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.

Series R returning soon
Series Q, Episode 10 is repeated on Dave tomorrow at 2:45am.

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Holly Walsh, Sandi Toksvig, Nikki Bedi, Aisling Bea. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series P, Episode 12 - Procrastination

Further details


- While this show is meant to have a theme, the Elves tell Sandi that the questions about procrastination haven't been written yet, so Sandi gets out a very dusty box containing the "emergency questions" - and a very old photo of Arsenal winning the Premier League. Alan responds by say it won't be a picture of Tottenham Hotspur winning it. Thus, it is a really a "General" show in Series P, covering a wide range of different topics beginning with "P".


- A question about parenting. The best thing to do about a crying baby, according to the American paediatrician Dr. Walter J. Sackett Jr., was to ignore the baby. In his 1962 bestseller Bringing Up Babies: A Family Doctor's Practical Approach to Child Care, he claimed that if you don't ignore the baby, they would grow up to be a socialist. He wrote: "If we teach our offspring to expect everything to be provided on demand, we must admit the possibility of sowing the seeds of socialism." 1962 was the year of the Cuban missile crisis, and thus the USA was paranoid about communism. Dr. Sackett also prescribed early feeding, suggesting that babies should be fed cereals at two days, vegetables at ten days, meat at 14 days, and at nine weeks: "Bacon and eggs, just like Dad." He also said that babies should not be fed milk, writing: "To my mind, the dairies of America constitute the number one health hazard", and that babies should be given black coffee from the age of six months. Dr. Sackett did have children himself.

- Tangent: Holly's son had quite bad nappy rash, so before she put the baby back in a nappy she would blow dry his bottom. However, this ended up working too well, because if she blow-dried his balls, he would instantly fall to sleep. Holly is worried that she has already given him a fetish.

- Tangent: Other bad parenting books include A Mother and Her Child by Drs. Leena and William Sadler, published in 1916. They advised avoiding physical contact with infants except when spanking, and that crying should be ignored unless the baby cried hard enough to go black in the face or burst a blood vessel, at which point a sound spanking should be administered. Another book, The Science of Eugenics by Dr. B.J. Jeffries and J.L. Nichols in 1920, warned pregnant women not to look at or think about ugly things or people, or their child would turn out ugly. They also said that the best way to quiet a crying baby was to use gin.

- Tangent: Every time a baby is born in the Budweiser dynasty, the first thing they have is five drops of Bud dropped on their tongue. Aisling's nanny used to put whisky and holy water on Aisling's gums when she was teething. Aisling told this to a dentist who said this is a bad idea, because while people think it is a good pain reliever it actually burns your gums more so you forget about the pain in your teeth and you just focus on the burning in your gums.

- XL Tangent: Lots of parenting books at the turn of the 20th century suggested bathing babies in lard or butter once a week after birth. Modern advice is that you should not wash babies for long periods of time, and you should just wash top and tail. The reason is that by drying them, the babies get broken skin, which causes allergies.

- Alan is given a special hat to wear. It has a wide, thick netted brim on top, and the panel have to figure out what he is perfectly dressed to do. Alan is actually wearing a falcon sex hat that was made to save the peregrine falcon from extinction. The trainer wears the hat and encourages the birds to mate with his head. In the 1970s, the species was almost wiped out because pesticides were damaging their eggs, so a captive breeding programme was created. The problem is that falcons are normally more attracted to their owners than to other birds due to "imprinting", which is when a young falcon hatches, it becomes attracted to the very first thing it sees, which is often their carers. Thus, this hat was designed so that it would collect semen from falcons as they mated with the carers. In the 1970s, the population of the falcons was down to 324, but since then over 6,000 peregrine falcons have now been released into the US using this programme.

- XL Tangent: The UK's leading falcon breeder, Bryn Close, uses these hats and imitates falcon vocalisation. There is a photo of him with 80 falcons on a plane flying to the Middle East in 2017. In the United Arab Emirates falcon hunting is popular, so all peregrines on planes need to have their own passport to combat illegal trading in falcons. 28,000 passports were issued in the 10 years after they were first introduced in 2002. Various airlines including Emirates and Qatar have pages on their websites about their falcon policy. With Emirates, if you fly first-class you can take two falcons with you, and probably one falcon in economy. Meanwhile, Lufthansa offers a "Falcon Master", a kind of bird perch with a poo-catching tray, which can be installed above the seat during the flight.

- XL Tangent: A genetic study in 2011 revealed that peregrines are more related to parrots than to any other Raptor. Flamingos are also one of the closest relatives to pigeons. The closest relation to all birds is the crocodile, as they share a 240 million-year-old ancestor.

- The panel are shown a painting of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and are asked who is wearing the crotchless pants in the relationship. It was Victoria. Underwear was invented in Roman times, but it fell out of favour for centuries. In Britain, men wore underwear in the form of drawers and knickerbockers, but women didn't wear any underwear until the 19th century. When women did start wearing underwear, it was crotchless, consisting of two separate legs hanging open underneath and held together by a belt around the waist. The underwear wasn't sewn together until 1876, and it didn't become the norm to have a crotch in your underwear until 1910.

- Tangent: A 4th century mosaic found in the Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily shows a form of underwear that looks like a bikini. There is the possibility of even earlier underwear in Upper Egypt, dating back 6,000-7000 years ago. The Badari figure is a statue that may be depicting a woman in underwear, although Sandi says it looks more like, "a big bush".

- XL Tangent: Part of Aisling's sex education in Ireland was a woman who said them that when girls should take their knickers off when going to bed and, "let it all air out."

- Tangent: In 2015, a pair of Queen Victoria's underpants were sold at auction for £12,000. They were able to date the pants exactly because Victoria kept getting fatter over the course of her life, and using photos of Victoria they could pinpoint the date. The waistband was 45 inches, so the pants dated to the 1890s.

- XL Tangent: The first recorded use of the phrase: "She wears the trousers" dates back to the 1880s, but there are earlier versions of the phrase such as: "She wears the britches", which dates it back to the 1630s. The word "pants" comes from "Pantalone", one of the main characters in commedia dell'arte, who famously wore red trousers. The word is plural because pants once had separate legs.

- A question on pronunciation. Sandi does an impression of Katharine Hepburn in the film On Golden Pond, and the panel have to figure out where the accent comes from. The accent is Mid-Atlantic, and strictly speaking the accent is not from anywhere at all. The Mid-Atlantic accent is so named because it is halfway between the USA and the British accent, and it was used in Hollywood films pre-1950s. It was designed to be vaguely British and aristocratic, and it was thought that it sounded appropriately posh. One Hollywood voice coach, the Canadian Edith Skinner, taught Mid-Atlantic as good speech. This accent was adopted by Hepburn, Betty Davis and Vincent Price. Kelsey Grammer also used it in Frasier. The Mid-Atlantic accent is also used frequently by villains such as Jafar in Aladdin , Curella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians, Darth Vader in Star Wars and the evil queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. (Forfeit: America)

- XL Tangent: The panel are played an early recording of Katherine Hepburn talking about silk being used in national defence in her Mid-Atlantic accent.

- Tangent: Drama schools used to train accents out of people, but when Aisling went to drama school they stopped doing this.

- Tangent: In what is possibly Sandi's favourite movie of all time, Some Like It Hot, Tony Curtis pretends to do the Mid-Atlantic accent in the form of a Cary Grant impression.

- Tangent: Nikki was told she had the worst Hindi accent that an English person had had on film. Nikki, who is half-Indian, was doing films and TV in Bombay, and was told (by someone in a Hindi accent) that her accent was, "totally the EP-i-tome of a Britisher's bad Hindi accent", by someone who mispronounced the word "epitome". Nikki says that person should have got their em-PHA-sis right. Due to the level of noise in Bombay, synced sound can't be recorded, so everything was dubbed. If a mistake was made, they would just correct it in the dubbing. Someone would deliver Nikki the dialogue and she was told to look into middle distance and speak lines that translate into English as: "his steel sword is very strong." She would stare again, wait for the next line and then speak.

- XL Tangent: The BBC had their own pronunciation committee. Set up by Lord Reith, the Advisory Committee On Spoken English ruled on how people at the BBC should pronounce certain words. It ran between 1926-39, and members included George Bernard Shaw. In 1926, they ruled that "garage" should be pronounced "ga-raj", but they changed their mind in 1931 and went back to "garage". Their most controversial move was to propose that "margarine" should have a soft "g", because the word comes from the Greek word "margaron", meaning "pearl" and is made from margaric acid. The BBC also ruled that "ski" should be pronounced "she", "armada" should be pronounced "ar-may-da", and Shaw had a row with a BBC executive over pronouncing "acoustics" as "a-cow-stics".

- XL Tangent: Holly used to work at Marks & Spencer, and lots of people asked her where the "lingery" department was, rather than the "lingerie" department. Alan used to mispronounce "misled" as "misle'd" until his 30s.

XL: In 2009, a British Airways passenger plane due to flying from Heathrow to Mexico City was delayed because a vital component had gone missing - the ashtray. Despite smoking having been banned from all commercial flights since the end of the 1990s, planes still need ashtrays because passengers break the rules, still smoke, and you need somewhere to dispose of the cigarettes. The pilot suggested borrowing an ashtray from another plane, and even replacing the entire bathroom door that the ashtray is normally set into. The plane was not allowed to take off until an ashtray had been fitted. (Forfeit: Wings; Pilot)

- XL Tangent: Other unusual aeroplane rules include dimming the lights when landing on night flights so that people's eyes become accustomed to low light in case all the lights suddenly go off; all aeroplane windows have a small hole in them to ease the air pressure and stop the windows from fogging up; and when landing the window blinds have to be pushed up, so in the event of a problem the emergency services can look inside the plane and see what is wrong.

- XL Tangent: Aeronautical engineers would prefer it if planes had no windows at all because they make planes structurally weaker, but passengers don't like flying in a windowless air compartment.

- The panel are shown a photo of Pickering's Harem and are asked what huge discovery they helped to make. They helped to uncover proof of the existence of the universe. In 1923, Edwin Hubble found evidence that a universe existed outside the Milky Way, but he couldn't have done it without the help of the women that were dubbed the members of "Pickering's Harem", in particular Henrietta Swan Leavitt. She worked out how to measure the distance from the Earth with pulsating stars, and when Hubble spotted one of these stars he used her methods to calculate how far away it was, thus he learned it was much too distant to be part of the Milky Way, and it had to be part of another galaxy elsewhere in the universe. Leavitt was employed Charles Pickering, the director of the Harvard Observatory from 1877. He originally employed male staff to analyse all the data being collected from the observed sky, and he got so angry with his incompetent staff he declared that his maid could do better. The male staff asked him to prove it, so Pickering got his maid to do the work, and she was better than them. Thus Pickering hired what were known as "female computers", or more insultingly, "Pickering's Harem". The "Harem effect" is when a male scientist in a position of power predominantly hires female assistants, probably because he has to pay them less so you can hire more.

- XL Tangent: Unaware that Leavitt had died four years earlier, the Swedish mathematician Gosta Mittag-Leffler wanted to nominate her for the 1926 Nobel Prize for Physics, and he wrote to the new director of the observatory, Harlow Shapley. Shapley told him that Leavitt had died, and nobody can win a Nobel Prize posthumously. Edwin Hubble often said Leavitt should have won the prize.

- XL Tangent: Another member of Pickering's Harem was Annie Jump Cannon, who developed a new way of cataloguing stars, manually classifying 350,000 during her lifetime.

- Tangent: Edwin Hubble claimed to have fought a bear, saved two women from drowning, and set up a successful law practise in Kentucky, but there is no evidence for any of these things. He also smoked a pipe because he thought it looked British and had a fake British accent.

- Elf Anna Ptaszynski finally arrives with the procrastination questions, the first of which is when you should celebrate Procrastination Week. It is celebrated by the Procrastinators' Club of America in Philadelphia at slightly different times each year, normally the first couple of weeks in March. The club was formed in 1956 and membership costs $20. Membership buys you a licence to procrastinate and access to the monthly publication Last Month's Newsletter, which lists upcoming events that have already taken place. They celebrate Christmas in June, Independence Day in January and have a Be Late for Something Day on 5th September. The club's motto is: "Behind you all the way." In 1966, they went on a bus tour, brandishing a banner reading: "Excursion to the New York World Fair", which had closed a year and a half earlier. They also ran a campaign to get the late President James Buchanan re-elected, even though he died in 1868. QI wrote to the Procrastinators' Club because they were doing this question, but they didn't get back to them by time of the recording. (Forfeit: Caption to Come [When Holly says it should be celebrated after she's cleaned her house])

- Tangent: Famous procrastinators include Richard Sheridan, who finished writing The School for Scandal while it was being performed on the opening night in 1777, bringing down the lines to the actors as they were on stage. Another procrastinator was Leonardo da Vinci, who took 25 years to finish The Virgin of the Rocks and 15 years to do the Mona Lisa. Although he lived to the age of 67, he only completed 15 paintings and a handful of architectural designs.

- XL Tangent: Another famous procrastinator was Victor Hugo. He promised his publishers that he would write "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", but then spent a year doing anything else. After his publishers told him to complete the book in six months, he did the job by locking all of his clothes away, and only wore a grey shawl so he couldn't go out of the house.

- Tangent: One reason given as to why some people procrastinate a lot is because they often perfectionists, and that people would rather never tackle a task rather than face the risking of falling short. Some internet research was attempted into looking at procrastination more, but people kept putting off the treatment.

- XL Tangent: Aisling loves making lists, and she also loves turning over a new page to make another list. She had one list reading: "Call man RE washing machine" for a year-and-a-half. Someone told Aisling that she should not make lists, because when she makes a new list she gets a hit of dopamine, but she doesn't get the dopamine from doing the actual task. Another habit she does is put down something on a list that she has already done.

General Ignorance

- If you are settling something mano-a-mano, you are doing it hand-to-hand. This is the literal translation from Spanish and dates back to the 1950s. It originally refers to bullfighting, with two fighters in a rink competing for the audience's attention by killing three bulls each, to imply they are on equal footing to each other. (Forfeit: Man-to-man)

- XL Tangent: In Spain, bullfighters are more commonly called "toreros", which comes from the Latin for "bull". "Matador" means "killer". Fans of bullfighting are "aficionado", which is where the word comes from. There have been a few British bullfighters, such as Frank "El Ingles" Evans. However, as Evans was British and had difficulty getting access to bulls to practice with, he instead practiced by attacking a supermarket trolley filled with hay with a sword.

- XL: The physical feature that distinguishes humans and apes from other animals is bringing our thumbs all the way across our hand. We can also flex our ring and little fingers towards the base of the thumb. This is what makes humans dextrous. Frogs, koalas, pandas, possums, opossums, some birds and many dinosaurs also have opposable digits of some kind. Great apes not only have opposable thumbs, but also opposable big toes. We also set ourselves apart from other animals by brain size. Gorillas are often larger than humans, but their brains are only a third of the size of ours. Some other animals have larger brains than humans such as whales and elephants, but the large brains of humans pose problems, namely make labour extremely painful. (Forfeit: Opposable thumbs)

- The poppy was used to represent the combatants of the Great War, where the main combatants were France on one side and the UK on the other. That is because the original Great War was the Napoleonic Wars. Scarlet corn poppies grow very well on the flat Napoleonic battlefields because the seeds rely on light in order to grow, so if the soil is disturbed tremendously, they emerge out of the dark earth and are exposed to the Sun. American professor and humanitarian Moina Bella Michael created the idea of using the poppy as a symbol of remembrance for World War One. She taught disabled servicemen at the University of Georgia and began to sell poppies to raise funds for them. In 1921, her idea was adopted by the American Legion, and then by the British Legion later that same year. Thus the poppy was an American idea from the Napoleonic Wars. (Forfeit: World War One)

- A question about love and partnership. Opposites do not attract. While 80% of people believe this to be true, an examination of people's digital footprints of over 45,000 people shows that it's really rare for opposites to attract. One study asked people to fill in a 100-question survey asking what they looked for in a partner, then sent these people on a series of speed dates, and created an algorithm based on the answers of the survey to predict how well the dates would go. They found that the predictions were no better than chance. (Forfeit: Attract)

- Tangent: Dating apps are terrible at pairing up people. Alan says the apps might as well be designed to attract murderers and victims. Sandi has a house deep in the Danish woods, and she had been splitting wood for the stove. She left the axe outside, and her mother told her to bring the axe indoors, in case an axe murderer came and took it. Sandi replied that given the job description, axe murderers probably have their own axes.


- Holly Walsh: -4 point
- Alan Davies: -12 points
- Nikki Bedi: -13 points
- Aisling Bea: -14 points

Broadcast details

Friday 25th January 2019
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Aisling Bea Guest
Holly Walsh Guest
Nikki Bedi 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

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