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 J, Christmas Special is repeated on Dave tomorrow at 1am.

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Bill Bailey, Sandi Toksvig, Rhod Gilbert, Katherine Ryan. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series O, Episode 8 - Operations

If you've ever wondered how to turn a muffin into an offensive weapon, this is the show for you. With Bill Bailey, Rhod Gilbert and Katherine Ryan.

Further details


- The buzzers are the sound of heart monitors, except Alan's which is a vehicle reversal warning. Alan was once 50 yards away from one and he could still hear the warning.


- You can turn a muffin into an offensive weapon by using an edible flour mix that could also be used as an explosive. This mix was invented during World War II by the Office of Strategic Services, the parent organisation of the CIA. The mix had 75% explosive powder and 25% ordinary wheat flour. The Germans had similar ideas, including bombs disguised as chocolate bars, a mess tin full of bangers and mash that was actually full of explosives, and bombs in books that were triggered by removing pictures of scantily clad women.

- Tangent: There is an explosive cake prank, which involves decorating a balloon so it looks like a cake, so when you cut into it the "cake" blows up.

- XL Tangent: The British WWII sabotage outfit, the SOE (Special Operations Executive), invented exploding camel dung to be used in North Africa, and smuggled explosives into occupied Europe inside artificial turnips, lumps of coal, crabs, lobsters and tuna fish.

- XL Tangent: In 1942, SOE agent Monty Woodhouse parachuted into Greece in order to blow up the Gorgopotamous viaduct. However, some local children made themselves sick by eating his plastic explosives thinking it was fudge. Woodhouse later wrote: "Thankfully, there was enough left over to still blow up the bridge."

- XL Tangent: Lots of SOE agents were dropped into Europe covered in Vaseline. This was because Vaseline was used to make their clothes look older. New clothes were rare in Germany at the time, so the SOE agents artificially aged them by wearing the clothes for a week, covering the suit in a thin film of Vaseline and then sandpapering them.

- If you are about to carry out a medical operation the first thing you should ask yourself is: "Do we have the right patient?" Other questions you need to ask are: "Are you sure which part of the body you are going to be operating on?", "What are we doing in that location?" and "Did the patient consent to the operation?" In 2008, the World Health Organisation published the Safe Surgery Checklist, a list of 19 questions to be asked before and after all surgical operations to reduce hospital errors. The use of this list has reduced deaths by 40%, and complications by a third.

- XL Tangent: Alan asks about the phenomenon of your limbs itching even after they have been amputated. Bill wonders if it is possible to have both legs and have an itch in a phantom third leg, to which Sandi replies that every boy thinks they have this. Another phenomenon is that some people after they have had heart surgery suddenly develop a love of Chinese food that they didn't have before, because the person who originally had the heart ate Chinese food. Another case is of a woman who had a bang on the head and when she woke up she could speak French. Sandi asks Katherine if she spoke French in Canada, and Katherine did because she went to a French-language school aged four, even though no-one else in her family spoke French. However, Katherine's younger sisters also went to the same school, and the result of this was that all three of them knew a language that their parents couldn't speak, meaning that they could make secret plans right in front of them.

- Tangent: Soviet surgeon Leonid Rogozov had no problem identifying one of his patients, as he operated on himself. He removed his own appendix while in the Antarctic. He described the pain as: "A snowstorm whipping through my soul, wailing like a hundred jackals." The operation lasted an hour and 45 minutes, and he was back at work within a fortnight. Another man, Boston Corbett, who is most famous for killing John Wilkes Booth, believed he was very tempted by women, so he decided to castrate himself with a pair of scissors. Corbett believed eunuchs were more likely to get into heaven.

- Tangent: Childbirth is reported as being as painful as having your leg amputated at the thigh without any pain relief.

- XL Tangent: Possibly the least professional surgeon of all time was Nicolas-Marie-Alexandre Vattemare (1796-1864). He was not allowed to qualify as a surgeon because all the time he was working on cadavers he kept getting them to speak like ventriloquist dummies and thus he upset all the other surgeons.

- XL Tangent: Barry Cryer told a story about a ventriloquist he worked with, who came in with his trunk, from which he took out a dummy that he hung on the wall. He told everyone else in the room not to look in the trunk while he was out. When he left, Cryer and everyone else looked inside the trunk. They then closed the trunk when they heard the ventriloquist coming. He entered the room and the dummy then appeared to say: "They've been looking in your trunk."

- XL Tangent: The man who invented the game Operation, John Spinello, sold the rights to the game in 1964 for just $500. In 2014, he had to crowdfund enough money to have an actual operation. Rhod says they never had Operation in Wales because there was a six month waiting list.

- The panel are shown a drawing of man with various horrific injuries and are asked to diagnose him. The drawing is of the "Wound Man", and it is one of the earliest anatomical drawings. It was first printed in a book in 1491 in Venice and shows the man stabbed by daggers, shot with arrows, stung by bees and scorpions, clubbed in the head, bitten by a dog, scratched by thorns, blasted by cannonballs, suffering from plague, having spots and a toad in his stomach. The drawing is a book's contents page. There was also a "Disease Woman" drawing.

- XL Tangent: Ian Fleming wanted to call one of his novels "Wound Man", but his publisher told him not to because "wound" can also be read as in "being wound around something". The book in question was retitled "Dr No".

- Tangent: The USA has a complex system of cataloguing injuries called the ICD-10 System (International Classification of Diseases). There are over 140,000 codes for different, extremely specific complaints. There are codes for: "Bitten by orca", "Forced landing of spacecraft, injuring occupant", "Asphyxiation due to being trapped in a car trunk", "Burnt due to water skis on fire" and "Hurt at opera".

- Tangent: In Britain, the first attempt to categorise diseases were the Bills of Mortality in the 16th century. These were lists of what people died of in London. According to the lists causes of death included: "Gripping in the guts", "Lethargy", "Frighted", "Killed by several accidents", "Found dead in the street", "Suddenly" and "Teeth and worms".

- Tangent: One man, Phineas Gage, had an injury where a metal pole was shot through his head, but he survived and they left the pole in because they were worried that operating on it would cause more damage. The result of his injuries resulted in him swearing constantly and Gage's wife left him.

- Tangent: Brain surgery dates back to the Stone Age, where people had their skulls drilled through in an attempt to relieve the pain. This is known as trepanning, and it is possible that this is the oldest surgery known.

- If you found 2,000 skeletons in your closet, you can turn them into relics. In 1578, a collection of skeletons was found in Rome. Nobody knows who they were, so the Catholic Church decided that as the Protestants had been stealing so many of their relics, they would turn the skeletons into new relics. They employed psychics to determine if any of the skeletons were martyrs, and when they found a likely candidate they gave the skeleton a new name, a backstory, and sent them out to churches across Europe. They couldn't be sold as relics, but they could charge for transport, decoration, induction and blessings. They would dress the skeletons up, cover them in jewels, and put them on display. However, they forgot to send instructions, so some of the skeletons were assembled wrongly.

- Tangent: Katherine lives in a Catholic Church conversion. She says it doesn't feel spooky, but her Irish Catholic grandmother didn't like the idea of Katherine living in it. The site has been de-consecrated.

- XL Tangent: There was a fad for having your children named after the skeleton saints. For example, if St. Valentine went on display, boys would be named Valentine and girls would be named Valentina. In some extreme cases, half the children in the town would have the same name. The rich would try and buy relics of saints who had the same name as them.

- The point of a tap in the ocean was to listen in on Soviet secrets. During the Cold War, Operation Ivy Bells (1971-81) involved the Americans wire tapping a Soviet undersea cable, by putting a giant tape recorder on the wire. Sailors on the submarine USS Halibut located the cable off the Russian east coast and they moved a six metre long recording pod to track messages. The device had to be updated every month, so divers had to change the tapes monthly. The operation ended when the information was sold to the KGB.

- Tangent: Katherine and Sandi complain about the British using separate hot and cold taps rather than a single mixer tap. Katherine also says she doesn't understand radiators, and prefers "forced air", which is what Canadians call air conditioning. Rhod claims he has never heard the term before, even though he is in his mid-40s. This in turn leads to Rhod admitting that for a moment he can't remember how old he is. Rhod then calculates he is 49, but the producer tells Sandi that Rhod is actually 48. Rhod asks if there is a song he can sing in order for him to easily remember his age. Katherine makes up one: "What year are we in today? When I'm born, just take that away. You don't have to be a whiz; that's how old Rhod Gilbert is."

- XL Tangent: Alan's wife wrote a poem for him listing all the things he does, like yelling at his children, being ill mannered and being hungover. He says it was a, "very accurate character assassination in rhyme."

- Tangent: Rhod says that spying was much more of a hassle in the past, whereas today you just need somebody's maiden name and their first pet's name. Alan says it is even easier than that, because the Russians just need to see Donald Trump and ask him.

- Tangent: 99% of all international data is transmitted via undersea cables, thus the Cloud is actually underwater. There are 550,000 miles of cables, which is enough to stretch to the Moon and back. Alan asks if you were on the Moon and jumped off, would you land on the Earth. Katherine complains that scientists can tell us a lot about space, but not much about the bottom of the sea.

- XL Tangent: Bill agrees with Katherine about space, even though he is keen on birds. Alan asks if birds know when to stop going up. Rhod says the air would get thinner so they can't fly up to those heights, but Alan replies that the bird would then die and hit the ground. Rhod then says the bird wouldn't die, it would just black out and then wake up when they reach a height that it could fly at again. Alan mimes this scene and Sandi asks which bird he is being. Bill says it is the bar-tailed godwit, which flies the longest of any bird, because they partly consume their own internal organs to keep them going in long flights.

- XL Tangent: Undersea cables have different thicknesses depending on the water. In shallow water the wire can be as thick as a soft drink can, but in deep water they are as thin as a garden hose. The first undersea cable that linked France and England in 1851, took two minutes to send a single character, which on average meant it took 10 minutes to send a single word. One of the first messages sent via the transatlantic cable that was laid in 1858 was a 98-word letter from Queen Victoria to President James Buchanan, that took 16 hours to send. By World War I the network of cables connected Britain, France, Germany and the USA, and Britain's first hostile action of the war was to cut of Germany's undersea cables. This occurred five hours after the war started, and this resulted in Germany only being allowed to communicate via wireless, which is good because the British could listen in. Britain also had a network of cables called the All Red Line, which was a worldwide network of cables that passed only through British territory. To cut the cable you would need to have 49 separate cutting missions.

- The body part that was used to stop the Netherlands flooding in 1953 was the shoulder. 100 men put their shoulders up against a water barrier during the North Sea Floods. The idea of the Dutch boy sticking his finger in a dyke is a myth. (Forfeit: Finger; Penis)

- Tangent: Sandi claims categorically that no dyke needs a penis.

- Tangent: During the Great North Sea floods, one mayor of a town saved thousands of lives by requisitioning a grain barge and ordered the captain to steer it directly into the dyke head-first, which plugged the breach.

- XL Tangent: Almost half of the Dutch population live below sea level and many of the country's windmills are used to pump water uphill to reclaim land. Thus the Netherlands is much bigger than it used to be. Schiphol airport, the biggest airport in the country, was the scene of a sea battle in 1573. 30% of the flooding in the Netherlands has been done deliberately since 1500 for defensive reasons. The Dutch always had very flat-bottomed gunboats, with a depth of 30cm. Thus the Dutch boats could sail fine but the waters were too shallow for the enemy to enter.

- Tangent: Some British canals have plugs in them for emergency drainage. In 1978, Bill Thorpe was employed to work on the 18th century Chesterfield Canal. He was dredging the canal of rubbish, but he accidentally pulled the plug out, and when he went back to work the next day the canal was gone.

General Ignorance

- The average age in the Home Guard was 30. Half of the membership was younger than 27, and a third was under 18. When the Home Guard was established they thought 150,000 people would join, but in the first 24 hours 250,000 joined, and by June 1940 over a million men joined. There were two million members by 1942. The Home Guard worked with anti-craft guns and coastal artillery. 1,206 Home Guard members were killed on duty or died of their wounds. (Forfeit: 60)

- Tangent: Rhod's father was from Ebbw Vale and his mother was from Abertillery, and the Home Guard units in the towns would battle each other. The battle involved taking the flag from the town hall of the opposite town. The Ebbw Vale Home Guard were based in the hills trying to make their way through the local forest, but they spotted the Abertillery Home Guard going into Ebbw Vale via bus.

- Tangent: Alan's grandfather was an ARP warden. As a kid, Alan thought it was quite special, but then he learned that there were actually 1.2million ARP wardens. The Chinese People's Liberation Army, currently the largest army in the world, has 2.2million people in it.

- XL: The tallest mountain in the UK is Anton Dohrn, which is an underwater mountain 100 miles of the north-west coast of Scotland. It was named after a German fishing vessel that discovered it, which in turn was named after a 19th century biologist. Anton Dohrn is 1,700 metres in height, which beats Ben Nevis by 350 metres. The mountain is home to some of the country's finest coral reefs, which can be up to 30 metres tall. A single coral mound can be home to 1,300 species of marine life. In 2016, a new coral reef was discovered that stretches over 9,500 square kilometres at the mouth of the Amazon. (Forfeit: Ben Nevis; Snowdon)

- There are nine stars in Orion's Belt. The three brightest parts are named Mintaka, Alnilam and Alnitak, but Alnitak is actually three stars. Each of the main stars is 20 times bigger than the Sun, and 18,000 times brighter. In Latin America "Orion's Belt" is called "The Three Marys" and the Arabic name is "The Accurate Scalebeam". (Forfeit: 3; 5; 7)

- The panel are told to half-peel a banana and sew the skin back up, which is how surgeons practice sowing skin up. While doing so they are asked what they would call a banana if it was grown without any pesticides. The truth is you can't call it anything, because even bananas that are sold as organic are still grown with some form of pesticide. The same is true of all organic food. (Forfeit: Organic bananas)


- Katherine Ryan: 4 points
- Alan Davies: -16 points
- Bill Bailey: -27 points
- Rhod Gilbert: -35 points

Objectionable Object Prize

- XL: Katherine wins a small selection of gallstones.

Broadcast details

Friday 15th December 2017
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Bill Bailey Guest
Katherine Ryan Guest
Rhod Gilbert 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


Wound Man

The panellists learn about the Wound Man, an illustration which first appeared in European surgical texts in the Middle Ages.

Featuring: Sandi Toksvig, Alan Davies, Bill Bailey, Katherine Ryan, Rhod Gilbert.


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