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


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2022
  • 279 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 P, Episode 3 - Piecemeal

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Gyles Brandreth, Sandi Toksvig, Jimmy Carr, Sally Phillips. Copyright: TalkbackThames

Preview clips


- As the general theme is being politically correct and not causing offence, there are bonus points for politeness; and if someone gets a bonus, they all do, so everyone's a winner.


- You can tell if a police constable is cut out for the job by using cardboard cut-outs of police officers to see if they deter crime. In 2013, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Police put two cut-outs in bike-rack cages at Alewife Station, which resulted in thefts falling by two-thirds. Thames Valley Police rotate two cut-outs between shops in Oxford, Windsor, Maidenhead and Ascot. The Police Federation are against the use of cut-outs because they believe it is a way for bosses to avoiding paying salaries and pensions to actual officers.

- Tangent: Sandi gets out a police officer cut-out which is much taller than her. Jimmy quips that it is actually regular height, but everyone stands by it and it really is tall. Gyles says that he made a film for The One Show about the subject of the cut-outs, and he says that the thing that makes the difference is not the uniform but just the eyes looking at you.

- XL Tangent: There are cut-out versions of Jimmy available for sale. Sally tried looking for one of herself but she could only find her head. Sandi says she wants her likeness in the form of a little draught excluder, to which Jimmy retorts: "You pretty much are."

- Tangent: Some forces have admitted that their cut-outs have been stolen. Three have gone missing from petrol filling stations in Derbyshire, two were stolen in Cleveland, and one was lost in Humberside at the Tesco Supermarket in Grimsby.

- XL Tangent: An experiment at the University of Newcastle's psychology department involved putting an honesty box in their coffee room and then sticking a picture of a pair of eyes on the wall nearby to see the effect this had. As a control experiment they also swapped the eyes with a picture of flowers. The results showed that people paid 2.76 times more for their drinks when the eyes were present, over the flowers. One researcher said: "Frankly, we were staggered by the size of the effect." Another study at the University of New South Wales involved painting eyes on the rear ends of a third of a herd of 62 cattle. They counted the returning cows after a ten-week period, and they found that none of the painted cows were killed by lions, because lions attack from behind and will stop if they are spotted attacking. Three cattle without painted eyes were killed. Gyles wonders if we should paint eyes on the backs of cats to prevent them from being killed by foxes.

- The people who wear the trousers in a pantisocracy are everyone. It means "power by all". A pantisocracy was planned by romantic poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey in 1794 when they were 21-year-old students. They intended to set up what we would today recognise as a hippy colony in the USA. Problems quickly arose because Southey assumed that servants (i.e. women) would do the actual work. The plans were then scaled back so they would instead go to Wales, before eventually being scrapped altogether.

- Tangent: Gyles claims to have lived in a pantisocracy and that it was hell. When he was about 17 a master from his school invited some of the children to go on holiday to Devon, and that they would be pantisocrats. They went to a village where Coleridge had been on holiday, and where he and Southey invented their idea of pantisocracy. During the holiday Gyles, seven other pupils and the teacher lived like equals and pretended to be different romantic poets (Gyles was H. J. Byron, first cousin of Lord Byron). Gyles said it put him off equality forever. At the end of the holiday they all wrote a poem and the boy who was Southey performed The Story of the Three Bears, while Gyles as Byron acted as Widow Twankey and Buttons, who were panto characters he invented. The teacher was Coleridge and Gyles jokingly claims the teacher took opium. Sally asks if Gyles chose the roles, comparing it to the time she auditioned for Jonathan Creek and as she entered she thought it would be good if her character was Spanish. She didn't get the part.

- Tangent: Sandi feels sorry for Southey because no-one seems to remember any of his works. However, he was the man who wrote The Story of the Three Bears, the original story of Goldilocks.

- XL: A word cloud appears containing the names of systems of government beginning with "P" and the panel have to define them. One of them is "pantisocracy", which has just been discussed.

- Panarchy: Created by Belgian writer Paul Emile de Puydt in 1860, the idea is that each individual fills in a form saying what kind of government they would like to be ruled by (e.g. democracy, monarchy etc.), and once you registered they are then individually subject to that regime. Thus, you get to choose which kind of government you would like to have.

- Pornocracy: Also known as the Government of Harlots, one example of pornocracy was a period of papal rule between 904-964, when 12 popes were heavily influenced by a mother and daughter team from the Theophylacti family, named Theodora and Marozia. The term used to describe this period was not coined until the 19th Century, by German theologians who thought any rule by women was rule by harlots.

- Plutocracy: Rule by the wealthy. Examples include the Roman Empire in its heyday and the Venetian Republic. Today the term is used pejoratively, with people arguing that the modern USA is a plutocracy because the legislative process has been captured by well-funded interest groups. "Plutos" is Greek for "wealth". (Forfeit: Rule by a cartoon dog)

- Particracy: When effective power is exercised by a party, rather than by individual politicians or voters. Examples include China, where the Communist Party has an almost formal monopoly of power. In fact, the Chinese state does not have an army: the People's Liberation Army is technically the military wing of the Communist Party. Thus the country's Ministry of Defence has no authority over the Army. (Forfeit: Rule by going to parties)

- The panel are asked to name a Greek word with a silent "p". The answer is they can't because there is no silent "p" in Greek. The Greek letter Ψ that in English is pronounced "psi" is in Greek pronounced more like the "ps" in "lapse". (Forfeit: Pterodactyl; Psalm; Philosophy; Philip)

- XL Tangent: The panel are shown the Greek alphabet and as asked what is wrong with the list. The problem is that it is not in the correct Greek order, and instead shows the letters as they correspond to their English counterparts. For example, gamma is shown where "G" is, although in the Greek alphabet it is the third letter.

- Tangent: The name for the bird "ptarmigan" is Gaelic. A man named Sir Robert Sibbald wrongly assumed to be Greek and added "p" for no reason. Sibbald was the first person to scientifically describe the blue whale when one got stranded in the Firth of Forth in 1692.

- Pie-eating competitions have been made more politically correct in recent years with a number of rule changes. The World Pie-Eating Championships have been held in Harry's Bar, Wigan, since 1992. Originally the objective was to eat as many pies as possible in three minutes, but in 2006 the rules were changed to reflect changing attitudes towards diet, so now each competitor has just one pie and the winner is whoever eats theirs quickest. Additionally, a vegetarian category was added after "relentless pressure" from the Vegetarian Society. Organiser Tony Callaghan said that while these changes may be controversial, it was the way forward. Dave Smith, the first winner of the contest back in 1992 complained that they had taken things too far and that any pie that wasn't meat and potato just wasn't normal. Callaghan also complained that people eating fewer pies may have been responsible for the last recession. In 2007, twenty pies that had been prepared for the competition were all eaten in a single sitting by a rescue dog called Charlie. His owner Dave Williams had become distracted when he ate them. As a result of this Dave entered Charlie in the competition; however, Charlie was full from the previous day and only ate half his pie.

- Tangent: Gyles was once invited by Lord Longford 45 years ago to join his investigation into pornography by becoming a member of a "pornography committee". Gyles was the youngest member of the committee, whose other members included a bishop, an archbishop and a rabbi. They once visited a club in Copenhagen where they were offered a special, large pie. They all sat around it and when the crust was removed it was full of naked people.

- XL Tangent: Lord Longford was a figure of mockery for the pornography committee and its investigation at the time but today lots of people would agree with his views because its remit included examining ways the industry was exploiting women.

- XL Tangent: The pie-eating record at the time of recording is 22.53 seconds, held by Martin Claire.

- XL Tangent: Here are tips on how to win a pie-eating contest. If it is a no-hands event, secure your plate to the table using Velcro. You can prepare for the competition by chewing gum to relax your jaw. Forms of cheating include adding a slug of cough mixture to the gravy, which reportedly knocks two seconds off your time. Also, remember to breathe.

- Tangent: The panel have their own pie-eating competition, but because they are obeying the official rules as a pro-am contest, Sandi has to ask if anyone has earned any money from a previous pie-eating competition. Jimmy wins. Gyles says that he ate a pie with a human in it. He said he came across it in India where he was researching a book he was writing called Have You Eaten Grandma? (which is about punctuation) and he learned of a tribe where they eat their grandparents. While the UN has banned cannibalism, the ban has been exempt for this tribe, because they believe that by eating them, the spirit of their grandparents comes to them. When the person dies, they are fed to fish, and the fish are then put in the pie.

- The politically correct procedure for eating a piece of pizza depends on who you ask. Some say you should fold the pizza to avoid spilling grease.

- Tangent: Gyles (speaking again) mentions that he once knew Fanny Craddock, and she taught him and his wife how to make a proper pizza. Craddock said you had to eat the pizza by hand and you had to feed one another.

- XL Tangent: Gyles (speaking yet again) once met Princess Margherita of Italy, the great-granddaughter of Queen Margherita of Italy, after whom the Margherita pizza was named (in the 1890s, because the colours of the pizza represent those in the Italian flag).

- XL Tangent: The Hawaiian pizza was invented by a Canadian. In 2017, the President of Iceland, Gudhni Thorlacius Johannesson, joked during a school visit that he thought that pineapple should be banned as a pizza topping, which caused a storm of attacks on Twitter. He then had to issue a clarification saying that he liked pineapple but just not on pizza, and that he was glad, in principle, that he didn't have the power to ban it, and that he personally recommended seafood pizza toppings. However, this remark resulted in more attacks online.

- XL Tangent: In terms of value for money, you should order a large pizza over a small pizza. By using pi to calculate the area of a pizza (A=πr^2) you can calculate how much pizza costs per square inch. A large Domino's Pepperoni Passion is 13.5 inches and costs £18, meaning it is 12.58p per square inch. A medium version of the same pizza 15.40p per square inch, while a small version is 19.75p per square inch. Thus the small pizza is 57% more expensive per square inch than the large pizza.

- XL Tangent: The first ever Bitcoin transaction was for a pizza purchase in 2010. A Florida computer enthusiast named Laszlo Hanyecz offered 10,000 Bitcoins to anyone who would bring him a couple of pizzas. Someone paid $25 for some to be delivered to him and they then collected his 10,000 Bitcoins payment. At the time, 10,000 Bitcoins were worth $30. As of December 2017, they are worth $100,000,000.

- Tangent: The panel are given a pizza-tossing lesson, assisted by Paolo, the group-training development chef from restaurant chain Strada. You work from the centre and towards the edge.

- XL: Various people have overdone it with the pie - or rather, pi. At the end of 2016, pi had been calculated to over 22 trillion decimal places, which is way more than we need. You only need pi to 15 decimal places to calculate how to point a laser that would hit the Voyager spacecraft - 12.5 billion miles away - to an accuracy of within 1.5 inches. You only need pi to 40 decimal places to calculate the circumference of the entire observable universe to a margin of error of the width of one hydrogen atom.

- XL Tangent: In 1873, British mathematician William Shanks published a ground-breaking calculation of pi to 707 decimal places. It had taken him 15 years to do by hand. However, after his death, someone spotted he made an error on the 527th digit, so all the subsequent digits were wrong.

- XL Tangent: The person who came up with the word "pi" to describe the number was a Welshman, in 1707, named William Jones, who was an ancestor of Gyles (still speaking). Sandi likes everything about the story, except the fact that Jones invented it in 1706. The formula for the circumference of something is 2πR. If you took a piece of string and tied it around the Earth's equator - around 40,000km in length - and were then told to lengthen the string so that it could be held 16cm above the ground, using the formula you can calculate that you would only need one extra metre of string to do the job.

General Ignorance

- Nobody knows where the idiom to "toe/tow the line" comes from. Gyles has previously and wrongly stated that it came from the House of Commons, where there are two red lines in the carpet that divide the Government and Opposition benches, and you have to keep your toes behind the line. The gap between them is the length of two outstretched arms brandishing swords. However, the problem with this story is that the modern chamber dates back only to 1950 and all older paintings of the House show no such lines on the floor at all. The best current suggestion for the phrase's origin is in respect of getting a group of people's toes on a line to get them organised for starting something like a race or parade. Another possible suggestion for the phrase is from prize-fighting, which refers to the "scratch", a line in the middle of the boxing ring where the two fighters stood in order to start the fight. This line is where we get the phrase "up to scratch". (Forfeit: It comes from Parliament)

- To be "drawn" as in "hanged, drawn and quartered" was to be drawn through the streets to the site of your execution. The phrase is actually the wrong way around, as you were drawn first and then hanged. According to the OED, "to draw" means "to drag a criminal by a horse's tail or hurdle or the like to a place of execution". (Forfeit: Being disembowelled)

- Captain Nemo's submarine was called "Nautilus", but it only dived four metric leagues, or 16km, under water. The 20,000 leagues in the title of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea refers to the distance travelled in the Nautilus, not the depth it went to. 20,000 metric leagues is equal to 80,000km, and the diameter of the Earth is only 12,742km. 20,000 leagues is thus some six times the total diameter of the planet. While the Nautilus dived down to 16km in the novel, the deepest part of the ocean, the Hadal zone, is only 11km. More people have been to the Moon (12) than the Hadal zone (3). The underwater pressure there is 6 tonnes per square inch, which is akin to 100 elephants standing on your head. (Forfeit: 20,000 leagues)


No points are given and everyone instead is a winner on the following grounds.

- Gyles Brandreth: Most positive attitude.
- Jimmy Carr: Tidiest desk.
- Sally Phillips: Neatest colouring in.
- Alan Davies: Waggiest tail. (Alan's 32nd victory)

Broadcast details

Monday 24th September 2018
30 minutes


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Saturday 27th October 2018 10:00pm
45 minute version
Friday 12th April 2019 10:00pm BBC2
Wednesday 11th December 2019 9:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 12th December 2019 2:10am
55 minute version
Sunday 16th February 2020 10:00pm Dave
Monday 17th February 2020 6:00pm Dave
Thursday 7th May 2020 9:00pm
60 minute version
Friday 8th May 2020 1:40am
55 minute version
Friday 21st August 2020 1:40am
65 minute version
Friday 21st August 2020 9:00pm
60 minute version
Wednesday 2nd December 2020 9:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 3rd December 2020 2:00am
60 minute version
Wednesday 24th March 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 24th June 2021 1:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 24th June 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Friday 25th June 2021 12:35am
60 minute version
Monday 23rd August 2021 6:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 31st August 2021 10:00pm BBC2
Wednesday 22nd September 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 23rd September 2021 6:00pm
60 minute version
Wednesday 29th June 2022 9:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 30th June 2022 3:10am
50 minute version

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Gyles Brandreth Guest
Jimmy Carr Guest
Sally Phillips Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
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
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


Cardboard cutout policemen

The QI panellists take a look at a super tall cardboard cutout policeman.

Featuring: Sandi Toksvig, Alan Davies, Gyles Brandreth, Jimmy Carr & Sally Phillips.

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