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


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2024
  • 312 episodes (21 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.

  • Due to return for Series V
  • Series G, Episode 12 repeated at 9pm on U&Dave
  • JustWatch Streaming rank this week: 1,210


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Series R, Episode 17 - Rock 'n' Roll

QI. Eshaan Akbar
Sandi Toksvig asks questions about rocks, rolls and rock 'n' roll, leaving Bill Bailey, Katy Brand, Eshaan Akbar and Alan Davies trying to come up with interesting answers - while avoiding the most obvious ones.


- The music people listened to in the Stone Age was literal rock music. You can find rocks that people hit to play music, aka stone gongs, in the Serengeti in Tanzania; igneous rocks with percussive marks in southern India; and a French cave called Fieux a Miers. Musical rocks are called "lithophones". There was a Victorian group called the Till Family Rock Band who played rocks from Skiddaw in the Lake District on a xylophone-style instrument. (Forfeit: The Rolling Stones)

- Tangent: Bill has played a rock designed as a musical instrument. There are musical rocks in the British Museum, and some faked CCTV footage is shown of Sandi playing one.

- Tangent: There is a new theory that Stonehenge may have been an ancient concert arena. The inner circle is made out of "bluestones", as they turn blue when broken or wet. These have a microscopic structure in them that makes them sound like a metallic gong. The bluestones came from Carn Menyn, Preseli Hills, west Wales, and rocks in the area do ring out when struck. Thus, the musical nature of the stones may explain why people went to such efforts to bring them over to Stonehenge.

- XL Tangent: In "Tess of the D'Urbervilles", there is a line which reads: "Tess suddenly felt a huge erection in her front." The erection is Stonehenge.

- Tangent: The term "rock and roll" originally referred to 17th century ships, rocking and rolling in the waves. In the early 20th century the term became associated with dancing, spiritual fervour and sex. The musical term "rock 'n' roll" was first used by the Cleveland DJ Alan Freed in 1951.

- The panel are shown a drawing and asked what the people are doing in it. The picture is called "A Tippecanoe Procession" and features people rolling a massive ball with things written on it. The people are actually canvassing votes in a US Presidential election. It features a presidential campaign ball, which in 1840 was used by William Henry Harrison when he ran for President against incumbent Martin Van Buren. Harrison's entire campaign centred around these "victory balls", huge spheres made out of tin and leather that were over 10ft in diameter, with pro-Harrison and anti-Van Buren slogans written on them. Harrison's supports would roll the ball to rallies, and then roll the ball to the next town to gain attention. This election is where we get the word "OK", the word standing for Van Buren's hometown of Old Kinderhook, New York, as in the phrase: "Things will be as good as they were in Old Kinderhook". The campaign balls also spawned the phrase: "keep the ball rolling". "Tippecanone" was Harrison's nickname, as he was leader of the US forces at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Harrison won the election and became President, becoming the first candidate to win more than a million popular votes. Unfortunately, Harrison died a month after becoming President. In 1888, Harrison's grandson Benjamin was also elected President using the same campaign ball strategy, but his balls were steel-ribbed and canvas-covered. The ball was rolled around 5,000 miles from Maryland to Indiana.

- Tangent: Examples of terrible American presidential slogans include Ulysses S. Grant in 1872: "Grant us another term", Alfred M. Landon in 1936: "Let's get a Landon-slide", Thomas Dewey in 1944: "Dewey or Don't we?", and Richard Nixon in 1972: "They can't lick our dick." Sandi asks the panel what their slogan would be if they ran for President. Eshaan's surname means "the greatest", so says he would run with "Eshaan is Akbar". Katy says the best slogan is the sort of thing you would say to your children when you need them to pay attention, so her slogan would be: "Katy Brand - can everyone just calm down?" When Alan did fringe festivals in Canada every year there was a sketch group who called themselves "Free Food and Beer", and their poster just consisted of the words "Free Food and Beer" on it, being posted all over town.

- XL Tangent: Sandi's favourite campaign slogan was that of the Conservative Party in 2005: "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" Every time she saw it, she thought of biscuits.

- The problem with an ice runway is the hot wheels on the planes cause the ice to melt. Runways are constructed in the Antarctic every year, servicing the US McMurdo Research Station. It is made of sea ice and it is used from July to early December. When the runway is good and solid, it is like landing on concrete, but when heavier planes come to a stop after landing, they start to sink into the ice because the breaking heats up the tyres. When the plane is sitting on the runway, they have to train lasers and monitor the height of the tyres. If the plane goes below ten inches the aircraft has moved down, and it has to be re-parked because the plane just keeps sinking. (Forfeit: It's too slippery)

- Tangent: Bill landed at an airport in Svalbard which is based on permafrost. The landing was bumpy, but the Norwegian pilot just said to everyone: "It's a bit bumpy landing because the permafrost is melting because of the global warming. Anyway, have a nice time in Svalbard." Sandi had her honeymoon in the Arctic, and when she talked to the locals about how bad the weather was, one told her: "Well, last winter was very bad. The porch blew off my house." When Sandi said how terrible it was, the person replied: "No, it was winter, who needs a porch in the winter?" Eshaan had an old job in Guernsey, and to get there he had to travel in rickety small planes. One day when he landed, it was clear the pilot was running out of runway, so the pilot just decided to turn off the plane and let it drop. When it did drop, the pilot came over the tannoy and went: "Whoopsie." Bill was on a plane that was trying to land in a storm in Indonesia. The pilot failed first time around, so he came around again and said: "Sorry. I bottled it."

- XL Tangent: The world's longest paved runway is twice the length of the world's shortest commercial flight. The shortest flight is 2.7km from Westray to Papa Westray in the Orkney Islands. The runway at Changdu Bangda Airport in Tibet is 5.5km long. This airport is nearly 4,500 metres above sea level, and the thinner air means that the aircraft needs to gain more speed in order to generate the lift required for take off.

- The people with the most rock and roll medical records were the Soviets. A lot of western media was banned in the USSR during the 1950s and 1960s, so there ended up being a black market in bootleg gramophone records, with were made out a readily available source of thin plastic. The material that was used was old x-ray sheets. These became known as "rocknakostyak", meaning "rock on bones", or "skelet moyey babushka", meaning "a skeleton of my granny". Sandi shows one up to a light so you can see the bones, the record being of a Latvian Russian singer called Konstantin Sokolsky, but the show couldn't get permission to play it. Other artists who had their music put onto these records included Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones and Ella Fitzgerald. The records were very expensive and only lasted seven or eight plays, but were popular for both their music and their appearance.

- Tangent: Katy's first job in TV was as a work experience runner in the studio were QI is now recorded. One of her jobs was to look after Lemmy from Motorhead. Katy says he was an absolute gentleman, so long as there were five bottles of Jack Daniel's in his room. Lemmy told Katy a story where he heard that people who had been addicted to drugs in the 1960s were having full blood transfusions, so they no longer had drugs in their system. Lemmy thus went to his doctor about getting this done, but his doctor told him that if they were to do it to him, the shock to his organs of clean blood would kill him instantly, so it would be best to remain for him to drink all this whisky.[/inddnt]

- Tangent: Sandi once had a pianola, aka a player piano, which works by playing a roll of punch paper through it. There are also more advanced versions called reproducing pianos, which also affect the volume and tony, so you can effectively reproduce a live performance. Gershwin and Grieg recorded performing their own pieces so that they can be performed on these pianos. As a child, Eshaan learnt some Indian classical music on a harmonium, a wind-based piano. Eshaan also worked as a Bollywood dance choreographer and teaches the panel some moves. Eshaan says that the move that looks like changing a light bulb and patting a dog is a misconception and racist. One of the moves he teaches looks like trying to find a TV remote under a sofa, and the other like you are killing a wasp with your fingers and throwing it away.

- XL: You ignite Russian rockets with really big matchsticks. While American rockets a lit by a kind of spark plug or a chemical reaction that creates heat, Russian rockets are lit by something that is officially called a PZU, which is a pyrotechnic ignition device. These are birch sticks that stand upright inside the rocket, poking into the engine nozzles. Each PZU has a pyro-charge, all of which can be detonated at the same time to each individual engine. Signals are sent to Mission Control to let the crew know the engine is lit, and when all the signals arrive they know that it's good to open the fuel tanks. The PZUs were developed in the 1950s for the R-7 intercontinental rocket, and they are still used for Soyuz rockets, which until 2020 were the only rockets that could be used to transport people and cargo to the International Space Station. The fact the system is so simple has advantages: for example, in 2016 a launch was aborted because a PZU failed to ignite properly. They were able to re-launch the next day by simply replacing this one PZU.

- XL Tangent: Bill was visiting the Tank Museum in Bovington. German and American tanks had radio control between the driver and the gunner, but the Russians instead had one soldier in the turret who would poke the gunner with his foot to give the signals, which was more reliable as radio would sometimes fail.

- XL Tangent: The Soviet rocker programme was partly founded out of a desire to create a way of transporting resurrected ancestors to other planets. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, one of the founders of rocket science, was a student of the philosopher Nikolai Fyodorov. Fyoforov wrote that death should be abolished, that all our ancestors should be resurrected, and that once everyone had been revived and made immortal, humanity could colonise the galaxy. This philosophy was known as "Russian cosmism". Tsiolkovsky wanted to fulfil the very first step, which was getting into space.

- XL: Hundreds of sheep, cows, horses, pigs and goats ended up in the Houses of Parliament because laws and acts were written on their skin. Until 2016, the laws in the Parliamentary Archive were written on rolls of vellum, and the Archive holds 60,000 of them, the longest of which is a quarter of a mile long. The Second Law Lord in the UK is known as the Master of the Rolls, although the proper title is President of the Civil Division of the Court of Appeals. The Master of the Rolls at time of recording is Sir Terence Atherton, who is also Keeper of the Great Seal of the Realm. The word "vellum" has the same derivation as "veal", coming from the Old French "vellum" meaning "paper made from calfskin". To make it, the skin is treated in a lime wash; the fat and fur is removed with a curved, bladed knife called a "scudder"; the skin is then washed and stretched further; it is then scraped with a Luna knife which has two handles. The reason vellum was used is because it is so robust, it being waterproof, it does not degrade and can be handled without gloves. One sheep could be used to make three or four pages of vellum. In 2014, the University of York took a number of vellum samples and discovered how many different animals were used to make Parliament's vellum records. In 2016, a cost-cutting exercise resulted in vellum being replaced by especially hard-wearing paper. There is only one company in the UK still making vellum today, which is William Curley Parchment Makers. (Forfeit: The General Election)

- XL Tangent: Between 1614 and 1636, the Master of the Rolls was a judge named Sir Julius Caesar.

- The panel play a game called "Will It Roll?" Sandi takes some things, puts on a slope, and the panel try to figure out if the things will roll. First she puts an empty cylinder on the slope, and it rolls down quickly. Then she puts on a cylinder filled with honey, and it rolls down much more slowly. Finally, on a V-shaped slope Sandi puts on a two cones attached together. This is to demonstrate something called the double cone paradox, because when the cones are on the slope they look like they roll uphill, when in fact they roll downhill. Using a straight line and imaging the points of the cones are an axle, you can see the points do go down. This paradox was first published by William Leybourne in 1694 in a book called Pleasure With Profit. Leybourne was a land and quantity surveyor, who surveyed much of London after it had been destroyed in the Great Fire. He was also the first person to write an English book on astronomy. The paradox appears to have no practical application.

- Tangent: In the UK there are several roads that appear to work as optical illusions, where if you take off your car's handbrake it feels as if you roll uphill. Examples include Hunter's Hill in Essex and the Electric Brae in Scotland.

General Ignorance

- When they got to America, the Pilgrim Fathers landed in Provincetown. This is 24 miles away from Plymouth Rock. Despite this, there is now a rock which people wrongly claim is the actual Plymouth Rock, which has the year 1620 carved into it. However, if they did actually land alongside it, the boat would have been wrecked. Plymouth Rock is not even mentioned as being significant until 1769, when an elderly man called Deacon Ephraim Spooner, who suddenly remember that when he was six another older man, a 95-year-old, had remember his parents taking him to see this rock, but this was 121 years after the boat had arrived. The date wasn't carved into the rock until 1880, and the pilgrims did not name it after the English port. Plymouth was already called this name by John Smith, who today is mostly remembered being a character in the Disney film Pocahontas. (Forfeit: Plymouth Rock)

- Tangent: John Smith was really a rogue. While the usual story claims Pocahontas saved Smith's life, this is unlikely to have happened. Smith was a mercenary who fought the Turks in the Balkans. He was captured, put into slavery, murdered his master, stole a horse, fled to Russia, and he became so famous for all these things that the British decided to get Smith to set up an early colony in America. On the trip over to America he was arrested for mutiny, barely avoided being hung when he arrived, met Pocahontas, and then soon afterward has to return to Britain following an accident in a canoe, where he has a pouch of gunpowder on his lap , which exploded and blew his genitals off. Pocahontas came to Britain, but on the way home she became ill, so she returned to Britain for treatment, but she died in Gravesend, where she is buried.

- XL Tangent: Eshaan once suffered from testicular torsion, which is when a testicle wraps around itself into a knot. He got it while playing cricket aged 12, and the doctor told Eshaan that he has 90 minutes for it to unravel, otherwise it would have to be amputate. Eshaan was able to massage the testicle free, during which he got his first erection.

- XL: Between a precious and a semiprecious stone, neither one is more valuable than the other. The terms give no indication of value. Traditionally, precious stones are diamonds, sapphires, rubies and emeralds, but there are many semiprecious stones that are more expensive, and the industry no longer uses these terms because they confuse people. (Forfeit: A precious stone)

- XL Tangent: Up until 1940, only 10% of engagement rings had diamonds in them, but De Beers, who own the monopoly on diamond mines, marketed them so effectively that by 2000, 80% of engagement rings had diamonds. They invented the slogan: "A diamond is forever", and also the notion that the cost of the engagement ring is equal to your monthly salary, although how many months worth of salary differs. Since the Middle Ages however, diamonds were used as collateral, so if your fiancé left you, you still had the expensive ring.

- XL Tangent: Katy owns a book called "Elizabeth Taylor's Diamonds", which is full of photos of her jewellery. Taylor would make Richard Burton buy the diamonds with her money and then present them to her as a gift where she would pretend to be surprised.

- No-one famous has had their ribs removed either for sexual reasons or for corsetry. Victorian women did not have ribs removed to make it easier to get hourglass figures. No celebrities have ever had ribs removed, either to look slimmer or to perform sex on themselves. Prince, Cher and Marilyn Manson have all been the subject of false rumours about having ribs removed. The only reason to remove a rib is medical. (Forfeit: Prince; Autofellatio)

- XL Tangent: Bill went to see Manson perform in Milton Keynes Bowl. When Manson normally tours, he cheers up the crowd by mentioning the place he is performing in, which meant that when Bill went to see him Manson was repeatedly shouting: "Milton Keynes!" It was one of the funniest things Bill had ever seen.

- Tangent: The person with the world's smallest waistline is Cathie Jung, who has a 21 inch waist (she is 5'8" tall), but using corsets she can get down to 15 inches. Bill says that if you put her on her side, she would roll uphill.


- Alan Davies: 3 points (Alan's 39th victory)
- Bill Bailey: -3 points
- Eshaan Akbar: -12 points
- Katy Brand: -33 points

Broadcast details

Thursday 28th January 2021
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Bill Bailey Guest
Katy Brand Guest
Eshaan Akbar Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Mat Coward Researcher
Will Bowen Researcher
Ed Brooke-Hitching Researcher
Alex Bell Question Writer
Mandy Fenton Researcher
Mike Turner Researcher
Jack Chambers Researcher
Emily Jupitus Researcher
James Rawson Researcher
Ethan Ruparelia Researcher
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
Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor

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