is trees on Earth. In 2015, a study by Yale concluded that there are 3.04 trillion trees in the world, 7.5 times more than previously thought. NASA estimate that there are between 100-400 million stars in the Milky Way, while estimates for neurons in the brain vary between 83-200 billion. However, if you count the number of synapses then it goes up to one quadrillion. (Forfeit: Neurons; Stars)

- XL Tangent: Studies claim there 7 quintillion grains of sand in the world.


- Claudia Winkleman: 5 points
- Alan Davies: -16 points
- Phill Jupitus: -19 points
- Bill Bailey: -35 points

Objectionable Object Prize

- Claudia wins a cheap knock-off Swiss watch from China which is inside her claw grabber game.

Broadcast details

Friday 20th October 2017
30 minutes


  1. Saturday 21st October 2017 at 10:00pm on BBC2 (45 minute version)
  2. Sunday 22nd October 2017 at 12:35am on BBC2 Wales (45 minute version)
  3. Friday 9th March 2018 at 10:00pm on BBC2

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Bill Bailey Guest
Phill Jupitus Guest
Claudia Winkleman Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Justin Pollard Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Kalpna Patel-Knight Executive Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Howard Goodall Composer



Sandi asks the panel about various 'Ologies'.

Featuring: Sandi Toksvig, Alan Davies, Bill Bailey, Phill Jupitus, Claudia Winkleman.


Preview - QI: Series O

Oh yes, it's time once again observe some obscure facts as the world's cleverest quiz is back on the box.

Ian Wolf, On The Box, 20th October 2017

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