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


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2024
  • 312 episodes (21 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 P, Episode 11 - Potpourri

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Rhod Gilbert, Sandi Toksvig, Cally Beaton, Phill Jupitus. Copyright: TalkbackThames


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


- Sandi gives herself and the panel their own personal periscopes - although Rhod's has blacked-out mirrors as her way of getting revenge on him after Rhod constantly and wrongly claimed that Denmark was dark all the time back in the Series N episode "North Norse". She then asks what you can use a periscope for. While submarines did use old-fashioned periscopes, they no longer do. Instead, they project the image seen on multiple monitors so more people can see. Normally, the control panel for these new periscopes costs $38,000, but a survey of younger sailors revealed that this controller is exactly the same as an Xbox controller, which costs just $30. As the controllers can be purchased at any port, they now more widely used on subs, with the USS Colorado now equipped exclusively with Xbox controllers. Periscopes were also used in 1930s California by Dorothy Beck, who used an inverted one so she could draw fish underwater.

- XL Tangent: Sandi used to have a 20ft high brick wall between herself and her neighbours. She once held a massive fireworks party which irritated the neighbour so much that he got a ladder and stood on the top of the wall, screaming at everybody. After the neighbour had finished, Sandi's then-five-year-old son said; "You're very tall."

- XL Tangent: Several online sources claim that Johannes Gutenberg invented the periscope, but this is actually a misunderstanding. Gutenberg was a metallurgist who made "relic mirrors". You would hold the mirror up towards a relic, the power of the relic would go into the mirror, you closed the mirror up and take the power with you. However, in the year Gutenberg made these mirrors the celebrations were cancelled and he lost all his money. After that he decided to by a wine press, and modified it to make the printing press. No-one actually knows who invented the periscope.

- XL Tangent: The panel are shown a dioscope, which looks like two telescopes facing away from each other with the large lenses facing outwards, both of which are on top of a box. When you look through one large lens you can see them perfectly normally from the other one. It still works even if you put something else in-between the two scopes. This is demonstrated by Rhod looking through one large lens, Alan putting his head in the middle, and Sandi using a camera to show that she can still see Rhod despite Alan's head blocking the path. The reason is that there are a series of mirrors in the box which means the light doesn't pass Alan's head, but instead goes below it, working on the same principle as the periscope.

- There are several useful things you can do with a phone box. You can buy one for £2,750, while communities and villages can adopt one for £1. There are at least 3,000 ways phone boxes have been reused. In California, people have converted them into showers. They have also been turned into defibrillator stores, art galleries, libraries, an unattended grocery story in Draughton in Yorkshire, an aquarium, and one was turned into the world's smallest pub for a single day: The Dog and Bone (cockney rhyming slang for "Phone") in Shepreth, Cambridgeshire. The pub dispensed everything in very small quantities, but they ran out at 10.30 and had to call time.

- Tangent: Alan knows of a phone box near him that has been converted into a coffee shop. It is so small that the man who runs has to stand outside.

- Tangent: Tom Jones has purchased a phone box and exported it to LA. Sandi once produced a play Jones was in, and she was due to meet him at the Dorchester Hotel. When she arrived she was told that Jones would like to see her in his suite. When Sandi met him, Jones was wearing the shortest dressing gown she had ever seen. Sandi says Jones was charming and that they got on very well.

- Tangent: It is common to flyer and poster phone boxes during the Edinburgh Fringe. Cally does it on her own, enlisting her children to help. In 2017, she told her daughter to post it in one box, but she refused because people were having sex in it.

- Tangent: The classic red British phone box was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. He also helped design the Battersea and Bankside Power Station which is now Tate Modern. He was supposedly inspired by the mausoleum that was designed by neoclassical architect Sir John Soane for his own tomb in St. Pancras Old Church, London.

- The pointless and puerile phone box prank that propagated prolifically from place to place was phone box stuffing. 1959 was the year of the great phone booth stuffing fad, which began in Durban, South Africa, where 25 students crammed themselves into a phone box, and this is still the record. While a Canadian school claimed that they got 40 students in a box, it was an outsized fraternity hall booth and they laid the booth on its side, thus rules had to be brought in. The rules state that the booth has to be upright, of normal size, and everybody had to have half a body inside it. The stuffing fad spread to cars, outdoor lavatories and a hollow tree at the University of Maine. After that, the next fad was hunkering, where people went down on their haunches for as long as possible, and some people hunkered in phone booths. Others did it on car roofs.

- XL Tangent: One recent fad is "planking", where you lie down in strange places. The panel all plank to see if anyone else will do it, with QI's creator John Lloyd taking a photo of the moment.

- Tangent: One prank Sandi used to do when growing up in New York was the Chinese fire drill. This involved a full car of people stopping at a set of red traffic lights, all the doors opening, everyone getting out and trying to run all the way around the car before getting back in. If you are not in the car when the lights turn green, you get left behind.

- Tangent: Another prank was one that occurred between an American football game between Harvard and Yale in 2004. Some Yale supporters disguised themselves in Harvard colours and gave out red-and-white cards to Harvard spectators, telling them that if they hold them up above their heads, the sign would read: "Go Harvard!" It actually read: "We suck".

- Tangent: Possibly the greatest prankster of all was the Roman emperor Elagabalus. He was a teenager who reigned for just four years, but he was unbelievably extravagant. He once filled a ceiling above a banqueting hall entirely with flowers, which were dumped onto the diners below, smothering diners to death. It is the only death by potpourri that we know of. Elagabalus would also release lions, bears and leopards while people were dining (the animals were all defanged and declawed, but he didn't tell the diners), leading people to die from fright. He would also let the animals into people's bedrooms while they were sleeping. Elagabalus also invited poor people to dinner and giving them paintings of food.

- XL Tangent: Another prank involved a sky writer in downtown LA writing in the air: "How do I land?"

- Tangent: Sandi's son phoned her up to tell her that Daniel Craig had challenged Sandi to do the ice bucket challenge. Later that evening, she was at a party that Craig was attending, so Sandi went up to him and said: "You bastard, why have you challenged me to this thing?" Craig replied; "The chances of us ever meeting again, very slight, let's do it straight away." Thus, backstage at the Royal Festival Hall, they did it in the shower of Sandi's dressing room, and Sandi has a video of herself and Daniel Craig in the shower doing the ice bucket challenge.

- There have been two King Philips of Macedon, six King Philips of Spain, six King Philips of France, and one King Phillip (Jupitus) of QI, but when it comes to England, there has been one King Philip. He reigned between 1554-58, was already Philip II of Spain, and was the husband of Mary I. Unlike the husband of Elizabeth II, this Philip was not a consort, but was crowned king in his own right. Both Philip and Mary's faces were on the coins, parliament was called under their joint authority, and he lived in England for just under a year, between June 1554-55. When they married, he was 27 and she was 37. Philip spoke only Castilian Spanish, so the whole marriage must have been conducted through an interpreter. When Mary died, Philip wrote: "I felt a reasonable regret for her death." Philip later proposed marriage to Elizabeth I, but she rejected him. The Philippines are named after Philip, as they were part of the Spanish Empire. (Forfeit: Never)

- - XL Tangent: Philip II of Spain ruled the Spanish Empire from 1566-98. The expression, "the empire on which the sun never sets", was originally about the Spanish Empire.

- You would say the Pope's name three times and hit his ring with a hammer because he was dead. The Apostolic Camera, an office of the Roman Curia, is a largely ceremonial office, until the Pope dies. At this point, the camerlengo, the cardinal in charge of the Apostolic Camera, has to ceremonially verify the Pope is dead by calling his baptismal name three times. In the case of Pope Francis, the camerlengo would have to say: "Jorge, dormisne?" ("George, are you sleeping?") and then destroy his Fisherman's ring, the signet ring the Pope wears depicting St. Peter fishing, along with the papal seal. It is sometimes said that they also have to hit the Pope on the head with the hammer, but the Vatican will neither confirm nor deny this.

- XL: The proper procedure for planting a priest is that they should face west. When burying Christians, various denominations traditionally buried them facing east, but clergy are generally buried west. The idea is at the time of the resurrection, the congregation will rise up facing east, and the clergy will rise up facing them so they would be ready to take immediate control.

- XL Tangent: While Alan is not religious, he does like religious architecture. His favourite was the mosque in Cordoba. When the Spanish were driving the Moors out, the Spanish tried to destroy all the mosques. The Corboda mosque has about 900 pillars in it, and it is designed so the pillars look like they go on for infinity. Thus the troops said they could not bring themselves to destroy it because it was so beautiful. Their commanders responded by building an incredibly gaudy Catholic cathedral, complete with gold and paintings, in the middle of the mosque. Alan does not know if the mosque is still used as a mosque, but the cathedral is still used as a cathedral.

- XL: The person whose career was literally based on arse kissing was Cardinal Giulio Alberoni. His entire career came from kissing the Duke of Vendome's bottom. In the War of Spanish Succession (1701-14), the war where the British captured Gibraltar, Alberoni was sent as an envoy to Vendome, the commander of the French forces in Italy, after the Bishop of Parma quit the job because the Duke had wiped his buttocks in front of him. When the Duke did the same thin in front of Alberoni, he kissed the buttocks and said: "O culo d'angelo", which translates as, "The arse of an angel." This please the Duke and secured a very successful career for Alberoni.

- The Mad Monk of Russia was Sergei Trufanov, aka Iliodor. Rasputin was never a monk, while Trufanov, a one-time friend of Rasputin, described himself as The Mad Monk of Russia, which was the title of Iliodor's memoirs that were published in New York in 1918. This book however, is one of the primary sources of Rasputin's life. Rasputin was actually a faith healer. (Forfeit: Rasputin)

- XL Tangent: Rasputin was really poorly educated. In his diary he misspelt the word, "diary". He claimed that by sleeping with women he could take on their sins and help them find the grace of God.

- Tangent: There is a rogue theory about Vladimir Putin being a reincarnation of Rasputin. The theory claims that Putin's pubic hair and Rasputin's residual testicular fluid were analysed, and the DNA was the same.

- XL Tangent: The leader of the group of assassins that killed Rasputin, Prince Felix Yusupov, was a member of the Bullingdon Club while he was an Oxford undergraduate. He and his wife Irina are responsible for films today having carry statements saying that any similarity to any living person is entirely coincidental, because they both sued MGM over a 1932 film entitled: "Rasputin and the Empress".

- XL Tangent: Rasputin was married, had three children, and one of them, Maria, after the revolution emigrated to the USA. There, she worked in a circus, where every night she would do a mime of her father's death. She graduated to becoming a lion tamer, but her circus career ended abruptly when she was mauled by a bear. She billed herself as, "The Daughter of the Mad Monk", despite Rasputin not being the Mad Monk. During the Second World War, she worked as a riveter in Californian shipyards. She died in 1977.

- The most dangerous football player of all time was John at Stile. In the 16th century, if someone died accidentally during a football game, all of the players were put on trial of manslaughter. In theory, the person responsible for the accident was liable to be hanged. However, the courts were reluctant to do this, thus the coroner would return a verdict of murder, but name of the culprit was always John at Stile - a 16th century equivalent of John Doe. Thus, on paper, John at Stile is still the most dangerous football in history, because he "killed" so many people.

- XL Tangent: Cally was the only girl in a boys' school, who went to this school because her parents taught there. She didn't get the female lead in the her school play. She played football at school, but hated it.

- Tangent: Prof. Steven Gunn of Oxford University studies accidental death in 16th century England. Through his work, we know that football caused more deaths in the 16th century than sword fighting. There were at least seven football deaths in England, beaten only by 56 archery deaths. Of these football deaths, two were accidentally stabbed with a knife while tackling. Along with sword fighting, wrestling and bell-ringing were just as dangerous, each having three deaths each. There were two deaths by hammer-throwing and one person died in a game of quoits. One of the archery deaths was of Henry Pert from Welbeck, who shot himself in the head in 1552 when he drew the bow to full extent, planning to fire it straight up into the air, but the arrow lodged into the bow and he leant over to have a look at the arrow when it fired. Handgun accidents don't overtake archery accidents until the 1550s. The very first handgun death recorded was of a woman in Hull in 1519, who was accidentally shot by a Frenchman named Peter Frenchman, because she had never seen a gun before and just walked in front of it when he fired. Similarly, Rhod's father got a dart in the head when he walked in front of a dartboard when drunk. Other 16th century deaths included lots by drowning because few people could swim. One Cambridge baker drowned in a cesspit while relieving himself.

- XL Tangent: Sandi once went to a barbeque in Mozambique. She ate hippo, which she says, "was deeply unpleasant." Cally ate fermented shark in Iceland.

- XL Tangent: Other unusual 16th century deaths recorded by Prof. Gunn include a Scotsman who died while demonstrating how he liked to lie down and be tied up, which he said was a popular recreation in Scotland. Another man, John Hypper, was playing Christmas games on Boxing Day, 1563, in Houghton in Hampshire when he accidentally crushed his testicles so that by reason of his old bodily infirmity he became ill and died two days later. At the time there were handbooks advising people to be careful not to fall out of trees.

General Ignorance

- The ship that Sir Francis Drake and his crew circumnavigated the globe in 1580 was called the Pelican. One popular account claims the ship was renamed the Golden Hind at the Straits of Magellan, but there is no evidence the crew used this name at any time. (Forfeit: The Golden Hind)

- XL Tangent: Drake had no intention of circumnavigating the globe. He intended to plunder Spanish treasure ships, and he was so successful off the coast of Peru that he didn't want to sail back the way he came because there were Spanish ships that way. Thus he risked returning to England by going all the way round. When he got back, the amount of booty he collected was valued at £160,000, which in today's money is £500,000,000.

- The southern tip of Africa is Cape Agulhas. It is 90 miles away from the Cape of Good Hope. There is just a rocky beach and a bit of a plaque there. The cape marks the dividing line between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. (Forfeit: The Cape of Good Hope)

- XL Tangent: Alan has been to Cape Town. He says that beaches are lovely, it's quite windy and the water is freezing. The water is good for penguins.

- Tangent: The southernmost part of the north American continent is in Australia. According to geologists, an area of Georgetown, Queensland, that was once part of North America over a billion years ago.

- Out of Australia and the Moon, Australia is the wider. Australia is about 4,000km and the Moon is 3,500km. If you were observing from the Moon, Australia would look the same size as the Moon does to us, but the Moon has the greatest surface area because it is spherical. (Forfeit: The Moon)


- Phill Jupitus: 4 points
- Rhod Gilbert: -6 points
- Cally Beaton: -11 points
- Alan Davies: -44 points

Broadcast details

Friday 18th January 2019
30 minutes


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Saturday 16th March 2019 9:00pm
45 minute version
Monday 24th June 2019 10:00pm BBC2
Friday 20th December 2019 9:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 21st December 2019 1:20am
70 minute version
Wednesday 26th February 2020 9:00pm Dave
Thursday 27th February 2020 1:00am
70 minute version
Thursday 27th February 2020 6:00pm Dave
Wednesday 20th May 2020 9:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 29th August 2020 8:00pm
60 minute version
Friday 11th December 2020 2:35am
50 minute version
Friday 11th December 2020 9:00pm Dave
Thursday 22nd April 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Friday 23rd April 2021 2:00am
60 minute version
Monday 5th July 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 6th July 2021 2:30am
45 minute version
Monday 4th October 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 5th October 2021 6:00pm
60 minute version
Friday 3rd December 2021 1:00pm Dave
Friday 3rd December 2021 6:00pm Dave
Saturday 6th August 2022 1:00am
60 minute version
Wednesday 26th October 2022 1:20am
60 minute version
Wednesday 26th October 2022 9:00pm
60 minute version
Wednesday 11th January 2023 9:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 12th January 2023 4:00pm
60 minute version
Sunday 12th March 2023 11:00pm
60 minute version
Monday 13th March 2023 9:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 1st August 2023 12:00am
60 minute version
Tuesday 1st August 2023 9:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 4th November 2023 11:40pm
60 minute version
Thursday 28th March 2024 9:00pm
60 minute version

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Phill Jupitus Guest
Rhod Gilbert Guest
Cally Beaton Guest
John Lloyd Self
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Mat Coward Researcher
Will Bowen Researcher
Anna Ptaszynski Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
Ed Brooke-Hitching Researcher
Alice Campbell Davis Researcher
Mandy Fenton Researcher
Mike Turner Researcher
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Justin Pollard Associate Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Nick Collier Lighting Designer
Howard Goodall Composer
Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor
Kalpna Patel-Knight Commissioning Editor

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