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 Q, Episode 10 - Quiet

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Sara Pascoe, Sandi Toksvig, Jimmy Carr, Andrew Maxwell

Further details


- Silence becomes awkward after four seconds. In 2011, the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, discovered that after four seconds people feel anxious and rejected. However, this differs between cultures. In Japan, "haragei" is the concept of using prolonged silence in business negotiations. They are content with an average silence of about 8.2 seconds. Talking about yourself creates more pleasing reactions in your brain. Subjects in the study were offered money, and turned it down in order to keep talk about themselves. The subjects still felt good even if they knew no-one was listening.

- Tangent: Sara says it's bad when you are doing comedy and you can hear your own stomach rumble. She says that comedy is quite a lot like sex - if they haven't made a noise for a while, change what you're doing. Alan claims the same is true with parenting.

- Tangent: An American firm called the Love Lab looked over thousands of couples over the years, and claimed that if you are having silence with your partner, one half makes a noise, and the other half don't react, it takes seven good things to make up for that one bad thing because people feel so rejected.

- Tangent: Teenagers who spend a lot of time talking to people on their phones have very high levels of dopamine. Jimmy says that comedians are like drug dealers, but the drug is endorphins and the audience already have the drugs on them.

- Tangent: Sandi asks Andrew if the Irish mind silence, to which he says that silence has never happened in Ireland.

- XL Tangent: Andrew once had a silent moment with an old Irishman. It was raining heavily outside, and Andrew said to him: "Good weather for ducks." The old man looked back at Andrew replied: "Bad weather for dust."

- XL Tangent: There is a theory that if you stare at someone directly in the eye for a period longer than three seconds, you either want to kill them or have sex with them. Alan asks if this is akin to when you are having a phone conversation, someone makes you an offer, you put the phone down, and the person who originally rang makes a better offer. Sandi had a friend who did a lot of negotiating and who also had a pronounced stutter. Someone would say to him: "I'd offer you 3,000." He would reply: "F-F-F-F..." to which the other person would say: "OK, four". He would reply: "I was going to say 'fine'." Jimmy has a friend who whenever they change jobs and come with an offer, she doesn't read what the offer is, she just gets the e-mail address and writes back: "I'm very disappointed." She can never look at the offer because sometimes it is really generous, but they always come back with a better offer.

- The one sound you really can't ignore, particularly as a baby, is that of a woman's voice. Children often sleep through fire alarms, mainly because they sleep more deeply. Thus, fire alarms are now being developed which have the sound of a woman's voice coming from them to wake children more effectively. The voice says: "Wake up, the house is on fire." Dundee University, working with Derbyshire Fire and Rescue, tested smoke alarms on sleeping children in 2017, and discovered that the woman's voice wakes children up 86-91% of the time, whereas a tonal alarm works just of 50% of the time. However, incorporating the child's name into the recording makes no difference at all.

- XL Tangent: Mice have a noise-cancelling function in their brain, so they don't hear their own footsteps. Cancelling out this noise helps them to hear predators.

- XL Tangent: There is an app to help people with tinnitus. If you have a ringing in your ears, you listen to the app, and you get exactly the same ringing in your ears on the phone. You practice turning on and off the app, and eventually your brain learns to turn off the tinnitus in your own head.

- XL Tangent: Musical ear syndrome is where you hear music that is not there. It is thought it is the brain trying to compensate for sensory deprivation. German composer Robert Schumann reportedly heard entire symphonies in his head from which he did originally draw inspiration, but eventually he was released from his job as a conductor in 1851 because he couldn't distinguish the music in his head and the music he was conducting. By the end of his life he heard just one note, an A, all the time. Schumann died in a lunatic asylum. His wife Clara, and their seven children, were looked after by their friend Brahms. Brahms would thus help with childcare rather than do composing. There is also a story about Paul McCartney, that the tune for "Yesterday" came to him in a dream, he hummed it for three days and he could not figure out who wrote the tune, until it realised it was himself. Alan was once in a shop, and he didn't know how long he had been doing it for, but he had been humming the theme tune to Jonathan Creek.

- XL Tangent: Vincent van Gogh painted the "Sunflowers" picture in order to do up a room that Paul Gauguin was going to say when he visited him. Van Gogh was at the time living in southern France and was deeply depressed.

- The most dangerous thing to do in bed during Victorian times was reading by candlelight. A summary of fires in London between 1833-66 revealed that there was one death from fire caused by a jackdaw, one by a monkey, two from smoking in bed, three to sewing in bed, 12 to lightning, and top of the list is reading in bed with 34 deaths during this period, which is the same as the number of fires caused by cats. (Forfeit: Reverse cowgirl)

- XL Tangent: Alan asks if anyone has ever damaged their eyes while reading by torchlight, which appears to be an urban myth. When Alan was at university he knew two students who wanted to go off grid. They wouldn't have electricity, gas, or even wear shoes. They used newspaper for toilet paper and had candles for light. One day, they knocked a candle over in the toilet and burned their house down, which was an old house on the beach in Whitstable, but Alan still considered it funny.

- XL Tangent: The Victorians attributed 1,255 fires to spontaneous combustion. When she was growing up Sara was obsessed with the idea that fat was like wax, that there was some kind of wick inside you and that is why it was so quick. However, reports of it have fallen since the arrival of the internet, because of the likelihood that if it did happen someone would have filmed it. Examples of reported spontaneous combustion include Lord Walsingham, who was found burnt to a crisp in his bedroom in 1831, but the truth is more likely that he was reading by candlelight.

- XL Tangent: Victorians considered reading to be dangerous for women, giving them rebellious, fantastical ideas. Novels were considered especially bad.

- Tangent: Another reported cause of many fire deaths was candles on Christmas trees, which was such a problem that fire insurance companies did not cover it. However, Sandi argues against this, as she has carried out the Danish tradition of having candles on trees for 60 years and has never had an accident.

- XL Tangent: American Leonard Deyo filed a patent in 1947 for a Christmas tree that had a hose which ran up the trunk and launched a sprinkler system, so if lit candles set the tree on fire, the sprinkler would put it out.

- Tangent: Alan asks if anyone has even done a poem about jackdaws and back doors. He starts to write his own poem involving as many rhymes for jackdaw as possible. The rhymes include "smack whore", "crack whore", "hacksaw" and because of the presence of Jimmy, "tax law".

- The thing you hear in the most peaceful place in Britain is the army. According to the Campaign to Protect Rural England, a region of Northumberland National Park that has been left alone since 1911 is the most peaceful place in the country. 23% of the park is owned by the MOD, so it is used for military training.

- XL Tangent: Lulworth Cove, Dorset, is also a peaceful spot used by the army. It has a tank firing range, and there are large traffic signs there that read: "Warning, sudden gunfire", to which Andrew comments that all gunfire is sudden. Jimmy says that the road signs for falling rocks might as well just say: "Be lucky." Andrew asks the others if they go through a traffic height inhibitor in a car, if they still duck down even though it makes no difference. Jimmy says that when there is fog, he will drive slightly nearer the steering wheel, just in case the fog is in the car.

- XL Tangent: Teesside Airport train station is nowhere near Teesside Airport. For starters, it is a mile away from the airport, and also the airport changed its name to Durham Tees Valley Airport. The train station runs just one train a week, at 14:56 on a Sunday. It is an example of a "ghost station". In December 2017, it was announced that the footbridge in the train station would be closed, saving £6million until 2022, because it costs so much to maintain. Most of the tickets bought for the station are purchased purely by train ticket collectors, because there is no other reason to go there. Another ghost station is the Leeds-Snaith line, which has one train a day Monday to Saturday, because it is easier to maintain a minimal service than go to the expense of closing down an entire line. Another reason for keeping these services open is because closing them might upset people.

- XL Tangent: A completely quiet place in the USA is the National Radio Quiet Zone in West Virginia. It is a 13,000 square mile patch of land where all electromagnetic radiation is banned, because it is home of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and they would that other forms of radiation may interfere with the radio telescopes. All the vehicles used in the area are relics from 1950s and 60s with diesel engines, because the spark plug in modern petrol engines may cause interference. Microwave ovens have to be kept in special metal cages and people have to use phone booths rather than mobile phones.

- XL Tangent: Andrew was once flying back from Portugal on, "a quiet well-known bargain airline", and because he had to go straight off to do some work he wanted to sleep for the full three hour flight. On the other side of the aisle seat was a Portuguese lady and her two/three-year-old son, who was playing on a noisy iPad. Andrew had a brand new set of headphones on him, but as he couldn't speak Portuguse, he spoke to the English-speaking Portuguese crew, and said to them that he would offer these headphones to the boy so that he could hear the music but Andrew could sleep. He steward said this would not be a problem. Instead of giving the headphones, the steward snatched the iPad, shouted: "No! No! No!" hit the iPad on the woman's head, and then the steward turned to Andrew and politely said: "Enjoy your flight."

- You can quell a carnivorous plant using anaesthetic. They can be gassed with ether, the roots can be swabbed with lidocaine, and the plant will stop working. Like in humans, the electrical impulses in the plant will drop to zero. We don't know for certain how anaesthetics work.

- XL Tangent: Fentanyl is 1,000 times stronger than heroin as an opiate, and American drug dealers have to sell it cut with heroin. There is also carfentanyl, which is even stronger, which Jimmy jokes is his own brand and Andrew claims doesn't have VAT on it. When the emergency services pick up someone who has overdosed on carfentanyl, people have to wear extra-thick gloves because touching them barehanded would also cause them to OD.

- Tangent: If you think about colours it distracts your brain from the part of the brain that gets messages about being in pain.

- Tangent: People with hypermobility are seemingly resistant to topical creams and to being injected to local anaesthetics. Hypermobile people are three times more likely to be resistant to local anaesthetics.

- The sort of person who would use a Quaker gun is someone who doesn't have a real gun. Quakers are all pacifists, and a Quaker gun is a log carved and painted to look like a gun to trick the enemy. During the American War of Independence in 1780, Colonel William Washington managed to convince a loyalist commander and 120 of his followers surrender from their barricaded barn by using a Quaker gun. The Americans also used them in the Second World War. The Mitchell B25 bomber did not have any rear guns, but they painted broomstick handles and stuck them out of the back.

- Tangent: Similar to the fake guns in bombers, during WWII the British used inflatable tanks to confuse the Germans. Andrew jokes that the Germans bombed the inflatable tanks with wooden bombs and impersonates a German making the bombs, but Jimmy says that Andrew should not do a German accent because Andrew's hairstyle looks somewhat akin to Hitler's.

- XL Tangent: Andrew went to a Quaker meeting in Waterford, which is Ireland's Quaker capital. The idea is people remain silent until somebody gets taken by what feels like the Holy Spirit, at which point they stand up and offer up a prayer. However, silent Quaker meetings only make up 11% of Quaker worship. In February 2018, one group of young Quakers in Nottingham released a silent podcast, consisting of a 30-minute meeting for worship. It featured audible shuffles, creaking chairs and the turning over of a "Quaker Advice & Queries" pages. The podcast was a hit.

General Ignorance

- Andrew claims to be excellent at multitasking, so Sandi tries to get him to prove it by making him move all the rings from one poll to another poll while saying the alphabet backwards, which he can't do. Tests at Stamford University revealed that people who consider themselves good at multitasking do worse at performing multiple tasks than people who preferred to focus on things one at a time. The brain is pretty much incapable of focusing on more than one thing at a time, if it requires a level of thought. (Forfeit: Excellent)

- Tangent: The idea that men are rubbish at multitasking and women are good at it is considered an example of reverse sexism. In other words, women should be able to do more work like cooking, cleaning, looking at the children because they can multitask, unlike idiotic men. Many adverts use this stereotype of showing men unable to do simple tasks that the woman can do. There is no consensus to show that women or men are better at multitasking, but multitasking can cause a temporary ten-point decrease in IQ, which is the same as smoking marijuana or missing a night's sleep.

- The panellists are all given bananas and are asked how a wild monkey would eat it. The answer is that they wouldn't eat it at all, because wild monkeys don't live anywhere near bananas. The edible banana is a domesticated plant. Monkeys in zoos will happily eat bananas, and monkeys have been known to raid banana plantations. However, Paignton Zoo in Devon has stopped its monkeys from eating bananas because they are too sugary. (Forfeit: From the bottom)

- Tangent: Banana plants take nine months to grow and it takes another nine months to produce a bunch of bananas. Bananas are strictly speaking a type of herb.

- XL Tangent: Enid Blyton's nephew Carey wrote the song "Bananas in Pyjamas". The cockney song "Let's All Go Down the Strand", which has the famous line, "Have a banana", is based on the fact there was a fruit stall in the Strand at the end of Charing Cross.

- XL Tangent: Des O'Connor's autobiography is called "Bananas Can't Fly". As a child he could not walk, so to encourage him his father would hold a banana in front of him and say, "You've got to come and get it, it can't fly." Bananas were also rare at the time. When O'Connor recovered and was able to walk, he went down to the shops and got run over.

- XL Tangent: As well as selling bananas, you could rent pineapples on the Strand. Originally pineapples were not eaten, but were status symbols. Lambeth Bridge has pineapple-shapes built into it. Women dressed up like pineapples. When sailors returned home, their wives would put a pineapple in the window to signify that the husband was home and there should be no gentleman callers. Pineapples on the gateposts of stately homes are a joke referring to this, meaning that the lady was permanently virtuous. In London, a woman died by bathing in pineapple acid.

- The first sneeze sounded silent. The noise is a thing we learn to make from others. When deaf people sneeze, they don't make the sounds that other people make when sneezing. In German the noise made by sneezing is "haschi", in Japanese is "hakshon", in Filipino is "hatsing", and in Polish is "apsik". If you have never heard a sneeze before, it sounds like a heavy breath as the deep pre-sneeze breath is taken, then a sharper, faster sound of air being released. (Forfeit: Achoo!)

- XL Tangent: When responding to a sneeze, the Burmese say, "Understood", the Chinese say, "Duo he dian shui", which means, "Drink more water", the Portuguese say, "Little saint", and the Serbians say, "Go away, kitten."

- Tangent: The record for the longest fit of sneezing is held by British woman Donna Griffiths, who began sneezing on 13th January 1981, and didn't have her first sneeze-free day until 977 days later. She sneezed an estimated one million times.

- Tangent: Sara asks Sandi if she ever heard of the myth that sneezing eight times is the same as a whole orgasm, to which she says she hasn't. Sandi once did I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue where one of the games was to come up with sentences that work both in the kitchen and in the bedroom. Examples include: "Ooh, it's a bit dry, do you have any cream?", "I prefer your mother's", and "Just stick it in for 20 minutes and I'll get you the free garlic bread."


- Jimmy Carr: 7 points
- Andrew Maxwell: 3 points
- Sara Pascoe: -1 point
- Alan Davies: -2 points

Broadcast details

Friday 3rd January 2020
30 minutes
  • Thursday 28th February 2019, 15:30 at BBC Television Centre (Jimmy Carr, Andrew Maxwell, Sara Pascoe)


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Saturday 1st February 2020 9:00pm
45 minute version
Tuesday 27th October 2020 9:00pm
60 minute version
Wednesday 28th October 2020 2:45am
45 minute version
Monday 11th January 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 12th January 2021 1:20am
70 minute version
Tuesday 12th January 2021 6:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 21st October 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Friday 22nd October 2021 6:00pm
60 minute version

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Jimmy Carr Guest
Sara Pascoe Guest
Andrew Maxwell Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Ed Brooke-Hitching Question Writer
Production team
Diccon Ramsay 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
Mat Coward Researcher
Will Bowen Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
Mike Turner Researcher
Jack Chambers Researcher
Emily Jupitus Researcher
James Rawson Researcher
Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor

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