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 5 - Public & Private

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Bridget Christie, Sandi Toksvig, Victoria Coren Mitchell, Phill Jupitus. Copyright: TalkbackThames

Preview clips


- A question about proximity. Sandi sits right next to Alan and asks him if she is close enough to trigger his reaction bubbles. In proxemics, the study of the space between people as invented by Edward Twitchell Hall, there are four areas of space: public space, the distance you are comfortable with when addressing a crowd; social space, the distance where you would interact with an acquaintance; personal space (4ft), the distance for friends and family; and finally intimate space, which is bodily contact, which Sandi demonstrates by sitting on someone in the audience - who turns out to be her own son, Theo.

- Tangent: The length of personal space depends partly on your culture. For example, a North American in an Arabic country might come across as unfriendly or uninterested. People also use personal space as a tool of power. President Lyndon B. Johnson dominated people's personal space all the time, and it became known as the "Johnson Treatment". Johnson was 6'3", heavily built, and he pushed his face right into other peoples' personal space.

- The panel are shown a carnival float of a skeleton smoking a cigar, and are asked how far back this parade goes. Marking the Day of the Dead, this parade from Mexico City actually dates only to 2016, having got the idea from the James Bond film Spectre, released the previous year. The Mexican festival (an equivalent of Halloween, taking place from 31st October to 2nd November) was traditionally celebrated more intimately with family picnics beside the graves of relatives. The festival itself goes back to the time of the Aztecs.

- Tangent: While British people lament trick-or-treating as an American import, it is actually a centuries old Scottish custom. Called "guising", children dressed up as ghosts and performed tricks like a song or a dance for which they would get a treat.

- XL Tangent: Possibly the first ever trick-or-treat dates back to the 3rd century AD. Greek writer Athanaeus of Naucratis wrote in his book "The Deipnosophists" ("The Dinner Philosophers"), also known as the world's oldest cookbook, that on Rhodes they had a custom where children in the months of September and October would go door-to-door dressed as swallows, would sing, and demand the owners of the house gave them food, threatening to cause mischief if the owner refused.

- XL Tangent: In the USA, there is now a practice of "trunk-or-treat", where instead of going to people's houses, parents go to a car-park, park all the vehicles next to each other, and the kids just walk from car-to-car. It is believed to be a safer practice, away from moving traffic. Phill asks why one of the children in the picture used to illustrate this is dressed up as Santa Claus.

- The panel are shown some other public holidays and are asked which they would like to celebrate.

- Tomb-Sweeping Day: Also known as the "Quigming Festival", it is in China and it is a day where you clean the graves of deceased relatives. You are allowed not to turn up, as some cemeteries offer a service where staff will do the tomb-sweeping on your behalf and you watch a live-stream via an app.

- XL Tangent: Tomb-Sweeping Day dates back to the Hanshi Festival, also known as the Cold Food Festival. It celebrates a man named Jie Zhitui, a nobleman who lived in around 650 BC, who was so loyal to his master that when his master wanted some soup and they didn't have any meat, Zhitui cut off some of his own thigh and cooked that.

- XL Tangent: The app service provided is a bit like nuns in the USA who you can pay to pray on your behalf, or professional mourners who you can hire for your funeral. Sandi asks whether there are different types of mourner, likes ones who only cry a little bit or ones who go over-the-top and wail. Alan likes the idea of a mourner who is just a bit irritable.

- The Böögg: A holiday in Zurich, the Böögg is a bogeyman shaped like a snowman. In a celebration of spring's victory over winter, the creature is mounted on a bonfire, with his head stuffed full of dynamite. Folklore says you can tell how good the summer forecast will be depending on how fast the head explodes.

- The Day of the Sea: A Bolivian holiday on 23rd March, despite the fact Bolivia is landlocked. In 1879, Bolivia had a battle with Chile where they lost their coastline. Bolivian commander Eduardo Abaroa was invited by the Chileans to surrender, to which he replied: "Me surrender? Tell your grandmother to surrender!" He was immediately shot dead. The festival has parades and a national beauty contest, people dress up with boats on their heads, the Navy turns out in full regalia, and at midday the whole country falls silent as they listen on loud speakers to the sound of the sea for five minutes.

- XL Tangent: Bolivia is now half the size it was when it declared independence, but to them the loss of their coastline is the most painful thing. Most of the Bolivian navy's ships are on Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America, measuring 118 miles long and 50 miles wide - although when Sandi first says this, she mistakenly says it is 50 feet wide.

- XL: Śmigus-dyngus: A holiday in Poland meaning "Wet Monday", it consists of boys throwing water over girls and then spanking them with pussy willow. The more attractive the girl, the more frequently they tend to be targeted. The biggest celebration however is not in Poland but in Buffalo, New York. People claim the festival dates back to 966 AD when Prince Mieszko, the "Father of Poland", along with his court, were baptised for the very first time.

- The sort of person who fancies a ride in a Spike Away Non-Social Transient Behaviour Vest is someone who doesn't want other people standing close to them. It is a vest covered with plastic spikes, created by Singaporean industrial designer Siew Ming Cheng, that keeps people away from the wearer. A similar item of clothing is Kathleen McDermott's "Personal Space Dress" that inflates when someone gets too close to you. The Spike Away vests are demonstrated by Bridget and Phill who pop a load of balloons worn by Alan. Sandi joins in with a small pair of scissors.

- XL Tangent: Other common ways people try to prevent the seat next to them from being taken on public transport include avoiding eye contact, stretching out, pretending to be asleep and using the "hate stare" to look crazy. One eccentric, Gerald Tyrwhitt, aka Lord Berners (died 1950), tried to keep his railway carriage private by wearing a black skull cap, leaning out the window and beckoning people to join him. If they dared to do so, he then took out a large rectal thermometer and shoved it in his mouth every few minutes, gloomily looking at it and sighing.

- Tangent: The fear of balloons is globophobia. Bridget has a fear of lots of holes next to each other, which is trypophobia. You might encounter such holes in beehives or in a pomegranate with the seeds removed.

- According to the latest research, the average person has at least five secrets which they have not told anyone. Sandi asks the panel to name one of their secrets. Victoria says: "Where I keep my keys, and four murders." Alan reveals he was once walking home across Hampstead Heath, and he got caught short and had to do a poo under some leaves. As he went to pull his trousers up, he slipped over on leaves he used to wipe himself. His glasses fell off, he managed to get home, realised he lost them and had to return to the heath to look for them.

- Tangent: Colombia Business School says there are 38 different kinds of secret. These include normal ones like stealing, cheating and fancying someone you shouldn't, but some of the odder types include having a secret opinion, planning a surprise for someone, and secret hobbies. They asked 2,000 people if they had any of these kinds of secrets. Keeping secrets can relate to anxiety and chronic illnesses, but what seems to really cause the harm is the worrying that you do because of the secret.

- Tangent: Sandi tosses beanbags to each panellist, and they try to throw the bags into a basket in the middle of the "i" on the set. Bridget and Alan manage to do it. According to the University of Amsterdam people who have secrets find them burdensome and they think that physical tasks are too difficult for them, so over-compensate. Thus if you overshoot, the chances are that you are holding a secret.

- The panel are shown a photo of a man in a frockcoat, top hat and bow tie, holding a suitcase saying: "El Cobrador del Frac", and a car also displaying this message, and are asked what is so embarrassing about him. The man is a frock-coated debt collector, and these are common to see in Spain. If you have a debt that someone owes you, you can send these people out to haunt the debtor, who just spend hour after hour staring at the person who owes the money, making their indebtedness plain to others. There are also cobradors dressed as bullfighters, clowns, monks, bears, and one that plays the bagpipes outside your house constantly until you pay. In the UK, the Office of Fair Trading lists acting in a way likely to be publicly embarrassing to the debtor as unfair practice, so cobradors wouldn't be allowed in this country.

- XL Tangent: Public shaming was common in medieval Europe. One of the odder groups of shamed people were hen-pecked husbands. In 17th Century France, such husbands would be forced to ride on a donkey backwards through the streets. Another form of shaming was the "flute of shame", which was worn by bad musicians. It was fixed around the neck and also trapped the fingers.

- Tangent: In the 1990s, the mayor of Bogota hired 20 professional mimes to mimic people who broke traffic laws. It was so successful they ended up training another 400 mimes. When Phill visited La Paz, Bolivia, people were helped to cross the road by assistants dressed as zebras.

- The best way to keep an outside lavatory warm is to use pigs. In many places it was common to build the pigsty next to the privy.

- XL Tangent: In Elizabethan times, the floors of privies became a valuable source of saltpetre, an ingredient in gunpowder. It was so important to harvest that there were saltpetre men who were tasked to dig out privies. Saltpetre is formed when soil becomes enriched by urine and dung. In several countries in the 17th Century it was illegal to pave over your barn because the state needed the saltpetre. The men detected the saltpetre by tasting it. Saltpetre is also the thing that causes a cigarette to keep burning evenly.

- XL Tangent: Bridget has loaded a musket with gunpowder, because she used to be a member of the Sealed Knot Civil War re-enactment society. Today she goes clay pigeon shooting, but she doesn't get many chances to do it because she is so busy. Phill asks if they could solve the USA's gun problem by having more panel games to keep everyone busy.

- XL: The thing that long hairs cannot do in Italy, Mr. Baggy Pants cannot do in France, mermaids cannot do in Bromsgrove and saggers cannot do in Switzerland, is swim in public baths. Almost all public baths in France force you to wear tight swimming trunks, to prevent people wearing their clothes from outside in the pool. In Italy, everyone is forced to wear swimming caps, including the bald. In Japan, anyone with a tattoo is banned from public baths because tattoos are associated with the yakuza. The fashion for wearing your underpants with the waistline and brand label showing above the trousers is banned in Switzerland. A public pool in Bromsgrove has banned swimmers from wearing costume mermaid tails for safety reasons.

- XL Tangent: Bridget's husband (Stewart Lee) was on holiday in France where he attempted to go swimming wearing near knee-length shorts. A stern local instructed him to purchase the customary swimming briefs from a vending machine, but the trunks looked like plastic incontinence pants. In the end, they didn't go swimming.

- XL Tangent: You can make $10 an hour as a mermaid. In Weekiwachee Springs State Park, Florida, they have a show (which Sandi saw as a child in the late 1960s) which has 17 mermaids and three princes. They were recently hiring mermaids for $10 an hour. The job however is really difficult, because they swim in a spring so deep that the bottom has never been found and with a current so strong it would knock a scuba diver's mask off.

- XL Tangent: When Goran Ivanisevic won Wimbledon and returned home, he ripped off his trousers in celebration, revealing tiny pants underneath. Many people thought it was in bad taste, but Victoria liked the sight.

- XL Tangent: Naturist swimming pools sometimes have signs saying: "three-piece swimming suits only" - these three pieces being hats, sunglasses and sandals. Phill asks if you had to swim in the Olympics without a costume, how would it affect the times, to which Alan replies that he would be slowed right down.

General Ignorance

- The panel are shown some plant-based foods like almonds, avocados and kiwi fruit and are asked which a strict vegan can eat. The answer is they can't eat any of them because they need bees to exist. Bees are used in an "unnatural way" just as in the production of honey, because the foods are so difficult to cultivate naturally. Other examples include broccoli, cherries, cucumbers and lettuce. (Forfeit: All of them)

- XL Tangent: Other things that are not vegan include vaccines, which are produced with gelatine and eggs; wine that is clarified with isinglass made out of fish bladders; and toothpaste, the texture of which often comes from glycerine made out of animal fats.

- If you have 20/20 vision your eyesight is average, not perfect. In the UK, the measurement is actually 6/6, with 20/20 being American. Those with 20/20 vision can see from 20ft what an average person can see at 20ft. If you cannot see the top letter of an eye test chart in the UK, which is 20/200, from 20ft away with glasses on, then you are legally blind. Due to the physical characteristics of human eyeballs, the limit is thought to be 20/8: i.e. you can see at 20 feet what an average person can see at 8.

- Tangent: Kestrels can see ultraviolet light, so they can see traces of urine around holes that are home to burrowing animals.

- XL Tangent: The 20-20 Rules states that every 20 minutes you should take a break from whatever close-up work you are doing, and then focus on something 20ft away for 20 seconds.

- The reason why sportspeople yawn when not tired is possibly to regulate the brain temperature by cooling the blood on the way to the brain, making you more alert. (Forfeit: To get more oxygen)

- XL Tangent: Alan once did a tandem parachute jump, and the professionals he was jumping with all fell asleep beforehand, because in expectation of an adrenaline rush, the body kind of shuts down to prepare for it. This is called "nervous inertia", and it is something that actors can also get.

- Tangent: Contagious yawning appears to depend on how much empathy you have. Children under four don't yawn because they have not developed empathy yet, but generally all vertebrates yawn. There is also interspecies contagious yawning, and babies yawn in the womb. "Pandiculation" is to yawn and stretch at the same time. Some women can orgasm when yawning as a side-effect of certain types of medication.

- XL Tangent: A "yawn-o-meter" is played showing various QI researchers yawning to see how many people in the studio will yawn contagiously.


- Victoria Coren Mitchell: 9 points
- Phill Jupitus: 6 points
- Bridget Christie: 0 points
- Alan Davies: -16 points

Broadcast details

Monday 8th October 2018
30 minutes
  • Thursday 1st March 2018, 19:15 at The London Studios


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Saturday 10th November 2018 10:00pm
45 minute version
Wednesday 24th April 2019 10:00pm BBC2
Friday 13th December 2019 9:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 14th December 2019 1:20am
55 minute version
Tuesday 18th February 2020 9:00pm
60 minute version
Wednesday 19th February 2020 1:20am
70 minute version
Wednesday 19th February 2020 6:00pm
60 minute version
Monday 11th May 2020 9:00pm
60 minute version
Monday 24th August 2020 9:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 25th August 2020 1:20am
70 minute version
Friday 4th December 2020 9:00pm Dave
Saturday 5th December 2020 2:00am Dave
Friday 26th March 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 27th March 2021 2:00am
60 minute version
Monday 28th June 2021 1:00pm
60 minute version
Monday 28th June 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 29th June 2021 12:40am
60 minute version
Friday 24th September 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 8th January 2022 12:40am
60 minute version
Friday 1st July 2022 9:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 2nd July 2022 3:15am
45 minute version
Thursday 20th October 2022 1:20am Dave
Thursday 20th October 2022 9:00pm Dave
Thursday 5th January 2023 9:00pm
60 minute version
Friday 6th January 2023 4:00pm
60 minute version
Sunday 5th March 2023 11:00pm
60 minute version
Monday 6th March 2023 9:00pm
60 minute version
Sunday 23rd July 2023 11:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 28th October 2023 11:40pm
60 minute version
Monday 18th March 2024 10:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 19th March 2024 9:00pm
60 minute version

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Phill Jupitus Guest
Victoria Coren Mitchell Guest
Bridget Christie Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Will Bowen Researcher
Anna Ptaszynski Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
Ed Brooke-Hitching Researcher
Alice Campbell Davis Researcher
Mandy Fenton Researcher
Mike Turner Researcher
Mat Coward 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
Howard Goodall Composer
Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor
Kalpna Patel-Knight Commissioning Editor

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