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


BBC Two and BBC One panel show about quite interesting facts. 269 episodes (pilot + 18 series), 2003 - 2021. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

Series S recorded.
Series R, Christmas Special is repeated on Dave today at 1:15am.

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Victoria Coren Mitchell, Sandi Toksvig, Stephen K Amos, Claudia Winkleman. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series Q, Episode 4 - Queasy Quacks

Further details


- Each member of the panel is given some quack medicines and have to persuade Sandi to buy them.

- Stephen: "Princess Lotus Blossom's Vital Sparks", which was sold at the World Fair in 1904. Princess Lotus Blossom claimed she was trying to give men, euphemistically speaking, a "vital spark". However, the princess was really a woman from the Midwest named Violet McNeal, who claimed to be Chinese and wore yellowface, something she could easily do because the Americans had banned all Chinese people from the country in 1882 under the Chinese Exclusion Act, and no-one in the country knew what a Chinese person looked like. The pills McNeal gave away were really boiled sweets, but she claimed they came from a pouch in a turtle's brain called the "Quali Quah". She said: "A man who takes these pills will shout out, 'Pong-Woo-Kee!'", which she claimed was Chinese for: "Eureka!"

- Tangent: Stephen compares his vital sparks to a superhero supplement. The superhero Blank Panther gets his powers by consuming a special herb, to which Stephen says they might as well have gone the whole hog and called him "Ganjaman".

- Tangent: Chinese people were not allowed into the USA again until 1943, and even then they only allowed 105 into the country.

- Alan: "Dr. Brinkley's Formula 1020", which was claimed to be a distillation of goat glands, but was really just coloured water. Dr. Brinkley claimed it would cure anything from emphysema to flatulence. Brinkley later transplanted goats' testicles into men's scrotums. The patient would select their goat, the goat would be castrated, and the testicles would then be inserted into the patent's scrotum. Lots of people underwent this procedure, without checking if Brinkley was medically qualified to do this.

- Tangent: Stephen asks if the patients undergoing goat testicle insertion were impotent and concerned that they could not have kids.

- XL Tangent: Dr. Brinkley went to Eclectical Medical College in Kansas, but he never graduated, and the college was one of homoeopathy anyway. However, he still became famous. He started his own radio station in Kansas and he became so big that he paid for the town that he lived in to have a second post office just to deal with all of his mail. Nevertheless, his fraudulent medicines cost the lives of hundreds of people. Brinkley sued the American Medical Association in 1939 for libel when someone suggested he was fraud, and when he gave evidence it became clear that he was a fraud. Thus he was stripped of his licence and died in poverty. As well as being a fraud, Brinkley supported Adolf Hitler and even had a swimming pool decorated with miniature swastikas.

- Tangent: Alan says that when sheep and goats are castrated the testicles just drop off and shrivel up in the sac, but Victoria said this is not true, because she has held a pair of ram's testicles. She was making a TV series about the dictionary, and the show was investigating the origins of the word, "codswallop", because no-one is sure where it comes from. One theory is that it comes from "cods", which is slang for "testicles". "Cods" is where the word "codpiece" comes from. She had to explain this to camera while holding onto a pair of ram's testicles. To get the testicles they went to a butcher, and the testicles were enormous.

- XL Tangent: If you put Viagra into a vase of flowers, the flowers will stay erect for a week longer than normal.

- Claudia: "Theodore Roosevelt's Baldness Salve", sold by the Scholder Institute, they claimed it had been used by Roosevelt and Harry Houdini, but both had just recently died before the product came out. The patient sent samples of their hair through the post for an "individual diagnosis" by Prof. Scholder, who got his diagnosis from a Dominican friar. However, a man named Arthur J. Cramp, from the American Medical Association, sent in hairs from a fox fur coat, a Japanese wolf dog, a woman with extremely long and lustrous hair, and a piece of wrapping twine. Each time he got the same response which was that the hair was severely undernourished and that he needed the cure. The salve was actually just Vaseline.

- Tangent: People have been asking Stephen if he is experiencing hair loss because of the garment he is wearing on his head, which is a "do-rag", which he claims is not a hat. He claims that people in airports get confused and security ask him, "can you take off your... bonnet?" Victoria however claims that the do-rag is a hat, arguing that if you put it on your head it's a hat.

- Victoria: "Do-Nothing Mitchell's Rest Cure", also known as, "Dr. Diet and Dr. Quiet", which was created by Dr. Silas Mitchell, who was actually a good doctor but this was not one of his best ideas. Mitchell was the father of neurology and coined the term, "phantom limb syndrome", but he also believed that it was a good idea for people, especially women, to lie down and do absolutely nothing for six weeks. The only things they could do was to be spoon-fed and perhaps get up to go to the lavatory. They had to drink pint after pint of milk, and they were banned from reading and writing. People who did the cure included Virginia Woolf after she had a nervous breakdown, and wrote of her experiences in Mrs. Dalloway. Charlotte Gilman's book The Yellow Wallpaper is about a woman going mad because of this rest cure.

- XL Tangent: Apart from ducks, we get the word "quack" from "quack salve", someone who brags about their ointment. In the USA, the golden age of quackery was post-President Andrew Jackson, who generally believed that the common man knew more than experts, or as Sandi describes him he was: "the Michael Gove of his day". All but three states repealed all their laws regarding medicine, thus people were free to sell whatever they liked as medicine. In Europe, quacks were called "mountebanks".

- You might invest in a vibratory chair to help waste pass through the intestines. The Battle Creek Vibratory Chair, currently displayed in the Museum of Questional Medical Devices, located in the Science Museum in Minnesota, dates to 1900. It violently shook the patient in order to remove the waste, and it was claimed it could cure headaches. One was installed in John Harvey Kellogg's sanatorium in Battle Creek. Kellogg was the inventor of cornflakes, thought all sex was bad and reportedly never consummated his marriage.

- XL Tangent: There is a belief that doctors used vibrators as a way of helping women with medical problems such as hysteria. Sandi asks if this is a myth, but Victoria claims it was not, having been to a vibrator museum in Holland.

- Tangent: The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices also includes a 1970s foot-operated breast-enlarging pump.

- XL Tangent: Sandi believes one of the most horrible adverts of a dubious medical device she has ever seen was for Dr. Scott's electric hairbrush, sold in the 1890s. The ad had a picture of a Native American on it and the caption: "Dr. Scott's electric hairbrush will not save an Indian's scalp from his enemies but it will preserve yours from dandruff, baldness, failing hair. Cures headache and neuralgia. Price $1." It also came with a, "Valuable book free". The brush came with a compass, and when the brush was passed over the brush, the compass appeared to jump to show the brush was working. Actually the compass just had magnetised iron in it.

- XL Tangent: Another quack with a lot of gadgets was Albert Abrams. One of his inventions was the Dynomizer, which he claimed could diagnose any known disease with a single drop of the patient's blood, their handwriting, or just do it over the phone. One blood sample was sent to him by a member of the American Medical Association, and they got back a diagnosis of malaria, diabetes, cancer and syphilis. Actually the blood came from a rooster.

- Sandi uses a duck call and asks the panel to figure out what she is saying. Most ducks however do not quack. The ones that do are predominately female mallards. They give bouts of loud monotonous quacks, particularly during their pre-laying period, possibly to draw the attention of any predatory mammals who might be in the area. If the predators come, this will prevent male mallards from coming over to bother them. Another theory is that it might be a territorial call, to stop other mallards from moving into the area.

- Tangent: You should not feed bread to ducks as it is bad for them.

- Tangent: Duck sex is particularly violent and non-consensual.

- Tangent: Each panellist is given their own duck call to use. Duck calling is a sport, where the object is to call the ducks over so that they can be shot. The best duck callers take part in a world championship in Arkansas on Thanksgiving. Victorian children made bird callers by cutting the larynx from a recently dead goose and blowing through it. In 1850, a 12-year-old accidentally swallowed a goose larynx he was blowing through, and thus honked like a goose every time he breathed. A German doctor eventually performed a tracheotomy on him to remove the goose larynx, resulting in a medical paper entitled On The Removal of a Larynx of a Goose from that of a Child.

- XL Tangent: Only one woman has ever won the World Duck Calling Championship, the appropriately bird-named Pat Peacock, who won the 1955-56 contest. The first ever winner didn't have a duck caller at all and just made the sound with their own throat.

- XL: The thing you would have to do to find yourself imprisoned in Reading for two years is be a cocoa plant. Reading is home to the International Cocoa Quarantine Centre, which is part of the University of Reading. Chocolate plants can get diseases called "frosty pod" and "witches' broom", which can destroy 40% of the cocoa crop ever year. Thus when cocoa plants are transported across counties, they have to prevent diseases being moved with them. Thus the plants spend two years quarantine in Reading. If they are healthy after two years they can go to their destination, otherwise they stay in quarantine. The reason why the plants are quarantined in England is because the weather is so bad that the diseases can't possibly survive.

- XL Tangent: Stephen once performed in Reading, and as a joke he deliberately mispronounced the town as "Ree-ding" rather than "Red-ing", and he could hear a woman in the audience say; "Oh, he's trying to say 'Red-ing!'" Stephen replied: "You know you're here for a comedy show?" Sandi was recently on a bus which went past a pub and the sign outside it was advertising a football match between Reading and another side which she could not see because someone was standing in front of the sign, but she mistook it as "Ree-ding" and she wondered what it could be up against, like colouring-in or singing.

- XL: You might quarantine five million people to help stop the spread of Spanish flu. During the 1918 outbreak, the whole of Australia put itself in quarantine to stop the disease from entering, in what is the largest quarantine in history. The pandemic started in the USA and Europe, and the Australian government decided to put the entire country into quarantine, which involved intercepting all ships, making sure the ships moored offshore and see if anyone had developed symptoms. Spanish flu did eventually break through, effecting 40% of the population and killing 15,000 people, but these are still much better figures than most nations, with the total number of deaths from Spanish flu being 50 million to 100 million, from 500 million cases. Part of the reason the disease spread was the celebrations at the end of World War One, because people who has been keeping in the houses to escape the flu now came out to celebrate, and thus spread the illness. It was called "Spanish flu" because the censors didn't want to anyone to write about the fact that a flu epidemic was going on, because they thought it would cause panic, but people could write about the flu being in Spain, because Spain was neutral during World War One.

- XL Tangent: Australia quarantines rocks. "Sorry rocks" are lumps of Uluru / Ayres Rock, that tourists originally took with them, and later returned because they felt sorry for taking them in the first place. The park rangers get about one a day, the largest one to be returned weighing 32kg. There is a worry of possible pathogens being introduced through the rocks, so these sorry rocks are put in a neutral area.

- The panel are asked if they would like to meet Vomiting Larry. The panel do meet him, because Vomiting Larry is a humanoid simulated vomiting system developed by the UK's Health and Safety Laboratory in Derbyshire, and the system has been brought in by Dr. Catherine Makison Booth. The reason he was invented was to look into the dangers of infection transmission, by identifying how far vomit spreads. By doing so, it is easier to see how the vomit can be cleared up and prevent transmission of diseases. The infected area is larger than most people think because of all the little droplets and the effects of splashing. Plus, while you can see the main bulk of the vomit, much of it is also invisible to the naked eye, resulting in people accidentally stepping into it and spreading it around. Vomiting Larry is so called because the head of the system is called "Airway Larry", and it is used by medical students who are practicing laryngoscopies. The panel are then shown film of Larry vomiting. One of things Vomiting Larry is used for is to study the effects of the highly infectious norovirus.

- XL Tangent: The world's oldest vomit dates back to 160 million years ago and was found in Peterborough. It comes from an ichthyosaur, an ancient marine reptile which behaved much as sperm whales do today. They would eat shellfish whole, then vomit up the indigestible shells that would rip their intestines.

- XL Tangent: There was once a woman who met the poet Ted Hughes, and found him so physically attractive at a party that she had to leave and vomit. Stephen meanwhile once went to a really good party and on the way home on the tube he knew he was going to vomit. He found an old litter box and vomited into it, only to discover that box had no bottom and so he vomited on his own shoes.

- XL Tangent: Scientists discovered that flu can travel between different species in 1933, when a ferret sneezed in a scientist's face.

- When Michelangelo took his socks off, his skin came off with them. He didn't wash and his skin came off when he took of his clothes. According to Michelangelo's biographer: "He wore stockings of dog skin constantly for months together, so that when he took them off the skin of the leg often came away with them."

- Tangent: The panel are shown what is thought to be a portrait of Michelangelo by Raphael, mocking Michelangelo, depicting him as grumpy philosopher Heraclitus.

- Tangent: You can probably tell that a sculpture is by Michelangelo because the first and second toes are splayed, the abdomen is depicted as having an eight-pack rather than a six-pack, and the sculpture will have unruly pubic hair. One suggestion for this is that one of Michelangelo's favourite models must have had all three of these attributes.

- XL Tangent: Michelangelo got his marble from the Carrara quarries in Tuscany, where he would visit and pick the exact piece of marble he wanted. The statue of David had been previously discarded by two previous artists, Agonstino de Duccio and Antonio Rossellino. The problem was the Carrara marble is of poor quality, which we know because a man named Piero Cannata accidentally smashed a bit of David's toe off, meaning that the marble could be analysed.

- Sandi asks Alan why she might siphon four gallons of gas up his bottom. The answer is to check if for holes in his guts. American military surgeon Nicholas Senn created a system for checking if someone had been shot in the gut. One thing he would do is pump the body with hydrogen and set fire to gas as it escaped from the wound in your stomach, in a system called "Rectal Insufflation of Hydrogen Gas". In the 19th century it was a big problem to check is a wounded patient had their intestinal canal pierced by a bullet, because unnecessary surgery could kill the patient. Senn first tired his idea on several dogs to the point where their intestines ruptured, then tried it on himself and had his assistant pump six litres of gas up Senn's backside. Records showed that: "He found that the escape of air or gas from the rectum was prevented by an assistant pressing the margins of the anus firmly above the rectal tube." Senn then tired it on two patients, but the idea never caught on.

- XL Tangent: Other self-experimenters include Dr. Stubbins Ffirth, who proved that yellow fever was not contagious. He did this by dribbling infected patients' vomit into a cut on himself, put the vomit into his own eyes, tried frying the vomit of a patient and inhaling the fumes, and then sat in a vomit sauna. Yellow fever can only be caught if it goes straight into the bloodstream, which was not discovered until 60 years after he died. Ffirth himself died aged 36. Another self-experimenter, David Pritchard, in 2004 allowed 50 hookworm larvae to burrow into his skin to see if the infestation could fight off hay fever and asthma. He applied a dressing with pin-sized hookworm larvae onto himself. Pritchard said that the itch when they cross through the skin is indescribable, but the treatment worked by the worms somehow switching off the immune system.

General Ignorance

- The technical name for the first patient in a disease outbreak is the "Index Case" or "Index Patient". People wrongly think that the term is "Patient Zero", but this is based on a mistake. The first time that term was used was on Gaetan Dugas, a French-Canadian flight attendant who contracted HIV in Haiti, and allegedly he spread to lots of men during his lifetime. However, he was referred to as "Patient O", rather than "Patient 0", with the "O" standing for "Outside California". (Forfeit: Patient Zero)

- XL: Someone who probably did not have Lou Gehrig's disease was Lou Gehrig. He was a New York Yankees baseball player who died in 1941, and even though the disease is named after him the chances are that he did not have it. It is believed he actually had some kind of brain trauma brought on by the long-term effects of concussion. Lou Gehrig's disease is actually motor neurone disease, also known as ALS, which became famous as this was the disease that the ice bucket challenge raised money to fight against. The challenge raised £90 million in just one month.

- Out of the gents and the ladies lavatories, the gents' is cleaner. According to a study by the University of Arizona, this is because women take children into the ladies with them and thus the ladies' lavatories have more germs in them. Women however, wash their hands a lot more than men. (Forfeit: The Ladies')

- Tangent: Men are less likely to wash their hands at sporting venues. A study at Turner Field Baseball Stadium in Atlanta showed that men washed their hands just 65% of the time, with the results obtained by the, "researchers discreetly observing." However, Alan claims that this is much lower at the football matches he goes to. Alan says that at the old Wembley Stadium, people would urinate into the sink while you we washing your hands.

- Tangent: There is no point in putting toilet paper on the lavatory seat, because the seat is designed to not keep bacteria on it, and the paper will actually absorb germs. Hovering above the seat is also a bad idea, because the pelvic floor muscles cannot relax and thus the bladder doesn't fully empty.

- After you have been drawn, hanged and quartered, you end up in five parts. As well as cutting up the four quarters of the body, the head was removed too. Sometimes various body parts got spread across the country. For example, William Wallace's quarters ended up in Newcastle, Berwick, Perth and Stirling, while his head remained on a spike on London Bridge. "The Keeper of the Heads" was a job that ran for 300 years, where a man displayed traitors' heads at the London Bridge Gatehouse. He would erect new ones and remove heads that had got too old and decayed. (Forfeit: Four)

- XL Tangent: If senior noblemen died as traitors, their heads would be placed higher up on the London Bridge Gatehouse. One of the main issues with being quartered was that you could not have a Christian burial. Under the 1752 Murder Act and the 1832 Anatomy Act criminals could be sentenced to dissection as a punishment because it meant that you could no longer go to God.


- Stephen K. Amos: 8 points
- Alan Davies: 7 points
- Victoria Coren Mitchell: -5 points
- Claudia Winkleman: -6 points
- The Audience: -10 points

Broadcast details

Friday 27th September 2019
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Victoria Coren Mitchell Guest
Claudia Winkleman Guest
Stephen K Amos Guest
Catherine Makison Booth (as Dr Catherine Makison Booth) Self
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Andrew Hunter Murray Question Writer
Production team
Diccon Ramsay Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer


Behind-the-scenes: Alan Davies wants to watch football

Alan Davies is annoyed he has to record an episode of QI when his football team Arsenal are playing. In this video we see him checking the scores during the breaks in recordings.

Featuring: Sandi Toksvig, Alan Davies, Victoria Coren Mitchell.


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