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

QI

BBC Two and BBC One panel show focusing on quite interesting facts. 249 episodes (pilot + 17 series), 2003 - 2020. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

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QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Susan Calman, Sandi Toksvig, Holly Walsh, Matt Lucas. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series P, Episode 16 - Post

Further details

Topics

- The panel try to fill in the blanks in a poster. It depicts Tony Blackburn and reads: "I USE _ _ _ _ _ _ Do you use your _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ?" It should read: "I USE W1A 4WW. Do you use your postcode?" Postcodes were invented by Sir Rowland Hill in 1857, by dividing London into postal districts. The modern postcode was not generally introduced until 1958 (the year Sandi was born), but people didn't really use them. Thus Blackburn appeared in this 1980s promotional poster.

- XL Tangent: The idea of postcodes was to automate the sorting out of letters. People dubbed "robot sorters" could input the codes on their own. These sorters were issued with finger gymnastics equipment to train their fingers for the typing machines they used.

- Tangent: Susan says that she doesn't know her own postcode. When Holly asks how Susan remembers passwords, Susan says she was a document called "Passwords" on her computer, and the reason she can access her password protected computer is because the main password for her computer is her own name.

- XL Tangent: The Republic of Ireland only adopted postcodes in 2015, but it is the only country in the world where every address has a unique postcode.

- The three words that describe exactly Alan's current position are: "joke.proof.value", in that order. This is due to the British website what3words, which divides the entire world's surface into a series of 3x3m squares. This results in 57 trillion squares in total, all of which are uniquely described by a particular three-word code. To make the entire system work, only 40,000 words are needed. Launched in 2013 and operating in 25 languages, the website has been adopted by Mongolia and Cote d'Ivoire as their official address system. Codes in the system include "glitter.drummers.stepping" for a square in Bingerville, Cote d'Ivoire; "actors.asking.print" in San Francisco; "coffee.fever.cans" in California; "shut.tech.requests" for the Eiffel Tower; "sound.manual.lungs" for the front doorstep of Buckingham Palace; and "snake.removes.gymnast" for the top of Ayers Rock or Uluru. The advantage with this system is that if you need emergency services you can be very specific about where they need to go.

- XL Tangent: The hospital at Sandi was born in, Gentofte Hospital in Copenhagen, has the what3words code "facing.womanly.knots".

- XL Tangent: The what3words system is now used in Denver, where each of the city's 57,000 fire hydrants uses the codes.

- Tangent: QI has written to the British Embassy in Mongolia using what3words, but at the time of recording their letter had not arrived. However, after the recording it did arrive, and there is a picture of the letter at the embassy at the end of the credits, held by Philip Malone, HM Ambassador to Mongolia. The address of the embassy is "trades.rules.existence".

- You would give your postie a rocket as a way of sending post quickly. However, most attempts to do so have been failures. In about 1824, Sir William Congreve invented the Congreve rocket, a form of military artillery, and he attempted to use it to deliver mail from Tonga to Samoa by rocket, but it had limited success. The idea was dropped for 100 years, until the German engineer Gerhard Zucker returned to it in the 1930s. He toured Germany demonstrating his system. He planned to have rockets 5m long that travelled 400km at a height of 1,000m at 1,000m/s. However, it was just a large metal container attached to eight fireworks. No-one was interested, so in 1934 he came to Britain, announcing he would create a one-minute rocket post between Dover and Calais. The government liked the idea, so they tested it in the Outer Hebrides by loading a rocket with 1,200 letters, including one to George V, and firing it from the Isle of Harris to the Isle of Scalpay. The rocket exploded, with officials watching burning parcels rain down on the beach. As a result, Zucker was deported back to Germany as he was considered a threat to the income of the Post Office and the security of the country. The Germans detained Zucker for co-operating with the British, and he ended up serving with the Luftwaffe in WWII.

- Tangent: You can send a gun in the post, but you can't send it with ammunition. You can also send a credit card, but you can't send the accompanying PIN number with it. One of Holly's favourite dinner-part questions is if you had to get a gun by midnight tonight, who would you ask. It involves figuring out who among your friends would have the contacts to get you the gun. For Sandi, she has friends who hunt, but she says it is something she has never thought about. Similarly, she has never thought about doing drugs, so Holly asks which of her friends would score drugs for Sandi by midnight tonight. Susan asks if no-one just sits down with a Nigella Lawson cookbook and a silky dressing gown, and make some squid, which she does for a dinner party. Alan replies that Nigella could get a gun.

- XL Tangent: In August 1859, John Wise attempted to be the first man to send post via hot air balloon. He tried to deliver 123 letters from Lafayette to Crawfordsville in Indiana, but the wind blew him 25 miles in the opposite direction.

- XL Tangent: In 1958, an American naval submarine named USS Barbara fired a missile containing 3,000 identical letters which did arrive at its destination. However, it was too expensive to use, and it was mainly a way for the USA to show the technological might against the USSR during the Cold War.

- The most useful thing you can do with Izal medicated toilet paper is write airmail letters on it, because it is lighter than normal paper. This was used by Sandi when she was in boarding school, because she couldn't afford airmail letters to send to her parents in New York.

- XL Tangent: Alan rolls up a sheet of Izal and pretends it is a spliff, passing it around to the other panellists. Matt tells Sandi to not "Bogart" the joint. The phrase means to hold onto share the joint, and refers to the way Humphrey Bogart smoked.

- Tangent: At Holly's boarding school they also used the same toilet paper. On Saturday nights, when everyone came in from a rave, the teachers would roll out the paper the length of the corridor, and if they thought one of the pupils was drunk they would make the pupil walk along the straight toilet paper line to test them.

- XL Tangent: The Secret Office was a subsection of the Post Office that was set-up sometime in the mid-17th century, but because it was secret no-one exactly knows when. They read post from foreign countries, hired translators to decipher foreign languages and harvested any useful knowledge. Even the rest of the Post Office was unaware of the Secret Office. The Secret Office jobs included chief decipherer, second decipherer, third decipherer, fourth decipherer and alphabet keeper. In theory, the office closed down in 1846 and the records destroyed in 1851, but again no-one knows for certain.

- XL Tangent: The picture used to illustrate the Secret Office features a hat-rack so high that no-one can put a hat on it, but you can hang your bag by throwing the strap over a hook. Susan says that when she did "Strictly Come Dancing" her partner and boyfriend Kevin Clifton showed Susan's wife how to lift her, so that Susan can reach things from the top shelves in supermarkets. Sandi asks Susan if she has any idea how modern it sounds to say, "my boyfriend taught me wife..."

- Tangent: Because of Susan's lack of height, she can stand up completely straight in the back of a London black cab. Sandi then tests Susan to see if she can also stand perfectly straight in a pillar box, which she can.

- If you posted yourself to No. 10 Downing Street you would probably be returned. In 1909, two suffragettes, Miss McClelland and Mrs. Solomon, posted themselves to No. 10 because they couldn't get an appointment to see Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. They posted themselves from the East Strand post office, were escorted by a messenger boy named A.S. Palmer, but the human letters were refused and they were returned to their office at the Women's Social and Political Union. They did however get the photos of them at No. 10, so still got some publicity from the stunt. The Post Office played a big role in the suffrage movement, with members of the WSPU including the Pankhursts smashing post office windows, pouring acid into pillar boxes, setting fire to postboxes, and putting pepper into letters which they sent to anti-suffrage MPs.

- XL Tangent: Sandi and Alan have both been to 10 Downing Street, which is deceptively big. In the last election, Sandi thought of standing for Prime Minister, so she phoned up and asked to look around, because Sandi thought she would not stand is No. 10 was small, but she was refused. Susan asks if there is anything worth stealing in No. 10, to which Sandi replies: "Not now I've been." Until the 1980s you could walk up to the front door of No. 10, but this ended due to IRA bomb threats.

- XL Tangent: The London Pneumatic Dispatch Company used to send post through pneumatic tubes between 1863-74. The tubes were 3'8½" in diameter, with the post being put in capsules that were shot through it. At the opening of the Euston-Holborn line the company chairman, Richard Plantagenet Campbell Temple Nugent Bridges Chandos Grenville, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, tested it by travelling in one of the capsules at 30mph. This ended up being a thing drunk Victorian gentlemen tried to copy. New York had pneumatic mail system that ran between 1897-1953, and the first items sent were a Bible, a large fake peach and a cat, which arrived, "dazed but unharmed". Today, Elon Musk is planning to make a 570km long hyperloop to send people in capsules from LA to San Francisco at speeds up to 962kmph. In Christchurch, New Zealand, there is a restaurant that serves food in pneumatic tubes.

- The panel are asked to impersonate a 19th century poster girl. In this period, poster girls were called "banner ladies" and were used as human billboards, advertising businesses by wearing things the business sold. For example, one woman advertising a baker's wore a dress covered in bread products. Another advertising household goods wore a dress with cutlery and a funnel for a hat. Others wore light bulbs, dolls, bed springs and pretzels.

- XL Tangent: In the early 2000s, the idea of human billboards came back with people advertising their bodies to companies by getting tattoos of company names in exchange for money. When Matt was about seven, his brother drew Pac-Man on the side of his head and it didn't wash off for three weeks.

- XL Tangent: In 2000, heavyweight boxer Julius Francis sold advertising spaced at the bottom of his shoes for £20,000. Thus, every time he got knocked down people were shown adverts for the Daily Mirror. The idea for this advert was the newspaper's then editor, Piers Morgan.

- XL Tangent: Annie Kopchovsky, a Latvian immigrant to the USA and the first woman to cycle around the world in 1894, was sponsored by the Londonderry Lithia Springwater Company. Thus she changed her named to Annie Londonderry for the trip and was paid $100. She decided to cycle after hearing two rich Bostonian gentlemen in a bar betting that a woman couldn't cycle across the globe in 15 months. Annie had three children at the time aged five, three and two, and didn't learn to cycle until a few days before the trip. She managed to complete the journey with 14 days to spare and won $5,000. However, Annie took the train quite a lot of the time, so many people say she was first person to travel across the globe "with" a bike rather than "on" a bike.

- XL: The thing to do with a dead astronaut is to turn them into powder. Dead bodies cannot be ejected into space because a UN charter considers this to be littering. Thus, in 2005, NASA commissioned a Swedish company to solve the issue, and they created the body back bag. You place the bag around the body, put the package into an airlock, the body freezes solid in space, then a robot arm takes the bag, and shakes and vibrates it until the corpse is turned into powder. The bag of powder is then folded up and stored. (Forfeit: Eject the body into space)

- XL Tangent: People have had their ashes shot into space, but only one person has been laid to rest on another heavenly body. Eugene Shoemaker, an astronomer and geologist who could not become an astronaut because he had Addison's disease, had 1% of his ashes put into a vial, had this attached to NASA's lunar prospector which was launched in 1998, and his ashes were crashed onto the Moon.

- A question about the posterior. The man who gave Adolf Hitler a kick in the backside was his doctor, Theodor Morell. Dr. Morell gave Hitler daily injections in his bottom throughout the course of his career. It started off as basic vitamin supplements, but over the years it became a vast cocktail of drugs, and Hitler became very reliant on this complex and potent cocktail. One of the products was Vitamultin, that Hitler once gave to Himmler, and Himmler secretly ordered a SS physician Ernst Gunther Schenck to test it in his lab, leading him to discover it contained crystal meth. Dr. Morell's record of the drugs he gave to Hitler lists among other things belladonna, caffeine, cocaine, adrenaline, morphine, testosterone and E-coli bacteria extracted from human faeces. It reportedly kept Hitler fresh, alert, active, immediately ready for the day, cheerful, talkative, physically active and tending to stay awake for long hours into the night. Eventually, the Allies bombed the factories making the drugs, so Hitler was not only losing the war, but also he was coming off his drugs at the same time.

- Tangent: Holly once kicked her brother up the arse and says: "It's so pleasing."

- XL Tangent: Hitler's chief architect, Albert Speer, believed that Hitler's crystal meth addiction was partly responsible for Hitler's unbelievably rigid tactics in the later stages of the war, which included refusing troops to retreat, even under the direst circumstances.

- Tangent: The screen shows a plane bombing a German factory. Alan recognises it as a Mosquito, a twin-engine fighter bomber which had a wooden frame.

- XL Tangent: The technical term for the buttocks is the gluteus maximus. It is the largest muscle in the human body, so it is especially suitable for injections of large amounts of medications.

- Tangent: Hitler was inspired to take the drugs by the 1936 Olympics, where the American amphetamine Benzedrine encouraged Germany to develop its own methylamphetamin. 35 million tablets were ordered and given to German troops before they advanced on France in Spring 1940. There were even Hildebrand chocolates that contained the drug, and women were recommended to eat two or three a day so that they could do their housework in no time at all while also losing weight. This reminds Sandi of her favourite Daily Mail headline, from 2017: "Doing less housework is making women fat."

General Ignorance

- The country that invented the queue was France. Wolfe Tone, an Irish revolutionary and father of Irish republicanism wrote in his 1796 diaries about the poor queuing for bread: "the petty princes of Italy are, as the French say, 'en queue pour fair la paix.' It is an excellent metaphor taken from a crowd who stand one behind another in order to be served in their turn as the poor of Paris, for example, are at the bakers."

- XL Tangent: The reason there new queues in Britain before hand was because before cities came about there was no need to queue. It is only when we start to get shops and towns that queues were needed.

- Tangent: Sandi's favourite story about a queue concerns Amazon. In 2018, they opened their first queue-free shop. You scan your phone as you walk in, video camera and sensors watch you as you take items off the shelves, and you are then charged automatically. On the opening day, people had to queue for two blocks to get into the shop.

- XL: The person who holds the highest post in the US military is George Washington. Washington was in the army, ranking as a two-star general, although after his presidency he was promoted to a three-star general by his successor, second President John Adams. However, on 4th July 1976, the 200th anniversary of American Independence, he was posthumously promoted to General of the Armies of the United States. A law was then enacted saying: "Whereas it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the army list, the President is authorised and requested to appoint George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States." Thus, Washington will always be the highest-ranking officer. (Forfeit: Melania Trump)

- The panel are show a picture of a typical mermaid and asked what is the most unrealistic thing about it. The problem is the tail is the wrong way around. Fishes tails are in the same plane as their body, moving their tail left-to-right to propel themselves. Most mermaids are depicted with the tail fin perpendicular to the plane of the body, so the tail moves top-to-bottom. If mermaids swam like fish, they would swim on their sides. Thus they instead swim like mammals. However, most mermaids are also depicted with scaly and shimmery lower halves, which is a fish characteristic, rather than the smooth skin of a cetacean like whales and dolphins. Thus, either the tail orientation is wrong and the mermaid is half fish, or the scales are wrong and the mermaid is half cetacean.

Scores

- Matt Lucas: 10 points
- Alan Davies: 8 points
- Holly Walsh: -5 points
- Susan Calman: -5.5 points

Broadcast details

Date
Friday 22nd February 2019
Time
10pm
Channel
BBC Two
Length
30 minutes

Repeats

    Cast & crew

    Regular cast
    Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
    Alan Davies Regular Panellist
    Guest cast
    Susan Calman Guest
    Matt Lucas Guest
    Holly Walsh Guest
    Writing team
    James Harkin Script Editor
    Alex Bell Question Writer
    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
    Nigel Catmur Lighting Designer
    Howard Goodall Composer
    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
    Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor
    Kalpna Patel-Knight Commissioning Editor
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