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 R, Episode 13 - Rogue

QI. Image shows from L to R: Sandi Toksvig, Olga Koch, Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey, Jack Carroll and Olga Koch join regular panellist Alan Davies as Sandi Toksvig hosts the quiz with a difference, asking questions on the theme of rogue.

Further details


- This is a "General" show in Series R, covering a wide range of different topics beginning with "R".


- The panel are shown a list of terms from the reign of Elizabeth I and are asked what they mean. All of them are terms for different kinds of rogues in Tudor times, recorded by Robert Greene in his book A Notable Discovery of Cozenage, which started a craze for people having guides to beggars and vagabonds. It became known as "rogue literature".

- Hedge priest: An itinerant preacher who could carry out ceremonies if you could not pay the tithe for a proper priest. The vow: "Till death us do part" was reinterpreted and couples could separate if they stood over a dead animal in the road.

- Counterfeit crank: Someone who pretends they have something wrong with them. A particular counterfeit crank was a clapperdudgeon, who created superficial wounds by rubbing a mixture of lime, soda and iron rust to make blisters. You could also cut off the festering arm or leg from a corpse, and pretend the limb was yours.

- Nips and foists: Types of pickpocket. A nip used a knife to cut open a purse and catch the contents. A foist dips their hand into the pocket.

- Crossbiter: Someone who poses as a prostitute's drunken husband.

- Baretop trickster: A woman who flashes her breasts to distract someone, and then a gang of men would rob the distracted victim.

- XL Tangent: Other rogues includes dummerers, who were beggars who pretended to have had their tongues cut out while they were abroad because they had been disrespectful of Muhammad. Tom o' Bedlam were people who posed as madmen, wandering around shrieking: "Poor Tom, mad Tom!" Bill claims to have seen a modern version of this in Hammersmith, where somebody was pretending to play an electronic keyboard in a shopping centre, but the person just had the demo button on. When Bill went up to the keyboardist and told him that he knew it was a con, the keyboarded said to him venomously: "Fuck off!" Jack says that his parents told him not have got his grandfather that keyboard for Christmas. A cony catcher was a general name for a swindler, the name coming from the fact that the swindler who refer to their marks as "rabbits". One thing cony catchers did was approach someone from behind, put your hands over their eyes and say: "Hey, guess who?" Then the cony catcher would apologise and say it was a misunderstanding, and while apologising you would pat them down and nick their purse.

- XL Tangent: Robert Greene is considered to be Britain's earliest professional author. He is illustrated in the question with a drawing of him writing while wearing a burial shroud. Greene mainly wrote romances. One of his books was "Mamillia: A Mirror or Looking Glass for the Ladies of England", which later had a sequel: "Wherein, with Perpetual Fame, the Constancy of Gentlewomen is Canonised and the Unjust Blasphemies of Women's Supposed Fickleness (Breathed Out by Diverse Injurious Persons) by Manifest Examples, Clearly Infringed". Greene is said to have died aged 34 from a surfeit of pickle herring and Rhenish wine. Greene is best known today for making the first contemporary reference to Shakespeare, calling him an "upstart crow", which is where the sitcom Upstart Crow gets its name from.

- The best way to make running easier is not to move your arms. In 2019, Andrew Yegian at Harvard discovered that walking with straight arms was more efficient than walking while moving your arms. Running with straight arms rather than bent arms makes no difference in speed or efficiency. Walking with straight arms however uses 11% less oxygen than walking with bent arms. Thus, we don't know why we run with bent arms. It just seems that people think that running with straight arms is harder.

- Tangent: At school, Bill won the 400m backwards running race. Bill runs faster backwards.

- XL Tangent: Australian farmer Cliff Young invented a new way of running. At the age of 61 he signed up for the 1983 Sydney to Melbourne Ultra-marathon, which is 875km. Young turned up at the start in overalls and Wellingtons over his work boots. When the race began, Young was obviously at the back. Everyone knew that a race like would take six days, and thus the best strategy was to run for 18 hours and sleep for six. Young however did not sleep at all. Every day, he got closer to the elite athletes, and finally overtook them on the last day, breaking the race record of five days, 15 hours and four minutes. Due to this, almost no-one taking part in an ultra-marathon sleeps, and most runners in these races now adopt what is known as the "Young shuffle", because it expends less energy.

- Tangent: Alphabet/Google's AI company, DeepMind, was challenged to see if it could learn a different way of running. It came up with many bizarre suggestions, and every time the programme failed it had to start again.

- Olga, or rather St. Olga, used pigeons to wreak her revenge by using them to destroy a town. St. Olga was the woman who brought Christianity to Russia, coming from the town of Pskov. St. Olga's husband was killed by the Drevlians tribe by bending two birch trees and tying his legs to each tree, then letting the trees go and thus ripping him in two. To get her revenge, she laid siege on the Drevlian capital, Iskorosten (now in the Ukraine), and she would only accept surrender in the form of a tribute of a pigeon and some sparrows from every single household. The Drevlians agreed, but then St. Olga ordered that a piece of sulphur should be tied to each bird's leg, and the sulphur was to be lit. When the birds were released, they all flew home, and burnt the city to the ground.

- XL Tangent: Another Russian woman who got her revenge was Mariya Oktyabrskaya. Her husband was killed by the Germans near Kyiv in 1941, and thus she decided to sell all of her belongings so that she could buy a T-34 medium tank. She said she was going to give it to the Soviet war effort, on the one condition that she would be the operator during battle. The State Defence Committee agreed, gave her five months training, then in 1943 at the age of 38 she was fighting in the front line. Her tank had the words: "Fighting Girlfriend" written across it. She fought in several battles, became a sergeant, but was eventually killed by shell fragments in January 1944. She was posthumously made a hero of the Soviet Union for her bravery.

- XL Tangent: Pigeons can recognise humans who have wronged them in the past. A study at the University of Paris Ouest Nanterre La Defense got two researchers of similar build and skin colour, but wearing different coloured lab coats. One fed the pigeons and the other chased them away. After this the pigeons would flock around the kinder one and avoid the meaner one, and even after swapping lab coats the pigeons still recognised the faces of the right people.

- Tangent: Pigeons should avoid hairdressers. A study at the University of Lyon showed that pigeons who live near hairdressers have fewer toes, as they lose them after getting their toes entangled in hair that has been incorrectly disposed of.

- The most powerful drink in history is Pepsi. For a very brief time, in 1990, Pepsi had the sixth largest military fleet in the world. In 1972, Pepsi executive Donald Kendall successfully negotiated an entire monopoly of cola in the USSR. At the time, the rouble was not worth very much money, and the Kremlin forbid the foreign sale of roubles anyway, so a deal was struck initially where Pepsi Cola syrup was swapped for large amounts of Soviet vodka. This deal lasted until 1990, when Pepsi decided this was not enough. Russia then agreed a $3 billion deal that would mean everything would be paid in Soviet warships. Pepsi was given 17 submarines, a frigate, a cruiser and a destroyer, which meant the company briefly had the sixth most powerful navy in the world. Pepsi however sold the entire flotilla to a Swedish company for scrap. (Forfeit: Vodka)

- Tangent: Olga says she liked vodka because it says so much about the Russian people, saying: "Russian people bit into a raw potato and really were like, 'This is amazing, but can we make it liquid AND ruin our lives?'"

- Tangent: Russia also once offered New Zealand MiG fighter jets, tanks and a nuclear submarine to wipe out a $100 million debt for dairy imports.

- Tangent: "Vodka" literally means, "small water". "Voda" is the Russian word for "water". Russians will sometimes hide some vodka in the house as "bathroom vodka", for cleaning. In Russia, it was not until 1st January 2013 that was beer was classified as an alcoholic beverage. Anything under 10% alcohol was characterised as a foodstuff.

- Tangent: The strongest beer ever made according to Guinness World Records was The End of History by Scottish company BrewDog. It was 55% alcohol, and they sent ten of their investors a bottle of it mounted inside a taxidermy road-kill squirrel. Bill comments that someone tried to sell him a Theremin made out of a badger. Also, someone knitted a praying mantis for Bill once. Sandi says she wants a Theremin beaver.

- XL: The one rogue item you should always keep in your wallet is a picture of a baby. In 2009, Prof. Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire and his team dropped 240 wallets all around Edinburgh. Most of the wallets contained a picture, these pictures included ones of a baby, a puppy, a family portrait, an elderly couple, and some had no picture at all. 88% of the wallets which had a photo of a baby in them were returned. In comparison, the puppy photos had a return rate of 53%, the family 48%, the elderly couple 28%, and no photo 15%. (Forfeit: Condom)

- XL Tangent: A similar experiment led by the University of Michigan's Prof. Alain Cohn distributed 17,000 allegedly lost wallets in more than 350 different cities across 40 countries. Some of the wallets contained no money, others had the local currency totally the equivalent of $13.45, and the study was to find who would send the money back. Out of an empty wallet, one with a little bit of money, and the one full of money, the one most likely to be returned is the one with full of money, on the grounds that people are worried of legal ramifications if they kept it and people would think they would have stolen it. Cohn's team did a survey of 250 economists and they all said that the one with the most money would not be returned, but 72% of the wallets full of money were returned, compared with 61% of the ones with little money, and 46% the empty ones.

- XL Tangent: No police force in England and Wales handles lost property anymore as of 2017, except if it is linked to crime, such as things with personal data on them like a phone, as well as passports, money and pornography.

- XL Tangent: When Bill was in his double act the Rubber Bishops with Martin Stubbs, Martin missed the train. Thus Bill had to do the gig on his own, and that is how Bill's solo career started. For a while on stage, Bill would look to his left forgetting that Martin was not there. The last time Sandi and Bill gigged together at the time of recording, they were at a church.

- XL: The creatures that love to devour books, other than nerds (as suggested by Jack), are mostly beetles. There is no such animal as a "bookworm". Beetles are at their hungriest and most destructive at the larval stage, where they look a bit like worms. Each species of book-eating beetle has a different appetite, with some liking vellum, others paper, others the bindings of leather, and others glue. Some have been known to borrow a single hole through a 27-volume work. You can get rid of the beetles by snap-freezing infested books. An infestation Italian bookworms in Yale's Beinecke Library was got rid of by freezing books at -36 degrees Celsius for three days. Two 18th century Portuguese libraries, the Biblioteca Joanina at the University of Coimbra and the Palace Library in the Palace of Mafra, use bats that live behind the bookcases to eat the beetles at night. To prevent the bats from defecating on the books, they cover all the furniture with animal skins which are then cleaned in the morning. (Forfeit: Bookworm)

- The most extreme way anyone's ever avoided having sex is to pretend that they are dead. A study by Rassim Khelifa, a zoologist from the University of Zurich, showed that female common hawker dragonflies pretend to be dead while being pursued by a male, to avoid amorous attention. This is known as "thanatosis". After mating, most male dragonflies will guard their partner, but the Aeshna juncea species instead just flies off and thus allow the female to be harassed. However, if another male tries to mate with her, then her reproductive tract might be damaged or she could even be drowned by an aggressive male as they spend a lot of time on the water. To avoid this, the females lie motionless on their backs, and the male gives up.

- Tangent: On a previous QI they talked about a male arachnid who gives a gift to a female so that he can mate, only for the gift to be fake. Another spider, pisaura mirabilis, goes even further. The male initiates sex by presenting the larger female a tasty snack. As the female eats, the male begins to mate. However, if the female tries to make off with the gift, the male plays dead and holds onto the present, so she has to drag him with it. When the female stops, the male stops pretending to be dead and tries to mate with her again.

General Ignorance

- The River Thames is brown because of silt and sand. There was a time when a lot of waste flowed directly into the Thames. In 1957, the Natural History Museum declared the Thames was biologically dead. However, a new sewage system built in the 1960s, and the Thames is now one of the cleanest rivers in the world. In 2018, 138 seal pups were found in it.

- Tangent: Sandi did some filming on top of the O2 Arena, and from there she took a photo on her phone of a seal on the banks of the Thames. Sandi could see about six seals from her position. There is a seal colony at Teddington Lock, and the Thames has also been home to porpoises, dolphins and whales.

- Tangent: Rubbish still appears in the Thames. A corpse a week appears in the river. The Port of London Authority removes about 200 tonnes of rubbish from the river every year. In one day in 2019, the PLA removed 70 tangled shopping trolleys that were all clumped together. 60% of the rubbish in the river is single-use plastic.

- The panel are shown a picture of a large wave and are asked what it is called. It is a "rogue wave". Tidal waves occur in shallow water and are caused by the gravitational interactions between the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth. Tsunamis are giant waves caused by undersea earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. Rogue or freak waves are mountainous swells of unknown cause, that are twice the height of more than a third of the waves in the area. These waves appear really suddenly and are very dangerous to shipping. For centuries, people thought that sailors exaggerated stories of these waves, but on New Year's Day 1995, an enormous wave smashed into the Draupner oil platform, just off the coast of Norway, which was 85 feet tall, from trough to peak. The assumption was that these waves occurred once every 10,000 years, but analysis of about 30,000 satellite images over a three-week period in 2003 showed ten waves around the world had reached that height. According to Peter Challenor of the National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton: "People have been working actively on this for the past 50 years at least. We don't even have the start of a theory."


- Jack Carroll: 4 points
- Olga Koch: -6 points
- Bill Bailey: -8 points
- Alan Davies: -29 points

Broadcast details

Thursday 14th January 2021
30 minutes
  • Friday 21st August 2020, 16:00 at BBC Television Centre


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Saturday 13th March 2021 9:00pm
45 minute version
Friday 19th November 2021 1:00pm
60 minute version
Friday 19th November 2021 6:00pm
60 minute version

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Bill Bailey Guest
Jack Carroll Guest
Olga Koch Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
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
Pritesh Ladva Graphics
Mat Coward Researcher
Will Bowen Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
Mandy Fenton Researcher
Mike Turner Researcher
Jack Chambers Researcher
Emily Jupitus Researcher
James Rawson Researcher
Ethan Ruparelia Researcher
Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor

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