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


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2021
  • 283 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 14 - Queens

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Colin Lane, Sandi Toksvig, David Mitchell, Sarah Millican

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- The royal "we", as in the majestic pronoun, is an example of a nosism. It dates back to Henry II, and the royal we originally meant, "God and I". Henry II's successor, Richard I, introduced the royal motto "Dieu et mon droit", meaning, "God and my right". Elizabeth II doesn't use the pronoun "one" as often as people think. Analysis of all of her speeches since 1952 revealed that she uses "I" six times more often than "one". (Forfeit: It doesn't smell)

- Tangent: There is a belief that as well as being insane George III had problems with his urine.

- XL Tangent: The first Qin Emperor, Shi Huangdi, the man who unified China, announced that when he became Emperor that the character "zhen", the normal singular pronoun (our equivalent of "I") was for his imperial use only. This meant everyone else had come up with other ways of referring to themselves. This included using the pronoun "yu", meaning, "this foolish one". Sometimes they did not refer to themselves at all.

- XL Tangent: Among the over 1,200 titles Kim Jong-Il gave himself were Heaven-sent Hero, Guardian Deity of the Planet, and Eternal Bosom of Hot Love.

- XL Tangent: In Swaziland (now Eswatini), the Queen Mother of King Mswati III has the title of Ndlovukati, the Great She Elephant.

- In a hive, the queen's food is chewed by worker bees. They pre-digest the food because the queen doesn't have the required glands to digest it herself. The workers also have the power to put her on a crash diet. When the bees want to swarm, which happens once a year, the queen is put on a diet so she loses a third of her body weight, otherwise the queen is too heavy to fly. We don't know how this decision is made. When a new queen is chosen, the rest of the bees appear to randomly select a bee at the larva stage and this queen is given a special diet different from all of the workers. Most larvae are fed honey and pollen by the worker bees, but sometimes one is only fed royal jelly, and this one becomes the queen. However, we now believe that it is the fact the queen is not fed pollen and honey is what actually makes her queen, as it makes her ovaries grow large. When the queen no longer produces any babies, the workers kill her by balling her, which involves swarming over the queen, and raising her body temperature until she overheats. (Forfeit: Beefeaters)

- Tangent: In Aristotle's time, it was always assumed that the head of the hive was a king bee. However in the 1670s Dutch scientist Jan Swammerdam dissected a "king" bee and examined it under a microscope, where he discovered that the bee had ovaries that make up a quarter of the queen's body weight. Swammerdam also discovered that if you remove the queen from the hive on a stick, all the other bees will follow you. In the 18th century, a beekeeper called Daniel Wildman used this promote his London honey shop by riding horses, standing up while wearing a beard of bees. Elsewhere, Patty Jones, wife of Philip Astley the inventor of the modern circus, performed horse riding stunts while having a swarm of bees on her hand imitating a muff.

- The thing that has sex for 15 years and gets licked to death by their own children is a queen termite. Like with bees, the queen termite is the only fertile female in the colony, but unlike other insect she mates for life - literally. After choosing a king, the queen spends 15 years incessantly mating to produce the nest colony, creating one egg every three seconds, totalling 250,000,000 in her life time. The queen's egg-producing organ becomes so massive she can't leave the cell, becoming 100 times the size of the other termites. The queen has about 5-10 kings in her lifetime. Her babies tend to her, feed her, clean her, drink the secretion she sweats, and when she has outlived her usefulness the children surround the queen and lick her to death, sucking the fluids and fats from her body.

- XL Tangent: As the queen termite dies, the termite mound dies away. Once a year virgin queens will fly out of the mound, land on the ground, instantly shed their wings so they never fly again, meet a king, go underground, and start a new mound together.

- XL Tangent: A 2018 study showed that termite workers, which are generally blind, perform a kind of curtsy when they scent royalty. The king and queen have a wax coat-like substance, and when the workers smell it they pause and start shaking.

- The panel are shown a portrait of a queen and are asked what is wrong with her. The problem is that she is dead. Ines de Castro, was the mistress of the future Peter I of Portugal in the 14th century. When Peter's wife Constance died, he moved Ines into his home and they had three illegitimate children. His father, Alfonso IV, was so angry that he has Ines killed. In retaliation Peter caught two of the killers and had their hearts torn out and pulverised before him while he ate dinner. Six years later Peter became king, announced that he had secretly married Ines, had her dug up, placed Ines on the throne, and forced the court to swear allegiance to her and kiss her hand.

- XL Tangent: You can still see Constance's coffin at the Monastery of Alcobaca. Today, there is a Portuguese expression: "Agora, Ines e morta", which translates as: "Now Ines is dead", meaning, "it's too late and you can't turn back now."

- Tangent: In 1667, 230 years after Henry V's queen consort Catherine of Valois had died, her tomb was disturbed while Westminster Abbey was being renovated. Afterwards, if you paid a little bit extra to your tour guide, you were taken to see the corpse. Samuel Pepys took his wife and daughters to see it and wrote in his diary: "I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it that I did kiss a Queen, that this was my birthday, 36 years old, that I did first kiss a Queen."

- XL Tangent: Louis X of France died on 5th June 1316, and was succeeded by his son, John I, who was not born until 15th November. Thus John reigned for five months in utero. After he was born, John only lived for five days. Thus in his dynasty he was the only one to have reigned for his whole life.

- XL: The thing you would have to do to a mannequin to get yourself arrested is to point at it. In 1941, American drag queen Julian Eltinge was arrested for pointing at a mannequin that showed how he used to dress on stage. He used to be one of the highest-paid actors in the world, earning $3,500 per week, which is $60,000 in today's money. In 1912, he had a Broadway theatre on 42nd Street named after him, he was hugely popular and had lots of costume changes. However, after World War I a series of morality laws meant that men were banned from dressing as women. Shortly before Eltinge died he was reduced to performing in a tuxedo with a mannequin next to him dressed as he would have done when he dressed as a woman. He was arrested in a Los Angeles nightclub simply for pointing at his mannequin.

- XL Tangent: Alan asks what Eltinge was pointing at the mannequin with. (Forfeit: Not that)

- XL Tangent: In terms of morality, the worst case of cross-dressing was of William T. Sloper. He was on the Titanic, and was invited onto a lifeboat by an actress he met that evening named Dorothy Gibson. At this point, the "women and children first" order had not been given. Sloper survived, returned home to the USA, and refused to talk to any reporters on the ground that he only wanted to give his story to his local newspaper. One journalist was so angry about this that he wrote an article anyway, falsely claiming that Sloper escaped by dressing as a woman. Sloper lived under the curse of this false accusation for the rest of his life. The closest there was to someone escaping the Titanic by cross-dressing was David Buckley, a steerage class passenger. He got onto a lifeboat, then all the men were ordered off, but the woman he was sitting next to threw her shawl over him and he was able to stay in the lifeboat. Buckley thus survived, but he was hidden by women's clothing rather than wearing it.

- The first queen to get a Brazilian was Queen Carlota of Portugal. Crown Prince Dom Joao, Carlota, and his entire court went to Brazil as Napoleon was advancing on their country. They went in a convoy of ships from Lisbon to Brazil, with 10,000 people travelling with them. However, the ships were so overcrowded and unhygienic that an infestation of lice broke out. To get rid of the lice, everyone shaved their heads, threw away their powdered wigs and covered their heads in pig fat. Just before they landed in Brazil at Guanabara Bay, Carlota and the other women decided to cover their baldness with improvised turbans. Reportedly, the local Brazilians thought that these turbans were the height of European fashion and copied them. However, as Brazil was full of an African-Brazilian population, it is possible that turbans originally came from Africa.

- Tangent: There is a long history of commoners imitating royals. In the 16th century, Guglielmo, Duke of Mantua was a hunchback and all his courtiers put humps on to compliment him. Louis XIV of France had a fashion that courtiers should have one long fingernail, because he refused to let people knock on his door, so courtiers would gently scratch the door with one finger. Thus, having a long fingernail was seen has having the ear of the king. Alan however suggests that the long fingernail was used for probing Louis's anus. Sarah says her husband, Gary Delaney, has one special toenail which he uses to scratch his eczema. He only told her about this recently and they have been together for nearly 15 years.

- XL Tangent: Alexandra, Princess of Wales, had a limp because of a stiff knee joint, and thus it became fashionable to limp in the same way. This became known as the "Alexandra limp". Her husband, the future Edward VII, also sparked a fashion for not fastening the bottom button of a waistcoat, because he became so fat he couldn't fasten it up.

- Your best chance of seeing the Queen's Ass in the 18th century was in Buckingham Gate stables. Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, had a zebra that was known as the "Queen's Ass" which was given to her as a wedding present by the Governor of the Cape in South Africa in 1761. A male and a female were sent to her, but the male died en route and the female arrived a year late. The zebra was placed in these stables and became a tourist attraction. Painter George Stubbs painted the zebra, and Charlotte bred the zebra with a donkey by having stripes painted on the backside of a male donkey. The offspring of a donkey and a zebra is a zebroid.

- Tangent: Race horses are bred with a similar technique, because some stallions will only mate with mares of a particular colour.

- XL Tangent: The first giraffe to arrive in Britain was a present to royals. Egypt sent it to George IV in 1827 and the ship the giraffe was transported in needed a hole cut in the deck to allow the giraffe to stick its neck out. About the same time, Egypt also gifted another giraffe to France, which ended up being named Zarafa. Zarafa became so popular that it created a Parisian craze for having your hair done like a giraffe's horns. Sandi once went to a feeding station where you can go up into a tower and feed the giraffes. Sarah asks if the tower was for everyone or just for Sandi.

- XL Tangent: Elizabeth II has received two sloths from Brazil, two pygmy hippos from Liberia, a crocodile from Zambia, an elephant from Cameroon, six kangaroos from Australia, and a pig from Fiji, which decided to remain on Fiji.

- If you have a dog collar, a hound tether, a game noose (an item you wear on a belt to carry pheasants around their necks) and a horn, the game you can play is one with cards. These are the suits in the world's oldest full set of playing cards from around 1740. The deck is called the Hofjager Hunting Pack and it is on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. No rules were written until the 17th century so we don't know what games would have been played, but we do know that this would have been one of the first packs to have had a queen, as before then they had a cavalier on horseback instead.

- XL Tangent: Around the 15th century the queen is introduced to decks of cards. The queen could be a slight Biblical influence. An early queen of hearts is listed with the name "Judith" next to it, and there is a Book of Judith in the Bible. The queen of diamonds was "Rachel", the favourite wife of Jacob. The queen of spades was likened to the Greek goddess "Athena". The queen of clubs was "Argine", which is just an anagram of "Regina".

- Tangent: In chess, the queen was originally a vizier, with the board being a battlefield before turning into a royal court. As well as a vizier the original versions of chess had pieces for infantry, cavalry, elephants and chariots.

- XL Tangent: In the 15th century it was thought inappropriate to promote a piece if you had more than one queen on board, because it was thought to symbolise adultery.

- Tangent: The tokens from Monopoly originally came from the charm bracelet of the inventor's wife.

General Ignorance

- The oldest object in the Crown Jewels is a spoon. From the late 12th century, a ten-and-a-half-inch-long anointing spoon is one of only four items in the Crown Jewels that predate the Restoration, with the other three items being 17th century swords. The original crown jewels date to Edward the Confessor, but after the Civil War the new republican Commonwealth government melted most of the jewels down. However, a man named Mr. Kynnersley, Yeoman of Charles I's wardrobe, bought the spoon for 16 shillings, which was about 11 days' wages at the time. When the monarchy was restored, he returned the spoon for free. (Forfeit: The Queen)

- XL: Other than antihistamines, there is nothing that you can eat that helps to fight off hay fever. There is a myth that honey helps against hay fever, as people believe honey has pollen in it, which desensitises you from pollen in the air, but it is of no help at all. Most seasonal allergies are caused by wind pollinators that release pollen into the air, and bees generally pollinate plants that need insects. Thus, the pollen in honey is not the pollen that gives you allergies.

- The Queensberry Rules were written by John Graham Chambers of Wales. The Marquess of Queensberry endorsed the rules, but did not write them. Chambers founded the Amateur Athletic Club and is most famous for the fact that he rode beside Matthew Webb, the first person recorded to swim the English Channel. (Forfeit: Marquess of Queensberry)

- XL Tangent: After Christoper Columbus landed in the Americas, there were 55 million Native Americans. Within a century 90% of them were dead, mainly through disease.

- Tangent: The oddest use of the Queensberry Rules was in a sport called horse boxing, which involved boxing on horseback. Invented by a man from Berlin and an African-American boxer called Bobby Dobbs, in 1912 it was demonstrated at a tournament in Germany. The Germans thought of putting this sport into the army's proper officer training, saying: "The new sport will be valuable for the soldier on horseback in time of war as, when he loses his weapons, he will have to fall back on his natural means of defence." However, horse boxing failed because the horses would not stand still.

- XL: (Forfeit: Telling the future) Tarot cards were invented for card games. The Major Arcana were akin to a suit of trumps. While many people want to trace it back to ancient Egypt, the occult, the Kabbalah and other such things, but there is no documentary evidence whatsoever to support these idea of using the tarot for divination, until about the 1760s in France. The cards were also used as aids in telling stories. Also each card's meaning varies greatly depending on the tradition you follow.


- Sarah Millican: 8 points
- David Mitchell: -1 point
- Colin Lane: -7 points
- Alan Davies: -25 points

Broadcast details

Friday 31st January 2020
30 minutes
  • Tuesday 26th March 2019, 19:15 at BBC Television Centre (Colin Lane, Sarah Millican, David Mitchell)


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Saturday 29th February 2020 9:00pm
45 minute version
Saturday 29th February 2020 9:30pm
45 minute version
BBC2 Wales
Tuesday 3rd November 2020 9:00pm
60 minute version
Wednesday 4th November 2020 2:45am
50 minute version
Friday 15th January 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 16th January 2021 2:30am Dave
Wednesday 27th October 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 28th October 2021 6:00pm
60 minute version

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
David Mitchell Guest
Sarah Millican Guest
Colin Lane 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


QI XS: Was Shirley Temple a drag queen?

Elves Andy, Emily and Jack discuss Victorian burn books and play Queen or Drag Queen!

Featuring: Jack Chambers & Emily Jupitus.

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