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


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2021
  • 283 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 5 - Rubbish

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Holly Walsh, Sandi Toksvig, Johnny Vegas, Bridget Christie
Sandi Toksvig talks garbage as she asks Alan Davies and this week's guest panellists, Bridget Christie, Johnny Vegas and Holly Walsh, to reveal all they know about rubbish. This episode was recorded just as lockdown struck and thus there is no audience.

Preview clips

Further details


- This episode was recorded in March 2020, during the coronavirus outbreak. As a result, there is no studio audience.

- The entire set is covered in rubbish, while behind Sandi are signs normally found in packaging concerning recycling.


- Each of the buzzers features the sound of something that is repulsive, in that it is the sound of something that is used to repel something or someone else.

- Johnny: A snorting deer followed by a dog barking. This is used by Japanese trains to repel deer from the line and avoid being hit.

- XL Tangent: Sandi says that she wants to drive a large articulated lorry. Holly mentions there is a theme park called Diggerland, which is based entirely around JCB diggers. They even allow two-year-olds to drive them.

- Tangent: A long time ago Alan was in court for speeding. There were two other people before him who were charged with taking a bus. Alan first thought they were fare-dodgers, but it turned out they had actually stolen a bus. In the court the people talked seriously about the route they took through town and the carnage they caused, resulting in those charged trying to keep a straight face when clearly they had a great time. Johnny and a friend of his once got drunk on a carousel, sleeping on the top deck of a miniature bus. Alan mentions that people sleep on roller coasters when they try to break records, as people try to break the recorded for the longest time you can spend on one, and the record breakers are allowed five minutes of every hour to have a nap. Holly disapproves of this, saying that the record breakers should be made to go to the toilet off the side of the roller coaster. Sandi says that women would not do such a thing, to which Holly says: "Well, we've all done a motorway moony", to which Alan says no-one else has. However, Bridget says that she once did it in France. Bridget says that in France she was being taught how to drive a tractor by a farmer, but she didn't realise that the farmer had jumped off, and she had not been told how to make the tractor stop, meaning the only way she could stop it was crashing into a barn. It turned out the farmer was waving at her from two fields away.

- Bridget: A swarm of bees buzzing. This is used to repel elephants. Elephants are terrified of them, as they can go up the trunk, mouth and anus. In Kenya and Tanzania some farmers use beehive fences to stop elephants from trampling over their land. Elephants are so bee adverse that they make a specific rumbling sound to warn other elephants that bees are in the area.

- Holly: Loud rock music. This is used to repel crickets. In Tuscarora, Nevada, the community was invaded by crickets annually, destroying crops, swarming houses and clogging up roads. In 2006, they discovered that if they played Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones music at volume the crickets stopped coming.

- Tangent: A man named Stan, who was stage manager at the Comedy Store, would play "Ace of Spades" at the end of the late show at 2am to get rid of the audience. Heavy metal has been used to drive out people in hiding. General Noriega was bombarded with heavy metal when he was under siege.

- Tangent: Bridget talks again about her time on the farm. She was there because she wanted a different job from office work so decided to work on a farm for three days. The tractor incident happened on the second day. On the first day she milked cows by hand, and cows can tell from your touch if you are new to milking. The people milking the cows stand in a kind of "swimming pool", so the people are level with the feet of the cows. While Bridget was milking the cow defecated over her, but what was worse was that the farmer made Bridget stand in a corner of a courtyard and hosed her down. She quit before doing anything on the third day.

- Alan: A high-pitched tone. This is used as a mosquito alarm, but when the alarm is at the correct level it can only be heard by young people. The part of the ear that detects higher frequencies, a bone in the inner ear, is susceptible to wear and tear, which gets worse as you get older. They then play the tone as it should be heard, and it can only be heard by young people. One of the people who can hear it is one of the crew called Anna, aged 23. This alarm was invented by Howard Stapleton in 2005, who used his children as test subjects. This system is used by Burger King, 7-Eleven and Transport for London to deter young people who might cause trouble from hanging around, while some other businesses use classical and folk music. They demonstrate this by changing Alan's buzzer to play The Four Seasons and Anna goes away.

- Tangent: Alan was at a science show in Edinburgh were they did a test, playing a tone that became higher in frequency, and people were told to sit down when they stopped hearing it, resulting in the younger people being the last to sit down. They then did a second tone, but this time nothing was being played, so the people who were standing last were all lying.

- XL Tangent: At Brixton Station they play classical music to help reduce violence. Bridget got her teeth knocked out outside Brixton Tube Station. Someone tried to mug her, and when Bridget told the mugger she had no money, the mugger punched her.

- The thing that is brown and sicky is American chocolate. American chocolate tastes more tangy and bitter than European chocolate because the chocolate factories are further away from dairy farms in the US. Thus the milk has to travel for longer and the milk needs to undergo a chemical process that extends the shelf life. This produces a chemical called butyric acid, which you also find in parmesan cheese and vomit. Chocolate brands that don't use the same process sometimes add the acid to the chocolate because Americans have got used to it. American chocolate also contains much more sugar and fewer cocoa solids, having 10% compared to 20% in the UK.

- Tangent: The reason why chocolate goes white when it goes off is because the fat is rising to the surface. Alan once did a play in the West End in 2003, and an elderly lady who came to see the play several times gave Alan a Kit Kat. Alan ate it the next day and claimed it tasted exactly like an old lady's cupboard. He then looked at the sell-by date and it was listed as being 1998.

- Tangent: Hershey's made a special bar of chocolate in the 1930s that was designed for emergency US army rations. It was designed to be deliberately unappealing so that the soldiers didn't just tuck into it straight away. It was called a D ration or a Logan Bar after the colonel who first ordered their manufacture. The chocolate had a high-energy content and could withstand high temperatures, but tasted awful. Soldier's hated it so much they called it: "Hitler's secret weapon" because it made them ill. Holly and Alan were in the CCF (Combined Cadet Forces), with Alan in the army and Holly the RAF, and the CCF has a 24-hour ration kit, which they took on overnight manoeuvres and contain enough calories for a day. Again, the chocolate is designed to be unappealing.

- XL: The Romans put their dinner on the floor for the purposes of decoration. They decorated dining room floors with a fake litter mosaic. Known as "asarotos oikosor" or "unswept room" and originally invented by the Greeks, discarded leftovers of opulent feasts decorated the floor. Grapes, chicken legs, seafood shells, nuts, olive pits were used. It was like saying: "I'm so rich I could have thrown all of this stuff on the floor."

- XL Tangent: Holly says that asarotos oiksor is like getting gold teeth for no reason. Bridget has a gold tooth. Johnny asks Bridget if her jaw is drawn to Cash Converters. Johnny once saw a 15-year-old boy going to Cash Converters with a sewing machine, and asked why he was selling it he said it was an unwanted gift.

- XL Tangent: As covered on a previous "QI" episode, Roman is built on eight hills rather than seven, but this is not counting Monte Testaccio. Monte Testaccio is a 150ft high hill in the centre of Rome, which is actually an ancient rubbish dump, made from an estimated 25 million shards of amphorae. Amphorae are what the Romans used to store oil and wine in, and the Romans got rid of them because they would get spoiled if they were used too often. The rubbish built up over three centuries, and when full the amphorae weigh over 100kg each. They not strictly speaking dumped however, but some were carefully smashed and stacked, while others were left whole and acted as pillars to prevent landslides. Lime would be sprinkled on top of them to stop them smelling of rancid oil. Monte Testaccio has a restaurant and caves dug into it.

- XL Tangent: Johnny did a film with Roger Law which featured one scene in which he had to smash £25,000 worth of ceramics donated by contemporary ceramicists. Johnny wonders if that has been used to make a contemporary ceramic mosaic. In "The Butterfly Effect" by Jon Ronson, the author talks about people with really specific fetishes, one of which was someone sending off their 40-year-old stamp collection to two porn stars who just burnt the entire collection on camera. Holly thinks her fetish might be watching Johnny smash vases. Bridget says there is a fetish for everything. Sandi once came back from Thailand where they have a vegetable called morning glory, unaware of the other meaning of "morning glory". Bridge had an ex who asked her to go cross-eyed just before he ejaculated. Johnny says the ex would be gutted if he dated online and met a Cyclops.

- XL Tangent: In 1897, archaeologists Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt dug into a sand dune 120 miles south of modern Cairo and found a rubbish dump containing over 500,000 fragments of papyrus generated by the ancient city Oxyrhynchus. Dating from the 3rd century BC to the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 640 AD, all of these fragments were taken to the Ashmolean in Oxford. Originally, just 5,000 of these fragments have been transcribed. In 2014, the whole collection was made digital and since then more than 200,000 fragments have been translated. Among the things translated include a 3rd century doctor's report and an extract from the lost tragedy "Andromeda" by Euripides.

- A question on recycling material: the point of all this blue whale shit is to keep the planet going. Blue whales defecate at the surface. They need to conserve oxygen and thus shut down lots of other processes when they are down at depth, including digestion. When they defecate they release a "faecal plume" of buoyant excrement, which is very rich in nutrients. It is full of iron, containing a concentration that is ten million times higher than the surrounding water. This fertilises phytoplankton, which photosynthesises, absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide, and produces between 50-90% of the Earth's oxygen. Most of the oxygen we breathe is made by plankton. The problem is the small number of blue whales and the fact that when they die the whales sink to the bottom, taking 33 tonnes of stored carbon with them, the equivalent of 600 trees photosynthesising for an entire decade. The IMF calculated that one whale would cost about US$2 million, with the current stock of whales costing US$1 trillion. One benefit of the whales dying is that their bodies provide food for wildlife that live in the depths.

- XL Tangent: Holly once went to a swimming pool in Bracknell. She and her brother were in the tidal wave ride and a turd followed them. They could not get them out in order to remove the turd, so they had to turn off the ride in order to clean everything up.

- XL Tangent: A blue whale;s bowel movement excretes about 200 litres of excrement, which is enough to fill two bathtubs.

- XL: The panel are asked point on an inflatable globe where the Earth's Magnetic North Pole is. The pole flips between North and South and also drifts. The Earth is basically a giant magnet, which is why compasses work. The compasses are also a magnet and they are attracted to the Earth's magnetic pull. As magnetic north is attracted to magnetic south, and the magnetic north of a compass points to the Arctic, meaning that even though we call it the North Pole, in reality it is the Magnetic South Pole. (Forfeit: Not there)

- XL Tangent: The first person to discover that the Earth has a magnetic field was William Gilbert, physician to Elizabeth I. At the time, people believed magnets had souls, and he called the magnetic field the "astral magnetic mind". Gilbert believed that this explained why the Earth rotated, believing that when the Earth got to hot when it was in the sun, it needed to rotate to cool down.

- XL Tangent: Polar explorers depend on the Earth's magnetic field in order to navigate. In 1909, Roald Amundsen wanted to get to the North Pole first, but then he learned that Robert Peary had reached the North Pole. All of his Amundsen's funding and the loan of his ship was all tied to him going to the North Pole, but as he didn't want to be second, while at sea he turned his ship around and sailed south. He didn't tell the crew his plan for over a month, yet no-one noticed they were going in the wrong direction. When his crew started getting suspicious, Amundsen said they were just taking a detour on the way to the North Pole. Amundsen did eventually become the first person to reach the South Pole.

- The Danish trick that gets English pulses racing is washing. When the Vikings invaded in the 11th century, English women found them attractive because they washed more often than the native British men. The Vikings tended to come without women, so they married English women, upsetting the locals. One monk, John of Wallingford, claimed that Danes cheated by washing. He wrote: "The Danes made themselves too acceptable to English women by their elegant manners and their care of their person. They combed their hair daily and took a bath every Saturday, and even changed their clothes frequently, be which means they undermined the chastity of the wives." Thus there is a theory that all of that stories about Vikings raping and pillaging were written by Englishmen whose wives were taken by more attractive Danes, and another theory that when these good-looking Vikings arrived, they just had a washed and managed to woo the ladies.

- Tangent: A 2018 study by the US Center for Hygiene and Health in Boston claims that modern-day normal bath tubs contain 100 times as much bacteria than rubbish bins. They recommend that if you do take a bath you should shower before and afterwards. However, baths can still be good as it improves circulation and lowers blood pressure, and baths improve your mood more than physical exercise.

- The panel are given some metal cans are told to ready them for recycling. The problem with crushing them first is that different places require people to do different things to the cans first. More modern, automated machines have been made to recycle cans, which use the size and shape of the object in order to identify them. Thus, if you crush the can the machine might not recognise it and thus wrongly put it in the non-recycling pile. Also, different boroughs have different rules, so it is best to check with them first. In the borough where the show is being recorded, crushed cans could not be recycled. (Forfeit: Don't do that!)

- Tangent: Paper receipts are also problematic for recycling. Half of all receipts are non-recyclable. Some receipts are printed on thermal paper, which was used in early fax machines. This paper is coated in a chemical, and you cannot recycle the paper because the chemical would then be released into the atmosphere. It works by exposing the paper to heat, which causes the paper to turn black. Sandi demonstrates this by putting a receipt next to a hairdryer that turns the paper black.

General Ignorance

- The last commercial flight to fly faster than the speed of sound probably came in very recently. On average, a flight from New York to London takes six hours, but the jet stream pushes the planes along. Under normal conditions the speed of sound is 760mph, but it does not cause a sonic boom because relative to the air that you are moving in, you are travelling under the speed of sound. It is akin to a man on a train running. (Forfeit: Concorde)

- Tangent: The fastest ever BA Concorde flight between New York and London was in 1996, taking two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds.

- XL Tangent: Concorde is spelt the French way with an "e" because of rows between the English and the French. It caused a nationalist uproar in Britain, which arguably echoed uproars over Brexit today. The Tory Government in 1962, when they made the first agreement said it would be spelt without an "e", then in 1967 Labour came into power and Tony Benn said it would be spelt with an "e".

- The panel are told to point to a symbol on the set that tells you that you can recycle something. The problem is none of them do. The circular symbol depicting two interlocking green arrows means that the manufacturer of the product has made a financial contribution to the recovery and recycling of packaging in Europe. The symbol of a white arrow pointing to its tail means the product is widely recycled by 75% or more of local authorities. The symbol of three folded arrows pointing at each other in a clockwise direction means the product is theoretically recyclable, but there is no guarantee that your local borough will take it. (Forfeit: That one)

- Tangent: The UK produces over 44,000 metric tonnes of non-recycled waste every day. The amount of rubbish on the show's set is the UK average for the amount produced by one person per year at home. This is about 35 bin bags' worth, or 222kg, and this is just household waste.

- Tangent: In 2016, the waste clearance company Envirowaste compiled a list of the most unusual things that were discovered in waste in London. The list includes a dead stuffed cat dressed in a baby's onesie, a nude painting of Albert Einstein, a shoe box filled with dozens of mouse skeletons, a sealed box full of maggots, a bone of St. Clement of Rome (the fourth Pope), a Super Soaker full of urine, and a Victorian dildo.


- Holly Walsh: 7 points
- Johnny Vegas: 4 points
- Bridget Christie: -4 points
- Alan Davies: -26 points


Recorded without a studio audience due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Broadcast details

Thursday 25th June 2020
30 minutes


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Saturday 3rd October 2020 9:00pm
45 minute version
Monday 12th April 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 13th April 2021 1:35am
55 minute version
Friday 30th July 2021 10:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 31st July 2021 2:00am
60 minute version
Monday 8th November 2021 6:00pm
60 minute version

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Johnny Vegas Guest
Holly Walsh Guest
Bridget Christie Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Alex Bell Question Writer
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
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


Why American chocolate tastes like vomit

The panel chat about American chocolate.

Featuring: Sandi Toksvig, Alan Davies & Holly Walsh.

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