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

QI

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.

Next new episode is on Thursday at 9pm. Series R, Episode 16
Catch-up on Episode 15 on BBC iPlayer   Series N, Episode 4 is repeated on Dave tomorrow at 1:20am.

QI. Sandi Toksvig. Copyright: Talkback.

Series R - Rejoice!

Sandi and Alan are joined by Chris McCausland, Justin Moorhouse and Holly Walsh for a festive special.

Further details

Topics

- If it's Christmas Eve and you are looking for a very quick present, the thing that beats four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pair tree is six geese-a-laying, because it is the fastest of all of these birds, in particular the spur-wing goose. This question has had one big impact on the world, in that it spawned the Guinness Book of Records, or Guinness World Records as it is now known. The book began after an argument concerning which was the fastest game bird. The book was originally put forward by the MD of Guinness Brewery, Sir Hugh Campbell Beaver, who was on a grouse shoot in North Slob, Ireland, in 1954 and got into a row over what was the fastest game bird in Europe. Beaver believed it was the golden plover, while his friend said it was the grouse, when in fact they were both wrong, with the goose being the faster, followed by the grouse and then the plover - except they were wrong, as the spur-wing goose is only found in Sub-Saharan Africa and is thus not a game bird. The goose also eats blister beetles which make their flesh toxic, so eating it would kill you, and it is technically speaking not a goose. Between them, Beaver and his friend decided there was a gap in the market for a book to settle these arguments. They commissioned twin brothers Norris and Ross McWhirter to write the book. The book was originally a promotional thing, with 1,000 copies given away free with beer, but it became so popular that they decided to put it on sale. It became a Christmas best-seller that year and every year since. Guinness World Records holds the Guinness World Record for the best-selling copyrighted book of all time. The 1978 edition of the book is the book most stolen from public libraries in Britain. (Forfeit: Five go-old rings.)

- XL Tangent: If you include non-copyright sales, The Bible is still the best-selling book of all time, at over five billion copies. Holly's house has about 11 copies as her mother is a vicar.

- Tangent: Christmassy Guinness World Records include the largest group of carol singers, held by a group of 25,272 singers in Nigeria; the fastest time to eat all the chocolates from an advent calendar in the correct order is 1:27, held by Kevin "LA Beast" Strahle, who also holds the record for the most chicken nuggets eaten, most powdered doughnuts eaten, and fastest time drinking a litre of maple syrup; the fastest marathon dressed as a Christmas tree is 3 hours and 43 minutes; and the record for the largest gathering of people dressed as Santa Claus was broken in Kerala, India in 2014 by 18,112 Santas. The previous record had been set in Newtown, Wales in 2004, where over 4,260 Santas took part in an annual charity run, but it finished in a mass street brawl where 30 Santas fighting.

- The panel attempt to break some Guinness World Records themselves, which are judged by the Editor-in-Chief of Guinness World Records Craig Glenday. Chris and Holly attempt to break the record for the fastest time to put on five Christmas jumpers, the current record being 20 seconds. Both fail, with Holly at 31 seconds, as well as being disqualified for not pulling the jumpers below her waist, and Chris at 35 seconds. Chris however asks if his attempt would make him the fastest blind person to achieve the record, to which Craig says it is now 35 seconds, provided that none of the previous applicants were blind, but Craig shakes his head.

- XL: The most unusual place a reindeer has ever slept is on a submarine. Pollyanna was a reindeer presented by the Soviet Navy to a Royal Navy submarine, HMS Trident, in 1941 as a thank for to the British for fighting the German forces. The captain had said that his wife was having trouble pushing a pram through the snow, so the Soviets decided to give them a reindeer to help her. The reindeer was docked in the port of Polyarnoe, from which the reindeer got its name from. It was brought aboard the sub via the torpedo tube and lived on it for six weeks. The plan was for Pollyanna to sleep in the torpedo room, but she was rather fussy and decided to sleep under the captain's bed. She was first fed on a barrel of moss, but when it ran out she ate scraps and condensed milk. She also ate some navigation charts and put on a huge amount of weight. When they arrived in Britain she had to be lifted out of the main batch, and in the end she was sent to a zoo.

- XL Tangent: The panel are shown a picture of another reindeer, called Olga. Olga arrived at Scapa Flow in December 1943 on the cruiser HMS Kent, and she too was a gift from a Russian Admiral.

- XL Tangent: The creator of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Robert L. May, intended to call him Reginald. Lots of reindeer actually do have red noses because of their circulation. If they breathed Arctic air straight in, reindeer would die of cold, so reindeer noses have a large number of blood vessels. The density of blood vessels in some noses is so great that the noses turn red. The cold, dry air is warmed by capillaries and moistened by a thick layer of mucus. Reindeer can breathe in air at -40 degrees Celsius, and by the time it reaches their lungs the air is +38 degrees Celsius in a single second. Then is cooled by about 20 degrees before it exits the nose and the moisture is recaptured in the nasal mucus.

- XL Tangent: When reindeer are threatened, they form "cyclones", in which a large herd while start crowding around the attacker, walking in an anticlockwise direction, making it harder for the attack to pick out an individual reindeer. Reindeer knees also click, so they can send sound signals to each other during a blizzard.

- The horrible incident involving Dijon that befell Father Christmas in 1951 was that they hanged an effigy of him. The Catholic Church was cross about Christmas becoming too commercialised, so on 23rd December 1951, 250 Catholic schoolchildren at Dijon Cathedral hanged an eight-foot tall Santa effigy. A young man there asked the crowd: "Does Santa deserve death?" The children chanted back: "Yes, yes, yes," before setting the effigy on fire and pelting it with orange peel. The Archbishop of Rennes said the protest demonstrated that the Church was pushing back against the paganism which Santa seemed to bring. The following day a pro-Santa rally was held outside the town hall.

- Tangent: Santa has had other problems across the world. In the 1920s Christmas itself was banned for years in the USSR. One Soviet school put on a play where fictional characters were expelled as non-Soviet elements. The played featured Cinderella being tried for betraying the working class and Father Frost was accused of spying on people down their chimneys. It wasn't until 1937 that Father Frost was allowed to return, but he has to wear a blue coat so he is not to be confused with Santa. The Puritans, both under Oliver Cromwell and when they went to the early USA, believed that Christmas should not be celebrated at all as it was seen as Popish excess. Thus, carol singing was a political statement. In the 1930s, Mexico's Ministry of Education decided that children should not learn about Santa Claus, but gifts should be given by the old Mesoamerican god Quetzalcoatl. This god took the form of a feathered snake, and burnt himself to death out of shame after getting drunk and having sex with his sister.

- Alan and Justin attempt to break a Guinness World Record. This record is for the most Christmas crackers pulled by an individual in 30 seconds, with the target set at 20, and each cracker has to make an audible crack. Justin got 30 with four that didn't crack, while Alan got 35 with seven that didn't crack, so Alan is the now the world record holder.

- XL: The thing that happened to the turkey at Charles Dickens' last Christmas as that it never turned up. A 30lb turkey he ordered was travelling by train, but the carriage it was on burnt down somewhere near Reading. Fortunately the turkey was still edible, so portions of it were sold off at sixpence a portion to the people of Reading.

- XL Tangent: Justin says that as well as being a great writer, Dickens was also an innovative chef. Justin adds that Dickens was one of the first people in Britain to use herbs and that he was very specific as to which herbs he used, and that Dickens said: "It was the best of thyme, it was the worst of thyme."

- XL Tangent: The biggest Christmas present Dickens received was an entire Swiss chalet in 1864 by the actor Charles Fechter. It came in 58 separate boxes, was designed for self-assembly and the instructions were in French. Dickens had to hire a stage carpenter to help him build it. Dickens worked in the chalet during the summer, and he wrote his last works on the top floor. He also lined rooms with mirrors in order to practice public readings.

- Sandi asks the panel if they get Christmas cards from people they don't know. The panel all have some Christmas cards under their desk. Chris has a card in Braille, but he can't read Braille. Chris and Alan's cards say: "Merry Christmas from Phil and Joyce." Holly and Justin's cards say: "Warmest wishes this festive season, Dr. and Mrs. Kunz." This refers to an experiment by two sociologists from Brigham Young University, Phillip Kunz and Michael Woolcott, who in 1975 sent out 578 Christmas cards to random addresses in the USA, to see how many people would write back. One person in five sent Christmas greeting in return as if they knew who the person was. They also discovered you got more replies if you sent out a higher status card. If the card was signed "Dr. and Mrs. Kunz" you got 26% returns, while "Phil and Joyce" got just 15%. Some of the replies were three or four pages long, and a few people kept sending cards for 15 years. In 2015, the experiment was carried out again and they only got 2% replies.

- Tangent: Justin says the worst card he got was a note saying that he had got some post, but the person who sent it had not paid enough for it, so he had to go to the post office and pay £1.50 for a Christmas card, which came from someone who visited his house the next day for Christmas lunch.

- XL Tangent: Simon Hoggart used to collect round-robin letters. One he had read: "My ears ringing with praise for Jake from his parent-teacher meeting, I got home to find Emily opening a letter to say she'd won a place at Oxford."

- The Immaculate Conception is belief in the Catholic Church that the Virgin Mary was conceived and born without original sin, which apart from Adam and Eve would make her unique in history. This means she could go on to be Christ's mother. "Immaculate" means, "not stained". According to the Church, she never committed a single sin in her entire life. This was officially made part of the Catholic doctrine in 1854 by Pope Pius IX. (Forfeit: Virgin birth)

- Tangent: In 2006, a British insurance firm had to withdraw cover from three virgin sisters in Inverness who had taken out insurance against getting pregnant in the event of the second coming of Christ. If they did give birth as a virgin, they stood to gain £1,000,000 to help with the childcare. The burden of proof that they had been impregnated by the Holy Ghost was most specifically resting with them in the policy. The company withdrew the policy due to negative press coverage. One headline at the time was: "Sisters lose second coming cover."

- XL Tangent: In 2018, the Church of England commissioned a poll to find the nation's ideal mother, and the Virgin Mary came eighth. The woman who topped the list was Princess Diana. Other people higher than the Virgin Mary were Mary Poppins, Marge Simpson, the Queen, Michelle Obama, Mother Teresa, and "my own mother". Four of the top ten women on the list were fictional. (Forfeit: You, Sandi)

General Ignorance

- The kind of room that Jesus was born in was a communal room. There was no mention of Jesus being born in a stable, and the idea of there being no room at the inn appears to be wrong. The Greek word that is traditionally translated as "inn" is "kataluma", but it more actually means something like "guest room". We know that Joseph had relatives in Bethlehem, and it seems that there was no space in the guest room at his relatives' house. We know Jesus was born in a manger, that this probably means he was born on the ground floor of a communal living area, into which animals were brought in to keep it warm. Thus, Jesus was most likely born in a crowded family house. Genuine inns mentioned in the Bible are referred to by a different Greek word: "pandocheion", a place where strangers are welcome. Only Matthew and Luke's Gospels refer to the birth of Christ, and both are completely different, with Matthew mentioning the wise men visiting and Luke mentioning the shepherds. (Forfeit: A stable; A Premier Inn; A Holiday Inn; A Travelodge)

- XL Tangent: In the Bible, the women speak for 1% of the time. The Virgin Mary has about 108 words in the entire Bible.

- XL: The word beginning with "c" describes someone who makes shoes is "cordwainer". Cobblers repair shoes rather than make them. The name "cordwainer" comes from Cordovan leather, a type of leather from Spanish goats.

- XL Tangent: Holly's school, Christ's Hospital, was sponsored by livery companies including the cordwainers. Cordwainers set up one of the earliest guilds, in 1131.

- XL Tangent: Cobblers were prevented by law from making new shoes, but were allowed to collect old shoes and cut them apart to use the leather to make second-hand shoes. The word "cobblers" meaning "nonsense" is from Cockney rhyming slang. There is a pointed tool used by cobblers called an "awl" that pierces holes in leather, thus "Cobbler's awls" means, "balls". Holly asks were the word "cobbler" as in the pudding comes from. It might come from the word "cobeler", which means, "wooden bowl". Chris says the pudding is made out of shoe pastry.

- XL: If shepherds spotted a red sky at night, it really does indicate the weather will be good. There is truth to the saying. A red sky at night occurs when dust and small particles are trapped in the atmosphere by high pressure. Thus a red sky at sunset could mean that high pressure is moving in from the west and that next day will be dry and pleasant. A red sky in morning is due to a high-pressure system that has passed on, and thus a wet and windy low-pressure system is coming behind it, so both parts of the saying have truth to them. However, it depends where in the world you are. In northern Australia, it is reversed, so a red sky in morning is good.

- Oliver Twiss and Nickelas Nicklebery were written by Thomas Peckett Prest. Dickens was so popular that there many knock-off versions of his most famous works. Other fakes included Barnaby Budge, David Copperful, Martin Guzzlewit and The Penny Pickwick. They sold in huge numbers, and Prest's versions were sexed-up. In Oliver Twiss, Nancy is renamed Poll Smiggins and has a more sexually explicit back-story. There were no laws stopping these from being sold until the Copyright Act of 1842.

- One final record attempt, this one being taken on by Sandi's son Theo. It is the fastest time to dress up as Santa Claus, the current record being 30.94 seconds. Theo does it in 28 seconds.

Scores

- Sandi declares everyone a winner.

Broadcast details

Date
Wednesday 23rd December 2020
Time
9:30pm
Channel
BBC Two
Length
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Holly Walsh Guest
Chris McCausland Guest
Justin Moorhouse Guest
Craig Glenday Self
Theo Toksvig-Stewart 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

Press

Preview: QI - Rejoice! A Christmas Special, BBC Two

Sandi Toksvig returns to host a festive edition of QI based around the letter R, so let's all Rejoice!

Bruce Dessau, Beyond The Joke, 23rd December 2020
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