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 15 - Occupations And Offices

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, David Mitchell, Sandi Toksvig, Richard Osman, Deirdre O'Kane. Copyright: TalkbackThames
If you've ever wondered what an Ornamental Hermit does, this is the show for you. With David Mitchell, Deirdre O'Kane and Richard Osman.

Preview clips

Further details


- The entire panel dress in suits with ties, and the set is designed to look like an office, with a water cooler, stationary and the panel having their own desk name displays.


- The worst thing you can catch in the office is bad manners. A 2015 study showed that acts of rudeness spread around organisations like colds do. When rudeness starts it gets worse over the course of a working day.

- Tangent: Offices can be unhygienic. A study of 33 keyboards in an average office found that one of them had five times as many germs as the office toilets. David wonders about how much of a problem this is given that there are more germs on a kitchen chopping board than on a toilet seat. Sandi argues that bleach is the greatest invention of all time, because people buy it, putting it into the toilet, flush it away and the buy some more. An all-male office will also be dirtier than an all-female office, because men are bigger and give off more bacteria.

- Tangent: Alan says that men don't wash after going to the toilet, and he knows this because he was at the toilets at Wembley Stadium, went to wash his hands, and as he did so three men urinated in the sink he was using. At the old Comedy Store, the first time Alan went into the dressing room, which he shared with Arthur Smith and Paul Merton, they told him that the toilet was the sink. This was a problem for Sandi when she played at the venue because she is so small, so Josie Lawrence used to lift her up so she could use it.

- XL Tangent: Air conditioning in offices is sexist because when it was tested in the 1960s, the temperature was specifically set for an 11st, 40-year-old man, and it has been stuck at that temperature ever since. Because women's metabolisms run much slower than men's, women don't generate as much heat, and thus women are much colder than men in offices. However, if you feel cold at work, it will feel better as the week goes along, because the temperature in offices and cities rises due to the number of people. In Melbourne, the temperature in the entire city goes up by 0.3 degrees over the course of the week.

- Sandi gives the panelists an occupation each: Deirdre is a sewage diver, Richard is the Queen's bagpiper, David is an ornamental hermit and Alan is the bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds. Out of the four of them, the one that is not real is the bailiff. The bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds is a non-job, as it was the position taken by MPs when they wish to resign. This is because MPs are forbidden from resign, so to leave the job you applied for a fictional crown office. MPs who have taken this job include Boris Johnson, David Cameron and Tony Blair. The divers go into the sewage to fix problems under the sewage. The bagpiper plays at 9am every morning underneath the Queen's window in all her palaces except Sandringham, because there is not enough accommodation. The hermits were employed in the 18th century to entertain wealthy landowners. If the landowner couldn't afford one, they would just build a hermitage and tell everyone the hermit was out.

- Tangent: In early 2017, the Austrian town of Saalfelden, advertised for a hermit. There is no salary, but you get your own house and chapel. There is no TV, running water or internet, and you need to be sociable because people will visit you.

- XL Tangent: According to a survey in 2008, the most common job title is "Manager."

- You shouldn't give a teenage boy your phone because he'll misbehave. In the 19th century, at the Bell Telephone Company, messenger boys were employed to operate the exchanges and connect the wires to transfer calls, because they were thought to be fit for the job. What really happened was that the boys drunk beer, wrestled each other, swore at customers, and connected strangers together as a prank. Thus the boys were replaced by women, and by the 1880s almost all phone operators were women, who were much better at the job, and were so good at it they could knit while working.

- An onion Johnny would bring tears to your eyes because they are the traditional stereotypical French onion seller. They travelled door-to-door, and there were 1,500 in the 1920s and 30s, who rode on bicycles and worked in the UK. However, while they are a French stereotype, they were actually from Brittany, so the French are baffled by our stereotype because most spoke Breton and not French. In 2008, only 15 onion Johnnies remain.

- Tangent: There is a myth that if you put half an onion in your sock, in half-an-hour you will be able to taste as the chemicals run through your body. This idea is wrong, and has been tested to be wrong by one of the elves. The panel then discuss ways to prevent yourself crying when cutting onions, like putting a spoon in your mouth. Alan then asks if anyone has played the spoon game, which involves putting a spoon in your mouth and hitting some on the head, and then a third person hits you really hard with another spoon.

- XL: One of the ways you can get everyone to leave the office party, in particular one at in the Oval Office, is to offer free whisky. Originally it was tradition for the White House to be an open house to celebrate an inauguration. In 1829, Andrew Jackson had people over, and it became the worst house party in history. 20,000 people visited, with people standing on furniture, grinding food into the carpet, breaking crystal, and the carpet ended up smelling of cheese for months. In order to get rid of the guests they set up huge barrels of whisky on the lawn. Jackson however, didn't learn from this, and when he left office in 1837 he was given a half-tonne wheel of cheese by a farmer as a gift. He thus decided to have a party where he gave people the cheese. 10,000 people came, eating the entire cheese in two hours, and caused the White House to stink of cheese again.

- XL Tangent: Most people don't look forward to office parties. A survey of 700 office workers showed that 25% of people look forward to it, 40% didn't care, 20% actively hated the prospect, and the other 15% couldn't be bothered to answer the question.

- XL Tangent: There is a fascist in the Oval Office. Above one of the doors is a carving of some tied-up wooden rods, which is called a "fasces". These are also often in artworks are shown with an axe, and when Mussolini came to power he adopted it as the symbol of fascism, which is where we get the word from. There are also two fasces on the Seal of the US Senate and fasces also appear on coins.

- XL Tangent: The Washington Monument is the tallest building in Washington DC and no other building in the city is allowed to be more than 12 storeys high. The Monument was much disputed over because no-one could decide who would pay for it. They stopped building it half-way through, and when they restarted they didn't have the same marble. Thus you can see a line on the Monument where the dispute took place. Richard says that all garden fences seem to be an inch shorter than his eyesight, leading him to comment on "the trampolines I've seen", which Sandi suggests should be the title of Richard's autobiography. Alan has a wall that goes onto a public space and the limit he is allowed to erect to is two metres, which is very close to Richard's height, leading to David to suggest the law is specifically designed to allow Richard to see in, or as Alan suggests to let them see Richard approach.

- XL: The world's biggest troll is Troll A, a gas platform in the North Sea's Troll gas field. It is the tallest and heaviest structure ever moved by mankind. It weighs over a million tonnes and is taller than the Empire State Building. It takes nine minutes to take the lift from the top to the bottom. Katie Melua performed there, which earned her a Guinness World Record for the deepest concert ever given, performing at a depth of 303m below sea level. (Forfeit: Donald Trump; Katie Hopkins; Piers Morgan).

- XL Tangent: In his school days, if Alan and his friends wanted to smoke a cigarette they stood around the back of a Shell garage.

- The longest-lasting Soviet spy to work in the UK was Melita Norwood. She had a job in a metals firm that was involved in Britain's atomic programme, and every night she opened up her bosses safe, photographed the contents, and thanks to her the USSR was able to test its nuclear weapons sooner than the UK could. Norwood was not discovered to be a spy until 1999 at the age of 87, and the authorities decided there was no point in prosecuting her.

- XL Tangent: Melita Norwood was nicknamed the Bolshevik of Bexleyheath, which is wrong because "Bolshevik" is a male word, so she should be a "Bolshevichka".

- Tangent: One of Britain's least effect spies was the UK's Michael Bettaney, who was employed by MI5 in 1982. He tried to dodge a train ticket while drunk, and while a guard chased him he shouted: "You can't arrest me, I'm a spy!" He then tried to get in touch with the KGB to sell them some documents, but the KGB thought they were being set-up, informed MI5 and he got caught.

- Tangent: Possibly the worst spying operation occurred in the 1940s, when a dozen German spies landed in Britain and where all caught almost immediately. One walked into a pub and asked for a pint of cider in 9am; a couple were stopped in Scotland because they were cycling on the wrong side of road, and when their bags were searched they contained German sausages and Nivea hand cream; one spoke no English at all, and the one who spoke English the best said that their mission was find out: "How the people is living, how many soldiers there are, and all the things." Some people think these spies were deliberately send by German officers to sabotage the planned invasion of Britain.

- The panel are shown a photo of a man and are asked what he is about to post. The man in question, Willie Reginald Bray, was about to post himself. "The Human Letter" was an eccentric who spent his entire life pushing the British post office to their limits. He started by sending unwrapped stamped objects to himself, like a shirt collar, onions and a half-smoked cigar. Almost all of this got through without trouble so he experimented. He sent letters addressed to "Any Resident of London", which was rejected; one where the address was croqueted by his mother, which was accepted; and one where the address was written in mirror writing, which was also accepted. He then tried to post himself to his father, and his irritated father received him. After all this, Bray then tried to build up the world's largest autograph collection, which resulted in him annoying Hitler because he kept asking for his autograph numerous times. (Forfeit: A letter)

General Ignorance

- The person you see to get your eyes tested is an optometrist. An optician is the person who dispenses the glasses. However, you can train as both, so it is possible to be tested by someone who is both an optometrist and an optician. (Forfeit: An optician)

- XL Tangent: There is an optician's near to where Richard lives called "Maverick and Wolf".

- The reason why poor eyesight may make a good impression is because many impressionist painters had poor eyesight. Monet's unusual colours may have been due to his cataracts; Degas probably had maculopathy; and Van Gogh is thought to have suffered from lead poisoning, which can make your retinas swell.

- Tangent: Richard was once walking down a long corridor in New York, and he saw a beautiful abstract painting at the end of it. When he got close up to it he found it was actually a fire hose.

- If your surname is "Farmer" your early ancestors were probably tax collectors. They were able to earn so much money from this work, then purchased land and became farmers.

- The panel are shown some more surnames and are asked what job these people had:

- Osman: Someone who worked with bones, like a rag and bone man.

- Knatchbull: Someone who hits bulls on the head to stun them, before the bull get slaughtered.

- Warner: Someone who looks after royal rabbit warrens.

- Dickman: Someone who digs ditches.

- Kellogg: Someone who kills hogs.

- Arkwright: Someone who makes arks or chests.

- The greatest Wimbledon champion of all time is Prof. Bernard Neal, who won Wimbledon's croquet championship 38 times. In comparison, Martina Navratilova won the women's singles tennis nine times. Prof. Neal did not take up the sport until he was 40, and he won 37 out of a possible 40 titles. (Forfeit: Murray; Sampras)

- Tangent: Croquet used to be an Olympic sport. It was dropped after 1900 because only one person turned up to watch. The first women to take part in the Olympics took part in the French croquet team, which had seven men and three women. The game was considered rather racey because men and women played on equal footing. One quote from the American Christian Review of 1878 said: "Croquet would lead to moral decline in American women and consequences would include absence from church, immoral conduct and eventually ruin."

- Tangent: The connection between croquet and Pall Mall is that it is where croquet was first played. It was originally a 17th century Italian game called "palle-malle", and the street was designed so the game could be played there. The object of the original game involved hitting the ball through a suspended hoop.

- XL Tangent: Alan says that a 17th century drawing of palle-malle looks more like Quidditch, and there are people who play Quidditch near where he lives, although they obviously can't fly. David says that this is what leads to ruin. "Palle-malle" comes from the Italian "pallamagilo", meaning, "ball-mallet", and this is where we get the word "mall" from, as in a shopping mall.

- XL: Doctors do not swear an oath before entering practice. They do sometimes take an oath called the General Medical Council's Guidance on Good Practice. The Hippocratic Oath does contain in it rules about not having sex with patients and not removing kidney or bladder stones. People think that part of the oath is "first do no harm", but this comes another part of his work. It is also believed that he didn't even write the oath, as it appeared a century after he died. American doctors do take a more modern oath, called the Oath of Lasagna, written by Dr. Louis Lasagna in 1964. (Forfeit: Hippocratic)


- David Mitchell: -2 points
- Richard Osman: -5 points
- Deirdre O'Kane: -7 points
- Alan Davies: -49 points

Objectionable Object Prize

- David wins a milk jug in the shape of Queen Victoria.

Broadcast details

Friday 9th February 2018
30 minutes
  • Tuesday 18th April 2017, 19:00 at The London Studios


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Saturday 10th February 2018 12:05am BBC2 Wales
Saturday 10th March 2018 10:30pm
45 minute version
Monday 16th July 2018 10:00pm BBC2
Tuesday 1st January 2019 8:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 1st June 2019 7:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 29th June 2019 1:00am
70 minute version
Tuesday 27th August 2019 1:40am
50 minute version
Tuesday 27th August 2019 9:00pm
60 minute version
Friday 25th October 2019 1:45am
60 minute version
Friday 25th October 2019 7:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 21st January 2020 6:00pm
60 minute version
Monday 11th May 2020 10:00pm
45 minute version
Sunday 14th March 2021 11:40pm Dave
Monday 15th March 2021 9:20pm Dave
Tuesday 7th September 2021 8:20pm Dave
Wednesday 8th September 2021 2:15am Dave

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
David Mitchell Guest
Richard Osman Guest
Deirdre O'Kane (as Deidre O'Kane) 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
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
Anna Ptaszynski Researcher
Alex Bell Researcher
Stevyn Colgan Researcher
Ben Dupré Researcher
Ed Brooke-Hitching Researcher
Alice Campbell Davis Researcher


Can you taste an onion if you put it in your sock?

Sandi discusses some onion myths with the panel.

Featuring: Sandi Toksvig & Alan Davies.

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