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


BBC Two and BBC One and BBC Four panel show about quite interesting facts. 283 episodes (pilot + 19 series), 2003 - 2021. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

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QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Jason Manford, Sandi Toksvig, Aisling Bea, Anuvab Pal. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series Q, Episode 3 - Quarrels

Further details


- When you quarrel with the bellower you were likely to find yourself taking part in a duel. James Quin, nicknamed "The Bellower", was the leading actor in London in the first half of the 18th century, and he killed two people in duels who he had argued with, as well as wounding other duelists. Quin had one of the loudest voices in show business, did excessive gesticulation, and left extremely long pauses, which were all hallmarks of great actors at the time. Would-be actors were schooled in three different pauses: moderate, longer and grand. The first man Quin killed was an actor who mispronounced "kato" as "keto" on stage - Quin mocked this actor in front of the audience, the actor challenged him and lost the duel. Quin was charged with manslaughter. Quin was also a womaniser, and once invited a married woman to his boudoir, but forgot his key so took her to a brothel instead, only for the woman's husband to walk in on them during the act. Quin and the husband had a fight where Quin stabbed him in the leg. Quin's big rival was David Garrick, the first actor to move towards acting as we see it today and the man after whom the Garrick Theatre is named. Quin and Garrick were friends, with Garrick writing the epitaph on Quin's tomb in Bath Abbey.

- Tangent: Anuvab says that when the English have quarrels the language works at two levels. Thus, when someone says: "Anuvab, I have a slight issue", they really mean that Auuvab has killed their whole family.

- Tangent: The panel act out some quarrelling scenes in the style of Quin and other actors of the time. Jason and Anuvab act from Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, from a scene which includes an early example of a, "your mum" joke. Alan, Aisling and Sandi perform a scene in the style of EastEnders. Shakespeare coined the word "quarrelsome", and it is the only known word beginning with "Q" coined by him. The word appears in As You Like It and The Taming of the Shrew.

- XL Tangent: There were a lot of duels during the time of British rule in India, mainly by the British over petty things. There were two governor generals who were fighting, but they couldn't get the logistics of the duel right. For example, one would try to set up the duel on a Thursday, and the other would say that they couldn't do that day because they were taking their daughter for a walk. They couldn't fix a meeting for five years.

- The panel all take part in a duel, putting their hands on their heads and being the fast to press their buzzer. Jason ends up the fastest. They are then asked if they could beat a Victorian at the same task, to which the answer is that they probably wouldn't, as Victorians had faster reaction times than people today. In the 1880s and 1890s, Francis Galton tested thousands of people to see how quickly they could react to lights and sound, and studies show we have consistently got slower over time, about 10% over the past century, and we don't know why. Reasons given include modern pollutants effecting the brain, and people getting taller and thus nerve impulses take longer to travel in the body. Boys also tend to be faster than girls, but over the past 40 years the gap between the genders is decreasing. Left-handed people are generally speaking faster than right-handed people, because most right-handed people are extremely right-handed, while left-handed people are more mixed, and thus the hemispheres of the brain are more balanced.

- XL Tangent: The first person to scientifically measure reaction times in laboratory conditions was Dutch ophthalmologist Franciscus Donders in 1869, discovering that we take 0.1 seconds to physically respond to a sudden noise. This is important to know for sprinting races, because if you move in less than 0.1 seconds after the gun has gone off, it's a false start because it impossible to react that fast. There is also a gap between the back of the tongue and the hard palate named after Donders, called the space of Donders.

- XL Tangent: The quickest reaction of any animal is the Condylostylus fly, aka the long-legged fly. You mostly in the USA, it takes just 2 milliseconds for this fly to respond to stimulus. Thus, if you tried to photograph it and the flash went off, the fly would have already flown away by the time you took the photo. Its reflexes are about 100 times fast than the fastest human reaction time.

- A question about queuing: the best way to board a plane in a real-life situation is to seat people at random. The most common way of boarding, starting with the back row and building up towards the front is the least efficient way of doing it. Astrophysicist Dr. Jason Steffen made a computer model, and then teamed up with a TV producer to get people to act out boarding planes in different ways. The slowest is the current method known as "block boarding", where you seat one group of people, then the next group, then the next group and so on. The absolute best way is board even-numbered window seats first, then odd-numbered window seats, repeat with the middle seats, and repeat with the aisle seats. However, as this method is rather complicated, Steffen recommends just seating people at random.

- Tangent: Jason was on a flight from Aberdeen to Shetland with his large tour manager. During the flight one of the crew asked them to sit on opposite halves of the plane to help distribute the weight.

- Tangent: Anuvab was boarding a plane, when a woman announcer said: "We are boarding everyone not in zone F. And also not in zone A, B, C, D, E. ... We're just not boarding."

- Tangent: The panel talk about if they think they could fly a plane in an emergency, to which Aisling thinks she would be good in any emergency, saying that she can't speak Spanish now, but in an emergency she feels like she could. Sandi asks what kind of emergency needs you to suddenly speak Spanish.

- Tangent: Danish economists concluded the very best method of serving a queue is to serve the last person first, because if that happened no-one would stand in a queue in the first place.

- Tangent: Steve, a friend of Jason's in Manchester went to use a cash machine. When he got there, there was a man already using it and a woman was waiting her turn six foot behind him. When Steve asked if she was queuing, the woman said: "I'm Nigerian, and my religious beliefs are that because I don't know this man, and we're not related, this is the distance that I feel safe and respectful to what I believe in." Steve respected this and he stood six foot behind the woman. The queue moved forward, and then another man moved Steve, asking if he was queuing for the machine, to which Steve accidently replied: "I am, yeah, but I'm standing here because she's Nigerian."

- You should put a mirror next to a lift because people like looking at themselves, as opposed to waiting in line.

- Tangent: The above question is illustrated with a photo of a man taking a photo in a lift full of mirrors, with his reflection appearing several times in shot. The screens on the back then do a similar trick, with them showing the panel in several shots going back into the distance. When they move, the images quickly move too in a ripple pattern.

- The person responsible for generating about 25,000 quarrels a year was John Malemont. Between the 10th and 15th centuries, the quarrel was the bolt that was fired from a crossbow, and Malemont was England's chief quarrel maker in the 13th century. He made 100 a day, which was about 25,000 a year. Early crossbows were really difficult to operate because the string was so tight, so you had to get on your back and use the strength of both legs, back and both arms to pull the mechanism backwards. Later a "crossbow stirrup" was invented so you could use one foot to pull the string back. When guns superseded crossbows, crossbows became reserved for recreational use. (Forfeit: Piers Morgan; Donald Trump; Katie Hopkins)

- Tangent: According to legend, the Amazons would cut off their one breast in order to make it easier to use bows and arrows.

- XL Tangent: When crossbows became recreational, a procession would be led by a "paddle master", who would punish anybody who shot extremely badly by spanking them with his paddle.

- XL: Robin Hood would keep his quiver on his belt. The only people we know for sure who wore quivers on their backs are Native Americans. The only exception to this is a depiction of a single archer with a quiver on their back on the Bayeux Tapestry, who is surrounded by other archers with quivers on their belts. (Forfeit: On his back)

- XL Tangent: The question is illustrated with a photo of Kevin Costner playing the lead in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves", who has the quiver on his back. This is not the only inaccuracy in the film, as it shows Robin going from Dover to Nottingham via Hadrian's Wall.

- XL: The thing that causes quarrels in the Batcave are the same sort of things as we humans normally quarrel about, as bats are quarrelsome too. Researchers rather translated the squeals and calls of bats, played them into a computer with a machine-learning algorithm, and learned what the bats were saying. They found out that for most of the time the bats are complaining. Most bat squeaks fell into four categories: arguing about who should get what food, arguing about who should sleep where, arguing about another bat sitting too close to them, and females complaining about unwanted male advances. Bats also have multiple dialects and they learn them from their mothers and peers. They use different tones of voice when speaking to different members of their group. Aside from bats, the few other animals that also do this are humans, monkeys and dolphins. Bats can single out a single bat in the cave to communicate with, and some caves have 20 million bats in them. When annoyed, the bats raise their voices.

- XL Tangent: The question is first illustrated with a photo from the 1960s "Batman" TV series. Alan says that he didn't realise till quite late into his childhood that this version was a spoof, to which Aisling replies that she didn't realise until now that it was a spoof.

- XL: A question so controversial that Brazil and France almost went to war over it: how do lobsters get about? The answer is that both walk and swim, with walking generally being more common with occasional swimming. In 1961, Brazilian law stated that all sea creatures that walked within certain distances of their seashore were exclusively theirs, but anything swimming was fair game. The French found a good spot to catch lobsters, but Brazil claimed the lobsters were crawling along the coastal shelf, so belonged to Brazil. The French however claimed the lobsters were swimming and thus belonged to whoever caught them. A Brazilian navy oceanography expert argued that if lobsters can be consider fish when they swim, so could a kangaroo considered to be a bird when it hops. Tensions became so heated that Brazil sent an aircraft carrier and France sent a warship. (Forfeit: Walk)

- XL Tangent: Lobsters are left and right-clawed in the same proportions that humans are left and right-handed.

- XL Tangent: Other examples of sea-life causing conflict include the Turbot War between Canada and Spain, the Crab War between North and South Korea, the Oyster War, the Mackerel and Cod wars, the Prawn War, the Squid War, the Scallop Conflict, the Catfish Dispute, and the Sprat Spat between Lativa and Russia.

- XL: You get a Dane fired up by skin pulling. This is a Nordic / Viking version the tug-of-war, where instead of a rope you pulled an animal hide. The complainants pull at either end of the hide until one is yanked over, and the entire thing is done over a fire, so who ever loses is dragged into the fire. In one saga, King Yngvi instructed two opponents, Hastigi and Hord, to a skin pulling contest. Hastigi does this naked, gets pulled into the fire, and Yngvi regrets the whole thing.

- XL Tangent: In 18th century Arabia, the Scottish traveller James Bruce reported that the people in the town of Yanbu in modern day Saudi Arabia had been fighting each other for days, wasting the town's ammunition. In the end, to agree on how to end the conflict, they all agreed that everything bad that had happened was the fault of a single camel. The camel was put on trial, spent the whole afternoon shouting at it, speared it, killed it, and justice was done.

General Ignorance

- The panel are shown an ocean liner and asked what the most dangerous part of it is. The answer is the lifeboats. A study by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch in 2001 showed that lifeboats killed more people than they saved in the UK and Australia over a ten-year period. Lifeboats were the most common cause of death on board ship, accounting for 16% of all lives lost. Almost all the accidents happened during training or maintenance. In the same time period, no lifeboats were actually used in an evacuation, so they didn't save a single life.

- The panel are given lifejackets and as asked to put them on correctly as if they were in a plane crash-landing on water. As far as we know, no-one has ever been saved by a plane lifejacket in modern commercial airlines. During the Hudson River plane crash, only 33 of the 150 passengers had even managed to get hold of their lifejackets, and out of the 33 only four were wearing them correctly. They are only intended for planned water landings, so when you have advanced warning that you will land on water, and this hasn't happened in decades. Cynthia McLean, the principal cabin safety investigator at the Federal Aviation Authority, says the best thing to do is to leave the lifejacket behind, and if you land in the water you should just get off the plane. (Forfeit: Brace, Brace, Brace)

- The Great Fire of London started in modern-day Monument Street. The fire started when baker Thomas Farriner left his fuel out too close to the oven, but recently discovered planning documents from 1673 uncovered by Dorian Gerhold revealed the real location for when the fire started, which is 60 feet east of Pudding Lane. The monument that was built to remember the fire was erected in 1677, and is 202 feet tall. It is this height because it was supposed to be 202 feet from where the fire started, but these recent discoveries mean that the moment should be a lot smaller. (Forfeit: Pudding Lane)

- XL Tangent: During the Great Fire a lot of printers and booksellers wanted to save all their paper, so they rushed to the vaults of St. Paul's because they thought the thick walls would keep it safe. In reality the vast amount of paper just became kindling, helping the fire to spread and destroyed the cathedral. The collapse of St. Paul's revealed the corpses of people who had been buried there for hundreds of years. The fire smouldered for six months, destroyed 13,200 house and 87 churches. It has been previously stated on QI that only five people died, but this is now being questioned that it is almost certain that hundreds of people died. The problem is that the deaths of the poor and even the middle class went unreported at the time. The fire was so bad they you might not recognise something as a body. Also, the "Bills of Mortality" which publically recorded deaths in London went unpublished for three weeks after the fire because the press itself was burnt down.

- When holding a car steering wheel your hands should be at the 9 to 3 position. If your hands are at the 10 to 2 position, there is an increased risk of injury from the airbag. Airbags inflate at up to 250mph, and injuries include broken hands, hands needing to be amputated, and one injury known as "de-gloving". At 9 to 3, the airbag has space to come up. (Forfeit: 10 and 2 position)

- Tangent: The British diving test was changed in 2018, getting rid of the turn in the road manoeuvre and reversing around the corner. Aisling failed her test three times in 2018, while Jason failed his practical six times, including one time when he got to a junction and asked the examiner: "All right your side?" Alan failed his test because he accidently drove backwards instead of forwards.

- Tangent: In 2015, a survey revealed the most common reason people failed their driving tests. Unusual reasons for failing included the following; "I thought a line of parked cars was a line of traffic so waited behind it", "I went too far forward at a zebra crossing and bumped the bumper on a pedestrian, and then argued it wasn't my fault as his outfit had made him blend in with the stripes", and: "A good-looking man on a motorbike caught my attention, and, without realising, I started to drive directly towards him. The instructor had to enforce an emergency stop because I nearly crashed straight into him." When Anuvab met his driving instructor he sat Anuvab down and said: "I don't think you're going to make it."

- XL: There is no universal definition of a species. There are 32 different definitions. For example, if there are two different species, they can produce viable offspring, for example horse-donkey hybrids produce mules (horses have 64 chromosomes, donkeys 62, and mules 63), but this is not the case with other species combinations, like bonobos and chimps. Zoologists estimate that 88% of all fish species could happily interbreed, with the swordtails of Mexico being of the offspring of two different fish species.


- Anuvab Pal: 4 points
- The Audience: -9 points
- Aisling Bea: -17 points
- Jason Manford: -25 points
- Alan Davies: -37 points

Broadcast details

Friday 20th September 2019
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Jason Manford Guest
Aisling Bea Guest
Anuvab Pal Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Question Writer
Production team
Ben Hardy Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer

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