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.

Episode menu

Series R, Episode 2 - Ruff And Reddy

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Zoe Lyons, Sandi Toksvig, Tom Allen, Susan Calman
Sandi Toksvig hosts the high-brow quiz, asking questions about ruffs, red items and other things beginning with the letter R. Trying to come up with the answers are Alan Davies, Tom Allen, Susan Calman and Zoe Lyons.

Further details


- Tangent: Zoe has scars on her nose because she fell over, tripping over her own feet. Sandi asks if anyone on the panel has been in an actual fist-fight, and Tom says he has recently taken up boxing.

- All the panel are wearing large white ruffs, except Sandi who is wearing a blue one. They are then given a bowl of beetroot soup and have to try and eat it without staining their ruffs. Arguably the best person who does it is Zoe, who lifts her ruff above her mouth to eat the soup. However, what the Elizabethans had was spoons with extra long handles. The panel try them out but find them unwieldy, finding it easier to feed each other than themselves. Ruffs were ubiquitous in high society between the 1560s and 1620s, but everyone wore them. Elizabeth I had the biggest ruffs, which had up to seven yards of cloth, with 600 pleats soaked in starch. They were made with a phallic-looking device called a goffering iron. Dutch woman Mistress Dinghen van den Plasse came to London in 1564 giving lessons in how to starch ruffs, charging £5 (£1,500 in today's money), with an extra starch-making module costing £1 (£300 today). While ruffs were normally depicted as all being white, they actually came in many colours, with the large number of white ruffs in paintings due to successive restorations. Sandi's blue ruff means that she is either Scottish or a prostitute, with Elizabeth I associating them with what were called at the time "Winchester geese", so called because the Bishop of Winchester owned so many brothels. Ruffs also came in pink and saffron yellow.

- Tangent: Zoe says that dogs today wear a kind of ruff, with the big cones that they wear to stop them biting stitches. Alan says you can drive dogs mad by throwing biscuits into the cone. Zoe spotted a dog wearing a massive cone walking down the seafront on a really windy day. While the dog was walking with the wind at his tail, Zoe thought: "Yeah, well, wait till you turn round, mate!"

- XL Tangent: After the ruff the next piece of fashionable neckwear to come into vogue was the golilla, started by Philip IV of Spain, which was less ostentatious. In England another piece of neckwear that became fashionable was the piccadill, which is where Piccadilly Circus gets its name from. Piccadilly Hall, owned by Robert Baker, sold them in the area. Apart from dogs, ruffs are still worn by ministers of the Church of Denmark.

- Tangent: The rough sandpiper (and not as Sandi first calls it, the rough sandpaper) is the most gender-fluid bird in nature. The birds have feathers that look a bit like an Elizabethan ruff, and this species has three types of male, which differ in mating behaviour. There is the territorial or independent male, which have dark neck ruffs which can stand up; satellite males with white neck ruffs which will go after any female who will have them; and faeders, which look identical to females and will very quickly have sex with females who have not spotted that they were coming, but are also quite happy to have homosexual pairings with independent and territorial males.

- The panel are asked to name an animal that will attack anything red. Bulls are not angered by the red cloth in bullfighting, being angered more by the movement of the cloth. However, the animal that does see red when it sees anything red is the robin. 10% of robin deaths are due to fractured skulls from altercations with other robins. In 1943, experiments by a man named David Lack showed that a robin would attack a stuffed robin placed in its territory. Robins attacked so violently that the head of the stuffed robin came off, and the robin would still carry on. Lack then mounted various body parts on tress and so on, and found that as long as red feathers were present, the robin would attack. Robins would attack a headless, wingless, tailless, legless, bodiless bundle of red feathers. Robins would even attack a tomato left on a bird table. A robin's red breast is thus there as a warning to make other robins stay away. The breasts get bigger and redder each year, so the bigger and redder the breast the more fights they've had. (Forfeit: Bull)

- Tangent: Sandi gets as far as saying: "Name an animal..." when Alan shouts out: "Dog!" Alan scores a bonus point.

- Tangent: Robins tend not to visit the same gardens year after year. This is because most robins don't live that long. Only 25% of newborns get through the very first year, less than 1% make to the age of five, and the average lifespan is about 1.1 years.

- Tangent: Tigers are able to get away with being orange, because most of their pray is orange-green colour-blind. Thus, if a tiger hides in foliage, deer would see the tiger as muddy green.

- XL Tangent: Sandi says that the reason American deer hunters wear bright orange vests is so Dick Cheney doesn't shoot them. This is also true of other humans. The hunter is clearly visible, but the deer still sees green.

- The thing that is red and black and a complete racket is table tennis rackets. The rackets can be any shape, size or weight, but have to be red on one side and black on the other. In 1986, a rule was brought in because players were using rubbers with different characteristics on different sides of the racket, and the opponent needed to see which one you were using in each shot. In 1980, player John Hilton won the European men's singles title, which was a shock result because he was only the fourth best player at his local YMCA, let alone in Europe, but he had a combination racket so no-one could work out which spin he was using.

- Tangent: Tom gets an extra point for suggesting that the thing that is red and black and a complete racket is Dennis the Menace falling down the stairs.

- XL Tangent: Alan says the thing that is black, white and red all over is a newspaper, and that the thing that goes black white, black white, black white, black white, black white is a penguin rolling down a hill.

- Tangent: The panel are each given a table tennis racket (each of which smells very heavily of glue, which all the panellists sniff), hold the racket red-side up and try to catch red-side up again. This is actually impossible to do, as the racket will always turn to face the other way from the one it started with. The reason for this is actually rather complicated. American theoretical physicist Richard Feynman was asked if anyone can explain this in a simple way, and after thinking about it for a little bit he said: "No". It is due to something called the Dzhanibekov effect (which Sandi wrongly pronounces as the "Johnny Bake-Off" effect), named after a Russian cosmonaut on the Salyut 7 space station in 1985, who spun a wing nut in order to remove it from a threaded bolt. The nut spun right off the bolt, continued to spin after coming loose, then suddenly flipped over and started spinning in the opposite direction, then flipped back again to the original orientation, and kept flipping from one to another. The reason for the effect is to with the racket or nut having three axis's - one at each end of the hack, and a third at the point the tip of the racket joins the handle in the case of the racket.

- The panel are shown a picture of a red squirrel and a grey squirrel and are asked which is most recent. While it is true that red squirrels are native to Britain and grey squirrels are native to North America, the reds were considered a pest and were hunted pretty much to extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries. Thus, to restore the population red squirrels were imported from Scandinavia and central Europe. From DNA studies, we now know that most of today's reds come from these imports, so today red squirrels are the modern interlopers. Britain now has 2.5 million greys in comparison to less than 15,000 reds, with most of the reds living in the North and Scotland, especially the Scottish Isles. You can eat grey squirrels, with one London restaurant serving them. (Forfeit: The grey one)

- Tangent: In terms of eating alternative animals, Susan once had a locust bhaji which she says was one of the worst things she has ever eaten in her life, but due to her accent it comes across as "badgie".

- The thing that is red and roughy is the orange roughy, which is a type of fish. It is a fish that caught on in American restaurants after 1979, because it was renamed. It was originally called a "slimehead". Orange roughy are about 30 inches long and members of the perch family. The average lifespan of an orange roughy is over 120 years, with two recently caught in Tasmania and New Zealand that may be about 250 years old, meaning they were born in the late 1700s, which is around the time the first Europeans moved into the area. You can age the fish using their otoliths, which are in the ears of animals, including humans, to help with balance. In fish, otoliths are layers of calcium carbonate that grow over the years, and thus can be counted like tree rings. This means that there is a likelihood that if you eat orange roughy, you are eating something that is older than your grandparents. Human otoliths meanwhile stop growing after about a week, then deteriorate as we age, leading to balance problems in older age.

- Tangent: The question is illustrated with a picture of a person with their pubic hairs appearing out of their underwear. When Susan did Strictly Come Dancing a friend told her to sort herself out in that particular region. The first time Susan did a fitting for the show she wore shorts, so Susan got her first ever bikini wax at the age of 43, which she says was the most terrifying thing that has ever happened to her, because it was so exposing and it made her feel cold. Zoe replies that in fairness, someone suggested to Susan that she should get a wax while Susan was wearing shorts.

- XL Tangent: Another fish that goes in and out of fashion is mullet. In first century AD Rome, huge prices were paid for the best mullets, because the colour of the fish changes when it dies, so if you bring a mullet to the table alive, you can see it change colour as it suffocates. The poet Martial wrote a story about someone who sold a slave for 1,200 sesterces, and spent the proceeds on a 4lb mullet. The mullet haircut comes from a song by the Beastie Boys called "Mullet Head".

- XL Tangent: The red-lipped bat fish from Peru walks on pectoral fins to move rather than swimming. You can find cuddly toy red-lipped bat fish online and Sandi has one in the studio (the toy, not the actual fish).

- You, or rather ewe know when they are ready for sex when they are reddled. Reddle is a pigment originally made from ochre and has a reddish tinge. It has been used for centuries by shepherds to tell if sheep have mated. The riddle was smeared onto the ram's chest, and the riddle would rub onto the ewe when she mated with him. The reddle actually was sold in various colours and different ones were used for different weeks.

- Tangent: Susan says that she has sheared a sheep, leading to Alan asking that if she can do that why can't she sort out her pubes. Sandi gives Alan another bonus point.

- XL Tangent: You can now fit a harness onto a sheep that has a crayon-like implement to add the reddle. Tom says the harness reminds him of a trip he once had in Berlin. Sandi is more fascinated by the size of the sheep's genitals.

- XL Tangent: In Thomas Hardy's novel "Return Of The Native", the character Diggory Venn is a reddleman. His skin is stained all over by the reddle, and he comes across as a semi-magical figure, like a devil. The word "raddled", to mean old, comes from reddle.

- XL: A fax appears to come out of Sandi's desk with the next question, which is actually been sent up by Elf Alex Bell. The question is: "Who has an unhealthy obsession with redundant technology?" It is the NHS. They are the world's largest purchaser of fax machines, but they have been ordered to have been phased out in 2020. Football transfers also used to be done by fax. The Japanese also use lots of fax machines today, and pagers were very common there too. Japan's last pager service closed down in 2019 and a Tokyo funeral company set up a memorial so people could lay flowers and pay their respects to the pagers. Pagers however are still going in the NHS, with 10% of the world's pagers being used by them, and 80% of hospitals still use them because the reception is very reliable. Other pieces of redundant technology include cheque books, with the use of them falling by 75%; landlines; cassette tapes; video recorders; the Yellow Pages; trouser presses; there is one branch of Blockbuster Video still open, surviving in Oregon; and Sandi believes that we will be the last generation to stand at a till.

General Ignorance

- Apart from flavour, you can tell the difference between a raspberry and a blackberry by the fact that raspberries have a hole in the middle were the stem or torus originally was. You can get black raspberries so you cannot tell by looking.

- XL Tangent: Raspberry bushes have prickles because the bushes need to encourage the right kind of animals to spread their seeds. Birds and small rodents can avoid the prickles, and they can take the seeds on long distances. Larger animals will digest the seeds and leave them in a single pile of manure, and thus the seeds are not spread far and wide.

- XL: The key ingredient in old fashioned ketchup is mushrooms, anchovies, oysters and nuts. Tomatoes were not used in ketchup until the 19th century. For many years, people thought that tomatoes were poisonous. When Heinz introduced their own ketchup in 1876, it was marketed as a time-saver because it used to take a long time to make. The advertising slogan was; "Blessed relief for Mother and the other women in the household." Heinz added a thickening agent called xanthan gum, which makes the ketchup gloopy. The best place to hit on a Heinz glass bottle of ketchup to get it out is on the 57, on the neck of the bottle. (Forfeit: Tomatoes)


- Zoe Lyons: 6 points
- Alan Davies: 5 points
- Tom Allen: -5 points
- Susan Calman: -13 points

Broadcast details

Thursday 4th June 2020
30 minutes


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Saturday 5th September 2020 9:00pm
45 minute version
Tuesday 6th April 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Wednesday 7th April 2021 2:00am
65 minute version
Saturday 26th June 2021 6:00pm
60 minute version
Sunday 27th June 2021 1:00am
60 minute version
Friday 16th July 2021 10:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 17th July 2021 2:00am
60 minute version
Wednesday 3rd November 2021 6:00pm
60 minute version

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Susan Calman Guest
Tom Allen Guest
Zoe Lyons 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
Mat Coward Researcher
Will Bowen Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
Ed Brooke-Hitching 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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