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 7 - Revolutions

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Jessica Fostekew, Sandi Toksvig, Gyles Brandreth, Susan Calman
Sandi Toksvig quizzes the panel on a few revolutionary ideas, with Alan Davies, Gyles Brandreth, Susan Calman and Jessica Fostekew going round the houses trying to come up with a decent answer.


- The panellist's buzzers are all songs. Susan has I Predict a Riot by the Kaiser Chiefs; Jessica has Children of the Revolution by T. Rex; Gyles has Anarchy in the U.K. by the Sex Pistols; and Alan has You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) by Dead or Alive. Gyles once met Johnny Rotten in the 1980s at the Midland Hotel, Manchester. Gyles went up to him, said: "I'm so delighted to meet you." Johnny replied: "Fuck off."


- Sandi tells the panel to stop her when they recognise what the following names are a list of: Patriotic Shortener, Silence Mill, Regretful Climb, Fanlight/skylight, Charlie's Seesaw, Necktie of Capet, and Half-moon. These are all nicknames given to the guillotine, translated in English. The guillotine was invented by Dr. Guillotine as a more humane, fairer way to execute people. His family hated being associated with the name and constantly asked the French government to change the guillotine's name. In the end, the family changed their own name. It is not true that Dr. Guillotine was himself guillotined. He actually died from an infection on a carbuncle on his shoulder.

- Tangent: In 1977, Gyles was in Paris to witness the last use of the guillotine, as he was a campaigner against capital punishment and had went to protest.

- Tangent: The first person to use a guillotine was Charles-Henri Sanson, who was Louis XVI's executioner. Sanson was the fourth out of six generations of executioners, and he himself executed nearly 3,000 people. He was a celebrity at the time, and his uniform consisted of striped trousers, a fancy hat and an overcoat. This look became very fashionable at the time. Meanwhile, women wore guillotine-shaped earrings with tiny royal heads dangling from them. Sanson planned to hand his job down to his eldest son, Gabriel, but Gabriel died while helping his father with an execution, by slipping on some blood and falling off the scaffold. Gyles says this didn't feature at all in Carry On Up The French Revolution (the film's actual name is Don't Lose Your Head). Alan says he wants to watch it again but the Carry On films are never show, but Susan says they do get shown on ITV2 [NOTE: They are actually shown on ITV3, with the exception of the early films in the series which are shown on Film4. QI has yet to correct this fact]. Gyles says he does a commercial for the channel the Carry On films are shown on, namely for the Tena Flex Plus super soft incontinence pad.

- XL Tangent: Following the death of Gabriel, Sanson passed the family execution business down to his second son, Henry-Clement. However, Henry-Clement has an aversion to blood, then ran up serious gambling debts to the point that he pawned off his guillotine to pay them off. As a result, he did his next execution with an axe. Henry-Clement was fired and the Ministry of Justice had to buy the guillotine back.

- Tangent: Perhaps the one woman most associated with the French Revolution is Madame Tussaud. She was an art teacher and waxwork modeller to Louis XVI's sister. Thus she was seen to be a royalist, had her head shaved in preparation for execution, but was saved by a leading revolutionary who has been friendly with her before. She was thus forced to make the likenesses of people. She was invited to Britain to do show her work, and was going to go back to France, but had to stay in Britain because the Napoleonic Wars had started. To illustrate this question, a photo is show of the models Tussaud made of the heads of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

- XL Tangent: Jessica worked as a zombie at Madame Tussaud's. Part of the job involved learning how to make and wear your own latex to make yourself look scary. The job mainly involved jumping out and scaring people in a maze. One of the things she did was learning to "wax", where tourists walked past you, stay completely still, then move a little bit to scare the tourists as they walked past. After her second stint there, Jessica was told that she was the scariest woman they ever had working for them.

- Tangent: Gyles has a family connection to beheading, as one of his ancestors, Jeremiah Brandreth, was the last person in Britain to be beheaded for treason, in 1817. Jeremiah, aka the Nottingham Captain, was a Luddite and later a revolutionary, a member of the Pentrich martyrs, and he led a revolution in Derbyshire. He was arrested, put on trial, and was both hanged and beheaded. The show tries to see if there is a family likeness by taking a drawing of Jeremiah and Photoshopping Gyles into it.

- XL: Riots have been caused by clown hats, cheese and vodka. In 1850s Toronto, there were 152 taverns, 203 beer halls and roughly 140 brothels in a city with a population of just 30,000 people. In 1855, a riot started in Toronto when a drunken fireman knocked off a clown's hat in one of the brothels. When the fireman refused to pick the hat up, a riot between clowns and fireman went on for days. Circus tents were torn down, wagons were set on fire by the firemen, and by the time the riot ended the entire Toronto police system had to be overhauled. Cheese was responsible for the Great Nottingham Cheese Riot of 1766, as locals thought they were being overcharged and so they seized the cheese. The mayor tried to stop the riot but he was hit by a large wheel of cheese and was severely concussed. In 1858, the Russians introduced a tax that tripled the price of vodka, taking it to ten roubles a bucket, at a time when the average clerk earned 25 roubles a year. The vodka tax was the government's main source of revenue, but the price was so much that the people did not buy it, leading to temperance societies being formed across Russia. The government started to be given away for free to persuade people to be more alcoholic. Rebels who did not want to pay the tax were forced to drink vodka. Eventually the revolt was crushed and the government banned temperance societies.

- XL Tangent: As a teenager, Jessica once snorted vodka by sticking a straw up her nose.

- If someone read you the Riot Act, you would not need to do anything. Police officers no longer read the Riot Act to rioters. Originally introduced in 1715, if the Riot Act had been read out, you had one hour to disperse, and if not then lethal force could be used. The Riot Act meant that if more than 12 people gathered and were disruptive, a police officer was entitled to read them the act, with the exact correct wording. The Riot Act however was repealed by the Criminal Law Act of 1967. The last attempted reading of the Riot Act was in Glasgow, in 1919, but the police officer could not finish reading it in time, and someone took the page from his hand.

- Tangent: Gyles tried to take part in the 1968 Paris Riots, but he didn't know what to do. The more experienced rioters told Gyles and his friends to know off the hats from police officers. This reportedly is how riots are normally started, and has been practice for hundreds of years.

- Most houses don't have revolving doors because most houses are not big enough and don't have enough visitors. One of the few houses that does have revolving doors is Gyles', because the inventor of the revolving door, Theophilus Van Kannel, married one of the daughters of Gyles' three-times great-grandfather Dr. Benjamin Brandreth, a medicine and advertising pioneer. Dr. Brandreth had 13 children, including 10 daughters, who he married off very well. He was also a friend of P.T. Barnum, who in turn was a friend of Van Kennel. Revolving doors are good in tall buildings because they let much less air into the building and avoids the "chimney effect", where cold air is sucked in at the bottom and causes warm air to rise up through the building. Revolving doors are also more energy efficient, but people tend to prefer swing doors.

- XL: Sandi gets out a remote-controlled helicopter and asks how it, or rather a full-sized helicopter, can be used to stop your cherries from popping. Cherries absorb water very quickly, so one heavy bout of rainfall can cause them to split, which renders the entire crop worthless. While you can spray the cherries with edible wax, the wax does not taste nice. However, you can use helicopters to blow-dry the fruit, which is expensive but a fast way of drying the crop. Helicopters are also used to dry cricket pitches and golf courses, while in cold weather they are flown over crops to act as fan heaters. Helicopters are used to airlift rhinos, with the panel being shown a photo of one rhino being carried upside-down, feet-tied to the helicopter as it dangles below, away from a poaching area in South Africa in 2017. 200 rhinos were airlifted this way, because if they used a net or rope around the torso it could constrict the rhino's breathing, and they are only in the air for about ten minutes. Reportedly, the hardest part of the airlift is putting the rhino down gently. Similarly, in 2019, 700 mountain goats were airlifted out via helicopter in a park in Washington state, the goats liking the park because they like tasting the salty urine of human hikers, but at same time they damaged the local flora and fauna.

- XL Tangent: The word "chopper", as in a helicopter, comes from the noise made by helicopters during the Korean War.

- XL: Sandi tries to get the panellists to draw perfect circles. The world champion circle drawer is maths teacher Alex Overwijk, who claims that the trick is to turn yourself into a human pair of compasses. Thus, you should pivot around a part of your body. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was famous for his ability to draw perfect circles, but some of the circles in his notebooks are bad because he was drawing them while on a moving train. He drew circles while riding on the railway lines of rival companies to test their smoothness. Also, in some of his really good circles in his notebooks, you can see a little dot in the middle, implying he used a compass.

- Sandi says she will give a panellist ten points to gamble on a roll of a roulette wheel. The last five spins were 6, 31, 6, 6, and 4, which are all black. Despite this, there is no point going to bet on red, because the idea that red is "due to come up" is false. The odds are the same on each turn of the wheel, slightly less than 50-50, because the 0 and 00 don't count as either red or black. Despite this, if it has come up black five times in a row, 85% of people will bet on red.

- Tangent: Susan says that this fact means that there is no point in wearing her lucky pants. Susan has banned herself from casinos, because the first time she went into one she went in with her first credit card, and she ran up £10,000 in six hours. Gyles only played roulette once, in Barbados, where he and his wife went for their anniversary. They were on the beach when they spotted, "this little old wizened lady",. It was not until they were very close that they realised this it was actually Mick Jagger. Gyles discovered that Mick was a big fan of Countdown, so they all went to a casino, where Mick gave Gyles some chips to play with on the roulette wheel. Gyles lost, but Mick wasn't bothered.

- XL Tangent: Sandi was once in a casino in Monte Carlo, put £10 on a the number three on a roulette table and won, the prize being 35 times what she bet. Sandi did not know that you were meant to take the money off the table after winning it, so she left the cash on the number three, but she won again. The croupier said to her: "Madam, you have no idea what you are doing. Take your money and go home." Thus, Sandi took a helicopter back to the airport with her winnings.

- Roundabouts are so un-British because they were invented by the French. Unsurprisingly, the story involves another of Gyles' ancestors, this once being married to Napoleon III. When Napoleon III was in exile, he lived in Southport. When he returned to Paris and was restored as emperor, he decided to redesign Paris and based his plans on Southport. He appointed a man named Haussmann to do it, from whom the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris is named after. The original roundabout, aka a "carrefour giratoire", was created by French town planner Eugene Henard. In 1907, British researchers were sent to observe it, and the first round about in Britain was opened in Letchworth new town. This was opened by Ernest Marples, Transport Minister in the 1950s-60s, with help from a legal advisor to the AA - who just happened to be Gyles' father.

- Tangent: Jessica says that before the show started that Gyles told her that the key card for her dressing room also works on the London Underground.

- XL Tangent: Initially, on French roundabouts you were allowed to go in any direction, but this caused so much chaos that Henard then suggested that the traffic should all travel in one direction. The l'Etoile, the eight lane-wide roundabout where the Arc de Triomphe is located, is so complicated that there is a legend that an American tourist once found themselves sucked into the innermost lane and they kept going until they ran out of petrol.

- XL Tangent: The Garden City Collection in Letchworth is home to the UK's oldest toilet roll.

General Ignorance

- If you are in a chip shop, then you can put on your fish and chips some salt and non-brewed condiment. This is the legal label of what we wrongly call vinegar in chip shops. It is not only illegal to call it vinegar, it is illegal to hold it in a receptacle that would usually hold vinegar. The non-brewed condiment is actually a combination of water, ethanoic acid and flavourings, which is watered down even further to be served to customers. This is cheaper than vinegar, takes less time to make, and can be made in concentrated form. However, shop-bought vinegar is actual vinegar. (Forfeit: Salt and vinegar)

- Tangent: In Edinburgh they have salt and "chip sauce", while in Glasgow they have the normal salt and 'vinegar' because to quote Susan, "we're classy".

- XL: Compared to 40 years ago, there are more trees on Earth than there used to be. In 2018, a study in Nature found that trees cover 7% more of the Earth's surface than they did in 1982. However, it is not a good thing because of these trees, planted in China, are for agricultural purposes. Single species of trees are being planted, thus forming unnatural monocultures and a lack of biodiversity, plus a lot of the trees have been planted on unsuitable land.

- The battle technique of blitzkrieg was invented by the British. Blitzkrieg ("lightning war") was very rarely used by the Germans. It was not used by the German leaders when the blitzkrieg actually happened during the invasions of Poland and France. Hitler called it, "a completely idiotic word." The success of blitzkrieg completely surprised the Germans, and they thought it was a miracle. During blitzkrieg, there are short, sharp attacks on the ground with armoured vehicles, with air support coming from behind. The idea had been evolving since World War I. The British and American press credited the invention of blitzkrieg to General Heinz Guderian. (Forfeit: Germany)

- The Russians celebrate the October Revolution in November. This is because at the time of the revolution, the Russians still used the Julian calendar. The revolution took place on 24th-25th October on the Julian calendar, which on the Georgian calendar was 6th November, which also happens to be Susan's birthday. (Forfeit: October)


- Gyles Brandreth: 5 points
- Jessica Fostekew: 4 points
- Susan Calman: 3 points
- Alan Davies: -14 points

Broadcast details

Thursday 9th July 2020
30 minutes


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Thursday 9th July 2020 9:30pm BBC2 Wales
Saturday 30th January 2021 9:15pm
45 minute version
Monday 30th August 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 31st August 2021 6:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 16th November 2021 1:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 16th November 2021 6:00pm
60 minute version
Wednesday 16th March 2022 9:00pm
60 minute version

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Gyles Brandreth Guest
Susan Calman Guest
Jessica Fostekew Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski 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

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