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 O, Episode 13 - Omnishambles

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Stephen K Amos, Sandi Toksvig, Josh Widdicombe, Cally Beaton. Copyright: TalkbackThames
Sandi Toksvig organises an Omnishambles. Learn how to throw the two-handed javelin, meet the woman who never knew that she'd won an Olympic gold medal, and much more besides. With Stephen K. Amos, Josh Widdicombe and Cally Beaton.

Preview clips

Further details


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


- The panel are shown some newspaper headlines and are asked what they are all about. The headlines read: "A disgrace!", "Dangerous!", "Not a very edifying spectacle!" and, "Wretched women!" These are descriptions of the women's 800m at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. This was the first Olympics in which women took part in track and field events, and the media reported that it was a disaster, claiming that 5 of the 11 runners collapsed before getting to the end, 5 fainted at the finish line, and the one person still standing passed out in the dressing room moments later. Some of the women took 15 minutes to regain consciousness, those who lost sobbed hysterically, and thus the media claimed the race was too injurious. As a result the women's 800m was dropped from the Olympics for 32 years. In reality however, there were only nine runners, all completed it, no-one collapsed, no-one became hysterical, and six of the runners beat the existing world record.

- XL Tangent: The race was won by Lina Radke of Germany, with Japan coming second.

- Tangent: The founder of the modern Olympics, Baron de Coubertin, was strongly against women taking part in the games, saying it would be impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and improper. He said: "Women's primary role should be to crown the victors, since they were above all a companion to men."

- Tangent: Women first competed in the 1900 Olympics, but only in five events: tennis, croquet, golf, sailing and equestrianism. Women got fed up with this, so in 1922 they held their own Olympics in Paris. 20,000 people attended, 18 world records were set, and one of the events was the two-handed javelin, where the athletes had to throw once with their left hand, once with their right hand, and the score was the total distances combined. One reason why women wanted to take part in the Olympics was that in traditional games the clothing was very restrictive. Until the mid-1900s, female swimmers had to wear their blouses and bloomers in the pool, and when playing tennis they had to wear dresses that covered their ankles, multiple petticoats, corsets and heeled shoes.

- Tangent: Cally says that women need to wear two bras when running. Stephen claims to know where she is coming from because he was not keen on sport at school. This is because he came from a big family and wore hand-me-downs, meaning he once wore a training bra.

- XL Tangent: The first American woman to win an Olympic medal never knew that she won one. Margaret Abbott won gold in golf in the 1900 Games, but because the whole tournament was such a shambles she assumed that it was just a regular sports contest. She died in 1955, never knowing of her achievement. Her mother also took part in the competition, which means this is the only time mother and daughter took part in the same Olympics.

- XL Tangent: During the London 2012 Games, Josh went for a run in East London, so he wonders if he might have accidentally won gold. Cally has run the London Marathon, for which she wore three bras. In 1967, Kathy Switzer attempted to run the Boston Marathon which women were prohibited from doing at the time. A photo of the event shows a person on her right, who happened to be a racial official named Jock Semple trying to stop Switzer by tearing the number off her back, because he was so angry that she was taking part. The person on the other side of Switzer in the photo was her boyfriend trying to stop Semple and allow Switzer to finish. Afterwards, the man in charge of the race, the Boston Athletic Association Director, Will Cloney, said: "I don't make the rules, but I try to carry them out. We have no space in the marathon for any unauthorised person, even a man. If that girl were my daughter, I would spank her." Switzer did finish, but the rules for women competing didn't change for another five years. Josh replies to all of this by saying: "Tell you what, men are wankers."

- It is cool to wet your pants if you are an ostrich. Ostriches can swallow 10 litres of water in one go, and they pant really quickly so the air they bring in evaporates the water. It works the same way as humans evaporate sweat in order to keep us cool. Ostriches also have to avoid getting too much oxygen into their bloodstream while doing this, so as they pant their windpipe redirects the air from the lungs, so ostriches pant without breathing. Ostriches are also the only birds to have bladders.

- Tangent: Cally's daughter once got stung by a jellyfish in South Africa. Cally tried to urinate on it to relief the pain, but the sight of Cally trying to do so was enough to relieve her daughter's pain.

- XL Tangent: It may be possible that ostriches dream. Ostriches are between six and nine foot in height, their weight is normally 140lbs, but some weigh as much as 300lbs.

- Tangent: One scrambled ostrich egg is the same as 25 chicken eggs.

- Tangent: Alan complains about the legs of the ostrich, which look like they face the other way, and argues that if they faced the other way the ostriches would look like Bernie Clifton. Alan shared a dressing room with Clifton and the Chuckle Brothers at the Royal Variety Performance, to which Josh says: "Talk about knowing your place in showbusiness." Ostrich feet look like those of camels, and their taxonomical name is Struthio camelus, meaning "Camel sparrow".

- XL Tangent: When Alan was in his dressing room, Paul Chuckle left the room, and a woman who was looking after everyone asked if there was anything they wanted. Barry Chuckle asked for tea and six sugars. He then checked if the sugar came in sachets. The woman said they were, so Barry asked for six.

- XL Tangent: Like camels, ostriches have eyelashes. They are the only bird to have them.

- XL Tangent: Stephen and Cally have eaten ostrich steak, which is very lean. Cally comments that they sell it in Aldi, a shop that Stephen and Sandi jokingly claim to have never heard of. Cally ate ostrich in Swaziland because she was originally offered goat steak, but she didn't want to eat it so to avoid having it she claimed she was vegetarian (which she isn't). Instead they gave her ostrich steak, thinking it was vegetarian. Alan complains that all the modern supermarket names sound like anagrams and why they ca't have proper names like "Sainsbury's". Josh asks if her is the only person on the panel not promoting a supermarket, then adds that Waitrose is value for money, for which he gets an applause for the audience and Alan remarks: "You're not the 'Take Me Out' audience".

- The wrong way to get out of a car is to open it with the hand closest to the door. The thing to do is the "Dutch reach", where you open the door with the hand furthest to the door. This therefore makes you automatically look over your shoulder, and thus you can spot oncoming cyclists. In the Netherlands, this reach is required as part of the driving test in order to prevent "dooring". (Forfeit: Not that way)

- XL Tangent: The clunking noise made by car doors is fake. It is there because people like the noise. 15 years ago, new safety standards meant that the door design was changed, so the sound of the door changed when it shut. Thus the mechanism was changed so the door makes the old sound. Making cars old-fashioned can be dated back to 1899, when a patent was filed for a Horsey Horseless vehicle, which was a motorcar with a full-size wooden horse head attached to the front. The idea was that if the car looked like a horse, it wouldn't scare other horses.

- The most exciting thing you can do in a cupboard that begins with "O" is an orgasm. In 1940, Austrian psychologist Wilhelm Reich wanted to harness the power of a force that he called "orgone", an amalgamation of "orgasm" and "o-zone", which believed was all around us and made the sky blue. Thus he made a special cupboard which you entered naked, and you absorbed the concentrated orgone within it, to reach a state of sexual satisfaction. Reich believed orgone could cure just about everything. Reich''s idea was extremely popular and many people volunteered to take part in his experiments, and people like J. D. Salinger, Norman Mailer and Sean Connery purchased their own cupboards. Reich believed that sexual repression was responsible for all kinds of psychological and psychical problems. The US courts formerly declared however that orgone did not exist and ordered all the cupboards and related literature to be destroyed. Reich did not comply with the band and was sent to prison, where he died.

- XL Tangent: To illustrate something exciting in a cupboard the panel are show a photoshopped image of Boris Becker's head poking out of a cupboard, which is a reference to a fact that he conceived a child in a cupboard.

- Tangent: The vibrator was developed by Victorian doctors in order to stop hysteria. These vibrators were steam powered. The prescription was a "pelvic massage", and it was a routine part of doctor's work.

- XL Tangent: Victorian doctors complained that using the vibrator was really boring work. Dr. J. Mortimer Granville pioneered the first vibrator, known as "Granville's Hammer", and the patient was percussed. All of the early vibrators were for women only.

- There is nothing thing that definitely won't happen to you when you sneeze. If you have floppy eyelid syndrome then it is possible your eyes to pop out of your sockets when you sneeze. If your eyeball pops out when sneezing it is technically known as, "spontaneous globe luxation". The syndrome mostly occurs in obese men. If the eye pops out, medical advice is to put it back in as quickly as possible. The tool used to place the eye back looks a bit like a bent paperclip.

- Tangent: American basketball player, Akil Mitchell, got poked in the eye during a game in 2017. He knew something was wrong because you could feel his eyeball and still see out of it. The eye was popped back in and he is now fine.

- XL Tangent: Federico da Montefeltro, a military an during the Italian Renaissance, lost an eye during a jousting tournament. He was also very paranoid about assassination attempts on him, so in order to be able to see out of both sides of his face he had the bridge of his nose removed, so her could see around it.

- Sandi performs an experiment. She has a mirror that reflects some objects: a blue cross with curved edges, a white cross the edges curved the other way, and a red tube with similar edges. When reflected in the mirror, the square edges look like circles and the circles look like squares. Sandi can turn the red tube so it looks square on the ground but circular in the mirror, and vice versa. This also works for the crosses. This is known as the "ambiguous cylinder illusion" and was designed by Dr. Sugihara Kokichi. This separates humans from robots, as robots can't be fooled by optical illusions. Another optical illusion is the "Adelson checkboard illusion", which if you look at makes you think there are light and dark squares on a 5x5 checker board, but a green cylinder actually casts a shadow. As a result two squares, the second one from the left on the top row and the centre square, are actually the same shade of grey. This information can be used by computer to distinguish robots from people.

- XL: The most frightening thing you can find in an orchard is apple howling, also known as wassailing. This is the practice of shouting at apple trees to get them to bear good fruit. This dates back to at least the 16th century. There are various wassailing songs, and they used to beat the trees while singing in order to drive out evil spirits. They also poured cider onto the roots and tied slices of toast to the trunks of the tree. The tradition is kept up in orchards in Somerset and Devon, supposedly taking place on the 12th day of Christmas, but it often takes place on 17th January, because that corresponds with the 12th day before the calendars were changed.

- XL Tangent: Orchards began to proliferate in Britain in the 17th century when cider became popular due to the death of the English vines in the little Ice Ace. In 1640, Lord Scudamore worked out how to make cider fizzy before the Champagne region discovered it. His new drink was so popular that writer John Evelyn said: "All Herefordshire has become but one entire orchard." However, there was a danger of bottles containing the cider exploding, so people buried bottles in sand or hang them down wells. Hot mulled cider is sometimes served "cider shoe", a shoe-shaped tumbler made out of copper, where the toe was poked into a fire to warm the cider up.

- XL: The thing that stumbles into somebody else house and vomits on the floor is a great horned owl. Owls almost never build their own nests, and the great horned owl steals nests from other birds. One of the few ways the owls contribute to the nest is to vomit on the floor, regurgitating pellets of undigested food, and when they are trampled down, that makes a soft surface on which the birds can incubate the eggs. Other than that, they just live in the nest until it disintegrates and then leave.

- XL Tangent: Screech owls use snakes for protection. The owls catch a blind snake, which is about six inches long, brings the snake back to the nest, and the snake burrows into the nest floor, where it feeds on vermin and parasites, thus keeping the nest clean and helps the baby owls to grow.

- The thing that is a little bit orange and very over-sensitive is red-headed people. Multiple studies show that redheads are more sensitive to pain than people of other hair colours. Redheads also need 20% more anaesthetic to be sent to sleep. This was discovered by giving redheads electric shocks whiling giving them increasing amounts of painkillers until they stopped feeling pain. The reason why this is so is because having red hair is normally caused by a mutation in the gene that is also responsible for pain modulation. Redheads are twice as likely to avoid going to the dentist than those of different hair colours. (Forfeit: Donald Trump)

- The red hair gene first came from Asia. It is common in the UK because it is a recessive gene and thus grows in relatively closed communities. (Forfeit: Scotland; Ireland)

- Tangent: A redheaded friend of Josh's went on holiday to the Philippines, and the locals kept stopping her because they wanted a picture of her and her hair. Stephen was in mainland China doing gigs and people kept asking him for selfies, claiming that they never seen anyone so tall. He could not understand anything said to him except the phrase "pube head."

General Ignorance

- The Nazi's called their most famous symbol the "Hakenkreuz", which was the German for "hooked cross". It is still called this in Germany today, except when talking about Neo-Nazis, when it is called the swastika. After the party adopted the symbol, Adolf Hitler changed his signature to "S. Hitler" because his "S" looked like a Hakenkreuz.

- The last monarch to been crowned at the Abbey in Westminster was Henry VIII, because Westminster Abbey is no longer an abbey since Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. It is technically a royal peculiar, namely a church subject under direct jurisdiction from the monarch. (Forfeit: Queen Elizabeth II)

- XL Tangent: Westminster Abbey, or to give it is proper name the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, is home to the world's oldest stuffed parrot. It was an African Grey which belonged to the Duchess of Richmond which died within days of its owner in 1702. It was placed on a perch next to a model of the Duchess, but both are currently stored in the attic.

- XL Tangent: Ben Johnson was buried in Westminster Abbey standing up, because he didn't have enough money to buy enough land for a normal burial.

- XL Tangent: The dissolution of the monasteries resulted in there being hardly any physical record of Old English left whatsoever, because Henry VIII destroyed most of the texts. All surviving Old English poems, including 'Beowulf' could fit in an average cardboard box.

- There are three species of camel: the dromedary, the domestic Bactrian (both named by Carl Linnaeus) and the wild Bactrian (discovered by Nikolay Przhevalsky 120 years later). (Forfeit: Two)

- Tangent: Stephen once did a magic show where he had to magically appear on a dromedary camel. He had to sit on a square seat that was on the hump, but camels don't like people sitting on the hump. Alan says that the camels in London Zoo look at you with contempt.


- Josh Widdicombe: -12 points
- Cally Beaton: -14 points
- Stephen K. Amos: -18 points
- Alan Davies: -69 points

Objectionable Object Prize

- Josh wins a fake eyeball.

Broadcast details

Friday 26th January 2018
30 minutes
  • Tuesday 23rd May 2017, 19:00 at The London Studios


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Saturday 27th January 2018 9:15pm
45 minute version
Tuesday 10th July 2018 10:00pm BBC2
Wednesday 12th December 2018 8:00pm
60 minute version
Wednesday 15th May 2019 8:00pm
60 minute version
Wednesday 26th June 2019 1:40am
55 minute version
Thursday 22nd August 2019 9:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 22nd October 2019 11:00pm
60 minute version
Wednesday 23rd October 2019 7:00pm
60 minute version
Friday 17th January 2020 6:00pm
60 minute version
Sunday 21st March 2021 11:40pm Dave
Monday 2nd August 2021 10:00pm BBC2
Friday 3rd September 2021 8:20pm Dave
Saturday 4th September 2021 2:20am Dave

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Josh Widdicombe Guest
Stephen K Amos Guest
Cally Beaton Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Kalpna Patel-Knight Executive Producer
Justin Pollard Associate Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Nick Collier Lighting Designer
Howard Goodall Composer
Mat Coward Researcher
James Harkin Researcher
Will Bowen Researcher
Anne Miller Researcher
Alex Bell Researcher
Stevyn Colgan Researcher
Ben Dupré Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
Ed Brooke-Hitching Researcher
Alice Campbell Davis Researcher


Can your eyes pop out when you sneeze?

Sandi and the panel chat about 'eyeball luxation'.

Featuring: Sandi Toksvig & Alan Davies.


Preview - QI: Omnishambles

There's no reference to The Thick of It in tonight's show sadly, but there is still plenty of interesting info.

Ian Wolf, On The Box, 26th January 2018

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